I would like to start by saying that out of all genres, MMOs are my least experienced type of game. I’ve dabbled in Diablo 3 and DC Universe Online but I didn’t really join any guilds and trudged my way through the story four or five times with mic-less randoms or by myself. So if anything I say here seems ignorant to the hardcore, MMO gamers just know that this is coming from a person who normally doesn’t venture into the expansive world of massively multiplayer online games. RPGs however, are another story. I play those very frequently and know all about the grinding, power leveling, secret boss hunting, and catered strategies for battles. Although if possible I just like hitting things to death.
The wait for No Man’s Sky was killing me and I needed another “big game” to fill the void. Luckily, an MMORPG just released on the PlayStation Store and it was free to play. I had my doubts because normally the free to play model is a disgusting pay-to-win situation. I messaged a few friends who already had it and all of them couldn’t recommend it enough. Thirty minutes later I was booting up Neverwinter, creating my character, and already received a guild invite.
The character creation process was fun as it always was. The body customization wasn’t really there but it was made up by all the classes, races, backgrounds, and religions to choose from. I actually read all the pages detailing every choice and I didn’t regret. Neverwinter is definitely one of the top games to make me feel a sense of pride regarding my half-orc’s creation. Even in Skyrim I just chose mostly basic details so I could hop right in. With the confidence of a non-human I pushed accept and began to undergo the story.
You start out shipwrecked coming from whatever part of the world you choose. The journey begins on a small, Neverwinter beach. A very powerful Lich Queen (or undead sorceress) is waging war on the eponymous city with an army of skeletons, orcs, and dragons. They are barely kept at bay by the kingdom’s defenses but you can tell it’s a losing battle. You make your way to the fight by helping a few NPCs and slaying creatures. Eventually, you meet the big baddie herself on a castle wall as she unleashes a large minion on you. Some of your fellow NPCs die but you emerge triumphant and are able to make it to Protector’s Enclave. The only safe part of Neverwinter.
Here is the base of operations and basically a safe zone. This is where the important story characters give out missions, assign you tasks, merchants sell their goods, mounts can be attained, worshipers can invoke their deities favor, rewards can be claimed, factions can be joined (albeit at higher levels,) and where a whole host of activities are assembled. The text chat also goes crazy here from people asking to join a guild, others trying to recruit, random conversations, and my favorite…spam leading to a site promising gold. And of course there are actual people running to and fro going about their business here. The home area, if you will, feels alive and the sense of community is very strong.
Now there are other parts of the world besides the city of Neverwinter. It’s just that every other part of the kingdom is chaos. All surrounding districts have been run rampant by sorcerers, undead menaces, and bandits. Naturally it’s your job to head to these areas and deal with them. You’ll eventually progress to other areas of the world trying to quell all enemies. I’m happy to say that each area is both unique and huge with some being bigger than others. One territory even took me seven hours to clear story wise but I’m still going back there for campaigns and other missions. Each place is beautifully designed and has its own feel and the graphics themselves are good but nothing to particularly write home about. Don’t worry it doesn’t take away from the experience in the slightest.
The gameplay itself was surprisingly addictive, smooth, and varied. As I mentioned I chose a half-orc as my race but my class was a great weapons fighter. In essence, I hit things really hard. The abilities I can and have learned fit the class perfectly and can be mapped to a button of your choosing. Implementing them is even more fun whether taking on one enemy or multiple. If my sword touches something, it will inflict damage. So when multiple enemies are struck they will get hurt. In other words the hit detection is pretty awesome in this game. Which makes stringing together attacks all the more rewarding and gratifying. Especially the powerful ones.
The amount of pve (player versus environment) modes to play in is also satisfying. There are your typical story and side missions but dungeons and community events as well. I’m going to come right out and say it; I love the dungeons. Even when I queue in with randoms it’s still fun. Except when you walk into a ground trap. Then it’s just annoying and stupid. Each area has a few missions that can only be done with other people including raid-like bosses. The first of which is a dragon that puts Skyrim’s to shame. Also, I don’t know if it was just my luck but nearly every gamer I played with knew how to play. What I’m trying to say is that you won’t be mad at randoms for not doing what they need to do.
You’re probably wondering how the interface handles with my praise of the gameplay. I won’t lie and say the HUD, menus, and other screens weren’t a bit overwhelming. There’s just so much to keep track of and sort through at first. For example, I didn’t know you had to queue into certain missions. I was asking people where on the map things were. I also didn’t know about instances let alone the fact that you could change them. They act as servers more or less and you can hop on them through one of the menus. In fact, the whole pause screen will look like a jumbled mess at first until you get a feel for things.
There’s a row for the store which is nothing more than DLC. Another for the character itself which consists of your stat sheet, powers to learn and upgrade, and manage companions and mounts. There’s a row for items that naturally house your inventory and professions. The latter you acquire workers and put them to work for you. The quest column is your place to keep track of missions, queues, and maps. The social row deals with friends, their locations, and guilds. The last is options and pretty self-explanatory. All of them will be easy to navigate and will come second nature to you after a while. What isn’t that graceful is the text chat in the bottom left corner of the HUD. You have to press L1 and down on the D-pad, push square, type in what you want to say, push R2, and finally press X to send your message. This doesn’t include changing the text channel or navigating it to send specific people messages. It’s not user friendly at all.
The guilds are cool and implemented well too. Each one has their own stronghold (castle) which can be upgraded and added to depending on its members completing missions and collecting resources. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside it. You’re limited to the NPCs around the base which act as guild quest givers and banks. The surrounding area though for each base is massive. There are tons of enemies to fight, places to go, missions to complete, and a myriad of things to do with guild members. This place may eventually feel grindy at times, but it’s still a whole heck-of-a-lot of fun.
As with all MMOs there are some technical problems. When there is a lot of action going on or people around there will be lag. Nothing detrimental but a normal amount you’d expect for a screen cluttering situation. There might also be rubber banding at times. Going back and forth trying to fight the server’s handling client. The next problem I’d account to these issues but sometimes it didn’t work normally. Pushing buttons and not receiving an action right away. The delay interrupted my game flow and the attacks I strung together.
Other issues arose with the menu screens. When you hover over an item in the inventory there should be a stat, pop-up box that should appear. That way it makes it easier to compare equipped items to the ones you’re holding or just seeing what effect something has. Often times this didn’t happen. When I asked around I found out that the game just does this, won’t allow you to do it while in a group, or the game thinks you’re in a battle. Either way the problem is an annoying glitch or a purposely redundant feature.
My last complaint that I personally experienced was in regards to injuries and checkpoint campfires. If you get hit too many times in the same area, you’ll get injured. The game will even repeatedly flash it on your screen in big red letters. What this means is you’ll take a bit more damage and run slower. This feature could have been done without because the only way you can heal it is by using specifically marked injury kits or standing at a campfire. For three minutes. Not exactly favorable when you’re running a dungeon with other people. Why can’t you just be healed once you step into a campfire’s aoe (area of effect)? Sitting there for minutes is just silly.
There is also pvp options (player vs. player.) However, I avoided these for two reasons. The first being there was so much pve content that I didn’t bother with it. The second was a warning from friends. Pvp was a pay-to-win nightmare which I then saw myself. Some of the micro transactions range from $75-$100 dollars just for mounts, items, and equipment. Even the real money to in game currency ratio for purchases was horrible. You got much less currency for the amount actual money you spent. But again there is so much pve content that it wasn’t hindering.
I've put in more than forty or so hours and am probably barely halfway through the story. There are still plenty of other locations to travel to and many campaigns to complete which can take months in some cases. Yet, at the moment I am still able to do the story missions all by myself and with the exception of pvp, the game doesn't feel gimmicky. It honestly feels like a monthly subscription game but completely free to play. It has its own unique experience and plenty of things to do that aren't behind a paywall. If you love MMORPGs or are just getting into them for the first time, definitely give Neverwinter a chance.
Review Disclaimer: This review was conducted using, er, wait, this is a Free-to-Play game? Oh, OK, anyway, we didn’t buy the game but we also didn’t receive any extra freebies for this review i.e in-game currency and the like. What we played is exactly what your Average Joe would play without paying.