As someone who has played all of Cryptic’s releases, often while in beta, I see Neverwinter as the end result of many years of lessons.
There’s the sense that you can throw a party together of any classes, made up of random players who just have to be able to play the game and grunt occasionally at each other, and you can have fun most of the time. That’s very City of Heroes / Villains.
There’s the action combat, where you have to watch enemy tells to know where not to be. That’s very Champions Online.
Companions and player created content (i.e the Foundry) as key parts of the gameplay experience. That’s Star Trek Online.
But although those things might have their origin in the above titles for Cryptic, they’ve been refined for Neverwinter.
Cryptic have been developing casual-friendly MMOs for over 10 years and has always used instanced environments to maintain the player experience that the game is about your character (and the team they are with right now, if applicable). Neverwinter isn’t the exception here, with the result being a polished example of this approach to MMO design.
The combat is simple, straightforward and it works. Gone is the ridiculous complexity of Champions Online at the trade off of limited character power customisation.
Neverwinter isn’t perfect – the multiple currencies issue exists as it does in all Cryptic games, there are a number of obvious issues (e.g. the automated chat banning of an account for 24 hours if a few people report them, thus making it an ideal griefing tool) and arguably it might be too simple as a title to last – but it’s fun right now.
And it’s free. That gives the game a lot of leeway because you don’t need to pay a dime to experience the vast majority of the content.
Neverwinter won’t be a game for everyone, but it’s a title that shows off a lot of things Cryptic have learned about making casual MMOs and action RPGs. By launching as pure F2P there is recognition about the payment models that will at least get players in to install the game on their hard drive and give it a shot.
Things seem to be shaping up for Neverwinter to be a very successful title for Cryptic and a rare success among recent MMOG releases. Maybe there’s a lesson there for other MMO studios to learn from.