Attached to one of the biggest names in the role-playing genre, Neverwinter is the standing definition of a true, modern MMO. Set in a rich universe torn from the pages of Dungeons & Dragons’ iconic Forgotten Realms, it embraces a swathe of recent trends whilst also sporting a generous free-to-play model.
Detached from the hugely popular Neverwinter Nights series, Cryptic’s latest MMO opens with an undead siege upon the titular northern city. The Lich Queen, Valindra, is mounting an onslaught against the free people of Faerun. As an inexperienced adventurer you respond to the call of arms, setting on a quest that will guide you through epic quests and a host of luscious locales.
Players are given a choice of seven races and five classes to create their own persona. Unlike other MMOs, you are free to mix and match options between the two, leading to unconventional archetypes such as Dwarf Wizards and Halfing Guardians. Neverwinter is also generous in the amount of customisation available to players, from body scaling and colouring to full facial reconstruction.
Adopting a recent trend in the MMO genre, Neverwinter’s gameplay is best described as “action-based”. Instead of clicking on enemies and queuing a chain of abilities, combat is done in real-time by targeting foes directly, giving players a real sense of engagement. Depending on which class you select, you will also be able to dodge or block attacks using simple button commands. It’s an effective gameplay model and one that is steadily closing the gap between traditional MMOs and the sort of fast-paced RPGs we see on gaming consoles.
Cryptic has also taken an unconventional approach towards the game’s open world and progression mechanics. As in any MMO, after being walked through the tutorial stages there is a solid network of core missions to follow. However, in Neverwinter players are encouraged to divert from this well-trodden path to explore many of its other facets. These include activities such as crafting and auctioning as well as partaking in group events like Skirmishes, Dungeons, and PvP.
Utilising another one of the game’s unique features, players can also receive experience and gold by playing Neverwinter’s ever-growing list of Foundry quests. These are user-generated mission created by the community that often yield just as much reward and enjoyment than those created by the developer. The only downside to such an open-ended system of progression is that newer MMO fans (or those who prefer structure) may feel overwhelmed at times.
After spending several hours with Neverwinter, the game starts to break down into two halves. Questing and exploration is, for the most part, a strictly single-player affair. Each of the five classes available have a distinct feel but are all capable of surviving independently. This argument is supported by the inclusion of companions. These upgradeable NPCs essentially balance the weaknesses of each class. Employing a man-at-arms, for example, will draw aggro away from casters whereas enlisting a cleric will bring some much-needed support for confrontational heroes such as Guardians and Fighters.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, is done through a quick, non-intrusive matchmaking menu. Heroes can simply queue for the Skirmishes, Dungeons, and PvP events they wish to partake in and a prompt will appear when the instance is ready. Though Dungeons and PvP are staples in any MMO, Skirmishes may be unfamiliar to some. These are smaller group missions which often have players fighting against waves of enemies for experience and the chance to grab some loot.
As mentioned before, Neverwinter is a free-to-play game that supports itself through micro-transactions. By purchasing Zen, heroes can perform a variety of bonus actions such as opening rare treasure boxes and purchasing Astral Diamonds, also unlocking additional account features. Though continually present throughout Neverwinter, the game never forces players to buy Zen or interrupts their experience with pop-ups and other annoyances common in free-to-play games.
The Forgotten Realms lore was established a long time before that of World of Wacraft and other popular MMOs. It’s unfortunate really because, despite being the originator of many of the genre’s influences, Neverwinter can sometimes look unremarkably familiar next to its contemporaries. It should be said, however, that game’s presentation is still fantastic, regardless of its similarities. Environments carry a strong palette and are populated by an impressive variety of enemy types. More iconic locations such as Protector’s Enclave are also impressive both in detail and scope. Neverwinter’s soundtrack and voice acting also help to support this, adding further to game’s extraordinary production values.
Neverwinter doesn’t herald the well-awaited “next generation” of MMORPGs but is a solid title that refines so much of what makes the genre popular. Ideal for both MMO fans and those looking for a low-cost entry point, Neverwinter is one of the strongest options available and will no doubt continue to expand in the coming months and years.