Looking at Neverwinter in 2014
It has been over a year since Neverwinter released into the market as the premiere Dungeons and Dragons MMO. In its time it has released four updates with its newest, Tyranny of Dragons, releasing last weeek. This new expansion boasts a new class, a new race, new dungeon among many other features. We decided it was time to take another look at this game as a whole and let you know how it stands up as a since its release over a year ago.
With any good MMO you need to start with character creation and you will certainly find everything you could want when customizing your character looks and race. I do appreciate that Neverwinter gladly embraces Dungeons and Dragons numerous races and allows the player to choose from a large selection of choices. It is also worth noting that each of these races sports unique bonuses that will further enhance your stats towards your class choice. However one of the downsides of such a large array of races with unique abilities is that some of the races don’t quite offer the best bonuses towards the class you choose. For example choosing a Sun Elf Great Weapon Fighter is nowhere near as good as any other choice.
The classes are just about what you would expect in any MMO that fits towards a trinity combat ideal: high DPS classes, dedicated healer class, tank class and control classes. Each of these classes can offer specialization trees called Paragon Paths but they really don’t change the core ideal behind a class. A Guardian Fighter’s abilities are always focused on threat generation with a splash of control abilities and no amount of focusing into anything else will change that core aspect to the class.
One issue I had during character creation was the ability point system during the final stages of character creation. When you start you are told your class has three important stats and you should try to focus on them. They don’t tell you what any of the stats do for your class other than these are important and others aren’t. Constitution will give you increased hit points but for one class it could also give extra damage and for another class it could give you better action point gain. This could easily be improved upon with some tool tips but as it stands you are left in the dark until you’ve already dedicated the character slot.
Furthermore these stats are random rolled with the ability to continually roll the stats until you are pleased with the numbers. This is an odd choice for an MMO but it does stick to that feeling of making a character in a tabletop Dungeons and Dragons game. It would probably have been better to allow players the choice of a point-buy system so veterans can customize their characters a tad better.
Getting into the gameplay itself has its ups and downs.
The world map is all separate instances that require you to choose which area you want to go to. The areas themselves are pretty extensive but none of this feels like it requires a mount and it certainly doesn’t feel like exploration of an extensive world. It’s all too linearly sectioned off into their proper areas where the game clearly designates where you belong. There is very little room for wild exploration and the map travel feels jarring to what could have been an immersive experience.
The main town, Protector’s Enclave, is an exception to this but only in the way that all of features the game are packed into it to make it a very confusing player hub. I spent an entire day trying to understand all of the different areas and services that this area offered. It is sufficient to say this area is just incredibly confusing.
It is important to mention that there is another town within the game called Caer Konig which is restricted to level 60 characters with 10,000 gear score and other requirements. Due to this I didn’t get the chance to look closely at this other player hub.
Combat is what really drew me into the game. It is responsive and you can’t help but feel good when you really nail something with your powerful attacks. It is very fluid in that you are constantly moving to respond to attacks and you are typically trying to line your enemy up to your attack reticules. Open world fighting runs into the typical MMO issue of back spawns jumping you but you generally have some serious abilities to handle those situations.
You can even customize how you want your character to handle problems with a large array of abilities that affect your most basic attack to your most potent ability and even into passive effects. Every level offers you some new way to customize your character to your preferences. Once you hit level 30 you even begin to specialize through Paragon Paths that allow you to fit your character into a specific play style that you prefer. It feels very intuitive and there is a certain freedom in being able to customize your skills so that you can better handle situations with a group of people or by yourself.
Questing is intriguing. You have the typical “Go to the guy with the quest marker. Kill X amount of Y mob. Come back. Get loot and experience.” However you also run into some objectives that continue to progress forward and sometimes it leads you into an instanced mission where you have to deal with some big bad monster with a nice reward at the end. There are also dungeons but those are pretty typical to what you would expect out of an MMO.
To go along with questing there are campaigns you can start to participate in beginning at level 26. These campaigns allow you to do additional, themed quests to give you more rewards and help you acquire boons that further allow you to specialize your character. Most of these are daily and timed quests that must be completed each day in order to progress through the campaign.
The problem with all of these features is that after your first character there is very little variation in the game. There truly exists only one progression path and it is very entertaining but there are only so many times you can experience the same thing. This is why World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 and many other MMOs offer alternative zones where you can level up your character in and experience new content. The only real alternatives for a new character are to partake in PvP or Foundry content. Both of which aren’t entirely regulated as an ongoing leveling experience.
The last things that need to be said about Neverwinter are its economy and currencies. Both of these are tied very closely together due to the nature of Zen Coins which are the real money currency. This currency is the only way to get better access to standard features that are offered in standard MMOS with things like a larger bank, more auction house selling slots and even more character slots.
The problem with this is that Neverwinter doesn’t offer you much from the get go so that you feel strangled until you do purchase these things. You only have 40 auction item slots, thirty bank slots and two character creation slots. You can go through these really quickly. Even bag space is incredibly limited with very few quests that reward bags so that you are constantly trading out items or you can purchase the incredibly expensive bags.
You can convert a second currency, Astral Diamonds, to Zen through a player ran market. The entire time I played there was nobody who offered to sell Zen but many people were making buy orders and it is very unlikely you will have enough astral diamonds to exceed the prices being listed. So essentially you have to pay money to get access to enhanced features.
There is also the problem that the Zen currency allows players a distinct advantage in making the game easier for those who are willing to pay. You can purchase mounts that are better than any other, companions that are entirely better than most you can get normally and tokens that allow you to complete entire campaigns for all the loot and boons at a mere click of a button.
Zen currency is also the only way to purchase Enchanted Keys which are used to open the huge amount of lockboxes you will find throughout the game. These lockboxes provide ways to overcome the steep prices of improvement but it is essentially just a huge gamble with getting very little as an average pay out.
Finally if you want to play as the new Dragonborn race, which is arguably the best race in the game currently, you have to pay at least 15$ USD for a one use item that will allow you to convert one character’s race to another. If you want permanent access to the Dragonborn race (and a bunch of other features that make the game entirely more bearable) you have to pay 75$ USD to get it.
The game by itself is very fascinating and entertaining when you get into it the first time. There is a lot of depth, combat feels incredible and the events you can get into later on in the game are absolutely fun. The business model is what likely turns off many players to the game. This is especially true when you consider that the money invested is on an MMO that could feel very repetitive after two or three characters.
Regardless I would highly recommend you give the game a play purely for the way it handles class mechanics and combat. It is one of the better Dungeons and Dragons games out there right now. It doesn't take my number one slot but it certainly is one I would recommend to a friend if they really wanted to have that tabletop experience in their MMO.