Sometimes it takes a certain something to stand out in a puddle of free-to-play mass multiplayer games. Whether it's taking cues from Borderland's art style like Firefall or just being a sequel to a classic like Tribes, developers just need that edge to get people's heads turning and forget about the supposed bad reputation the F2P model has. Cryptic Studio, the same company that did the Star Trek and City of Heroes MMO game, definitely has that something: the Dungeons & Dragons license to play around with.
Based on what we've experienced in Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter, it's definitely being faithful to the tabletop RPG's ethos of forcing you to stick together towards completing a campaign. Most MMO games do that, we concede, but the way it's done here is not only in real time and fast-paced, but also action heavy and tactical. Lead producer Andy Velasquez said that future open-air dungeons and instances will require one or two groups of five classes banding together since they will be impossible to conquer in a group consisting of just two classes.
The build we checked out had the guardian fighter, the control wizard, and the trickster rogue up for playtesting. All three were self-explanatory: the fighter acts as the tank and up-close damage dealer, the wizard pelts enemies with spells from afar and gives buffs, and the rogue sneaks around and deals maximum damage from the shadows while not getting hurt. We used the rogue because stabbing people in the back is fun. In addition to our standard melee attack composed of five hits, the rogue can teleport behind someone instantly and slash him or her from behind.
The rogue can also turn invisible (not within the line of enemy sight), throw daggers at mid-range, and launch a decoy to distract enemies. While we had no trouble tackling the current quest by ourselves, we were told that having more players inside will boost up the rewards as well as scale enemy levels accordingly.
For our playthrough in a ruined temple located within an unnamed mountain area, we had to collect two amulets to open up a door to a crypt. Our adversaries were wolves, archers, and warriors dressed up as wolves, and shamans who can summon wolves to do their bidding (pretty obvious pattern, yes?). Powerful enemy spells will have red lines and shapes on the ground showing where they'll hit. Velasquez said that this is to ensure that enemies don't come off as cheap; the grids will usually show if the spell packs a deadly wallop. He compared this to the telegraphed attacks from bosses in Devil May Cry and Bayonetta.
As short as our playthrough was, we came away pretty impressed with its presentation and core mechanics. While we couldn't ask in time why Cryptic Studios went for the free-to-play model, it really didn't matter in the long run. It feels polished and easy to get into within a few minutes thanks to its reaction-heavy action, provided you understand the basis of the role you pick. The game will obviously thrive from its brand alone (and possibly from people mistaking it for the next iteration of BioWare's Neverwinter Nights series), but it's nice to know that the actual gameplay isn't something whipped up at the last minute.
D&D: Neverwinter will be out this year and will be free to play. A closed beta session will be happening in the coming months.