Neverwinter is (as of this writing) the newest in a long line of video games based on Wizards of the Coast's Forgotten Realms role-playing game setting. With each previous game seemingly passed from one developer and publisher to another, this one was developed by Cryptic Studios, based in Los Gatos, California, and published by Perfect World Entertainment from the UK. Unlike previous Neverwinter iterations, this one is an MMORPG. It runs exclusively on Microsoft Windows.
After the tepid response received by the previous game in the Neverwinter series, Neverwinter Nights 2 (2006), a Neverwinter MMORPG was announced in mid-2010 and is a standalone game that is only loosely based on the history established in previous Forgotten Realms games, literature and tabletop campaigns. Development began in late 2010 and closed beta play began on February 8, 2013, open beta on April 30, 2013 and final release on June 20, 2013. Jack Emmert and Shane Hensley are the head designers.
Neverwinter follows the "free to play" business model. The game client is free to download and there is no monthly fee to play. However, like most games that follow the "free to play" model, the game is made much easier and debatably more fun by buying a virtual currency, in this case ZEN, which is usable across all current Perfect World Entertainment games. It can be spent on high-quality items and special perks. Of course, it's possible to play without converting real-world cash for ZEN, and you can even get to the endgame content that way, but it requires a lot more time and hard work to get anywhere near the endgame.
The storyline, such as it is, takes place about 100 years after the events of all the previously-established Neverwinter games. Half of the city of Neverwinter has been destroyed by some magical cataclysm, half its inhabitants have been killed or monster-fied by a magical disease known as the spellplague and a militia known as the Nashers, loyal to the long-ago deposed ruler of the city, Lord Nasher Alagondar, struggle to maintain control of Castle Never. The rest of the city and its environs are controlled by the City Guard and its various companies. Some places will be familiar to players of the previous Neverwinter games. The Big Bad of the story is Valindra in her not-quite-a-lich-yet form.
As for the gameplay, the interface and dynamics are more or less a direct derivative of World of Warcraft—the player's POV, the gear types (grey for vendor trash, white for common, green for uncommon, blue for rare and purple for epic), the PvP and PvE combat systems, the professions, guilds, the user classes and races, questing, gear enchantments, mounts, travel, and so on. The complete absence of player factions (that is, no Alliance vs. Horde-style setups) is one thing that isn't lifted from WoW—each player is in it for themselves. The main differences are the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons base, to which the game is not particularly faithful nor based on any specific version.
One of the main complaints against Neverwinter is that it seems to be built for players of the lowest common denominator. Each quest has a sparkly trail leading up to its objective, showing you exactly where to go and eliminating the necessity of map exploration, though this feature can be disabled. That aside, the combat is considered enjoyably challenging in most respects, though the rate of mob respawn is unreasonably fast for most players while in the world/PvE environment. Mob respawn in dungeons and raids does not occur until the instance has been cleared.
The game's currency system can be somewhat confusing because there are at least eleven different currencies, if you don't count bounty items dropped by random mobs that can be turned in for middling item packs or specific forms of other currencies. These forms include:
- Seals: Similar in principle to WoW's points that are earned upon completion of certain quests or clearing certain raids. There are five different types of seals, rising progressively in level until you hit level 60, the highest level as of this writing. Seals can be exchanged for uncommon, rare and epic gear and other items, and they can be acquired by spending Ardent Coins (see below). There are five different seals, each greater in value than the last.
- Gold: While gold is WoW's bread and butter, it's nearly worthless in Neverwinter. Though it can be exchanged between users, it almost never is. You can buy your first mount with it, as well as potions and various extremely common adventuring items, but not much else. Mobs drop miniscule amounts of gold, to such a degree that 20 gold is considered quite a lot, for all the good it does. Like in WoW, 100 copper equals one silver and 100 silver equals one gold.
- Astral Diamonds: AD is the main form of currency in the game. It's used in the Auction House and can be acquired as prayer rewards (more on prayer below), profession task completion rewards and occasionally as quest rewards. AD received from prayer are in the form of "rough" astral diamonds which must be refined into proper astral diamonds before they can be spent or traded. This involves clicking a "Refine" button and nothing more, with a 1=1 exchange rate between rough and proper.
- Ardent Coins and Celestial Coins: Both of these are received as a reward for your character's first prayer of each day. Subsequent prayers do not award coins. Ardent Coins are used primarily to buy seals (mentioned above) or special items that cost 100-360 Ardent Coins, which works out to 3.5 to 12 months' daily play. As for Celestial Coins, a player may have a maximum of seven at one time. If you get up to seven then don't spend them the same day you receive the seventh, they disappear. They can be used to buy novelty items, special potions, professions packs and equipment packs, none of which are a particularly big deal.
- Glory: Glory is your reward for successful PvP combat. It's used to purchase PvP gear.
- ZEN: ZEN is a virtual currency usable and transferable between all games published by Perfect World Entertainment. The exchange rate is 100 ZEN for $1.00. Purchasable denominations are 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 5000 and 10000. Purchases of the two highest amounts come with bonus ZEN—300 free with 5000 and 600 free with 10000. In game, ZEN can be put on the astral diamond exchange market at an average rate of about 320 AD per ZEN. ZEN is otherwise used to purchase high-end stuff, including the best mounts, keys for special epic lockboxes dropped by mobs, wards against enchantment failure, companions and other sundries.
A form of unofficial currency is the Enchanted Key, which can be acquired from the ZEN market for 125 ZEN apiece, or 1125 ZEN for a pack of ten keys. Those disinclined to purchase ZEN are often willing to trade pretty much any high-end item that could otherwise be sold in the auction house for these keys, which open Nightmare Lockboxes. Those are epic items that are nevertheless dropped quite commonly by random mobs encounterable at every level. The lockboxes have the potential to contain high-end mounts, fail-proof enchantment wards and other really good stuff, but more often than not, when you open one, the contents are pretty underwhelming. Still, the Enchanted Keys are probably the most sought-after items in the game; a gamble, perhaps, to Vergadian, the god of wealth and luck. Enchanted Keys can be sold in the Auction House for exorbitant amounts of AD, making them another trade commodity.
Each player is required to select a deity from the Forgotten Realms pantheon upon character creation, though whichever deity this ends up being doesn't matter a whit, given that characters have no traditional good or evil alignment. Choose whichever god/goddess you prefer, then once a day, deploy a portable altar or visit a prayer circle and pray for your rewards. Rewards, as mentioned above, include Ardent Coins, Celestial Coins, rough astral diamonds, experience points and a random combat buff.
Combat is more or less a copy of WoW's system, with specification trees for particular skills dependent on class which become more powerful as your character gains levels.
There is a queue system for multi-player dungeon instances and raids. Though there are guilds available and they're everywhere, it's not strictly necessary to join one to reach endgame content, thanks to the queue system pioneered by WoW and implemented in Neverwinter in exactly the same way: select an instance and your preferred role (healer, tank, DPS) and you'll be slotted into the next available dungeon or raid party for the instance you selected.
Character classes are as follows:
- Control Wizard: primarily a crowd control/AOE/DOT specialist with a secondary focus on individual-target DPS.
- Devoted Cleric: the token healer, duh. Can also be spec'd to provide DPS and even tank, though this is rarely seen and is considered the hardest build to play solo.
- Great Weapon Fighter: interchangeably can take on a DPS or tanking role, though the primary focus is on DPS.
- Guardian Fighter: primarily a tank, but can provide some middling DPS if needed. Players using this class for DPS are not playing their character correctly.
- Trickster Rogue: the premiere melée combat DPS class, with all the features you'd expect such as stealth, sneak attacks and disarming traps.
- Hunter Ranger: analogous to WoW's hunter class.
Playable races include humans, elves, half-elves, half-orcs, halfings, drow, dwarves and tieflings. Non-human/non-playable companions such as kobolds, spiders and golems are available.
Travel within defined areas can be accomplished on foot or on a mount. Transport between areas is instantaneous. Unlike WoW, you're not forced to watch scenery go by as you fly from one flight point to the next as there are no flight points.
The graphics/visual design is pleasing and well-done but perhaps not as sleek and shiny as WoW has evolved to appear over the years. The audio design could be better—background noise in crowded areas consists of indecipherable mumbling at a low volume and near-constant pace, which can be annoying. The voice acting is OK but nothing special.
Like any other MMORPG with any degree of success, Neverwinter is infested with gold farmers. Accordingly, the interface provides "ignore player" and "report spam" commands, both for chat and in-game mail.
For what Neverwinter is—an MMORPG in the style of World of Warcraft—it's a decent and fun way to spend an afternoon or evening. It has thus far been my only experience with the "free to play" model and so far it's been great. Of course, it's not WoW, despite the similarities, but really, how can you top the game that defined a genre?
If you're into MMORPGs, I'd definitely recommend giving this one a go. If you want something radical and original, look elsewhere because this game consists of a previously-established world and mythos and nothing about it—design, gameplay or dynamics—is particularly original. But it nobly serves the purpose of any MMORPG: killing time, and taken for what it is, there are worse ways of killing time.
The first expansion pack, Knight of the Feywild, was released for purchase in September 2013. A second x-pack, Shadowmantle, followed a couple months later, and was itself followed in mid-2014 by the third x-pack, The Curse of Icewind Dale. As with most free-to-play games, the expansion packs must be bought.
Perfect World Entertainment: Neverwinter
If you happen to be a player, look for me on the Dragon shard. I'm Avendhras, the bomb-ass dreadlocked rogue. Nevermind—I returned to WoW after a three-year absence very shortly after writing this review.