Several of us, at CVGames, have had some time to spend in the upcoming Free to Play Neverwinter from Perfect World and Cryptic. During the Beta weekends I was able to meet one of the Founders Steven Baffy. He is better known by his in-game persona Argantis. As one of the players who purchased the Founders pack, he agreed to answer some questions and let us know what he thinks about game on the eve of Beta Weekend 4.
CVG: What made you decide to become a Founder of Neverwinter?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): I saw a gameplay video from a gaming site and was really intrigued by the combat mechanics. The devoted cleric played in the video unlike any healer I had seen in the more mainstream MMO games I had played. Almost immediately I knew that I wanted to help beta test this product along with giving the developer some “kickstart” money for the game.
CVG: Now that you have been able to play through some of the Beta Weekends, what are your thoughts about the game?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): We have not been able to see endgame yet so some things are still a mystery. That being said I really like the game. I think that it offers a unique blend of action MMO with traditional. The combat has a lack of running around in it due to being rooted in place when you attack. It gives a real weight and purpose to actions in combat and eliminates some of the advantage that ranged players always seem to have in both PvE and PvP. Yet the game world itself is pretty traditional.
There are some concerns with the game and how the cash shop will operate. So far I feel that many people are overreacting and speaking without really knowing how the Neverwinter free to play model will work in endgame. When the community has concerns, the developers let us know that they are reading what is being put forth on the game forums. I find Cryptic to be very forthcoming in this matter and my only worry is that they will be too responsive to a vocal minority that may not represent the entire player base.
CVG: What is your favorite race and character class?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): This is a really tough one for me. I tend to favor a certain race for a certain build of character. In that regard I always pay attention to the human race in any MMO game. To me it is the baseline, the one that anyone should be able to pick up and make a workable character in terms of gameplay efficiency. As such I feel very good about the races in Neverwinter and will be a Human Great Weapon Fighter on release.
The human models do need a little love, especially in the eye department. Every race needs some love in the color palette area. That being said I tend to favor game mechanics over artwork, you probably picked up on that already. The Human is pretty versatile, they get a nice mix of racial bonuses. One is defensive, one is a stat boost of your choice, and the other is 3 extra feat choices. That meshes perfectly for me with the Great Weapon Fighter.
I like the Great Weapon Fighter for their versatility along with the look and feel of them in combat. They swing slow but hit a lot of things at once, not necessarily hit harder. They also have a lot of movement functions to their mechanics. They are the most mobile class in combat. Along with that they are a lot more stout than other "striker" classes. Striker is the DnD term for what most MMO players know as a DPS class. The group mechanics of the Great Weapon Fighter put him as somewhat of an off tank. Getting to the weaker monsters and keeping them off of the cleric, wizard, and rogue. His mobility in combat makes him ideal to help where and when it is needed. Which in turn allows everyone else to perform their role in the group.
The defender role, currently the guardian fighter is the only one in Neverwinter, can focus on keeping the boss monsters attention, the trickster rogue can focus damage on the boss monster, the devoted cleric can focus on group support and healing, including damage. The control wizard can assist with the non boss monsters. Both the great weapon fighter and the control wizard can burst some damage onto the boss during lulls in the action when they have the lesser monsters under control.
Overall the group dynamic works well once everyone understands it, though it is a bit rough for people looking for traditional MMO trinity roles of tank, healbot, and dps. Mainly this is because the Neverwinter classes and combat mechanics are not very traditional. Everyone has multiple roles in a group. Combat is more about controlled chaos and movement than following a script. Every class can do damage, and in fact the "leader" class, the only of that role is currently the devoted cleric, that class does much better healing by building up holy power through damage. It is more of a damage, burst heal, damage cycle than traditional healer roles that sit back and watch health bars and tend to do very little actual combat.
Oh I should add in something that I recently learned about the Great Weapon Fighter. I made the common mistake of equating DPS to striker. In some ways that is correct, in others it is not. A striker in Neverwinter terms is single target DPS, the controller is area DPS and crowd control. So I mistook the AoE damage of the Great Weapon fighter to mean striker when it really means controller. As such the Great Weapon Fighter is a hybrid defender / controller that specializes in killing, tanking, and controlling groups of enemies.
CVG: If Cryptic Games asked the founders what other races and character classes to add next, what would you suggest?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): This is another tough one for me. Dragonborn has to be number one for the community as a whole but is not my personal favorite. Personally I would love to see Githzerai and Thri-Kreen along with some psionic based classes. I think that some diversity in things would be nice and the typical choices of monster / humanoid hybrid races that favor strength are already represented to some degree in Half Orcs. I also believe that Deva, Eladrin, and Gnomes would be a pretty easy transition in terms of flavor and ease of game balance.
CVG: Are there any specific gameplay features you hope is added before launch?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): Yeah there is one really big one. The roll system is a simple need, greed, pass option on a roll box. As of beta three that is how it sits. Since no gear in the game currently binds this is going to cause a lot of problems and grief in loot distribution. There are some reasons that I will not get into here that Cryptic may want gear to be on the auction house. If that is the intention they need to just auto roll and assign loot. Not only is the current system eventually going to devolve into everyone needs everything, even out of class items, but also the roll box gets in the way during combat. It really interrupts the immersion and takes away from the action and fast pace of the game to stop and decide to roll, mid battle, every couple of minutes in group play. If Cryptic does not want every loot drop to be on the AH then they probably need to adopt a class only on need roll system. I still would like the roll box to be out of my face and at least have an option setting for the system to auto roll for me even if it is not that way by default.
They also need to address an identification scroll issue where enough are not dropping. Fortunately Cryptic is aware of this and working on it. There is also some community concern about healthstones and resurrection scrolls being a pay to win cash shop item. Right now there is no validation to that because no one knows what the endgame is and crafting is being introduced in the upcoming beta weekend four. We also do not know the rate of Astral Diamond gain in the game to compare how long it would take a free player to get these items over someone just buying them in the cash shop. At this point it is a valid concern but nothing to avoid the game over. That being said Cryptic needs these issues addressed before release or it is going to impact things greatly, and probably not for the better of the game. To sum up the current pre-release issues, N/G/P roll system, identification scroll drop rate, impact of cash shop healthstones and res scrolls on endgame.
CVG: What do you enjoy most about the gameplay in Neverwinter?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): I love the action MMO combat, the non traditional trinity roles in that combat, and the more traditional game world. The best feature once you get out of the combat mechanics, by far though is the Foundry. Having the ability to design my own quests and dungeons is really what is going to set Neverwinter apart from other fantasy MMO games.
CVG: With a game like DDO, with tons of content, do you feel Neverwinter will be able to compete?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): Yeah absolutely. DDO is a very complex character system. It can be very cumbersome to players to have to spend two hours planning out a character on a planner that the developer does not even support. Neverwinter is very different. The meat of the character is very streamlined much like people that are fans of World of Warcraft are used to. The feat system and paragon paths in Neverwinter are also a lot more like the original World of Warcraft talent system. You get a lot of points to put in three different types of skill trees to add a lot of basic function and flavor. Later you unlock the paragon paths and can add a lot more to specific powers and combinations of combat mechanics. Character development is much more streamlined and easier for a non DnD rules geek to understand. As such they should attract a lot more of the MMO crowd that is not necessarily a DnD 4e rules geek.
The next thing that Neverwinter has going for it is that there is no need to pay for content. You can do everything from level 1 to 60 without any walls. Just go play and you get to hit endgame before you decide if you want to spend a dime on the game. In DDO you are going to be lucky to hit level 12 before you need to buy adventure packs and start to repeat content over and over.
There is also the Foundry. So for those that wish to write their own content that is something that DDO does not have at all. There is a nice perk there in that others can donate Astral Diamonds to authors of Foundry content as well, so it is not without some rewards for the efforts.
The last point on this, the Neverwinter combat is just nothing like DDO. In DDO there are a few action moves that a character can do, tumble, block, maybe do a trip move, some classes have stuns. But where that stuff is a very minor aspect of the combat in DDO, in Neverwinter it is the combat. It is not a question of doing better by having some tricks and gadgets, it is a matter of survival in Neverwinter. Especially in the high end of the game. Even the companion mechanics in Neverwinter show the progression in AI development over the years of what is now becoming a dated product in DDO.
Oh, one more thing, Neverwinter is set in the Forgotten Realms. The game looks good, for those who look for the details, and are aware of the polygonal modeling constraints of an MMO world. The attention to detail can be pretty neat when you notice it. Very smart use of lighting and shading in this game. Though some people should be aware that they have to go in and really tweak the settings to make the game look good. For some reason Cryptic has set the defaults to the low end of the spectrum and left it up to the users to find what is best for them. I suppose that could improve on release but as it stands the games auto detect settings seem to favor performance too heavily and almost everyone can make things look better without significant performance loss. Some issues with some of the newer video cards happen, but it is usually flicker effects that don't really break the game and you can "get through it" until your out of that area.
CVG: An Open Beta Weekend just got announced for April 30 and a Fourth Beta Weekend for April 12. When do you think Neverwinter will see a final release?
Steven Baffy (Argantis): I think open beta will be the release. Founders are going to get early access to the open beta and that leads me to believe this. Along with Perfect World Entertainment, who now owns Cryptic Studios, being a Chinese company. In the western MMO world we are used to wipes after beta and before release. In the east though they tend to not wipe after an open beta and just leave the servers up for official release. This is especially true of the eastern free to play games.
Those two things, along with my own time estimations from years of MMO gaming putting the release at May 2nd, seems to really line up with what Cryptic is doing. As it sits now Hero of the North Founders should get access on Thursday April 25th, Guardian of Neverwinter Founders should get access on Saturday the 27th, and the general public can flood in on Tuesday April 30th. I see no reason for a staged release for open beta and then a wipe. IMO if they were going to wipe after open beta they would just let everyone slam the servers at once to stress test them.
There is a third factor. Neverwinter has been in development for a long time. I can go back and find articles talking about it from 2010. Add in the fact that it almost got cancelled, along with them already selling Founders packs, it just tells me that they need to start making money on this and soon. All of the marketing momentum and financial bread crumbs point to a release sooner rather than later. There very well could be a wipe and official release in early to mid May, but judging on my play experience in the beta weekends it is not going to be needed for Neverwinter to be successful.
Thanks to Steven Baffy, better known as Argantis, for giving his thoughts on the upcoming Neverwinter. We hope to sit down with him again and hear his thoughts on how the game is progressing post-launch.