This past week I was given the opportunity to try out Neverwinter, an upcoming, free-to-play online RPG by Cryptic Studios. Set a century after the Spellplague devestated the country and twenty-five years after a catastrophic volcano erruption leveled the city of Neverwinter, the game takes place in a rebuilt and thriving Neverwinter. While much of the land is infested with various monsters, Neverwinter seems to be at relative peace, though dark forces appear to be at work.
Of the five classes planned for launch, three were available to try out. I used an Elf Trickster Rougue during the closed beta event. Neverwinter's character creation system allows for physical as well as background customization. Players will be able to change everything from facial and body features to region of origin and religion. After creating my hero, I started my adventure in Neverwinter, which happened to be under attack by various undead forces.
Combat was very straightforward and action oriented. Main attacks and the camera are controlled with the mouse (gamepad support is available) and specials, as well as movement, are controlled with the keyboard. Few skills are available right at the start, though many more unlock as your hero progresses.
After clearing the tutorial battle, I was able to accept various quests for items and experience. These ranged from clearing out monster and bandit dens within the confines of the city as well as fetch quests that involved little more than following a glowing quest trail and interacting with crates and bags.
The highlight of trial, however, was a guided tour by Cryptic lead graphics designed Joe Jing into a special instanced dungeon. While most of Neverwinter content is intended to be done solo, at least one special, five-member party dungeon is planned for each area. My group was taken through the Cloak Tower, which in the past was home to many wizards until the Spellplague stuck and they all mysteriously vanished. Orcs have since taken their place and use it as a stronghold. The tower, as well as the other planned dungeons, house various secrets, including semi-hidden collectable items used to activate alters for loot, hidden sub-bosses, and many hidden chests and alternate paths.
After spending about 30-45 minutes traversing numerous, visually distinct areas and defeating increasingly more difficult orcs in the tower, we arrived at the boss's, Vansi Bloodscar's, room. Where the previous areas had been easy to moderate for a party of level 16s, the boss fight was in the harder range. With attacks that could easily clear two-thirds of a hero's hitpoints in seconds, large area of effect (called splat in Neverwinter) attacks, and the ability to summon support, Vansi Bloodscar proved to be too much of a challenge on our first attempt.
Fortunately, failure just put us back at the checkpoint outside the arena, so we were readily able to start up the battle again and claim victory. Where most of the treasures found in the preceeding portions of the tower required rolling on a need-greed lottery, the final prize of the dungeon was a chance for each player to open a special chest and either obtain a rare piece of equipment or a seal that could be used to aquire items later.
Overall, Neverwinter looks promising. Most premium content currently available looks to be completely optional, though companions and mounts are sure to be very helpful later. The premium Foundry feature will let players design their own quests and dungeons for others to take on. The game still has a little ways to go, but right now it looks and plays very good and the rich Dungeons and Dragons lore is sure to please fans when it releases early 2013.
Screenshots and trailer are from Mt. Hotenow, the volcano that once destroyed Neverwinter. Click here for more screens.