The MMORPG Neverwinter And the Awkwardly Cleric-less Cleric

Two considerations to be had: I am not writing a negative review for the game Neverwinter. I have had an overall positive experience with it, but I will portray an aspect of the game which I consider to have fallen significantly short of par. Also, please bear in mind that I am not talking about the famous Neverwinter Nights One or Two, but about the new MMORPG Neverwinter, a free-to-play MMO that still retains its “new game smell.”

A Few Notes:

That being said, Neverwinter‘s gameplay mechanics, while boasting of ties to D&D (Dungeons and Dragons), ought to be ranked among the most non-D&D games available. The game itself, however, is solidly built and viably structured as an MMO. I have actually found that I have no need of spending real world money in order to make it through the game in one piece, since the game is not built to require real-world money for the most necessary items and abilities.

Also, I find myself leveling up often enough as to repeal the “wind and grind” feel most modern MMORPGs force feed you, and the plethora of strategies and venues of upgrading one’s character make the experience truly an intellectually stimulating one. However, when it comes down to it, Neverwinter, which does borrow the lore and legend of the D&D universe, does very little to incorporate actual D&D board game mechanics into the scheme of things.

Where’s the “D&D” at?

First and foremost, the character classes are loosely based on D&D classes, but each is strictly locked into its own path. There is no such thing as “multi-classing,” there is no such thing as a “fortitude saving throw,” and there is no such thing as “memorizing spells.” One casts spells and uses abilities based on “encounter times” and “encounter charges,” which require no rest periods but require merely a handful of seconds to regenerate. These skills and abilities are balanced against one another by the amount of time needed to regenerate them.

A miniscule number of considerations, such as Armor Class and the chance to add a new point into ability scores every few levels, have been tucked into the character sheet and still bear the mark of the D&D system, but such considerations are few and far between. Several items and abilities have been shipped in from the tabletop fantasy experience as well, including singing swords, the ability to command guilds of artificers and mercenaries, the simplistic gold-silver-copper exchange, the ability to select a deity, and some spells and abilities.

It’s better for us lazy people.

As for actual roleplaying, one is able to bypass all lore, all knowledge, all dialogue and all storyline, by continuously pressing “1” at each NPC dialogue box. For a casual gamer like me, I do not have the time or patience to read every little jot and detail of every little quest, so being able to ignore quest dialogues and instead rely fully on the “quest guide” on the HUD (heads-up display) works out well for me.

If I am particularly lazy, a trail of stars will lead me to just about any quest location, and if this is not enough, a the map clearly and precisely offers the location of “area wide” quests (such as slaying ten of this or that beast) as well as “single-dot” quest locations (such as finding the missing woman in the ruins of this or that place.)

All of that is well and good, but here is the beginning of my actual argument:

The cleric is perhaps my favorite support role to play in any rpg experience. However, nothing could be less of a cleric than Neverwinter‘s cleric. What was a cleric’s purpose in D&D? Traditionally, it was to offer his charismatic view and enlightened sense of wisdom to his or her fellow party members. In battle, he served as the healer, the poison-curer, and was at least somewhat effective at monster control and buffing. Also, because of his divine spells, the undead beheld him with great fear and trembling, seeing as with the “turn undead” feat, he could vanquish a thousand weaker foes in an instant, and at least critically injure the stronger.

  1. In Neverwinter, the cleric serves far less potent of a role than he is traditionally envisioned to. In fact, I’d almost say that he has been swept completely out of the ”supporting character classes” group altogether. His meager healing abilities and buffs do little to turn the tide of battle–his regeneration power works slowly and gradually, not immediately and critically. Also, his ONE OTHER delegated heal spell does, upon the late time of acquiring it, so comparatively little healing that your party members would be better off using their healing potions at any given moment of urgency.
  2. Perhaps these heals could be more effective, if there was proper opportunity to administer them. When in one of the boss fights, my teammates were hopping around the huge battlefield, barely dodging the quick-witted and damage-intensive attacks of a demon-lord-thing. In a normal MMORPG, heals can be administered by first pressing a key bind, which selects any of four or five party members, and then by clicking or pressing the shortcut key for the particular healing ability. In Neverwinter, however, there is no option to press a key bind to heal a critically wounded party member; one has to swing his mouse around the huge battlefield, hope that somehow he can locate the ailing party member, hoping that said party member is close enough, hoping that another less-injured party member doesn’t sprint in between in the mean time and hoping that your intended target doesnt die in a brief moment of server lag. In a long battle with a boss, characters change locations so often that it is nearly impossible to keep up with all of the party members to find the one you are supposed to heal, and more often than not, the heals are just not enough to outweigh the damage being dealt to them. So, my heals suck, my attacks suck, I can’t raise dead, and I can barely keep myself alive. Way to go, level twenty cleric. Way to freaking go.
  3. Also, what were the game-makers thinking when they left out “turn undead?” That feat was the staple of the cleric, the thing they were perhaps known best for, and yet they gain no more of a damage bonus to undead than a ranger or wizard.

The cleric is built more as a weak battle machine with optional crowd damage and adequate personal healing (outside of boss fights) rather than as a full-time healer and disease-purifier. When played as a single player experience, the cleric is a great choice of character for his ability to heal himself and deal damage–considering that he has the appropriate powers upgraded–but as a team-player on a five party dungeons, he falls short and may as well be left to sit on the bench in lou of a proud and fearless barbarian with regenerative potions.

I should conclude by saying the following: if you are interested in an experience that rivals that of other modern D&D-based video games that possess a hardcore edge and traditional D&D ideologies, you will be sorely disappointed with Neverwinter. If, however, you are able to appreciate the D&D lore intermingled with fresh gameplay mechanics, you will be surprised to find a game that is somewhat free of the cruel grind, very interesting in terms of new abilities and items, and very forgiving in terms of real-world money expenditures and death penalties.

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