It takes a while to get into most MMOs - not many have quite grasped how to immediately engage the player while also patiently teaching them the nuances of their many systems - and Neverwinter is no exception. The first few hours are tedious, mashing together what feels like the worst aspects of both MMORPGs and ARPGs, giving you repetitive fetch and kill quests that you complete by using click-mashy combat. It's not a great first impression, but as you unlock more abilities and discover more about Neverwinter's world, it grows into something more accomplished.
One thing Neverwinter does do right from the off is establishing its roots in D&D history. You roll dice to establish your characters stats, choose your background, status, and religious affiliation, and can even write a publically viewable bio. It taps into the individualistic roleplaying aspect of D&D that makes it so appealing and that a lot of MMOs only scantily touch upon, making your character feel part of the world you're being asked to invest hundreds of hours in.
Reading from a scroll proves difficult when there aren't any words on it
The Foundry only solidifies this, allowing players to create their own dungeons and quest lines, using all the assets that are available to the developers themselves. These can be anything from a single orc in a solitary room - maybe the NPC wants you to clear him out because he's squatting and they're hosting an open house at the weekend - to sprawling sagas that send you across the entire land, invoking established lore and then building upon it.
These player-created adventures have the potential to provide Neverwinter with never-ending content, and really speak to what roleplaying is about. Granted, a lot of the content is far less polished than what the Neverwinter devs have produced - you'll find spelling mistakes and syntax errors, bundles of mobs instead of a few carefully placed ones - but they've got far more soul. The mistakes are part of the story, and it makes it feel like you're playing a campfire re-telling, not just another fetch and kill MMO quest.
The content on offer as a part of the main storylines is, unfortunately, pretty much the opposite. There's very little risk, with every next quest hub you visit the same gathering of a few NPCs who need monsters killed and items collected, each delivering their instructions in a polished, soulless manner. It's just going through the motions, and you'll struggle to invest yourself in the developer-created storylines for any reason other than the fact they give you large amounts of experience points.
Neverwinter's combat is more APRG than MMO, giving you a limited number of ability slots and asking you to pick the right combinations of powers. It's also click-to-move and attack, allowing you to constantly be moving while also hammering out abilities, requiring you to bring up an overlay when you want to access menus and the like. It makes for fairly fluid fights, with enemies also using area-of-effect attacks that force you to stay on your toes. There's usually plenty of warning - a big red overlay indicating where the danger zone lies - and then it's a case of using your dodge or block to negate the move.
You're supposed to swing your sword at the zombies
You're also aided in combat by companions, who can be summoned to your side. I was playing as a priest, and having a tank companion to attract threat and take damage while I mashed spells from afar was very useful. Other companions can heal, or do damage, or offer support and buffs, allowing you to strategise and pick one that most compliments your play style. You can also name them, boost them with enhancements and watch them level up alongside you, making their connection to you feel personal (even if you are just using them as a meat shield).
The combat doesn't lend itself well to multiplayer shenanigans, though, as any group dungeons just comprise of people hammering abilities as fast and frequently as they can. There's no adjustment from singleplayer, no tactics or teamwork required. End-game encounters may push this more - there's certainly classes such as the priest which are clearly setup for support - but even then, it's a case of using the right abilities, not actually communicating.
Crafting is a slightly strange affair, with your character considering themselves too good to get their own hands dirty with menial labour - they'll happily clear rats from a sewer, but hammering some plate into armour is beyond their remit. Instead, you hire crafters to do the work for you, or even gather the raw materials. It allows you to level up your skill and create your own wares while getting on with other things, so you won't have to spend hours standing over an anvil yourself. It takes a long time - but can be sped up by spending astral diamonds - and while not being forced to spend hours and hours levelling a skill is grand, it does rob the system of feelings of reward.
Just two rock formations away from being a trendy t-shirt
As for Neverwinter's attitude towards the F2P model, it allows players with real life money to spend to take a few shortcuts to better items, but also gives a way for people to earn the same rewards without paying a single penny. It uses numerous currencies, with the core paid one being Zen, and the core free one being Astral Diamonds. Astral Diamonds can be acquired through various accomplishments, and can then be traded for Zen - meaning nothing paid is ring fenced away, it'll just take you longer to get it.
Neverwinter is a polished, if uninspiring MMO. There’s a welcome fluidity to combat, but it doesn’t do anything innovative, taking the successes of Star Trek Online and implementing them in a D&D world, as well as borrowing from other post-World of Warcraft action-orientated MMOs. Ultimately, it’ll live or die on the lasting success of The Foundry, which promises potentially unlimited creative content that will let you experience stories far beyond the cookie-cutter nature of the ones in the main storyline.
TOP GAME MOMENT
As with any MMO: dinging. Again and again and again.