Over the years, there have been many reasons I’ve left an MMORPG behind. Time constraints, I got bored, everyone else I was playing with quit, the game itself was just horrible, and many other reasons were the death knell that found me looking for a new game. Of all the MMOs I’ve played (all online games, for that matter), I’ve never quit because I was pissed off at the community. Never that is, until Neverwinter.
You see, I never really concern myself with what other players are doing. Yes, any time I start a new MMO, I always try to find a decent guild, so in that respect, toxic attitudes do affect me, but only in the need to find another group. Griefers in PvP? I don’t care. Sexist, homophobic, and racist chat? Just turn it off. Elitist non-stop bragging about how awesome they are? Muted. Cheaters? I’m never playing competitively, so cheaters never bother me. Never that is, until Neverwinter.
Long story short, Neverwinter was the perfect fit for me. As a D&D geek, I was all over it. I also had a group of friends who wanted to play, so the social aspect was covered from day one. I liked the combat. I loved the setting. I was so into Neverwinter that I did something I never really did before - crafting. I spent almost as much effort crafting as I did leveling up my characters. And then the cheaters hit. Out of nowhere, item duplication was rampant. The dupers made all my time and effort null and void. And I was mad!
Eight years later, I can’t even tell you why I was so mad. I suppose it was more the principle than any real hardship it caused me in-game. I could have easily focused my energy back into the gear grind, but I didn’t.
I never even went back into Neverwinter after quitting. But as a new month rolled around and it was time to pick a new MMO to Reroll, for whatever reason Neverwinter popped into my mind. Eight years is a long time to hold a grudge, so even though I said I would never return, here I am, giving Neverwinter another chance. Never say never.
Character creation starts off just fine, with what I consider to be a representation of the core playable races in D&D. Humans, Dwarves, and multiple Elven races (including Drow) are all available without spending a dime. Tieflings also make the free-to-play list, as do Half races - Halflings, Half-Elves and Half-Orcs. For a free-to-play game, that’s as strong a list of base D&D races as I could hope for.
All these customization options but no eye patch. Despicable!
There are also a handful of exotic races added over time, and I’m perfectly fine with these classes being put behind a paywall. The Dragonborn, Renegade Drow, Moon Elf, and Gith can each be purchased for 6000 Zen (the virtual currency of every Perfect World game, valued at $10 per 1000 Zen). $60 may sound a little steep for a single race. Still, that price includes a month of VIP service, an additional character slot, a race reroll to change a current character’s race if you want to go that route, an account-wide mount and companion, as well as a bunch of other single-use items and account-wide unlocks. More importantly, none of these races feel pay-to-win, so their purchase is entirely optional; pay the $60 if it’s worth it to you, or don’t if it’s not.
The class choices in Neverwinter are also a healthy list of basic D&D staples. The Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter Barbarian, Paladin, and Rogue occupy the front lines, with the Ranger sliding between melee and ranged with dual blades and a bow. Rounding out the ranged choices are a trio of casters, the Wizard, Cleric, and Warlock. With the Paragon paths available at level 30, this smallish list of classes really does give a wide variety of play styles. You also won’t find a race or gender-locked class. Neverwinter doesn’t stop you from playing a female Drow Paladin or a male Half-Orc Cleric.
Having a wealth of choices when picking your race, gender, and class is a great start, and avatar customization is pretty good too. Beyond the typical pre-generated avatars, there are many customization options available to help you chisel out a perfect face and body in no time. Hairstyle, eyes, tattoos, and all the other typical trappings are included. The color palette is a little subdued, so don’t expect to have a green-haired elf with blue skin or an orange orc with a purple mohawk. There are also sliders for face and body scaling, though the ranges allowed are relatively minor and help to keep things in proportion. That’s a good thing, by the way.
Creating an avatar is only one piece of the D&D creation process. The other pieces are defining your character’s stats and fleshing out your play style with armor and weapon choices. In both aspects - the most character-defining moments in D&D character creation - Neverwinter fails to deliver.
Usually, a D&D player would either use a set of predetermined numbers and assign a number to each ability score or, for the more adventurous, roll each ability score randomly with some 6-sided die. Either way, the player is in control of the outcome. Neverwinter restricts this to only using the predetermined rolls, and goes as far as automatically placing the numbers for you. The same lack of control is found in gear. Each class uses a single weapon and armor type. Even if it were just for visual flair, I’d like to be able to choose what weapon my Barbarian was swinging around, and I’m sure I am not alone.
Choosing a Paragon Path is the one character progression choice you get.
It doesn’t stop there. After character creation, most of the skills and powers you attain are predetermined. Every Barbarian has the same limited set of skills to choose from, as does every Wizard. Upon reaching level 30, you get to choose from one of two Paragon Paths, with a handful of “this or that” feat choices adding a little bit of build diversity. You will have more skills at level cap than can fit into your Hotbar, so not every Ranger or Paladin will be exactly the same, but they will be close.
Do these limitations make Neverwinter an immediate fail? No, not really. It just makes it less of a D&D experience and more of a generic MMORPG. Since adventures in MMOs are more about combat than they are about roleplay, all of the limitations imposed during character creation lead to a more capable character.
With character creation leaving a veteran D&D player wanting more, one aspect of Neverwinter I have to admire is how well Cryptic Studios used the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. There is no doubt you are playing an MMO, but the storyline and environments are decidedly D&D. Neverwinter and the surrounding area is well known and steeped in lore from the original campaign setting and other sources. Cryptic was able to take that source material and use it as a backdrop for Neverwinter, then tell an original story with your avatar taking center stage.
Protector’s Enclave is your one safe haven in Neverwinter.
At the heart of Neverwinter is Protector’s Enclave, your base of operations. Scattered about this safe zone, you will find vendors, the auction house, bank, and all the other amenities you need to equip your character and prepare for the adventures that await. Protector’s Enclave is also where you’ll find Sergeant Knox, your storyline quest giver. There are other missions to find elsewhere, but it is his direction that will direct you out into the other districts of Neverwinter and its surrounding locales.
Being rooted in D&D lore does help a little as you progress through the usual MMO missions. Although many of the quests are of the kill and collect variety, several story-driven quests break up the monotony. There is plenty of underground adventuring mixed in with the above-ground settings, and as you advance in level, you will find yourself in a variety of environments and battling a wide variety of enemies. Just like a pen and paper campaign, you start with orcs and sewer dwellers, but it isn’t long before you are taking on some more challenging foes.
Cryptic has provided a wealth of content to absorb. Since the original game was released back in 2013, they have continued to add additional content, the latest of which is the Sharandar update. Most of the new content comes in the later levels to ensure the veteran players have something to do, but the added campaigns take you to other parts of the Forgotten Realms and beyond.
Campaigns - the prize at the end of the road.
Before we dig into combat, let’s make one thing clear - Neverwinter isn’t a Dungeons and Dragons RPG. You aren’t going to be browsing through page after page of skills and spells to create your character’s skill set. You aren’t going to be sheathing your trusty longsword and pulling out a mace when you encounter skeletons.
What you will be doing is having a good time stabbing, smashing, and blasting away at your enemies. Class progression is a somewhat limited affair, but that doesn’t mean combat is boring. The limited Hotbar (8 skills in total) paired with the lack of tab targeting can really keep you on your toes during combat. You’re also constantly having to deal with multiple foes, some of which are at range, making positioning a vital aspect of your survival.
Simple were-rats today. One day it’ll be dragons!
Each class packs enough punch to handle the solo content (you can group up if you like). As long as you don’t engage too many enemies at once, there’s no worry about a Cleric or Wizard struggling to survive in the early levels. You also get to bring along a computer-controlled Companion. These helpers come in a variety of classes, so choosing the right one to offset your weaknesses can go a long way in keeping you alive when you’re on your own.
All of the group content is probably trivial to a veteran player, but new players can struggle without a well-balanced party; the holy trinity (tank, healer, damage dealers) is the way to go. With only reticle targeting, tanks and healers both have a much more active role than found in many other MMOs, and a skilled player can make the difference between a victory and a wipe.
The Social Side Of Neverwinter
The regular story and side missions can be completed solo or in groups, and some of the time there were players at my level that I could invite into a party. I have often mentioned how willing players in Final Fantasy XIV were ready to group up, and other players randomly inviting me to group up during leveling in Neverwinter gave that same vibe. This was all hit and miss, though. At some points, there wasn’t another soul around. Other times I was able to group up with a couple of players.
The instanced zones are small enough that even a few players can give them the feeling of being populated. Still, that feeling of a lower-level population quickly breaks down when you start to enter low-level content that requires groups. Although the low-level Skirmishes (open-world PvE content) appear to have been removed, starting around level 14 or 15, you will be able to partake in group dungeons. Most of the dungeon runs I queued up for started with only one or two appropriate level players, while the rest of the spots were filled in by higher level players brought in through the random queues.
Know your role and boss fights will be a breeze.
Neverwinter only has a single server these days, so I’m genuinely unsure about the population size. When running around Protector’s Enclave, there does seem to be a lot of players milling about, giving the impression that the game still has a healthy population. In the end, there were enough low-level characters running around to make me feel like I wasn’t alone, and the random dungeon queues allowed me to experience the group content without a long wait. It’s not the best situation for leveling up a character, but it is far from the worst I’ve seen during my Reroll adventures.
The other positive to the social side of Neverwinter was the guilds. I joined a couple of different guilds to get a feel of what Neverwinter has to offer, and it went pretty well. Both guilds I joined had players on during the evening hours, and everyone seemed friendly. It also seems there are some alliances for the smaller guilds to join that would allow small groups of friends to have their own guild while still allowing them to get access to high-level group content.
Simply put, Neverwinter isn’t an MMO version of Neverwinter Nights. What Cryptic Studios has done with Neverwinter is take one of the best settings of the Forgotten Realms and use it as the setting for an MMORPG. They did a good job of adapting the turn-based D&D ruleset for use with real-time action-based combat by distilling out everything that would slow the gameplay down while keeping just enough of the D&D flavor to satiate the hardcore D&D fan.
Overall, Neverwinter is a lot of buts. Character progression isn’t extremely deep, but the action combat is fun. The leveling experience is adequate, if not a bit stale, after a single run-through, but the amount of content available at higher levels more than makes up for it. The world can sometimes seem a little empty, but social interaction and quality guilds are there if you look for them.
Neverwinter isn’t an MMO that I can see myself playing day in and day out, but I could easily see myself pushing my character to level cap and then slowly working through all of the campaigns at a casual pace. And at this point in my Reroll journey, that makes Neverwinter better than most.
MMO Reroll Rankings
It has been a few months but, with Neverwinter, we’re finally going to see some movement at the top of the rankings.
- Final Fantasy XIV
- Blade & Soul - There’s a lot of similarities between Neverwinter and Blade & Soul. Both have a lot of solo play on the way to the end game, but Neverwinter gave me more chances to group up with other players. The Forgotten Realms setting of Neverwinter is also a plus in my book, but I could easily see someone favoring the ascetics of B&S swapping these two action combat games in the rankings.
- Champions Online - Another Cryptic game, the character creation found in Champions Online is far and away better than what Neverwinter brings to the table. If only CO didn’t lock so much of that creation behind a paywall.
- DC Universe Online
- Dark Age of Camelot