Neverwinter is both a shallow MMO and a fun arcade-like romp on Xbox One


It’s a net gain when the price is free

Back in 2013, Neverwinterhit the PC.No, it’s not a continuation ofNeverwinter Nights, that awesome RPG from BioWare. It’s an MMO developed by Cryptic Studios that’s light on the “massive” bit, but far more fun than the poorly crafted Dungeons & Dragons Online.

As of this week, Neverwinterhas come to the Xbox One as the first MMO to hit the platform. It has some issues, most notably ones that stem from the free-to-play scheme, but it’s worth spending an afternoon with to see if it’s your thing.

Neverwinter(PC, Xbox One [tested])Developer: Cryptic StudiosPublisher: Perfect World EntertainmentReleased: June 20, 2013 (PC), March 31, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: Free-to-play

As you might have gleaned,Neverwinterdenotes the fictional city-state that has shown up in countless tabletop campaigns and videogames over the years as part of the D&Duniverse. This project is its own jam however, hosting major storyline arcs such as the Tyranny of Dragons narrative. Although most people think of complex systems when MMOs come to mind, Neverwinteris extremely easy to pickup from the get-go, especially on Xbox One.

The main mechanic that is going to delight people who are easily confused is the divisive breadcrumb trail, made popular by Fable II. While I know some people love it, I personally find it mindless in an RPG like this that’s built on exploration, and unfortunately, it’s not optional. In many cases it outright ruins the fun of finding things like hidden bookcases, which are outright spoiled during some missions by the trail. It reminds me of whenFi spoiled a puzzle solution for the final dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Combat isn’t as action-oriented as say, TERA Online, but it is more arcade-like than most MMOs. There’s some strategy involved and the controls are automatically mapped for the most part (with slight customization), but it’s fun to go in swinging and feel like you aren’t in a turn-based affair. There’s a bit of depth mostly by way of group fights, with crowd-control (CC) abilities available to stun or take out casters or heavy-hitters, and area-of-effect powers to hit multiple enemies. You know, standard stuff, but in tandem it all comes together.

The user interface is a bit more clunky, even on a console. It feels cheaply made, and although it works, it can be a pain to navigate or locate specific options. It’s mostly because there aren’t many aspects you can actually change. The visuals are in the same vein, with some frame-rate issues, and lots and lots of pop-in, as well as some lag. It’s playable, but it’s not ideal, particularly since it doesn’t quite look like a current-generation MMO.

The story isn’t terrible, but you really have to dig the lore or at least dig the D&Duniverse to care about it. You’ll constantly find locations or characters with titles like “[X character] of Baldur’s Gate,” and without having a “I know where that is!” reaction you’ll probably pass by most of the flavor text and fluff without blinking.

While serviceable for a short amount of time, the free-to-play element and lack of endgame outside of the dungeon generator tool really hurt its long term appeal. The “Zen Market” is how the developer has chosen to sell its free-to-play wares, and purchases consist of typical MMO transactions like cosmetic options, renaming services, and mounts. But like a lot of other F2P titles it goes a bit overboard, selling items, bags, crafting materials, experience boosts, more bank slots, and other in-game tweaks that should have been in the base game to locate. Everything is really pricey too, ranging from $5 to $10 for minor upgrades.

I know a F2P game has to make money, especially if it requires server upkeep, but things like bank slots, extra character slots, and other essential items don’t sit well with me. The main reason is that the games are inherently designed for an investment of time, and they can just incrementally add in any number of upgrades they want to keep people paying, and likewise keep them from full ownership, whereas subscription-based MMOs generally give you access to everything. There is a way to earn premium items by way of in-game currency (Astral Diamonds), but it’s not really user-friendly and requires a lot of hoops to jump through.

Neverwinteris a bit of shallow fun, but as a long-term MMO that I would invest my time in, it doesn’t hit the mark. Since it’s free on Xbox One, it would be a great idea to spend an afternoon trying out the initial questline and either picking it up or tossing it aside, as you really don’t have a lot to lose.