There are a lot of massively-multiplayer online games on the market today, many of which are still very similar to World of Warcraft. While the graphics, setting, and characters may change, the core gameplay often feels the same. Hotkeys and a screen full of action bars have become the normal way to play MMOs, but there are a few games like TERA that have tried to break away and bring more action into the mix. TERA did a pretty good job with the action, but the setting and quest design was too generic and most people found it to be lackluster.
Cryptic is stepping into the "action-MMO" space with Neverwinter, which is somewhat of a follow-up to the classic Neverwinter Nights series. Based on the popular Forgotten Realms setting from Dungeons & Dragons and the Fourth Edition ruleset, this has the potential to be an interesting free-to-play title. I had the chance to jump into an early beta event with the developers and run a quick raid, and from what I have seen so far, this one might be able to deliver some good times.
Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Releases: Early 2013
The biggest thing that makes Neverwinter stand out from other MMOs is its tiny abilities bar on the bottom of the screen. It works a lot like the abilities system from a typical action-RPG game and it's easily usable with keys like Q, E, and R. You'll only have to reach up to 1 and 2 to use your daily powers, which won't be too often. A total of eleven abilities can be hot-keyed, and that includes the mouse buttons.
The abilities you decide to map can be swapped out at just about any time, not unlike, say, Diablo III. The combat is almost identical to a hack-n-slash role-playing game. Imagine if Diablo III and EverQuest had a baby: combat works by clicking a lot while pointing at monsters and dodging out of the way of their attacks. It isn't anything new, but it's a nice point of differentiation for an MMO. It's very responsive and I noticed only minimal impact from lag -- even in this early beta version.
The foundry system of player-created content from Cryptic's other games like Star Trek Online will be making its way into Neverwinter. Players will be able to make their own quests and they are easily accessed from a bulletin board in-game. Any user-created content can be rated so you don't have to worry about wading through piles of garbage to find anything worthwhile. It won't cost anything to access the Foundry, but it will have to be unlocked in the game somehow. Cryptic will have more details on this later.
At launch, there will be five classes that are based on Fourth Edition D&D class archetypes: Trickster Rogue, Great Weapon Fighter, Guardian Fighter, Control Wizard, and Devoted Cleric. There are plans to add more classes after release, and there's no word yet on if any of these will cost money to unlock. The developers did say that they don't want to lock content out from anyone, but things like unique races might be offered to premium players.
I'm sure some of you are wondering what makes this different from Dungeons & Dragons Online. Well, it plays a lot differently for one thing. DDO is a classically-structured MMO that is strongly based on the 3.5 edition of D&D's rules, which is a long way of saying that it's slower paced and a lot like EverQuest and World of Warcraft.
Neverwinter is based on new rules for D&D and it's built as an action game. Plus it's based on the more well-known Forgotten Realms as opposed to the Eberron setting and is being designed as a free-to-play game from the ground up. I like DDO, but I can see some people switching over to Neverwinter because it has more engaging combat. Of course, they are both free, so no one really has to choose one over the other.
I've enjoyed what I've played so far and am looking forward to diving into the beta over the coming weeks. The MMO space needs some diversity in what's available, and while Neverwinter doesn't stray too far from the familiar questing formula, it does offer entertaining combat, and having fun -- if still familiar -- gameplay is sometimes all it takes to make a good game.