Neverwinter stays with the tried-and-true strategy of solo-leveling peppered with instanced group content. The chief difference here, though, is a somewhat reduced reliance on the traditional MMO trinity of Tank - Heals - DPS.
That's not to say that the standard type of group balance has no place in Neverwinter - far from it. There's no denying that the Guardian Fighter is meant to be a tank, and the Devoted Cleric is meant to be a healer. But the traditional play-styles associated with these roles doesn't really work here. Tanks are meant to avoid damage rather than soak it, despite the heavy armor and shields. Healers are not "heal-bots" who sit meekly at the back of the group spamming the same 2 skills over and over to keep everyone alive; they get out in the thick of the fight and dish out holy righteousness, and their heals are more like supplements to potions and maintenance for the incautious or slow.
Group dungeons and skirmishes work best with a balanced group, of course, but at lower levels, players can expect to complete group content with really bizarre, unbalanced groups. The Cloak Tower in the Tower District is the first group dungeon the player will face, and it can be done with a group composed entirely of any one class, if need be. As long as everybody knows when to duck and dodge, no problem - no tank needed, heal by potions. Not all dungeons are this forgiving, but it does illustrate a decreased reliance on an old concept.
Neverwinter uses instanced PvP battle zones. As you can see from the screenshot, I'm not a PvP guy, and haven't done it much. Currently, there are only "Domination" maps, taking and holding control points. Gauntlgrym brings new PvP maps available to level 60 characters.
Since Neverwinter is free-to-play with no subscription option, its value must be determined a different way.
PerfectWorld offers up a theoretically ideal system of F2P, where players can earn cash shop currency through gameplay. Neverwinter currently uses a huge and confusing array of currencies, but the two that are most important for determining value are Astral Diamonds and Zen. Astral Diamonds can be earned through regular gameplay - you get them from praying at altars, selling loot on the auction house, completing daily Foundry missions and other ways. These can then be used to buy Zen being sold by other players - there's a special panel for Zen/AD trading, and players can set their own prices.
In theory, this means you can get the full Neverwinter experience without ever paying a dime. In practice, however, you're still going to want to spend a bit of cash if you want a big-ticket item from the Zen Market. The exchange rate of AD:Zen is currently around 325:1, so the expensive Zen Market items cost millions of Astral Diamonds. If you want to get everything for free, you have to play two player-driven markets and be patient enough for a good payout.
As I have expressed before, I have a problem with the Nightmare Lockbox mechanic. I feel that this adds no value to a game, and in fact detracts from it. It is loot that we have to buy in order to use, which is a cheap move. I imagine it makes the Enchanted Keys a hot-selling item in the Zen Market, but the cash shop is already quite aggressively promoted in all other aspects of the game.
Cryptic/PWE earned a bit of flack for selling "Founders Packs" during the closed beta stage of the game, with the $199 "Hero of the North" pack guaranteeing access to all stages of beta, and a slew of in-game items. But really, these packs are no different than the original marketing for SWTOR, which had three similarly-priced packages. The difference here is, the Hero of the North customer gets a special Andorian starship for Star Trek Online, and other mounts and such for seven other games. 200 bucks seems like a lot, but since there is no monthly subscription and since you get all that stuff for a whole pile of games, the value is there.
Again, the real redeeming quality here is the Foundry. Giving players the ability to create their own content is a wonderful thing. I've seen a lot of different kinds of player-created stuff come out of the Foundry, from thoughtful and provocative multi-part campaigns to blatant XP grinders to personal role-playing environments. These players are getting exactly the kind of content they want. Adding an Astral Diamond "tip jar" so that content authors can be paid for their work is a stroke of genius.
It's pretty easy to envision Neverwinter sticking around for a while. It has a fairly solid endgame at launch, with an established gear grind progression. The classes all play very differently, so players who hit level cap and don't feel like grinding high-level dungeons can start over and get a totally new-feeling game with a new character.
There are clear plans in place to continue developing Neverwinter. Caverns of Gauntlgrym is the first step, adding new level 60 content on launch day. And this summer will see the first content expansion, Fury of the Feywild. Cryptic says that future content expansions will come in the form of adventure modules, which is true to D&D form, but this expansion is also likely to introduce a new class or two as well. Rangers and Druids are suspiciously absent from the current game, and the Feywilds is a very likely place to encounter them.
Once again, the Foundry contributes a lot to this category. Bored with current endgame content? Make your own! Sick of the gear grind? Try a roleplaying adventure! The Foundry gives us a constant stream of fresh, new content, or the ability to create our own. It's a full set of D&D-themed LEGO.
I was happy to spend the 60 bucks on the Guardian of the North Founder's Pack many months ago. Even though the game is totally free to play, and I could have gotten almost all the same stuff (or equivalent to it) through the Zen Market for the cost of a few hours of gameplay, it still feels worth it. Neverwinter is fun and engaging, and well worth the time investment even if you don't want to spend the money.