See, I still remember first seeing Neverwinter in person at PAX East one of these years. (All of the PAX Easts kind of blur together in a mess of overcrowded convention halls, Boston weather, and occasional hotel stays.) I have more or less no attachment to the original games in the franchise, and frankly it looked like it was going to be pretty great. I was really looking forward to playing it myself.
Instead, I think I just played a lot of other games and never actually even installed it. I’m sure I had my reasons. I’m not sure they were good reasons, though.
Neverwinter is part of the triumvirate of games from Cryptic Studios, alongside Champions Online and Star Trek Online. It also has the interesting distinction of having always been designed as a free-to-play game, while its other titles were initially designed as subscription games and later converted to the free-to-play model. Also, it’s the heir to a series of titles that managed to thrive and earn a lot of love due to extreme modding flexibility, which is why it launched with player-made content built into the framework.
I couldn’t tell you at this point how relevant that still was, but I’m sure I’ll have some idea by the time this particular jaunt is over.
When I played the game, I was very impressed. For one thing, it had some very fun and responsive action combat, something that always earns a few nods and appreciative glances from me. For another thing, while it’s based off of the almost universally loathed 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, it did journeyman work toward making those restrictive rules work for the game rather than against it. It’s almost like those rules were intended from the start to work well with a video game.
Plus, tieflings. I like tieflings a lot.
The only real downside I saw was that it’s yet another D&D game set in the Forgotten Realms. I don’t like the Forgotten Realms. The Forgotten Realms are the fantasy setting you come up with when you’re a kid and think that Middle-earth was cool, but what would make it even cooler was seven million different dragon subtypes with different elemental abilities. It’s the poster child for the game’s Gygaxian roots, where everything is really meant as a short hop and skip into another dungeon crawl with a new set of beasties to kill. Trademarked generic fantasy, in other words.
There’s a whole essay to be written about that, too, but it’s rather tangential to this column at the moment. And hey, it’s not like there were a whole lot of options; the eponymous city was in the Forgotten Realms, so we couldn’t just hop to Planescape or Dark Sun or even Dragonlance without some pretty big question marks. Not to mention that the original Neverwinter Nights bothered to make the collections of baddies to beat up have, like, motives and goals and wants.
As long as we avoid any noble Drow shunning their ancestors, I think we’ll be all right. (Not that I expect to actually have that option.)
In other words, while it’s not exactly my first choice for a setting, or even in the top ten, it’s not really a deal-breaker. What kept me from diving into the game wasn’t the setting; it just came down to time and availability. And now I get to dive into it. Hooray for ongoing community polls.
Neverwinter also occupies an interesting position of clearly making a good amount of money for its designers while simultaneously having a large number of detractors who follow the game with a fervor. Remember how I mentioned above that it was designed as a free-to-play game from the start? Yeah, that means all of the stuff I don’t like about Cryptic’s free-to-play model has been on full display since day one. And that’s something I’ve never really encountered personally, simply because their other games are ones I’ll subscribe to when I play.
What’s Star Trek Online like when you play for free? I have no idea; I don’t play it that way. I know that the lockboxes as loot drops irritate me, but seeing as how I’m being fed a steady string of in-game currency and can refine plenty of Dilithium for more, I don’t really have an organic picture of the free side of the game. Not so in Neverwinter; I’ll be on the level with everyone else, swimming in the same free waters.
Of course, I don’t think Neverwinter lets me drop $50 on a bunch of spaceships, but that’s more of a genre shift. (Let me know if I’m wrong; I won’t say no to having a Romulan ship to use on an ancient blue dragon.) The point is that there are no real workarounds here, or at least not like they exist in the other games.
But the game does well. It makes money, it keeps a steady stream of content going, it’s available on consoles, and when I played before, I had fun with the basic mechanics. So I’m looking forward to this, and if I turn out to be wrong, we can all go ahead and point and laugh at me.
Obviously, this being the first week, I need you all to determine a thing or two about my character. Specifically, I need to figure out what class I’ll be playing. There’s a remarkably small list, I find, but we can work around that. Since this is one of the rare times when I don’t know much about the classes, I’ve had to rely a wee bit upon looking things up. What are my options?
Great Weapon Fighter – You all know I have had endless amounts of fun with this class name. Let’s be real, though, this also does fall into the wheelhouse of classes I like to play. You know what’s better than spending years of arcane study mastering spells to warp the very elements? Rendering all of that study useless with a well-placed sledgehammer to the face.
Hunter Ranger – This is actually a bit outside of my wheelhouse, but you know what I think is pretty cool? Classes which are both ranged and melee. I like when you have classes that don’t lock you into a specific range but let you move back and forth as the situation warrants. And hey, it’s a good thing for me to move a bit outside of my comfort zone.
Scourge Warlock – See above about experimenting with new things, but add in the fact that I am actually really curious about this class in general. Lifestealing, summoning dark horrors, and implementing horrid curses? I can be down with that, it sounds pretty fun.
Trickster Rogue – This would be the class I actually played through in those demos so long ago, and let me tell you, it still appeals to my love of sneaking around and dual-wielding. I appreciate having a rogue class focused more on agility and nimbleness than just dropping in and out of stealth, to boot.
So which class will I go for? Inquiring minds (me) want to know!
CMA: What will my class be?
- Great Weapon Fighter (18%, 54 Votes)
- Hunter Ranger (21%, 61 Votes)
- Trickster Rogue (15%, 44 Votes)
- Scourge Warlock (46%, 138 Votes)
Total Voters: 297
The poll closes on Friday at 6 p.m. EDT, so let me know what you think here and down in the comments. Feedback is welcome before and after the poll concludes down in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.