A long time ago, for a few months after it launched, I was an avid Neverwinter player. I loved its visceral combat, and to this day I’d rate its take on the Ranger as perhaps my favorite class in any video game. I made it to the original level cap and got fairly well-geared.
However, with the big updates being made with the new Uprising module this month, it felt like a good time to give Cryptic Studios‘ Dungeons and Dragons inspired MMO another shot. A revamped leveling experience seemed like it could be the breath of fresh air the game needed. I rolled up a new character, a Paladin, and set forth on my adventures.
However, my high hopes for a fresh experience quickly came crashing down. The new tutorial is barely changed from the original. Honestly I’m not sure why PWE bothered to change anything; there’s no substantive difference. I guess getting rid of the “amnesiac shipwreck survivor” bit makes the experience slightly less cliche, but otherwise it’s just the same stuff about fighting Valindra’s minions.
Perhaps I simply misunderstood the marketing materials, but I had been of the impression there were significant changes after the tutorial, too. This is not the case. Once you’re past the opening quests — 20 minutes of content or so — it’s straight back to the Blacklake District, same as always. Protector’s Enclave was said to have received a facelift as well, but honestly, I can’t tell the difference.
There are some changes compared to what I remember, but they are small. There’s a short new quest chain woven through the low-level content to introduce players to the mechanics of Campaigns. Campaigns were just beginning to be implemented when I left, so while they’re now the bread and butter of Neverwinter‘s endgame (from what I understand), I don’t have a lot of firsthand experience with them. If the new introduction quests are any indication, I’m not sure I want to play more of them. It’s just a lot of collection quests and AFK tasks. That’s about as dull as MMO content gets.
The other change I noticed is that Neverwinter‘s early levels are now much, much easier. It was never an exceptionally hard game, but I remember that in the past it took at least some effort to down enemies. Now nothing puts up a fight at all. This is a real shame because combat is by far Neverwinter‘s greatest strength, but there’s no joy to be found in it when even group dungeon bosses go down in about 10 seconds.
With the starting experience proving to have little new to offer and none of it good, I started revisiting my old characters and exploring how the game’s systems had changed more generally since I last played.
I jumped on my Cleric to heal a dungeon and found the character almost unrecognizable. The unique mechanics that allowed Clerics to shift between healing and damage have — at least at the lower level she’s at — been replaced by a very bland selection of standard heal and damage spells. It feels like any other MMO support class now, and the character feels gutted.
On a brighter note, I also ran a quest on my Ranger main, and she plays just as I remember. Her hybrid melee/ranged build is intact, and it’s still an absolute blast to play.
I also found the challenge that was missing at low levels is there for level 60 characters. In fact, if anything, it was perhaps a little too challenging. I suspect some kind of scaling issues introduced by game balance changes over the years. It would have been fine except that my healing potions — which were ostensibly level appropriate — were healing for only a tiny fraction of my health.
Back when I used to play, I was a big fan of the PvP. In fact, Neverwinter is the only MMO where I made PvP a regular part of my play. It even became my main source of high-level gear. I liked how the action combat leveled the playing field between newer players and those with better gear, and the balance of the Domination mode made matches very volatile, with little potential for snowballing.
I wanted to see if Neverwinter‘s PvP is still that fun, but after hours spent in queue on multiple characters, I never got a single match to pop. It seems the game’s PvP community has died, at least below the new level cap.
The other thing I used to spend my time on in Neverwinter was the Foundry. Popular legend says that letting players design their own content leads to nothing but endless reams of broken and poorly designed quests, but I found that wasn’t the case at all. The Foundry overflowed with content that was far better than anything made by the developers. Sure, there were lots of crap quests, but it was easy to avoid them by reading reviews before you played. The overwhelming majority of Foundry quests I played were fun and engaging, with clever game mechanics and well-written stories.
It is, then, very disappointing that the Foundry has been removed from the game entirely. This seems to be because it was too much of a challenge to maintain technically, which to me seems a pretty damning statement on what kind of company is running the game now. If you can’t find the resources to maintain the most unique selling feature you have, why are you making games in the first place?
Beyond that, Neverwinter has received a mixed bag of systems changes since I last played.
There’s a new wardrobe system that lets you save gear appearances and dyes to a library and then apply them as you please. This seems like a huge improvement. I remember having to constantly stock up on dyes being quite a pain back in the day.
Crafting has been redesigned and is now accessed through a physical workshop building in Protector’s Enclave. It’s a cool idea in theory, but it feels like an unnecessary complication in practice. Also, the Leadership profession has been removed for some reason. It had been my focus, so this pleases me not at all.
I know this reads as a very harsh impressions piece, and I suppose it is. However, my opinion of Neverwinter is not really that much lower than it was before. The loss of the Foundry is a huge blow, but otherwise the game hasn’t really changed that much for veteran players. It still has amazing combat, and if all you want is a place for low stress grinding — which is what the game was always best for — it’s still a solid choice. I can’t say this visit has inspired me to return to playing regularly, though.