I have been playing video games for a long time now, and I enjoy the chance to get into something new and interesting. I've played MMOs like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Rift, to some extent. I was never a master player, as I never had the time or money to invest in these games. I have work, hobbies (like other video games, gardening, biking and photography), children... There are just too many other things to become so engrossed in an MMO.
I have nothing against people who do invest a lot of time in them. I just found that they were not for me. Yet, I still try out various games in the genre just to see if there is one that I will become fully involved in. Star Wars: The Old Republic is very interesting to me being set in the Star Wars universe; Star Trek Online is likewise accessible to me as a fan of the Star Trek Universe.
In most of them, hoever, there hasn't been anything that made me feel like I was the character. I was choosing a target, then pressing a button to throw some attack, spell, or skill at the enemy. Even if I was facing the wrong way, these attacks would hit, and even while running away from an enemy, they could follow you and continue to hit you despite being several dozen steps behind you.
So when I first read about Neverwinter, I was intrigued by the fact that the direction you face affects your attacks, and being out of range can be as good a tactic as using a block mechanic, depending on the circumstance.
What is this "Neverwinter"?
In the grand scheme of things, Neverwinter was one of the cities of the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons & Dragons as imagined by writer R.A. Salvatore. It was destroyed during the Spellplague and in it's current form in the game, is being rebuilt and repopulated.
One hundred years after the Spellplague, the Lich Queen Valindra has attacked the city, and through the efforts of adventurers there, she is thwarted. Rather than wait for whatever happens next, it is up to you, the adventurer to get out into the world and stop whatever evil plot is in progress.
Neverwinter is developed by Cryptic Studios (who have also created games such as City of Heroes and City of Villains, as well as Star Trek Online), and is produced by Perfect World Entertainment (who also own other games such as Torchlight and Torchlight II, Blacklight: Retribution, and the aforementioned Star Trek Online).
Neverwinter is presented as a free-to-play title with the option to purchase certain upgrades through their in-game currency called "Zen". Zen is purchaseable and useable throughout most of the Perfect World games, if I recall correctly. While it does not create a "Pay to Win" scenario, so much, the Zen purchased items are more vanity items such as clothing, unique mounts, and some do offer increased benefits such as increased stats, speed, or increased experience point generation.
Perfect World do offer some highly valuable "Founders Packs" with some highly sought items that may not necessarily be achieveable without the purchase of Zen, but the game can be played completely free of charge, with no specific benefit gained by using real-world currency to buy items.
Create a Unique Character
There are 8 playable races available, with one being exclusively available to those who purchase the "Hero of the North" Founders Pack. Each race has a specific set of unique abilities or traits as detailed below:
- Wood Elf
- Half-Elf - half human, half wood elf
- Half-Orc - half human, half Orc
- Halfling - similar to half-elves, but smaller
- Tiefling - descendants of cursed humans
- Menzoberranzan - such as Drizzt Do'Urden from the Forgotten Realms series
Each race has specific traits that are unique to each, such as the Dwarves' Cast Iron Stomach, or the Elves' , and the Halflings' Numble Reaction. Each of these provides unique statistical changes that affect how damage is dealt or diminished.
As well as the races, there are 5 different classes that you can choose to further define your characters (I had thought there were 6, but the official wiki only shows 5 - I will have to check on this). Each of these has unique weapons, armour and skills that can be used in the world, either during battles, or exploration. The classes are:
- Guardian Fighter - a warrior who uses a sword and shield, and is a master of defensive techniques.
- Greate Weapon Fighter - a warrior using heavy weapons to deal massive damage
- Devoted Cleric - both a cleric and controller, they deal damage from afar, heal, and rally party members together
- Trickster Rogue - a thief, of sorts, who uses the shadows, tricks, traps and knives to sneak in, do damage, and get back out again!
- Control Wizard - Not the one who should be at the front of the fight, the Control Wizard can nonetheless deal damage and help control the flow of battle.
The fun stuff!
OK, so descriptions aside, why am I finding this game fun? I think the part that I am enjoying most is that I actually have some control over the damage I deal and the damage that I mitigate against me. In most MMOs that I have played, you select a target and then damage that target. How far away you are from them doesn't really matter -there are some small measures that require a distance check for some abilities, but once engaged "close enough" is the best you get. In most cases, you cannot dodge an attack, or use your shield to block incoming damage except as a general factor of your overall armour. It makes the experience feel less like you are actually a part of the action.
In Neverwinter, you need to take things like the direction you are facing, and the specific enemy you are targeting into consideration. If you are facing the left and the enemy you mean to hit is on the right, when you swing your weapon, you will miss! The direction and the distance both come into play when you are attacking.
Likewise, if you see that an enemy is about to use a big skill, or swing their sword, you can dodge, or set up to block the damage as it comes in. To me, these simple mechanics seem to make the game more compelling as an element of the RPG they tout themselves to be, and this simple addition makes the game much more interesting to me.
I haven't played it for long, but I played through the tutorial area where there are the standard hordes of enemies you can go attack at will to learn the ropes. Further into the campaign, you find that attracting the attention of a single enemy from afar can sometimes rouse the interest of the others around it, and you need to prepare yourself for that contingency.
The NPCs (Non Player Characters) in the game are the standard variety of this race or that, with various professions, and each is voiced individually. I was not greatly impressed by the voice acting, and one particular character that you meet right at the beginning of the game has such a bad british-style accent that it actually put me off. I was not terribly disappointed when he stopped talking to me!
The quests are standard MMO quests of talk to this or that character, get these items, put these things together, explore this area and kill the boss. Nothing in the short play time I accrued went much beyond these basics, but still, I found the way it played to be fun enough that I am looking forward to playing again.
There are group "skirmishes" to undertake, and you can join these from the landing screen (shows as the Home screen from your top menu bar). These are usually fairly short, but fun and intense action-packed affairs that let you and a group of other players attack waves of enemies and bosses for extra experience, loot and Astral Diamonds (another type of in-game currency that you can use, but that you don't necessarily purchase in the way you do Zen).
Finally, you can create your own content. Yes, I said create your own content! The Foundry allows you - once you have passed level 15 - to create your own stories using in-game assets. I have not tried this yet, as my characters are not yet that high, but from what I have read, and the one user-created quest that I tried, they can be quite fun, interesting, and allow for endless supplies of new quests that may have nothing to do with the overall goals of the end-game. This alone makes the free-to-play part of this game a sure-fire winner!