Who doesn’t like the smell of burnt undead in the morning? From shipwreck to dracoliches, this game has everything that anyone who played Dungeons & Dragons might expect from the Forgotten Realms setting and Neverwinter falls solidly into that style of fantasy MMORPG. It’s free-to-play, published by Perfect World Entertainment and developed by Cryptic Studios. We’ve been waiting for this game to arrive for some time and now that the soft-launch and open beta have arrived there’s no disappointment and a lot of praise.

Neverwinter is a very nice looking game that does a lot with an upgrade to what seems to be an older engine and has a great deal of art behind its inner workings. As a result, the graphics and sound are really nice and do a lot to make the game interesting and playable.

Then there’s the gameplay design which eschews the “box of skills” MMORPG design of World of Warcraft and others and pushes players to pick loadouts fitting to their classes instead of loading up on tens of situational skills.

As a game it’s open-targeted and primarily worked around an active play style of moving around the battlefield, jockeying for position, and paying with skills instead of locking a single target and hitting it. As a result, fighting trash and bosses in this game can be extremely fun–especially when a boss is 2-stories high and I’m hiding behind my shield and keeping attention so that my teammates can get around behind and hamstring it! Between the clash of steel, and the batter of magic missiles zinging through the air with arcane fury, I had a great deal of fun in Neverwinter.

Cryptic and PWE have a real winner here.

Graphics and Sound: Beautiful environmental and sound design make a hallmark of fantasy MMOs

The first thing that anyone who has ever played Star Trek Online will notice is that the game’s rendering engine has a particular Cryptic Studio’s feel to it–it’s just the way that objects are rendered and how the world impacts the eyes. This isn’t a bad thing, especially because Neverwinter feels like a hugely upgraded and modernized version of the older engine. In fact, the textures are nicer, the way that polygons fit together is better, and overall the world feels sharper and displayed with increased clarity.

I noticed that a lot of thought was put into making the buildings in Neverwinter city full of character. The mere architecture of the place gives an excellent sense of wonder and mediaeval sensibility that is fitting to Dungeons & Dragons.

Some of the armor and elements of the game that players receive certainly needs a little world–and it’s a little glitchy on display sometimes–but overall the graphics come through without too much problem and they’re very nice looking.

It’s also important that even at higher settings it renders quickly and without too many hitches. This is important because Neverwinter is an action-based MMORPG with a lot of combat involved dealing with dodging, hitting, and moving into position. There’s no tab-target and sit there in this game. The result is that the animations need to fit what’s going on and have to involve clipping when AoE is spraying or swords are clashing.

Ordinarily in this section I find myself talking about the music and the sounds that come along with spellcasting and combat–the sort of things that are basic to any video game–but Neverwinter takes lessons learned from STO and Guild Wars 2 and that’s how important environmental sounds and detail happen to be. Neverwinter doesn’t fall down on music or the general sounds of combat so I don’t need to cover that, but it really shines when giving a sense of place.

Wandering around the city of Neverwinter it’s hard not to notice the way that the sound of the street changes from place to place. There’s even ale halls and meeting places that have the gurgling gabble of conversation (as if in a restaurant or a crowd) that muffles when I pass outside the building–and turns into the general patter of feet and clatter of stones further away.

This is true also inside of instanced adventure zones where there’s a lot going on and the sound really carries the day.

Add in that many of the conversations and quest-lines are entirely voiced it makes the game personal as well as environmental. In many ways, I found myself liking the characters and wanting to run the quests for the story and to help out than just for the rewards.

Gameplay: Loadouts, fighting-in-style, classes, fantasy races, what’s there not to love?

From the get-go, Neverwinter is a D&D game and it provides races and classes that fit that genre; from there it takes advantage of the idea of “loadouts” that we’ve seen in DC Universe Online and other places: people don’t have a giant tray filled with random skills, utlity skills, combat skills, etc. as we’ve seen from MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft–instead players are given a small set they need to worry about and work from those.

Races fall into the usual D&D fantasy categories and affect ability scores and traits a little bit: elf, half-elf, half-orc, human, halfling, dwarf, tiefling, and drow. Choosing a particular race adds a few points to particular attribute scores (such as half-orcs get a +2 to strength making them good for fighters.) No races restrict any particular classes, of course.

During character creation, players get to roll their attribute scores and see how their racial bonuses will affect them; and this might help them choose where to put bonus scores to best help their particular class.

The classes fit into the major roles that we’ve seen in many MMORPGs: Guardian Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter, Devoted Cleric, Trickster Rogue, Controller WIzard. Each of these classes has their own loadouts that are developed over the tutorial but certain skills can be replaced with new ones as the player advances through the levels and chooses skill sets based on their play style. Guardian fighters can go the tanky route and get more sheild and threat skills or go a more DPS and support route and grab up more AoE and skills that buff allies to give them strength and hitting power.

In combat, most of the abilities are tied to the mouse and a few keys on the keyboard (all around the WASD setup–these can be re-hotkeyed of course.) The primary-mouse-button has the primary attack, the secondary has a secondary attack, and SHIFT will activate a defensive power. In most cases that defense is a type of dodge–a roll, a teleport out of the way, or spinning out of the line of fire–but in the case of the guardian fighter it causes her to hide behind her shield, and the great weapon fighter rushes forward. In all cases, abilities fit what the class does.

I played a guardian fighter most of the time and using my shield to block and my sword to cleave through enemies in an arc in front of me felt really fitting to how the play style worked.

It’s obvious that the developers put time-and-thought into how the classes operated in terms of the loadout design, and this gives players a sense of style and necessity when choosing traits (and even allows them to center around a particular style of play.)

Freemium: Just like Star Trek Online there’s lock boxes, ZEN, and an exchange

Like Star Trek Online–which is also a Cryptic/Perfect World Entertainment MMO–Neverwinter is a freemium game that allows players to purchase packs that give them a subscription to upgraded services. There’s also the ability to purchase in game-items with ZEN and to trade ZEN for Astral Diamonds (the in-game version of Dilithium from STO.) The AD currency is used for a lot of interesting in-game items and can be earned from doing daily quests, adventures, and as a tip for well-written Foundry missions. ZEN is purchased from PWE for USD and other currencies.

And, as in STO, AD can be exchanged for and to ZEN in the Exchange, which means that even free-to-play players have access to freemium cash shop items.

There’s a lot of different items that can be had including special companions, mounts, and similar. So it will give players a real reason to earn AD and trade it for ZEN (and even the reverse for players who have more time than money.)

Conclusion: It’s fantasy, it’s open-targeted action and mayhem, it’s a lot of things worth playing

Neverwinter was well-worth the wait.

As a game, it feels a lot like a greatly upgraded version of the Star Trek Online engine and it wraps itself well around the fantasy motif brought to it from Forgotten Realms and the Dungeons & Dragons setting. The developers and writers are Cryptic designed a game that’s fun, interesting, and filled with vibrant locales that are environmental, visceral, and interesting. I haven’t gone into the instances or the dungeons (or raids) in this First Impressions review, but this game has those as well and they’re well worth the time to seek them out and grab a group to stomp through them.

The economy used in Neverwinter is very similar to that of STO and includes an exchange that allow free-to-play players to engage and involve themselves even if they never pay any money. And, since the exchange works off the money from pay-players it means that Cryptic and PWE have a source of funds to keep the game going (that’s supported by the desires of the free-to-play and pay-to-play portions.)

As this game came into a soft-launch recently with the beta, it’s still building a community but it’s awesome in there and it’s never hard to find a group to run with.

I expect many good things to come out of Neverwinter and its updates.


  1. I’ve been very impressed with Neverwinter and pretty much agree with everything you’ve said. I love the sound and music, they really nailed that. I find myself kinda disappointed by no Ranger/Archer class.. my first D&D character was an archer. Druid would be my second choice and it’s missing as well but I guess at least they have room for expansion.

    I think my favorite little feature (which might not be working as intended) so far is NPC’s continuing the Quest spiel after the Quest box is closed… so you don’t have to sit and wait for them but still get the whole story.

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