Dungeons & Dragons has been influencing the way we play video games for decades now, but this generation has seen a severe lack of games based on or within the storied universe. While it may share a similar title, Neverwinter, the MMORPG, isn’t actually directly related to the Neverwinter Nights series of games – it takes place years and years later, after several world altering events take place. With the majority of the titular city in disarray, Neverwinter allows players to embark on quests to fight evil and party up with friends to delve into dungeons. With so many things to do and see in this well-envisioned world, Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment have crafted one of the finest free-to-play MMORPGs ever made.
Although, it’s not the first MMORPG to be heavily influenced by and based on D&D. In fact, a game simply called Dungeons and Dragons Online holds that crown, but it’s fallen off as of late after failing as a pay-to-play subscription-based game years ago. Neverwinter, on the other hand, has several things going for it that combine to create one of the most compelling free-to-play offerings on the market today.
First and foremost, the game isn’t locked down to relying on any particular ruleset of D&D, which opens up more doors than you might think. Many previous games relied heavily on the 3.5 edition of rules, which was great for its time, but feels slow compared to the fast pace of most modern video games and even 4th edition D&D. By pulling from all of the rulesets as they like (while mostly basing it on 4th edition) the developers were able to create a game that not only feels and looks like a D&D game, but plays like a capable MMO. From the races, to the classes and even the abilities and command labels, everything oozes D&D flavorings. However, you don’t have to deal with slow-paced combat or grid-based battlefields, which would severely hinder the speed and action of gameplay.
Unlike most traditional MMOs, Neverwinter embraces the trend of moving in a much more “action” focused direction. Attacks aren’t queued up by targeting enemies, but are instead launched by aiming your crosshair and pressing abilities. At-will powers can be used at any time by mapping them to your mouse buttons (these serve as your basic attacks) while “encounter” powers are much more powerful and are on individual cooldown meters. Characters also have daily powers that can only be used once your action point gauge has been filled, ensuring they are only used in the most intense of circumstances.
Frankly, most of the brilliance of Neverwinter lies in the details, not in the grand overarching design decisions. For example, when enemies die, ragdoll effects are applied and it creates the most satisfying kills ever seen in an MMO. Would you rather strike an enemy and have them fall down as per their usual animation, or fly across the room, knocking over barrels and landing in the fireplace? That's what I thought. Professions can be trained while you're questing (or even from a web browser outside of the game) and the customizable interface should be standard across the genre. All of these and many other small flourishes add up to show that this game is not only impressive from a technical standpoint, but it goes to show their attention to detail.
Each of the classes behave in different ways, as my Guardian Fighter can block attacks with her shield and even stab over the top of it to keep threat, but then Trickster Rogues dart around the environment and can go invisible. No two classes really feel the same at all, which is a huge and necessary achievement for a D&D game. Don't be fooled by the trend a lot of games like Guild Wars 2 are pushing either - this game is built around the party dynamic. D&D essentially created the "holy trinity" label (tank, DPS, healer) and it's pretty much required for higher level adventuring in groups within the dangerous dungeons of Neverwinter.
Neverwinter is also not like most other MMOs in that there is not truly large persistent world that you play in with everyone else. Instead, the game is split into several reasonably sized hubs where players congregate and group up, in which they then part to the other areas of the game. There are some districts of the town and outdoor areas where you may see other players, but for the most part, you'll be playing mostly in instances. The single player campaign can basically be completed playing solo (you unlock followers eventually that can aid you and complement your style) as the group play is mostly reserved for dungeons and other content.
Speaking of which, there are plenty of dungeons to keep you busy. On top of the large dungeons you would expect from an MMO, are smaller delves to do with parties, skirmish events that face you against waves of enemies and PvP options. Once you hti the level cap (60 at the moment) you will open up the chance to partake in the Gauntlgrym. This event is a three-phase adventure that starts with two teams of 20 players battling NPC enemies, then one another, then a final dungeon based on the victor. If you prefer lots of PvE stuff, check out my walkthrough of the Foundry with its Producer over here if you haven't yet, as it's chock full of valuable information. Essentially, The Foundry lets players create their own quests and it's incredibly powerful. From writing your own dialogue trees, to creating your own maps and customizing NPCs - the options are almost limitless. There is still lots of room for improvement, but the vast amount of quality content already available is a good sign for the future of the system.
Neverwinter is by no means a perfect free-to-play MMO. The microtransaction store seems overpriced for lots of items and I fear they might start charging for some of the better content, plus the fact that most of the time it doesn't really feel too "Massively Multiplayer". Still though, Neverwinter is easily one of the best free-to-play MMOs on the market and there is still room for even more improvement. With tons of content free out of the gate, a literally endless supply of quests via the foundry and the unique endgame content opportunity proposed by the Gauntlgrym, you'd be hard pressed to find something with this much bang for no bucks.
Make sure you check out all of our videos of the game here and please leave a comment with your thoughts down in the comments below! If you're interested, you can see the game and download it from the official website right here.