Power Hour Review: Neverwinter: Shadowmantle
For those of you who love Dungeons and Dragons, you’ll definitely want to check out Neverwinter. Neverwinter is a free MMORPG, with gameplay that is reminiscent of WoW and Diablo 3. It’s a nice mix of classic roleplay with some updated combat and action. They also have something called “The Foundry,” which is available for players to make their own world (yay modding!). I’ve played it for just over an hour, so I can be faithful to my Power Hour review, but honestly I’m going to have a hard time not turning it back on once I post this blog.
When you start the game, you first watch an amazing and beautiful cinematic that introduces you to some of the character archetypes and a bit of what’s happening in the game world. The video below is of the opening cinematic (I included it because there aren’t many videos of it on Youtube). Essentially, you and the other good guys are in a fight against what seems at first to be an army, but it becomes clear later on that this is no regular army. It’s an army of zombies (how are you not hooked already?!). There is a woman you get introduced to at the end that appears to be the one controlling the army who is also one of the undead. And, on a side note, she looks like a total badass.
After the cinematic, you get to the character creation screen, which again is reminiscent of other MMOs. You have several races to choose from: human, drow, dwarf, sun elf, Halfling, half-elf, half-orc, monzoberranzan, renegade, moon elf, tiefling, and wood elf, though some of these are only unlocked when you purchase some content. You also have several classes to choose from: control wizard (how amazing does that sound), devoted cleric, guardian fighter, great weapon fighter, trickster rogue, and hunter ranger. I chose to be a Sun Elf Devoted Cleric, because no matter how hard I try to be something else, I’m a healer at heart.
One thing that is pretty damn magnificent about this game is the visuals. The graphics, the detail, the color, it’s all remarkable, especially for a free game. Now, I’m a far bigger fan of fantastic visuals, rather than realistic ones. For example, I preferred Kingdoms of Amular over Skyrim (blasphemy! You call yourself a gamer?!?), and a big part of why I preferred Amular was the visuals. The colors were bright and fantastical and the characters and landscape were just a tad more cartoonish. The monsters you fought were often over the top representations, rather than accurate ones (accurate to mythology? Which seems like an oxymoron…). That said, I think this game really hits a nice middle ground between the grit of a Skyrim style and the fantasy of an Amular. The cinematics fall slightly more on the fantastical side and the gameplay falls slightly more on the realistic side, which makes a lot of sense. But the level of detail on both is absolutely astonishing.
I played WoW for a long time, and I played devoutly. I never really paid attention to the visuals, because I was just focused on leveling and finishing quests and running instances and such. Honestly, I didn’t think the visuals had anything to do with my enjoyment of the game. But for some reason, the visuals stick out to me in Neverwinter, and in a positive way. So for you visual players out there, you should at least try this game if only to see how beautiful it is.
The gameplay itself has been fairly predictable so far, but let me be very clear, I don’t consider that a bad thing at all. One of the reasons I struggle to pick up new MMOs is that I often find the learning curve is very steep. I often feel lost from the very beginning. I really was hesitant to try out Neverwinter: Shadowmantle because 1) it’s an expansion and 2) it is based in a D&D world, which I have played some of but not a ton. However, my need for a game to review and my empty wallet pushed me to review this one. But within seconds of the game I could tell I would have no trouble picking it up, and I didn’t. The quests follow an easy enough structure, and there is a helpful mini-map with quest locations on it as well as a glimmering path you can follow to lead you to your objective. It reminded me of the first time I used Quest Helper with WoW.
Now, I’m sure some people are pissed that they have made the game “easy” to play at first, because how can we keep games pure if we let everyone in! But what it says to me is that the devs care more about reaching lots of people and getting people into their game. Maybe it gets continually more difficult, and that’s fine. But if I can’t figure out the controls of a game within the first hour, I’m not going to play it. So I think making it accessible, at least the beginning, was a smart move. Also on a side note, they have one of the most helpful tutorial guides I’ve come across. So far it has only popped up when I needed it to explain things, so it hasn’t been intrusive at all. And the voice of it is kinda funny.
With this blog, of course, one of the things we really look at is the portrayal of gender in games. I must confess, I was a bit skeptical in the opening cinematic when one of the main female characters, a rogue I would guess, was wearing very little clothing. Now, less clothing is not inherently problematic. I wouldn’t go to a beach and complain that women are wearing swimsuits. However, when you have a woman who is doing hand-to-hand combat with zombies but only wearing a half torn top and a tiny pair of shorts, I’d say that’s a problem. You could argue that the clothing choice reflects her character, which is apparently an elusive rogue. She is quick and deadly, and it would make no sense for her to be in a big bulky suit of armor. I get that. However, I do think there could be a better compromise. Maybe an outfit of all black that covers her arms and legs from zombie bites but also allows her to stay nimble for avoiding attacks. I don’t know what the perfect solution is, but there has got to be a better one than a torn top and shorts.
That said, however, all other encounters I’ve had with female characters outside of the rogue have been surprisingly appropriate. The cleric in the opening scene is wearing a reasonable set of mage robes, which is very similar to the male caster in the opening. My sun elf is also clothed head to toe, which again, makes sense when you’re fighting zombies. As I go through the game some more, I’ll continue to update you folks on what I find. My hunch is that there will still be some problematic representations of women, particularly with classes like rogues that devs still think they can get away with sexualizing women. And again, I think the folks in this game have done one of the better jobs I’ve seen with representing female characters at least so far. But so help me if I find a chestplate that is metal bra on female characters. SO HELP ME.