For many gamers, their experience with MMOs have resulted in varying results of enjoyment. The genre is very diverse within itself with different signature elements that set them apart from each other. The key is finding an experience that sticks with the player and encourages longevity, and often it’s a singular mechanic that makes all the difference. With an ever open mind, we donned our best d20 duds and jumped into Neverwinter, a free-to-play MMO set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. It has been out on PC since June 2013, and on Xbox One since March 2015. The PS4 version – which you’re currently reading about – releases today, July 19th 2016.
Developed by: Cryptic Studios
Published by: Perfect World
Release date: July 19th, 2016
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed on PS4)
Launch Price: Free to Play w/ Microtransactions
- Completely Free-to-Play: You don’t have to pay to adventure. From 1 to the level cap, all playable content in Neverwinter is free for everyone to experience.
- Engaging Action Combat: You can forget about tab-targeting or auto-attacking your enemies to death. Neverwinter provides an amazing combat experience where every action requires planning, feels visceral, and looks spectacular.
- Infinite Content: Neverwinter comes with the Foundry, a dynamic toolset that provides you the game assets and a sandbox environment to create your own adventures. When your creation is complete, you can hook it up directly into the existing world for everyone in the community to play!
- D&D Experience: Whether you come from the tabletop game or the novels, Neverwinter has recreated many iconic classes, locations, and encounters that you might recognize. You might choose to adventure as a hearty Guardian Fighter, deceive foes as a Trickster Rogue, follow the righteous path as a Devoted Cleric, or more! On your journey through Neverwinter and the surrounding lands, you will face Kobolds, Beholders, Mimics, and other nasty creatures of the D&D universe.
Story & Setting
Neverwinter is set in a classic D&D scenario, which also has story overlap with what is happening in the tabletop version. A politician-turned-lich has summoned a dracolich and is threatening the titualr city of Neverwinter. Your task as the hero is to discover her evil plan, prevent her dracolich from reviving, and singlehandedly save the land of Faerun. Naturally you accomplish this by doing the heavy lifting for those in need, because apparently intel and villainy are the only occupations in MMOs. Joking aside, while there are the standard “go to __ kill __ and bring __,” many of the questlines are either humorous or so well crafted that I found myself completely engaged in what I was doing.
At times, standing to receive filler dialogue while accepting a quest is dulling. Neverwinter gets around this somewhat by voicing important quest dialogue, which will continue even if you close the dialogue box and walk away. However, many menu interactions cancel the voiced dialogue and there is no way to trigger it again. As a result, there may be times when players feel like they’re missing out.
At it’s best however, the story telling adds a great personal element. In one particular quest you are charged with investigating a disturbance and found a situation with a woman who become ill to the point of undeath. Woven into this narrative was an untrustworthy doctor and a husband reluctant to expose his wife to more harm, even if it could lead to a cure. As I escorted the woman to dubious care, the emotions of the parties involved was palplable. As the story unfolded, it became clearer what was at play here, but D&D isn’t about crazy unexpected twists. It’s about that personal element, about making you care.
Speaking of care, a lot of it has been put into environment design. Environments are lush and done in exquisite detail, both in aesthetics and in their layouts. Each zone displays its own distinct identity. In particular, the Neverdeath Graveyard is very layered and pleasing to navigate, even if the name leaves some mystery lacking. Neverdeath: what could go wrong?
Mechanics & Economy
Neverwinter is a free-to-play game, with support from microtransactions. The game contains at least four different currencies of varying scarcity, all of which can be obtained without paying a cent.
- Zen is the main premium currency in Neverwinter. It is available to purchase in packs of what I feel are very fair increments.
- Astral Diamonds, which can be exchanged with other players for Zen, are a semi-premium currency that can be farmed in an unrefined state, and costs farmable resources to refine. Astral Diamonds are the main currency used in player trading.
- Tarmalune Bars are obtainable only by opening lockboxes, keys for which can be purchased with Zen. These bars can be exchanged for high-level equipment. I’m told there is a paywall at endgame, but it seems for the most part that with grinding, trading and patience one can circumvent the need to purchase Zen.
- Trades also have caps to help prevent abuse and scamming, and to control the economy. This is a very fair F2P model. At endgame, a little money spent wisely save you a lot of time.
Outdated and useless equipment will earn you a steady income, ensuring you always have the gold you need to progress and afford a few luxuries. Unidentified equipment is virtually worthless; you can selectively ignore drops if you lack identification scrolls, meaning less inventory micromanagement. Potions also drop very commonly. At no point have I needed to stop and grind for experience or resources. This might be different if I were attempting to optimize my way to the level cap but on a moderately focused trajectory, I felt I was progressing at a very satisfactory pace.
Crafting in Neverwinter is unique, but interesting. Instead of becoming a master of every profession under the sun, you hire Professionals to craft or upgrade equipment, and collect crafting resources in addition to the ones you personally acquire. All of this is done via the Professions menu. At first, you can only queue one ‘Task’ at a time. But by leveling both your character and your Professions, you will unlock additional Task slots. New Tasks are unlocked as the given Profession levels by completing Tasks. Eventually, you will be able to use crafting to refine high-level equipment to then sell on the Auction House. I focused my Tasks on leveling Professions and Professionals, as well as obtaining new Professionals, rather than crafting. In the long-run this will let me craft higher quality equipment faster. However, you can start crafting as soon as you have your first Professional. Wait times can range from 5-15 minutes for simple Tasks, to 4-18 hours for more rewarding ones.
From a console perspective, Neverwinter’s menus have not been totally refined for controllers. Many menu interactions take three or four more inputs than is necessary and interacting with the HUD is especially clumsy. When you first start, I recommend to rebind the button for interacting with players, because by default it is the same button to interact with the environment, including picking up drops. I mistakenly invited a few players to a party, and once almost reported someone by accident. Fortunately, I caught the mistake before confirming.
Character creation can be quickly accomplished with a nice variety of presets, if you don’t want to spend thirty minutes tweaking your lower jaw depth to perfection. But if you’re into it, character customization has sliders for tweaking depth, size, length and musculature of pretty much every body part, as well as extensive facial customization. I never thought I’d find a half-orc attractive, but here we are.
There are thirteen races in Neverwinter, some of which must be unlocked. The eight classes play like specialized subclasses of conventional D&D classes. Every class has a Tactical ability that consumes stamina, which quickly regenerates on its own. This is used to protect yourself. Clerics, Rangers and Rogues dodge; Wizards blink; Great Weapon Warriors sprint; Paladins and Fighters guard. There’s no mana; cooldowns are the only restriction on your abilities, meaning you can deploy them however you see fit. Abilities fall into one of four types:
- At Will powers have no restrictions and can be used freely. You can equip two of these.
- Encounter powers have a brief cooldown, usually 6-10 seconds. Five can be equipped at once.
- Daily powers must be charged up by damaging enemies, and have powerful damaging and crowd control effects. You can equip two.
- Class Features are passives that change the properties of your powers or add interactions between them. Two of these can be equipped at once.
All of this means you have a wide arsenal available at any time and unlike the menu interactions, combat controls are very intuitive. You will be roaming the countryside of the Forgotten Realms comfortably zapping undesirables as if your given name was Elminster, Drizzt, Cattie-Brie or Marty Sue.
There is a respec feature requiring Zen. However, because the powers you have access to is based on how many Skill points you have spent, rather than your level, you can’t maximize only the powers you want and ignore everything else. You will have to spend points on powers you may not intend to use. On the bright side, this means you will inevitably have multiple possible builds on a single character.
Early on, you will begin earning a Feat point every level. Where Class Features are slotted abilities that augment the interactions between your powers, Feats are permanent under-the-hood upgrades. The Feat tree diverges into exclusive paths later on, resulting in a lot of build diversity. This is where a lot of your planning will occur. Some are powerful in an obvious way. You may find yourself choosing powers based on the Feats you want.
All classes in Neverwinter feel powerful. Early on, combat can be a bit autopilot and spammy, but once you unlock your fifth Encounter power, you can start developing a distinct playstyle and using your abilities intelligently. My Control Wizard could have been built to increase enemy vulnerability to allies, or focus solely on crowd control. I chose a fusion of the two that is very satisfying to me, and other players will have that same freedom to tailor the experience to their wishes.
The common thought is that every class can solo the majority of the game’s content. It’s not until high-level that you will need assistance. However, a party isn’t strictly necessary. The game contains human and animal companions. There are several different ones which fit into classes and can be very effective on your travels, whether you’re using a powerful healer while you facetank or a crowd controlling wizard. Once owned, companions can be made ‘active’, which puts them into a stable in the Companions menu. From there you can summon one companion at a time. They earn potential levels by helping you kill enemies, but will not actually level until you send them for training, which makes them unavailable for a while. Leveling will unlock equipment slots and abilities, as well as improve the passive bonuses they confer to your character.
At higher levels all of your powers and abilities coordinate in very gratifying ways. You can really mix and match your abilities to start and finish fights against the various enemies of the world. Enemy AI is not very reactive, and makes no attempt to avoid incoming damage. However, the variety in enemy types and behaviors keeps combat interesting. Most mobs are cannon fodder accompanied by at least one tougher enemy. Attacks are telegraphed, and all enemy abilities are preceded by a red zone that indicates their area.
Social & Multiplayer
The main hub for players is the Protector’s Enclave. Most features of the game are available to players immediately upon completing the tutorial sequence and reaching this place. There are vendors of every description; most importantly, all of the vendors accepting premium currency are located here. After completing the main quest of a zone, you will return to the Enclave to receive assignment to a new zone. When exiting through any of the multiple exits, you can select a destination zone from the list, so it doesn’t matter where you depart.
Each zone has at least one dungeon and one skirmish. In my experience, queueing never took more than one minute. However, the NPCs that handle queueing are convoluted, so it is best to do this from the Queue submenu, which you can access at any time. Your level will be scaled to that of the event, but you keep all of your abilities. So far, these dungeons have been very manageable and did not require an excessive amount of group coordination, but that may be due to the inflated stats and powers of the other party members. Endgame dungeons on the other hand are noted for their much more challenging quality.
Neverwinter has some issues in this department. It’s still pre-release for the console, so much of this may be fixed soon. The framerate dips significantly whenever many players are present, which is intensified in the Protector’s Enclave which is heavily populated. It is still playable, but optimization is needed. On one occasion, upon entering the Enclave I encountered frame skipping with up to ten lost frames at a time. This continued until I left the zone and returned.
The game has some noticeable latency, even when alone in an instance. It’s not severe, but it’s just enough to make quick reactions difficult. Rapid inputs mid-combat sometimes get lost between your controller and the server. It is most noticeable when using evasive abilities or attempting to capitalize on very brief status debuffs. In an offline game, this lag would be unacceptable; Neverwinter being an MMO spares it from the same standard because you don’t need the same level of precision even though it can be occasionally frustrating. I’ve encountered only a few bugs in my time with the game so far, with workarounds available with a little research.
Neverwinter is a lot of fun. Often while playing it, one might wonder why they haven’t been playing the game all along. The combat and core gameplay are so well designed that it carries the game through any low points, of which there are few. Quests are well crafted, the voice dialogue is a nice touch and the game’s economy is interesting and fair. With many expansions already released and more planned for the future the release on PS4 is only going to push the numbers playing up which is a great indicator of health for an MMO. At the moment, Neverwinter is the place to be for MMO fans who are looking for their heavy, regular dose of adventures in the D&D settings. Even if you’re new to the many sided die, this is a great landing spot for people who just love to game.