Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter borrows its name and classic D&D elements from the Neverwinter games of olden times, but Perfect World's upcoming 2012 MMORPG is definitely not a remake of those earlier games. While we only had a brief time to demo the game at PAX East, it feels more like WoW or Guild Wars right off the bat, with some unexpected hack/slash tendencies. How and whether it sets itself apart from the slew of free-to-play MMOs available in the WASD/click/cooldown format will remain to be seen.

We got the chance to play the game only briefly, and during our demo saw about 99% action and about 1% character customization. Thrust into the role of a Level 13 Trickster Rogue, we were able to get a good idea of what this stealth-based class can do, but only on a very basic level.

Needless to say, Neverwinter appears to have a lot of the same gameplay elements as many MMORPGs, free-to-play or otherwise. Many of these elements are simply compulsory staples of the genre--Equipment menus, Character menus, Skill trees, etc. Where Neverwinter sets itself apart is in its rather complex focus on detailed tracking of stats, a la tabletop Dungeons & Dragons. A brief glimpse at the character menu showed a data-laden info pane detailing Strength, Charisma, Luck, Dexterity, Speed, Constitution--the list goes on, and we definitely did not have enough time to sort out how each stat affected the character in real time.

Contrary to its apparently complex character stats system, the one other notable gameplay feature we took away from Neverwinter was its cooldown-free, mouse-based combat system, which is apparently unique across character classes. While its hotkey system, where players set consumables like health or mana potions to boxes allocated to keyboard numbers (1, 2, 3 etc.), is standard to most modern MMOs, the mouse-based combat appeared to be at least one unique element of Neverwinter's combat.


Our brief foray into the dark-fantasy realms of Neverwinter revealed very familiar gameplay schemes. In an MMO, WASD movement, as well as class-based skills with synergy correlations, are like the platforms found in platformers: ubiquitous and standardized.

To the best of our knowledge, all characters can jump, but the Trickster Rogue can uniquely roll in cardinal directions to move into/out of combat in a stylish and evasive fashion. Outside of menus, the mouse controls the over-the-shoulder camera angle, making it fairly easy to look around and navigate through Neverwinter's non-linear environments.

For the Trickster Rogue, left-clicking on the mouse near an enemy (a targeted enemy glows with a red highlight) will trigger a real, live-action (as in, not dps based) attack, that can be triggered repeatedly in real-time by clicking the button. While, like many stat and dice roll based MMOs, successful attacks both in your favor and made by your opponents display a small number reflecting the amount of damage dealt, these attacks are not based on percentile-related levels of chance, but are actually based on the physical location of your character and their target. Sound bizarre for a game based on D&D? We agree with you, but also find it mildly refreshing in contrast with so many chance-to-hit based MMOs on the market.

Right-clicking the mouse also triggers an ability that is cooldown free and "real time" based. For the Trickster Rogue, it was an instantaneous warp, putting the player directly behind their target enemy. We leaned on this technique heavily during our time with Neverwinter, warping here and there whenever enemies closed in around us. It was extremely helpful, but considering it has absolutely no drawback, we're not sure what's to keep players from abusing it to no end--and have no idea what kind of ragefest it might induce during PvP matches.

Other than its action-based mouse commands, the controls in Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter were completely standard MMO faire. But in case you've simply never had the time or chance to experience WASD-based controls, it's a lot simpler than it sounds. The "W" key moves the player forwards, the "A" key moves the player to the left, the "S" key moves the player backwards, and the "D" key moves the player to the right. The mouse controls the camera, and hotkeyed skills/consumables are used by pressing keys like Q, E, 1, 5--a large number of keyboard buttons located closely to W, A, S, and D, for obvious reasons.

While we got very little time inside the menus of Neverwinter, they're operated (once opened) by pointing and clicking with the mouse. Or with customized keyboard shortcuts if you're the JS Bach of Logitech.

This was the pre-Alpha version of Neverwinter--at this point, we're not even sure if characters are allowed different hairstyles. (All we want is some sweet sweet Mohawk Dwarf!)

While we went solo during our demo, it goes without saying that Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter will likely feature a number of dedicated servers or realms, or perhaps just one really big one, to house the potentially hundreds or thousands of players playing at once. How well Perfect World will implement the MM and O elements of this RPG is knowledge yet unattainable.

The overall presentation of Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter, outside of the nuances of its controls and combat system, was very bland. There were a number of newly developed MMOs on display at PAX East (even another by Perfect World--_Raiderz_--at the very same booth), and there wasn't much about Neverwinter to make its overall atmosphere and graphical presentation stand out from all the other MMOs out there. We can only hope it's an early build thing, and that a game famous for its organic storytelling doesn't also lean too heavily on player imagination.

During our short demo of Neverwinter, we saw very little actual story, and couldn't tell you what the premise behind the game is. As a Trickster Rogue, we were tasked with journeying through catacombs to seek out and slay an apparently important enemy called "Arleon the Unforgiven" (or something similar). The old man who told us this gave us no reason for doing so, and spoke to us as though he knew us already, so it's very possible this section of the storyline was initiated in media res, but what's more likely is that it was simply a standalone mini quest to help introduce players to the game at large.

Neverwinter lacked the throwaway art style that's become almost nauseatingly prevalent amongst MMORPGs, especially of the free-to-play variety: a mostly western fantasy based backdrop with tinges of eastern-influenced hair, clothing, or architecture. That does now, however, mean its graphical presentation was terribly interesting or different. It looked and felt a lot like WoW, except with the more muted colors of Guild Wars. Landscapes were sparsely detailed, and at times mostly linear, with enemies such as skeletons and undead knights seeming to garner the lion's share of the game's graphical detail. Our demo was brief, but nothing about the art design really jumped out and impressed us.

Like its art direction, Neverwinter's use of music and sound effects was also lackluster. As we attacked shambling skeletons, our Rogue's twin daggers pinged with metallic existence in time with arcing slices and backstabs. Upon using the teleportation ability, an audible sound--that of matter dissipating and reappearing--would trigger, in our case over and over, as we warped behind enemies in an almost infinite loop. There was definitely music present in the game, but nothing that left us humming or tapping a foot.

The demo we played of Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter was brief and unimpressive. While Perfect World may be on to something with its live-action, mouse-click related attack/react scenarios and unique character defense skills, the rest of the game's presentation--bland atmosphere, unpronounceable locations, and dizzying lists of character stats--have all been done somewhere else before, albeit better or worse on an individual basis.

It seems that Perfect World was aware of this, as well, as they had set up a second free-to-play MMO in the same booth as Neverwinter, and the two games were almost indistinguishable from a distance. On top of giving out free tote bags, beer steins, and Beta keys for Neverwinter, their demo was a very linear, point A to point B kind of experience, just enough to give players something to do after being incensed to get in line with the promise of free swag.

Something, however, has kept people rolling the dice in the name of dungeons (and sometimes dragons) since the 70s; likewise, the name "Neverwinter," despite sounding contradictorily cheery and foreboding, has been clinging to various forms of gaming since the early 90s. Perhaps Perfect World can capture whatever mix of magic and nostalgia they need to live up to that name--but right now, it's way too early to tell.

Meet the testers

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

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