Editorial | 5/12/2013 at 4:28 PM

MMO Co-Opportunities Volume XXXII: Neverwinter

It's got dungeons, dragons, and dragons in dungeons!

Neverwinter is a game I’ve been quietly interested in since its announcement. A D&D-themed game set in the city of Neverwinter? Yes, please. Things went quiet for quite awhile after its announcement, and I forgot about it until it drew my attention at PAX East 2012. After going hands-on with a pre-alpha build at that time, I began to feel like it was going to be a damn good game. I wrote up my impressions at the time, then filed it to the back of my mind.

To make a long story short, I had the opportunity to participate in a press-only beta weekend as well as all closed beta weekends for the game. I was encouraged by what I saw. I even got to play during the five-day headstart to open beta (thanks, Christine at PWE!), and the deed was done. I was hooked. Now let’s talk about why (focusing on the co-op reasons, of course!).

The most impressive co-opportunity that I’ve experienced in the game is its flexibility towards players. Let me explain. While there are scenarios and dungeons (more on this later) that are focused on a full 5-person party, much of the game is balanced for solo or two-person play. My cleric is nearing in on level 50, and I’ve pretty much blitzed through the game so far with one other person. I could’ve easily done this with three of four other people, however, as most quest objectives will update for all players in a party (though there are some individual collection quests here and there) and sometimes all players that are close to an objective even if they aren’t in a party. Also, in this non-group-specific content, the composition of the party is largely unimportant. As expected, clerics and guardians may be useful, but players can often blitz their way through on pure damage and strategic potions. There’s no waiting around in town for a specific group to just go and do some quests. And since players can quick-travel to the start of any adventuring zone, they could potentially complete a couple quests even if they only have 15 minutes to play.

As for group-specific content, I should touch on the queueing system. By no means is Neverwinter the first to allow players to queue for dungeons, but it’s one of the most well-done ones I’ve personally experienced. From anywhere in the world, players can queue for party-based content. They can queue alone or in a group, and the system will round out the details. Once queued, they can go out and do whatever they want in the game and the matchmaking will let them know when it’s found a group. The system always appears to put at least one guardian (tank) and one cleric (healer) into every group, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck with an all-dps party for really tough content. There are two types of PVE queueing in Neverwinter: Skirmishes and Dungeons. Dungeons are the standard affair where players fight through multiple rooms, clear multiple groups of enemies, and kill a couple bosses and an end-boss. They’re laid out to take roughly 45 minutes to complete. Skirmishes, on the other hand, are tuned to take only 15 minutes. They usually consist of only several waves of smaller enemies, followed by one boss. I really like that Cryptic thought to include both these options for the convenience of their players. This goes back to my point about flexibility as a co-opportunity.

The last point I wanted to touch on was the Foundry. The Foundry allows players to create their own content for Neverwinter and, when approved, it gets put straight into the game for players to experience. Players can pick up a Foundry quest from a menu (they can also filter their search for duration of time, difficulty, etc.) and start the quest. The quests are usually really easily accessible (often just requiring a travel from the city gate or a door in town) and the enemies killed in it drop items and provide XP. The Foundry is an amazing idea, because not only is it a useful leveling tool for players (the quests are repeatable and they scale to player level), but it also means thatNeverwinter could potentially have a ridiculous amount of content if players continue to make Foundry levels. There’s tons of Foundry quests available and some of them are stunningly well done. Since the system allows players to tip the Foundry quest creators when they complete the quest, I really hope that good creators are frequently tipped so they can continue to make amazing quests.

The reason I mention the Foundry is that many creators have made content balanced for a team. Some are intended for two, three, etc. players, and I foresee a lot more in the future being designed for party play. Sure, the min-maxers probably won’t play these group Foundry quests because they don’t have the “epic loots,” but in my opinion they’d be missing out. Neverwinter is a joy to play, and my best co-operative play experience so far has been on a Foundry quest (the Cragsteep Crypt, if you’re interested) just because I had so much fun.

Suffice to say, I’ve been extremely impressed with Neverwinter. It’s completely free-to-play (just download and jump on), and (in my opinion) not at all pay-to-win. There are no level caps or restricted content to free players, and I really feel that everything important in the game can be gained by time and patience. Neverwinter is in open beta, so there are some bugs, but they’re pretty few and far between. I have to say it’s the best free-to-play from launch game I’ve ever played, and I’m having a great time. I’m on the Beholder server, if you’d like to say “hello!”