Neverwinter: The Journey Of A Great Weapon Fighter
A journal of the quest to become a Great Weapon Fighter (GWF), through an inventive, fun, and beautiful game – Neverwinter.
It’s surprising to me that I’m writing this article – typically Neverwinter is the last kind of game I would ever play. I’ve found the majority of MMORPGs derivative, filled with tedious item collecting, and graphically stuck in the late 90s, which might as well be the 1890s sometimes. And the plots, phew, good luck with that. If I ever play another game where a farmer tells me to kill five sand llamas to harvest bamboo and I somehow get experience for that, I’ll have the creator tried for breaking the Geneva Convention. Suffice it to say, it’s very unlikely a game of this type can keep my attention longer than a week. In my eyes, a great MMORPG requires a decent narrative, up-to-date visuals, and most of all solid gameplay. It should be a fine mix between action and classic RPG, like a combination of Baldur’s Gate with Diablo II. Remembering the impact Baldur’s Gate had on RPGs for PC, and having played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons since I was 9 years old when I had no clue what I was doing, I simply couldn’t pass up trying an MMORPG based on the game that created an industry.
By now you’ve probably read reviews for Neverwinter – you may even be playing it. I’m sure you know of some of the issues people want fixed, complaints about the trickster rogue (TR) class being too OP, or heard about the auction house astral diamond (AD) crash after some idiots discovered a bug to exploit. But in spite of these things, the Neverwinter dev team really seems to be staying on task, as opposed to the laughable team behind Diablo 3. Other than the fact it’s in open beta, Neverwinter has been a solid experience for me, one that’s kept me interested past my week test period reserved for MMORPGs, to the point that I’ve slowly mastered what is considered the most difficult class in by some. So, this isn’t a review of Neverwinter. It’s more of a journal of my quest to be a Great Weapon Fighter (GWF), through what in many ways to me has been an inventive, fun, and beautiful game. Just look at that picture above, that’s the axe of a Frost Giant turned into a makeshift bridge. Just awesome, and there are so many points in Neverwinter where I literally stopped playing to enjoy the scenery.
Back on topic, the GWF gets a lot of flack. Don’t believe me? Go to the Perfect World Neverwinter forums, and you’re guaranteed to find at least 25% of the posts in the ‘Barracks’ are dedicated to whiners complaining about the class and their build attempts, begging for buffs, and hoping for nerfs. What you eventually want to be doing is digging right in the action, literally taking flack with this class. At first, though, after getting used to Neverwinter, the GWF seemed hopeless in some ways towards this goal, and I encountered this feeling several times while building my character. And unlike previous games, since Neverwinter was still pretty new when I started, there weren’t any build guides online to reference, so I had to figure it out myself. Yes, it’s a game, but I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished, no help involved. Here’s how it went.
Starting out, I knew what I was looking at, because I knew AD&D. I’ve played mage-type classes too much in video games, so I wanted a fighter. But not just any fighter; one that tanks, that goes in there, does damage like a beast and takes one for the team but never dies. Great Weapon Fighter, as opposed to Guardian Fighter (GF), is straight attack. Great, I’m in. Had to go half-orc for the simple reason that strength makes the most sense, going back to 1st Edition AD&D, so I didn’t have to read the stats to know the race was perfect. I felt compelled to make her female, but I made sure she was ‘hot, but not’ with beauty, scars, and beastliness. You look at her and you say, “hmmm, nah, but then again…”, as I typically tell other players.
Once I got her features right, I got acquainted with the controls of Neverwinter. I could sense the GWF had a clunkiness to it, like a potentially powerful tank rolling around slower than it should and out of ammo most of the time. I didn’t seem to have the general mobility of other classes, and getting around in early PvP rounds was akin to an elderly cow in a slaughterhouse with butchers using machine guns and chainsaws. This was further complicated by the fact that some GWF skills are totally worthless currently. I figured this out from about levels 9-20, but my dream was the picture below (that’s me at level 60 a few days ago). But it took awhile.
Sure Strike, your default left click attack at first, is deceptive. It seems cool, but at advanced levels it becomes useless as it’s only good, even with buffs, for a single opponent. You also have Reaping Strike, where the GWF powers up, your sword glows, and then you release an arc attack that deals decent damage. It’s cool to look at, but during the charge period you’re completely vulnerable. Thus, it’s a waste of time, so early on I looked at future skills to understand my options. Reaping Strike offers potential, but the charge time makes it useless, especially in PvP where you need to be constantly moving with this class against the faster Trickster Rogue or in order to run down a wizard. Speaking of which, you start with a sprint, and I suggest you give it a slight boost early on, because you do a lot of running around targets to play a GWF properly. Along with these basic attacks, I also noticed the first Daily you receive (powerful attacks enacted once every few minutes), Spinning Strike, is one of the worst attacks in the game. It’s obvious, easy to avoid, and does minuscule damage in comparison to Crescendo or Slam, which are by far more useful. Crescendo is great against a single enemy, and Slam devastates groups. So I avoided using Spinning Strike, let alone putting any points into it.
Up until about level 26, I was feeling pretty good about my advance in spite of difficulties, but when I first entered PvP with experienced players all hell broke loose, on me. I soon realized the clunkiness of the class required me to think about how the skills were laid out, because the ones I was offered at the time didn’t seem to be cutting it, like at all, though I saw every other GWF using them. Was it really as hopeless as some said? So I thought about what I wanted to do with what was available. Determination, for example, enables you to enact Unstoppable mode where the GWF is impervious to a certain percentage of damage, deals more damage, and attacks roughly double normal speed. So I tried using Steadfast Determination, an automatic skill working behind the scenes. I found, however, that the stated “steady” increase was about the same as I was getting during battle. I found later that certain skills in combination would give me enough Determination to use Unstoppable about once every 8-10 seconds, and even then, at 60, I tried Steadfast again to find it was still worthless. Get Unstoppable to activate quickly, trust me, it’s the way you want to go if you can figure it out. Groups hate me in both PvE (player vs enemy) and PvP.
I learned I had to find a way to hit better and with variety, because the most obvious options were the worst. Some later skills that seem great end up having problems that the Neverwinter dev team should consider. Come and Get It, for example, causes the GWF to make a motion to ready for attack, drawing in enemies around, and giving a damage buff that’s actually noticeable. Great idea, except you can be easily struck as you’re charging and if you get knocked down, the brief time it takes you to get up is all the time the buff lasts! I strongly suggest that the GWF be made invulnerable during the full time limit of the skill. Otherwise, don’t bother.
PvE is where the class gets even more tricky. You intuitively want to deal damage while other members of your party stay back and heal or use spells or toss daggers. But it doesn’t work that way with the most obvious skills and attacks. Reality sets in around level 30, when you finally face the Mad Dragon in the most difficult dungeon up to that point. The boss is so difficult that in a decent party during my first attempt it took us literally forty minutes to get it to roughly half life, and I was the last one standing before death. That’s when I realized some of the skills I was using were too single-target focused, I needed to work in crowds to eliminate minor enemies (adds) attacking my party. I could see some future skills that were perfect for single enemies, while utilizing others as main attacks in groups. My chosen buffs could stack for anything over one target, and with the awesome attack called Weapon Master, carefully moving the mouse so you have more than one enemy in view allows you to hit tons of targets at once. The more targets, the better, even in PvP. In some dungeons I’ve attacked upwards of 15 different enemies with a single swing. Unfortunately, after you reach certain levels you can’t go back to complete dungeons without gathering a lower-level party, finding the entrance, and then, finally, entering as “current party” (you can’t queue with a player above the required level). I never beat the dragon in my 30s, but I made sure I came back to get my revenge, you can see this below. Cool sword, eh? Ironically made out of the jaw of a dragon I think.
So from around level 30-40, I felt helpless at certain points. I didn’t seem to have yet what I needed, though the skills were eventually coming, and I couldn’t seem to figure out what gear stats to increase. People were saying armor penetration, deflect, life steal, but I read the stats and the percentages just didn’t seem to justify any of them. So I went with power, defense, some armor penetration, that’s it, more consistent. Life leech is nice if you get it by-proxy, but generally, forget it. And for your attributes, by all means, please, put those points primarily in strength, with constitution and dexterity taking up the rear, in that order. Speaking of constitution, here’s another hint, make sure you stack up your HP as much as possible. I figured that out around the level 35 mark, and kept building and building, looking ahead, waiting for when I would eventually reach what I had envisioned. Getting experience in the story quests is easy, and fulfilling, so it didn’t take me long to advance to 50, where I could really see myself in action.
By level 50, I just needed to increase my basic idea through leveling. Damage in groups, certain attacks for single targets, buffs to keep these things active and powerful, and little tricks to make sure I stayed alive for as long as I could, which isn’t so easy in PvP with two trickster rogues and a cleric on you at once (hint, they lost). By the time I reached level 56 in Neverwinter, I was getting compliments via private message, new friends who were asking me how I was able to play so well as a GWF. Hell, even a GF, a Neverwinter class known for being “easy to use” (note the quotes please) and “lacking in skill” with extremely powerful defense, complimented me once. In a PvP match we came across each other on a stairway and then the one on one face-off began, both at full health. With some of my abilities and special skills, I kept my health just barely from reaching zero, continued to attack, and ended up the victor. They told me I was the most difficult GWF they ever faced in Neverwinter, and I sadly take pride in that. Trust me, you won’t hear it often, most GWFs can ruin any party in a second because of their terrible playing style. But if you know how to work the class, you can save many a party from disaster, just like I did below.
Level 60, however, is when everything changes. If you haven’t figured it out at this point, forget it, start another Neverwinter class, the GWF isn’t for you. You need to really understand how to use this class, and as I stated, the most obvious and most utilized skills are basically the worst. And unlike some others, from what I can see anyway, it requires good hand-eye coordination as well. That picture above shows a party I was in, where we lost two guys who quit, one a cleric (you know how that can go), but we were able to grind and finish off the final boss and get our reward regardless. To do that as a GWF, you need to know the class, and you need to know it from experience. At 60 — the current cap by the way — you face players who have more experience than you and gear you swear they purchased with real money. I was told by several friends that “it’s a whole different ballgame”. So, needless to say, I was expecting to get one-shotted in PvP and absolutely destroyed in PvE in the so-called Epic Dungeons. Having saved up enough Glory (a form of currency earned primarily in PvP), I bought a decent set of rare purple items, armed myself, and got ready.
Surprisingly, I was second and third place for my first two matches, and in PvE I saved a few parties from extinction. I have some more item collection to do through hard work, but I’m on the way to getting where I want to be, a monster, as my character name means in Russian (or The Monster). At the point of writing this article, I’m currently in an awesome guild with extremely skilled Neverwinter players, a very knowledgeable bunch who primarily do PvP runs. I figured it was a good decision, leaving my old, inactive guild, because if anything, most people miscalculate the abilities of my character — especially versus other players — and I’ve proven to myself and other Neverwinter players that the GWF is a viable class. Most “builds” I’ve found online after the creation of my character miss key elements, and though I’m sure you’re dying to know, I won’t reveal my secrets here. I worked too hard for it. So, until you figure it out, maybe, I’ll see you in the arena. Taste my blade.