Originally arriving on PC back in 2013, Neverwinter, a Dungeons & Dragons branded MMORPG, is now set to take the illustrious role as the Xbox One’s first entry in the genre. Developed by Cryptic Studios, the game is also entirely free to play, with in-game purchases on offer for both the committed or the impatient. The question is of course whether you’ll be willing to invest your time, or your money.
You start off by creating your character, with a selection of nine D&D races on offer, made up of Human, Half-Orc, Wood Elf, Sun Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Half-Elf, Tiefling, and Drow. Each race has their own racial abilites, which in turn make some a better fit for the classes you have to choose from which are Control Wizard, Great Weapon Fighter, Guardian Fighter, Scourge Warlock, Devoted Cleric, Hunter Ranger and Trickster Rogue. I went for the Half-Orc race and made him a Great Weapon Fighter, which seemed ideal thanks to his racial traits which included +2 Strength and a 5% damage increase to critical hits.
The character creation tools are pretty powerful and comprehensive, though the interesting array of hair-styles may or may not entirely suit your chosen race. Once you’ve selected your class, and rolled (or re-rolled) your ability scores you get to select a deity and your character origin, both of which are purely included for flavour and don’t affect gameplay. It does help to fully craft your character though, and further invests you in them beyond being a digital avatar, with the added bonus of being able to choose Baldur’s Gate as your origin.
You begin your adventure shipwrecked on Neverwinter Fields, searching crates for your lost gear. The first thing that you’ll likely notice is the ridiculous tutorial voice that directs you as you make your first steps in the world. The voicework throughout the game as a whole often sounds hurried or phoned in, with many attempted accents missing the mark. Either way, you’re soon embroiled in the battle against Valindra, an undead moon-elf wizard, who threatens all of Neverwinter with her powers.
Your first quests are classic MMO busy-work, healing wounded soldiers or collecting arrows from the battlefield. There’s a helpful glowing line that leads you to each objective which is very helpful, though perhaps it stops you from exploring areas in the same way you might without direction. It does however keeps the game trundling along at a steady pace, and you can soon branch out into numerous side-quests along the way.
Playing as a Great Weapon Fighter, combat is relatively straightforward, with your primary attack mapped to the right trigger, whilst your left trigger can be held to perform a charged attack. Pressing the left bumper switches between your first and second action palette, granting you access to a further eight selections. The X button is capable is a spinning strike, or a more powerful variant if you have enough action points. Combat is satisfying and direct, and whilst there isn’t too much strategy on show it’s definitely enjoyable, and a welcome change from some MMO’s automatic actions.
The game isn’t really incredibly clear about how everything works, supplying you with the basics and perhaps hoping that you have experience with the genre to help you muddle through the rest. Text boxes, and instructions, can become incredibly messy, with tutorial pop-ups overlapping, system messages appearing in the bottom left of the screen, and ‘important’ information appearing in large letters right in the middle of the screen in a cheap-looking font, no matter what else you might be doing, or reading. It definitely makes the product feel shoddier than the gameplay does.
Visually Neverwinter is solid, if a little unassuming, and players who may be used to the more impressive fantasy worlds of games such as Final Fantasy 14 may be disappointed. Some of the areas do have their moments, such as the town of Blacklake in the twilight, but from a technical standpoint Neverwinter is certainly lacking, with the frame rate chugging along in more detailed areas with lots of other players, as well as plenty of pop-in of background elements and items as well.
Things do improve outside of the busy social hubs and during quests, but the frame rate remains distinctly unstable. Other technical problems include NPC’s textures that are still loading as they talk to you, and it often takes long enough to be very distracting. There can also be interminable pauses as you move between certain areas, in some cases taking so long that you begin to think that the game has in fact crashed. These issues don’t render the game unplayable, but they are an annoyance which some people simply won’t be able to overlook.
Whilst the game is entirely free to play those micro-transactions rear their head when you look through the Zen Market, with Zen being a virtual currency that you buy with real-world cash. The cheapest option of 500 Zen will set you back £3.99, but payment selections go all the way up to an eye-watering £114.99 for 21,200 Zen. Extra races are available behind the paywall, including the Dragonborn lizard race and the Drow Renegades, alongside extra character slots, boosts to progress as well as mounts, items and companions.
Admittedly, none of these items seem crucial to making progress with the game, though the ability to make extra characters or to change their appearance will be essential to those who get into the game. They’re not cheap either, with the plain Dragonborn race unlock setting you back £20, while the ‘Dragonborn Legend’ pack – which adds in some attractive gear and extra character slots – will cost more than £50.
As an MMO, the key to Neverwinter’s success will be its ability to attract a dedicated audience, as well as receiving ongoing support from Cryptic. As it stands the Xbox One version could certainly do a with a patch to improve both the framerate and reduce pop in, as well as to improve the HUD’s appearance. However, as a free to play title there’s plenty on offer here, and with its Dungeons & Dragons branding, enjoyable combat, and no competition at the moment, Xbox One owners could do far worse than embark on a journey into Neverwinter despite its limitations.