Neverwinter is undoubtedly one of the most popular new MMORPGs of 2013 and easily solidified my preemptive assumption that it would be the #1 free-to-play MMORPG this year. While it is anything but truly original (it is based on decades old lore and ideas, after all) but it delivers the familiar in enough fresh ways that I can’t help but find myself coming back to this latest incarnation of the Forgotten Realms.
Following the well-received first major content update, Fury of the Feywild, Shadowmantle is delivering the most varied amount of content that I’ve seen in an MMO update in recent memory. Of course, it is 100% free to all players – which is great to know. Most of the time developers tend to focus in on individual features for their updates or (usually) creating new features and ignoring previously established systems. After speaking with Lead Producer Andy Velasquez and Lead Systems Designer Chris Matz, I mean no exaggeration when I say that Shadowmantle truly delivers something for players of all types. I got to chat with them for about an hour about the update as they walked me through the features during a private livestream.
The Hunter Ranger
First and foremost, the most touted addition is the brand new Hunter Ranger class. Referring to the class as “Hunter Ranger” specifically and not just Ranger or Hunter is very important as, anyone familiar with D&D knows, there is much more than just one type of ranger. The Hunter Ranger is all about versatility – he can dart in quickly for lots of rapid strikes and blows in close-combat, then dash back and wreak havoc from afar with his bow. Players are free to mix and match these styles of combat with the new class as, for the first time, the player can freely switch between melee and ranged attacks. Every at-will and encounter power in the game is pre-made to include both a melee and a ranged version of that skill, ultimately meaning you have twice as many options for taking down your enemies.
There are some limitations in place, however, as to prevent the Hunter Ranger from being too incredibly powerful. For example, cooldowns on abilities are much longer than most other classes (some were even up over 10 seconds) meaning you will actively be movign around and swapping out your ranged and melee skills. This new class seems to clearly be made for the more skilled playerbase, as it would be very easy to become overwhelmed in combat.
Quick List of the Hunter Ranger’s Differences:
- Uses a bow because bows are awesome
- Freely swap between ranged and melee skillsets
- Every At-Will and Encounter ability features both a ranged and melee-based orientation
- Melee and Ranged skills, while sharing skill slots, have individual cooldowns
- Abilities, in general, suffer from longer cooldowns overall (but you have more of them to choose from)
- Shift ability is a short dash that does not move very far, but can be used about twice as much as other shift abilities allowing more precision
- Your Action Point (AP) gauge is segmented into chunks, providing more granularity for Daily abilities
The Dread Ring
If that wasn’t enough for you, Shadowmantle features enough ancillary content to fill up an update in and of itself without the new class inclusion. At the top of this extra list is an entirely new zone called The Dread Ring packed full of new content for high-level players. It boasts new enemies, PvE quest content, several new instances, a new skirmish and a brand new dungeon. The team is working on incorporating player feedback on all of these new additions, particularly in terms of boss fights.
Players will now finally be able to go toe-to-toe against this expansions titular villain, Valindra Shadowmantle, and the key villainess of the entire MMO thus far. It would be an understatement to say this battle should be intense. I wasn’t able to check it out during the preview session, but they’ve put a lot of work into making sure players first encounter with her is as intense and fun as possible.
Artifacts and Item Enhancements
Cryptic and Perfect World have also put a lot of work into improving existing systems within the game, namely the way you upgrade and further customize your character at the end-game. An entirely new type of items known as Artifacts are making their debut and offer various ways to improve your characters. Starting at about level 20, you can gain these rare and valuable items that add passive bonuses to your stats and abilities, but also contain a special long-cooldown power mapped to a new key as well on the interface.
There will be about 8 total artifacts in the game once Shadowmantle goes live, most of which are geared towards end game characters. They are unique in that they are upgraded and “leveled up” throughout your time with the game and characters will even have different “primary” and “secondary” artifacts to use. Following this same line of thought, they’ve also incorporated improvements to the item enhancement system that greatly eases the frustration and streamlines the entire process. Not all changes can be as flashy as a new class, but this will likely be one of the more popular changes in Shadowmantle.
New Paragon Paths
One of the fundamental hallmarks of D&D has always been flexibility when creating and leveling your character. Naturally, the restrictive nature of an MMO (or game in general, for that matter) institutes limitations put in place by the developers, but thankfully Cryptic and PW are doing their best to incorporate as much flexibility as possible. One of the key functions for more individualized progression is the paragon path system – a secondary leveling tree that allows you to further specialize your character down certain “paths” of abilities.
The Shadowmantle update aims to further expand these options by delivering a brand new path for every existing class. For example – you can make your Control Wizard a fire-blasting glass cannon, or give your Guardian Fighter more offensive capabilities via the Swordmaster path. Each path will feature one new At-Will, one new Encounter and one new Daily power, as well as three new Class Features and three new Feats. Additionally, every player will have the option to respec their paragon paths in order to accommodate previously made characters that may want to take advantage of their classes newfound powers.
Collection Tab and Companions
Now, what could easily be construed as some of the smallest changes, these two are actually the ones I am most excited about after seeing them in action. I am a huge fan of Guild Wars 2, and that is due, in no small part, to the sheer breadth of content in that game. Similarly, Neverwinter is awash with activities to do, places to see and things to collect. As a result of that, it can often get overwhelming (this is true for any MMO, really) to keep up with all the things in the game – which is where the new Collections tab comes in.
This little feature will work much like a mixture of an in-game Encyclopedia (my thoughts) and a Pokedex (the Lead Producers analogy) so it should be a welcome addition. As you discover artifacts, gear sets, companions and several other items within the game it will feed into your Collection tab (which also features a nifty scoring system – something the Lead Producer likened to a gamer score of sorts).
Companions (probably one of my favorite features about the game) are also getting a nice overhaul. In your inventory, you can set several different companions you own to “active” even if they are not currently deployed in the game. Deploying them of course carries its own specific benefits (such as a cleric actively healing and fighting with you) but leaving them in the active slot will now grant passive bonuses as well – a great new addition that should add even more build customization.
Cryptic and PW seem to be funneling as much of their creative juices as possible into Neverwinter, which is a great sign. While I feel like the Hunter Ranger should have been included at launch (he was featured in a lot of the promo artwork, like here) it is great to finally see him added. All of this content is free of charge as well, which is a great sign, especially given the fact that a lot of rewards and cash shop items haven’t been particularly well received among the player base.
With the fantastic stream of new content from players via The Foundry combined with such high-quality regular updates like Fury of the Feywild and Shadowmantle from the development team, it’s looking like Neverwinter may truly be Neverending.
Module 2, otherwise known as Shadowmantle, releases today for Neverwinter. You can check out the official details over on the Neverwinter website and keep a lookout here for more details on upcoming features. Make sure you head over and read our Neverwinter review for full impressions on the base game itself.
Does this seem like a great new update to you, or are there certain features you want addressed that are getting ignored? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below!