Forgotten Realms has returned to the PC through Neverwinter, developed by Cryptic Studios and published by Perfect World Entertainment. Much of the content is taken from that IP and for players already familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons setting, they’ll be in for a treat.

As for me, I was part of the VIP press tour led by Cryptic into Neverwinter and I figured that I’d bring the joy of that experience on high down to all my wonderful readers.

So let’s see what Cryptic has in store for us.

Consistent with Cryptic, character creation is a process that gives the player a notable amount of customization–not quite the level that Star Trek Online has and City of Heroes had, but still extremely in-depth. Lots of different looks and personalization can be applied to characters at creation that will do a lot to set them apart visually in game.

There are five classes expected at launch including Guardian Fighter, Devoted Cleric, Trickster Rogue, Control Wizard, and Heavy-weapon Fighter. The expected races are human, elf, half-elf, tiefling, dwarf, halfling, even drow elf.

Aside from race and class, players select what god they worship from a nature-loving deity, to one who inhabits beauty, to others who embody battle, death, or destruction. It’s not currently well explained how that will affect gameplay, but it’s obvious that the gods that particular characters follow will change their story (or give them particular boons or opportunities in game.)

Of the three classes available, I chose the Guardian Defender–a very tanky class with a sword-and-board. Amid the races, the Tiefling are amidst some of my favorites so I took that, named her “Helvetica,” and took her for a spin. The VIP press tour included going through one of the major dungeons in the game and that was quite an experience revealing numerous internal zones with gorgeous artwork and devastating enemies.

Lindsay Haven from Cryptic guided us through the Cloak Tower—a dank and mystical demesne overrun by orcs. The stronghold once had been the home of the Many-Starred Cloaks, a group of wizards who used the locale to practice their magical arts; but they vanished (with their tower) during the Spellplauge. After the tower reappeared it quickly became home to a clan of orcs named the Many-Arrows. They proved to be quite exciting.

Like most MMOs, Neverwinter enables parties of 5 to enter instances and fight their way through a predetermined set of encounters. If nothing else, the environments within were extremely compelling and there were several mini-bosses leading up to the final dungeon boss.

The group did get separated at least once and I was killed twice (being overzealous in my defense of the team.)

Neverwinter is ultimately an action-combat RPG with mostly open targeting (your reticle will be important for aiming attacks at foes.) Some characters block (guardians) and other dodge to avoid getting struck. Similar to games such as Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World heavy attacks from foes are marked on the ground with red outlines, giving players time to dodge or block before hell rains down.

A great deal of the fights felt like furballs, with everyone trying to pile into the enemy group in order to cut them to ribbons. Almost all of the classes have abilities that hit multiple foes at a time, so the game tends to throw squads of trash mobs at teams–and this was especially true in boss fights. My crowd control abilities came in handy more than once to pull them away from teammates and onto myself.

The guardian also comes with the ability to absorb more incoming frontal damage with a shield block. And I found that I was capable of dishing out a surprising amount of injury as well with carefully chosen abilities.

The loadout for characters is limited, only six on-demand abilities can be slotted, meaning that players will have to think about how they prepare themselves for battle. This is a common theme we’ve been seeing from MMOs such as Secret World, DCUO, and others that are trying to escape from the World of Warcraft power setup that has power trays spilling all over the screen.

Consumables can also be slotted into three spots next to the life bar, meaning they’ll be available during combat.

Neverwinter is a Perfect World Entertainment game and will be free-to-play from launch. As a result, players can buy into various services and consumables. While the primary free-to-play currency is ZEN, there is a currency called Astral Diamonds which will underpin the secondary market–this is very similar to dilithium in Star Trek Online and there is an exchange available as in same.

ZincCryptic also said during the Q&A that there may be some unique prestige level races in the cash-shop, but Cryptic will not be gating content through the cash shop.

From the dev Q&A session we learned that the game will enable transmutation for gear. This allows players to take new gear and make it look like older gear while maintaining the new attributes.

Also that there are plans for large-group raid end game content planned but not yet announced. So we can expect a lot more coming our way than 5-man dungeons.

In conclusion, Neverwinter is looking very good. The beta may not have all the classes and races available, but the group that they did have to offer gave a nice example of what play styles are available–and perhaps a taste of what is to come. If past PWE-Cryptic hybrid monetization are to be trusted (see: STO) we can expect that they won’t be screwing us over there so much as the usual free-to-play market can. And there’s obvious plans towards making the end game exciting and worthwhile to players.

After Neverwinter goes into full production, expect GameOgre to come back to the game to give it a grade and a full review.