News, Views, and Reviews
Are traditional MMOs boring to you? Do you wish there were more to fighting mobs of enemies than just “Tab target, click 1-4, watch numbers, health burns down, Tab target new enemy, repeat”? If you’ve tried to get into MMOs, or you’ve been playing them for years and are tired of the same old, same old, then Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter could be what you’re looking for.
After creating a character, as described in Part 1, players are met with a brief tutorial. The story is always the same: you were headed to Neverwinter by sea, but you were shipwrecked by a dragon. A brave fighter awakens you on the beach and helps you find some starting gear. As you make your way to the city, fighting undead minions, you’ll learn the basics of combat and the unique controls of this action-based MMO. By the time you make it to the main gate, you’ll have leveled up enough to have access to several attack skills, including your first special “daily” skill. These skills will be put to the test as you face a giant boss enemy! After defeating this giant and saving the day, you can enter the city and prepare for your new life as an adventurer in Neverwinter!
Playing this short tutorial not only helps familiarize players to Neverwinter’s controls, it gives players a good sense of which class they will like to play as it introduces you to each class’s key abilities. That is, if you take the time to re-roll a few new characters and try them for yourself. So, what ARE these unique controls?
Basic Controls: Players move with the “W, A ,S, D” keys and control the camera with the mouse. Unlike some MMOs, the camera is fixed to a targeting circle in the middle of the screen. The player can move independently of where that circle (and the camera) is being aimed. This immediately makes Neverwinter more of an action game, because you have to aim at your targets with that targeting circle, and use the left and right mouse buttons to attack. If you’ve played games like DC Universe, Tera, or the other Dungeons and Dragons Online MMO, you’ll be familiar with these controls. If you’ve played a third-person action/shooting game before, it’s just like that. In fact, I was surprised that there was no gamepad support during this beta, as developer Cryptic has included gamepad support for their other MMOs, Champions Online and Star Trek Online. Players were discussing that, and some said the previous beta weekend did support gamepads, so I’m going to assume it will be available.
After mastering movement, camera controls, and basic left and right mouse button attacks, we can look at the other abilities slotted on that action bar. The mouse attack buttons are called “At Will” abilities, because they can be performed at any time. The “Q, E, R” keys are called the “Encounter” abilities, and as the name suggests, can only be activated in combat. They also have a “cooldown” or a set number of seconds that have to pass before you can use them again. They do more damage than basic attacks, or serve other functions like taunting or weakening enemies. Next, there are the “Daily” abilities that are slotted in the “1” key and eventually the “2” key as well. I was fooled, at first, by the “Daily” name – you CAN use them more than once a day! There is an icon at the bottom of the screen that has to be full. If it’s full, you can use a Daily ability. You refill that icon (it looks like a see-through 20 sided dice) by performing actions that earn you Action Points, usually attacking enemies. The Daily abilities, then, are best saved for boss encounters, and you can generally earn enough action points between bosses to prepare you for the next encounter. Some boss fights were so epic, I used my Daily ability two or three times on the same boss! As you level, you will learn different At Will, Daily, and Encounter abilities, so you will have to choose which to equip in that action bar. This can be done at any time you are not in combat. Players of games like Diablo should be familiar with this control set up. The “3, 4, 5” keys are your “Belt” slots, used for potions, and these can be used in or out of combat. The “6” key is for your mount, which you can buy at level 20. Finally, at level 10, you will learn a “Class” specific ability that is slotted on the “Tab” key. This activates abilities like Stealth for Rogues or Taunts for Fighters.
But let’s not forget the “Shift” key! For all classes BUT the Guardian Fighter, double-tapping one of the “W, A, S, D” keys will let you dodge in that direction. Like Guild Wars 2, you have a stamina bar to consider, which means you can generally dodge twice and then wait for that bar to refill. Or, let it refill half-way, and dodge once again. If you are moving in a direction and press the “Shift” key, you will also dodge. For Guardian Fighters, however, holding down “Shift” makes you block with your shield. Depending on how tough your armor and shield are, you will still take some damage. But, if the enemy was trying to stun or knock you backwards and you blocked their attack in time, you will resist those conditions. Blocking also has its own “stamina” bar, so you can’t block blow after blow indefinitely. This bar refills with time or by performing certain actions like bashing enemies with your shield. Why would anyone want to block a blow instead of avoiding it? Some bosses love to keep swinging. If you avoid their attacks, they’ll keep moving around – some VERY quickly – until they can find someone and start swinging. Enter the Guardian Fighter, who bravely stands his ground and lets the boss swing at him – and now that boss is holding still long enough for others to attack him.
I will admit, I had to adjust my hands a little compared to my usual MMO hand placement. I usually “drive” with the mouse (by holding down both left and right mouse buttons, in most MMOs, that makes you move and change the camera at the same time) which frees my left hand to sit on the “1-6” keys instead of the “W, A, S, D” keys. For Neverwinter, I don’t WANT my hand to sit on the “1-6” keys and accidentally activate a Daily ability! It took me a while to get used to “driving” with the “W, A, S, D” keys, and even longer to stop wanting to hit the “Tab” key to target enemies, but I managed. Again, playing action/shooting games with the KB/M controls will prepare players for Neverwinter.
Combat: I should point out that the aiming circle is pretty generous. Once you face an enemy and the circle turns red, you can start attacking. As long as you keep facing in that general direction, you’ll keep hitting that enemy – you don’t have to keep the circle directly on your targets like you would if this was a shooting game. The aiming and attack controls are much more fluid than Tera, and lets players do some pretty amazing things. If you are surrounded by enemies, you can focus your attacks on one target, but if you move the camera to the different enemies surrounding you, your character will also attack any enemy you target. It’s almost like playing an action game like Assassin’s Creed or the Arkham Batman games. The game is well designed to accommodate this fluid action, and you will face groups of enemies at a time – and some of the mobs in that group will be weaker than others. This is such an amazing feeling! Imagine fighting several enemies at once, and paying more attention to their position and their relative strengths and health than to the cooldowns on an action bar at the bottom of the screen. Now you can focus on strategies like taking down the weakest enemies first or setting up area of effect abilities to damage the group all at once. The Control Wizard, for example, can try to slow down or freeze the tougher enemies while other players in the party eliminate the weaker enemies. Meanwhile, the Trickster Rogue can leap from target to target, quickly reducing the size of the enemy group. After thinning their numbers down, the party can turn their focus to those tougher opponents. Or, if you’re playing solo, you’ll have to use similar strategies yourself. This dynamic, action-based game play is just really, really fun.
I can’t stress enough how FUN the combat is. I played for a good 6-8 hours, straight, every day this weekend, and never got bored. I felt more engaged, more focused on strategies and skills, and eager to show off those abilities on each encounter, than I feel playing other MMOs. This, I think, has to do with both the controls AND the enemy designs. Even an action-based MMO like Tera gets boring for me, fast, because I feel like I’m just spamming the same actions against massive damage absorbing sponges. It’s tedious. Switching the control scheme from “tab target enemy, spam keys 1-4, repeat” to “aim at enemy, spam left-right mouse buttons, repeat” isn’t enough, and I think that’s where Neverwinter’s smart control AND enemy designs shine. Of course, that’s all reflected in the Game Play section, that I will cover in Part 3.