Cryptic and Perfect World's latest Free-To-Play MMO, Neverwinter, recently had its soft launch. I gave it a whirl, and here are some impressions.
Neverwinter is billed as a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game. It uses a lot of the 4E Forgotten Realms setting. However, mechanics-wise, it is not a conversion of the 4E rules. It would be better to say it is "inspired by 4E". A lot of the mechanics have a nod to the pen and paper game, but are really more standard MMO mechanics.
It actually feels a lot like a third-person Diablo game. You have two "at-will" abilities bound to the left and right mouse buttons. Then there are up to three "encounter" abilities with 10-20 second cooldowns. Finally, you have a "daily" special which can only be used when you've built up enough action points. Targetting is reticule-based, where you aim with the mouse and move with WASD. There's also some dodging mechanics.
On the whole, the base mechanics are pretty fun, and work decently enough.
It's odd, but I've noticed that if a game uses sliders to control character creation, I have a hard time making an attractive character. Perhaps I can recognize an attractive character when I see it, but I can't really identify the specific elements that make that character attractive.
Neverwinter falls into that trap for me. Lots of sliders and options, but I had a really hard time making a character that I was happy with.
There are several D&D races, including humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, half-orcs, halflings, and tieflings. There are also Drow (dark elves) but I think you have to buy them.
There are some nice RP-ish elements where you pick a background and a god that you worship. I made a half-elf cleric of Torm the True, who was a former Purple Dragon from Cormyr.
Finally, let me reiterate my love for Cryptic's naming convention of "characterName@accountName", where the character name is what is displayed most of the time. It is so nice to be able to name your characters whatever you want, rather than fighting "That name is already taken" errors.
There are five classes so far: Guardian Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter, Devout Cleric, Trickster Rogue, and Control Wizard. I find the classes to be very hit-and-miss. I like the Devout Cleric and the Trickster Rogue, but the others just felt awkward to me.
The cleric is pretty interesting. It's very support-based, and uses debuffs on enemies as well as reticule targeting to heal. You still do a fair bit of damage-dealing while healing.
Neverwinter is a Free-To-Play game. The monetization scheme is a bit interesting. There are three currencies: gold, astral diamonds, and zen. Gold is what we all know and love. Zen is currency that you purchase with real money. Astral Diamonds are an in-between currency. You can purchase diamonds with zen, or you can earn them at a slow-ish rate. Most non-basic items in the game seem to cost diamonds.
To make an analogy, it's as if you could buy Valor points in WoW with real money. You can still earn them normally, but the standard weekly cap applies. However, you can ignore the cap if you use real money.
In general, there seems to be a pretty explicit trade of money for time. I don't know if you would consider this pay-to-win. If something takes 6 months of real-time to earn, but you can skip those six months with real money, is that over the line?
Questing and the Foundry
The default questing is pretty standard MMO questing. There are a lot more dungeons in the game, and they have traps and levers and all those fun elements.
However, the Foundry is the most intriguing aspect. Players can make their own adventures, and release them for everyone to try. These adventures automatically scale to your level. Treasure and experience are handled by the game, so you can't write an adventure that consists of 100 treasure chests. Of course, people have made adventures which are designed to maximize the efficiency of leveling.
I've played one Foundry adventure, that seemed to be rated highly. In the adventure, you were tracking down someone and some mysterious cultists interfered. It was a pretty decent adventure, and the author tried to make a good non-combat encounter where you had to talk to people at an inn and figure out which room you needed to enter. The author provided a couple different options of how you could finish this encounter.
I wouldn't say that it was amazing. It was very verbose, and the author wrote with a lot of unnecessary verbiage. As well, the author made the mistake of telling you how your character felt and reacted, instead of just describing the world. Ironically, more than anything else, this felt like D&D to me, with a decent but not-great DM.
The other neat thing about the Foundry is that at the end of the adventure, you can review it, and you can tip the author some Astral Diamonds if you want. Writing a popular adventure might turn out to be pretty lucrative.
On the whole, I would say that Neverwinter is a B-grade MMO. The game looks decent enough. The character models aren't the best. Classes are hit and miss. The mechanics are decent enough, but nothing amazing. The UI is a bit cluttered. It just doesn't have that layer of polish that you expect from the top tier of MMOs. As well, the monetization scheme has the potential to be very annoying.
However, the Foundry is the wild card here. The Foundry has vast potential. But it remains to be seen if that potential will be realized.