I’ve had the privilege to partake a Neverwinter buffet this weekend. It’s more compelling than I’d assumed from character creation. Cryptic delivered across the board.
The level of polish that’s free-to-play is astounding compared to the landscapes of yesteryear. Voice acting is the norm for Neverwinter, bringing it into the new era of MMOs.
I’ve had faith in Cryptic since playing Champions Online, which remains the best superhero gameplay available (sorry DC) and full of concessions for roleplayers.
Cryptic’s interpretation of the Neverwinter franchise is similarly action-packed, an odd feel for a D&D game. It’s a daring decision that pays off: Reticulated targeting and timing-based attacks make Neverwinter a fusion of traditional sword-and-sorcery with physical combat. Facing and positioning matter.
Neverwinter is full of other pleasant surprises: an elegant interface (despite limited customization), convenient keybinds (we’ve finally learned that players use Q before 7), period-appropriate music and a breathtaking game world.
So why do I keep returning to Star Wars: The Old Republic?
Bioware’s endeavor was more daring than Neverwinter in it’s way, with their insistence of the importance of story as a “fourth pillar” of MMOs. SWTOR’s move to free-to-play confirmed what many suspected: The game lacked stamina, couldn’t keep up with the hardcore community.
Bioware’s payoff becomes evident back to back with any MMO, including Neverwinter. A comparison checklist between the two might indicate that both have voice acting, both have cut scenes, both permit player choices in dialog. Similar quality, in theory.
But the voice acting in Neverwinter isn’t choreographed and animated — it doesn’t look like NPCs are talking, their mouths just move randomly. Cut scenes are not class specific. The story is generic. So far, I’ve discovered no “main” quest chain of such detail that every scene is blocked and full of drama and player choices matter. (For a thorough example from SWTOR, read, “The day I accidentally killed a Jedi Padawan.”
Dialog choices in Neverwinter have more to do with gathering additional information than responding in character. There aren’t good/evil responses, greedy/generous, passionate/apathetic, posturing or sincere. All those dimensions and more are present in SWTOR, with varying degrees between stories. (E.g., Bounty Hunters have more options to talk about money than other classes.)
I have little bad to say about Neverwinter. It’s a thoroughly fun game. I readily recommend it to most. Honestly, the detail SWTOR managed isn’t possible in a D&D setting, or at least isn’t practical: SWTOR required a mint to produce.
But when I turn from stationary NPCs in Neverwinter, more like statues with add-on audio, and log into SWTOR where even side quests have diverging lines and complete scenes, and I fall in love with SWTOR over again. Baking a film-worthy story into an MMO is no mean feat.
SWTOR trumps Neverwinter in one more area that’s no fault of Cryptic’s:
It’s STAR WARS.
An entire wall of my office is devoted to that franchise. (And then some.) Kind of hard not to participate in the same stories I loved as a kid. Neverwinter is full of beloved D&D tropes, but at the same time…I’ve already played those tropes at the table. The depth of premade plot offered by SWTOR is as good as single-player RPGs.
There’s no better MMO for an introverted writer.
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