I'm not what you call an MMO fan; in fact, it is the only genre I refuse to play. Imagine my delight at being handed an assignment for Perfect World's MMO lineup, including Neverwinter. Nonetheless, it's my job to give things a fair shot, and I was resolved to do so.
One of the things I adore about this job the most is constantly having the opportunity for my preconceived notions to be challenged. I love it when a developer shows me a game that I have zero interest in, and I walk away dazzled and charmed. And Cryptic's Neverwinter MMO has just charmed the effin' ish out of me.
Sitting down at the PC station I was immediately struck by the game's sheer beauty. While Neverwinter is free to play, on visuals alone I suspect it's worth a premium monthly price. Cryptic Studios set out to make a not just a good free-to-play game, but a good game, period. And it shows. The art is vivid, distinctive, and breathtaking. Whatever negative opinions I had about the potential visual quality of a free-to-play game were completely destroyed.
So far, five races have been revealed: Human, Half Elf, Drow, Dwarf, and Tiefling. Announced class builds include Guardian Fighter, Trickster Rogue, and Control Wizard, with more races and builds to come. I played as a Trickster Rogue and had a lot of fun with the double daggers and various attacks, each inventive and beautifully animated. Combat is of course not turn-based but instead uses WASD and button-assigned attacks. Some of the icons in the tool belt reminded me of Diablo III, but given my lack of familiarity with MMOs, I merely took this as a sign that mutual inspiration was taken from another game I've yet to play. Having only played Diablo, and nothing otherwise even remotely considered an MMO, I admit my perspective on this may be skewed and lacking. Any tired conventions of standard MMOs are lost on me. Perhaps that's okay, given that not all the returning fans of Neverwinter Nights are necessarily MMO gamers.
As previously noted, the game works as a standalone title but still draws upon the lore of the originals. Fans will notice locations previously featured in the original titles. The City of Neverwinter actually plays a central part to the overarching plot, as the goal is to return it to its former glory by finding its Crown. Just discussing the continued involvement and feedback between Wizards of the Coast and Cryptic Studios made their passion for remaining true to the series clear; as such I feel confident the IP is in good hands.