Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Neverwinter Nights is, I contend, the best video game adaptation of the classic Dungeons and Dragons tabletop concept. I’ve played through it multiple times and enjoyed every minute, so, when I heard Cryptic Studios, the makers of City of Heroes, were working on a Neverwinter MMORPG, what else could I do but immediately download the beta? With most of the features already accessible to give us a full preview of the game, I was left with only one question, the same we always ask in our new podcast series on Idiomanic: does this new installment f— with the original?
Let me start with a nitpick. Like most MMORPGs, Neverwinter requires you to choose between several character classes before starting the game: the devoted cleric, the trickster rogue, or the guardian fighter. I find these names ridiculous. Maybe the developers wanted to demark their character sets from the typical D&D classes, but they’d have been better off dropping the silly epithets and calling a spade “a spade” instead of “a metallic digging spade”. I mean, what’s next: stout dwarves, dark drowes, and handsome elves?
Anyway, the game itself plays like a first-person shooter, delivering enough fast-pace thrills to keep you engaged throughout. You target the mob you want to kill with your mouse, centering it on the screen, and use the ability of your choice with the appropriate key. This action-oriented mechanic makes for a great change of pace from the usual fantasy game, wherein you select your target with the tab key and then mash a few buttons while turning your head to peek at the television.
In contrast, Neverwinter requires your full attention, as the battles can be quite challenging. Mobs tend to charge at you, so you have to use your various attack, dodging and blocking powers judiciously to stay alive. The difficulty ramps up rapidly, but, just when you start thinking you can’t handle it anymore, your first companion joins the fray, turning the rest of your journey into a cakewalk. Your selfless new buddy does pretty much all of the work, including healing, tanking, and inflicting damage, while you reap all of the loot. Oh, and the automated babysitter goes back to full health after every fight to boot.
To make matters worse, the companions in Neverwinter prove themselves a boring lot. Compare them to the memorable characters in Neverwinter Nights. From Linu La’neral the clumsy cleric to Sharwyn the nefarious bard to Daelan the loyal warrior, they each had their own personality, quirks, and back story so that you really came to care about them by the end. Here, the most you can expect from your companions is for them to flex their muscles like idiots when you leave the game idle for a minute.
If a single companion can skew the difficulty of the game, imagine how a whole party of live players might obliterate any sense of challenge. Running dungeons should be the high point of any MMORPG, but Neverwinter makes it a depressingly forgettable experience with mobs that die so fast there’s no point in bothering with a strategy. You still need to manually target the mobs, though, so you can’t even divert your attention elsewhere. The last run I went on was so dull the cleric kept insisting we get hit on purpose so he’d have something to do.
Having mentioned all that, it’s important to keep in mind that Neverwinter is still in beta. It’s not a perfect game. However, the developers have plenty of time to iron out the kinks. As to whether the MMORPG fornicates, as it were, with the original, I see a lot of deviations from the classic Neverwinter Nights but also the same good spirit of fun and adventure. For the grand sum of zero dollars, the title strikes me as well worth a try if you’re a fan of the fantasy genre. You can even try running a dungeon or two if you wish to cure your insomnia.