In case you haven’t been following my Neverwinter coverage, you should go and do that now – if you’re a video game player at least. If you’re not and you just came for the D&D editorial then hey, that’s alright too.
Over the years tabletop D&D has been compared to many things, and there always seems to be a hot button issue when you compare it to a video game. Mainly because of the disparity of generations spanning D&D players and of course the inevitable comparing of everything to everything else all the time syndrome caused by internet usage. Of course there have been many legit comparisons of Neverwinter, it seems especially related to 4th edition. Let’s keep in mind that there have been numerous D&D video game titles both legendary and awful, (The 01′ Pool of Radiance was Power Word Death to your OS, among other things) and of course D&D has served as the inspiration and basis for thousands of games for nearly 40 years now. You’ve got to analyze each one based on its own merits, which I’m hoping you’ll do for Neverwinter because people (including myself) have been notoriously unkind regarding their expectations of the game.
I don’t feel that directly porting over D&D rules into a video game always works out well, mainly because at some point you stop trying to make a game that’s fun and you’re just trying to simulate a game that’s already simulating something. It is the crap-ception of video game design – tabletop and electronic are two very different mediums and I think all too often people lose sight of that. Don’t get me wrong a lot of analog games move over well to video games – especially board games, but I think that the perfect blend of crunchy mechanics and open storytelling that tabletop RPG rules are, aren’t one of them. The pure organic basis of why we play tabletop RPG’s doesn’t convert over well is what I’m saying, especially not with tools so we can tell our own stories. This is why the original Neverwinter games were such a hit, because of the DM toolbox, it gave us the ability to tell our own stories, albeit there were more limitations than pen and paper, but there were a lot less than conventional D&D video games. So hooray for Neverwinter’s foundry (which I’m currently playing with but cannot tell you anything about)!
Keeping It In Perspective
Anyway, in short I think games like the Baldur’s Gate Series and Planescape: Torment were pulled off wonderfully because they focused harder on narrative than the mechanics behind them, although the mechanics were definitely there (see: full minutes full of swings and misses in melee combat at low levels) but all D&D video games don’t manage to do it quite as well. Would those button smashing console titles have been as fun if the combat were turn based? Was it really “fun” to measure out your movement with as much granularity as was presented in Temple of Elemental Evil? To each their own of course but I wasn’t a fan. Let’s keep in mind that Neverwinter is an MMO so you’re going to get a lot more fluctuations in the “D&D-ness” factor of the gameplay than a title focused solely on telling a single story.
There have been dozens of D&D games, some great and some awful but let’s not list them all, I’m sure you already know your favorites are. For the sake of not starting any fires or turning this post into troll bait I won’t be comparing Neverwinter to raw tabletop D&D rules, I don’t think that’ fair…or sane. If you want a fluid game that is fun and fun to play as a video game, you’ve gotta make changes for the sake of playability. Neverwinter does that very very well. Alas before I move on to talk about its awesomeness I’ve gotta tackle one more ugly, unavoidable tidbit before we can finally get to the good stuff.
The Inevitable Comparison to DDO, Let’s Get It Over With
Ah Dungeons & Dragons Online, the other D&D MMO. One that’s currently breaking out of it’s Eberron box to bring Forgotten Realms content, to compare with Neverwinter perhaps? Who knows. Anyway, if you’re wanting to know about how Neverwinter compares to DDO, I’m going to try and be as tactful as possible, so here I go. DDO is a beautiful game, the DirectX11 shinies make it look great for being as old of a title as it is but I still don’t think it stacks up to Neverwinter in the aesthetics department. I played DDO on and off for a while with my wife and a few friends but none of us could ever really get into it. It’s not for the lack of options or content, or most of the freemium aspects. It was mainly because we just found the game made us feel very claustrophobic and tedious Nearly everything in the game is a tiny, uneventful dungeon crawl and the entire scope of the game’s landscapes feel very limited. Granted this is only up to about level 5 which as as far as I could stomach DDO’s gameplay. Keep in mind I bought this game at launch, and have also played as recently as about 6 months ago – things have certainly changed for the better but the overall ethos of the game is still the same stagnant waiting pool of 3rd edition fumbly bits.
Of course DDO’s near verbatim use of the 3rd edition ruleset causes the game to suffer, keep in mind this actually has very little to do with the fact that 3rd edition is one of my least favorites. As I mentioned above, directly porting over a finnicky tabletop system into a video game where the crunchy bits should be as concealed as possible isn’t a great idea – and unfortunately that’s exactly what DDO does. In DDO you’ll see extremely high level characters walking around without armor on because of the DEX mod cap and other oddities that the 3.x rule system generates when players are trying to get the most of their characters.
Neverwinter Does It Right
Neverwinter avoids shenanigans like this, yes the game is modeled after 4e’s art style, and the initial 5 classes are very much a resemblance of the D&D Essentials line but that doesn’t mean that Cryptic copied things verbatim and slapped them into their game. When you’re making a game, especially a D&D game, you have to make it accessible. More people play video games than Tabletop games, especially pen and paper RPGs and sure it sucks but it’s the truth. We as tabletop gamers have to accept that. Cryptic has taken liberties with making the game fluid and attractive to many different play styles and commitment levels. For these reasons (and quite a few more I imagine) some people will say that Neverwinter is “not D&D” and to those people I say, honestly, why do you hate fun?
As far as other aspects of the game go, the freemium model of Neverwinter doesn’t involve teasing you with content and then going “oh wait, do you want to run this dungeon? Better buy the adventure pack now!” There are barred doors and dungeons behind a paywalls all over DDO, and that’s not even a factor in Neverwinter. DDO also has no real form of PvP that is even remotely interesting or relevant, it feels tacked on. PvP is a big factor for me personally because I am a huge fan of the fact that you’re not going up against a programmed AI and that it’s constantly changing and (relatively) unpredictable. Neverwinter’s PvP is structured and far from pointless, it earns you several rewards and is a total blast (I actually just did some alongside one of the Neverwinter devs Joe Garhan and we got to chat about lots of stuff, timing didn’t line up for me to fit it into my wrap up earlier this week so be sure to check it out). One last thing I wanted to touch on was the fact that both of these games are instanced isn’t even an issue, lots of games are these days and Neverwinter is no exception, but its the sheer fact of how ‘walled in’ DDO feels compared to Neverwinter. Turbine, who makes DDO, also does LOTR online and that game feels very different (and much more open and well done) than DDO. Overall Neverwinter is just a more playable and cohesive game than DDO is. So there’s my two cents, but keep in mind that I’m also not really a fan of Eberron or 3e so take all of this with a grain of salt I suppose. Now, finally moving on to the good stuff!
Neverwinter Is Great
Honestly, playing Neverwinter has somehow reignited some small part of me that really wants to play 4e D&D again. I’m not sure if its the simplicity of the player character power setup, the look of the tieflings, or just because I’m on my love/hate roller coaster ride with Vancian magic and we just took a huge dip off the top of a very high crest.
As a tabletop player I can honestly say that contrary what grognards and grumpy edition warrers will say, Neverwinter is very “D&D”. The combat is furious and deadly, it has all the accommodations of modern MMO games at zero cost. You can jump in with your friends and get playing immediately, granted the class selection is a bit limited right now and will be at launch but sometimes less options are better, like the essentials line. I know I know, let’s not get started on that but honestly, if you were considering not giving Neverwinter a shot I highly suggest you change your mind and at least try playing it for a week and see what turns up.
You’re going to roll for your ability scores, increase them as you level, weigh the pros and cons of which powers to use in battle, roll with your teammates across a wide range of playscapes disarming traps, smashing bad guys, and helping fallen comrades from the brink of death’s door. This game is D&D in the truest of forms, you don’t need THACO or weird ability score caps to tell you that, action point and spell mechanics don’t have to be carbon copied from a book on your shelf for you to have fun.
A List, For Lists Sake
Maybe you like lists, maybe you need a list of things/reasons for you to try Neverwinter. I can give you that, I’ll give you ten actually, ten reasons you totally wouldn’t expect.
- It’s free, as in free beer. Download the game, play it, that’s all there is to it.
- It’s got dwarves, and dwarves with mohawks.
- You can get companions and train them to fight at your side and give them cool names like “Zero Cool” and “Healbot 9000”.
- The PvP is fucking amazing.
- The devs really care about the feedback they recieve, it shows more and more with each patch.
- There’s Mimics, holy shit!
- If you’re actually reading this you’ll notice that there are in fact 11 bullet points, I might give you a beta key too so keep reading.
- It runs on just about any modern PC, even the shitbox I have at work with onboard graphics played it smooth (with graphics turned down) at 1920×1080. No I wasn’t playing during working hours, I’m not a slacker. You can even move the UI around to your liking without installing a billion mods.
- There’s built in voice chat, come smash things with your friends and laugh and make dick jokes, just like you would around the table.
- The Foundry is going to produce awesome content, even if the people at Cryptic fall through (they probably won’t, did you see me fighting that pit fiend?) you can just make your own.
- The chance to poke fun at literally hundreds if not thousands of people who have named their character some variation of “Drizzt” and have panther companions.
Wrap Up, Time to Crack Some Skulls
It doesn’t matter what edition of D&D is your favorite, Neverwinter is a blast. Games like this are what I’d rather do than attempt to play tabletop games online. Roll20 and other online tabletop tools are great but the whole online gaming experience just isn’t for me, give me tabletop or give me death, and by death I mean video games.
I’m not sure when the game is actually launching but I’m sure it can’t be too far away. I hope you’ll give it a shot at least, I know I was fully prepared to completly disregard this game and let my assumptions and reservations guide me in a completely different direction. I’ve been playing D&D since I was a teenager and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon, I’ve played a lot of D&D licensed titles and I can honestly say that Neverwinter is one of the few that does the brand good.
If you’re interested in playing this weekend and haven’t managed to grab a key from the various promotions going on online that I’ve been tweeting about then I have some good news for you. I have several Neverwinter keys to give out, give me either A) your biggest sob story as to why you need to play Neverwinter this weekend, B) your testament as to how much you’ve loved the Neverwinter series and/or Forgotten Realms for your whole life, or C) a rant about how much you can’t stand assboats who sit around in general chat of MMO’s complaining about them and should probably just log off and go drink bleach.
Hope to see you in game this weekend!