The free-to-play MMO Neverwinter arrived on Xbox One a little over a week ago, and despite its rather generic presentation, its focus on inconvenience that lead to the purchase of a few microtransactions, and the copious amounts of technical hiccups, I can’t stop playing it. And neither can 75% of our staff.
With so many glaring faults, what’s sucking us in?
My first foray in to Neverwinter was during the closed beta on Xbox One. Aside from a brief stint in Final Fantasy XIV, my only experience with MMOs has been a 10 year on-again-off-again relationship with World of Warcraft. With both of them offering what I’d call a high quality product, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a free MMO; especially when it came to microtransactions. After spending a few hours leveling my Hunter Ranger in the beta, exploring the starter zones, and running a few skirmishes and dungeons, however, I was sold. I couldn’t wait for the full game to release.
Well, here we are. Neverwinter is now on Xbox One after being available on PC for nearly two years, and it’s the first official MMO on Microsoft’s current-gen console. That’s not to say it’s the same product, as the PC version is still fairly superior and offers more content–in terms of both campaign and microtransaction options–than its Xbox counterpart. I’m sure what’s missing will eventually make its way over to Xbox, but as of now it’s short a few campaigns, a large scale raid, and most importantly, the mini-map. Of all things to omit from the console version, WHY the mini-map?
Neverwinter on Xbox also runs significantly worse than the PC version, and over the last ten days I’ve seen my fair share of technical hiccups. Certain zones lag more than others (I’m looking at you, Vellosk), the group of people I play with have all reported frequent server disconnects while zoning in to different areas, some NPCs repeatedly gave me a completed quest, and other quests outright fail to track in the open world (which is a fucking nightmare without a mini-map to rely on.. HINT HINT!).
With so much going wrong, how have I managed to sink at least 40 hours in to the game since launch?
For starters, Neverwinter is free. As shallow as that sounds, it’s a huge selling point–for lack of a better term–as the entire core game and all of its available expansion content is there to play for a sweet goose egg. Not all of the zones or quests have been enjoyable, and some have even been downright annoying, but they’re all unique and more often than not have some neat community events to partake in, like battling massive dragon bosses out in the open world with 19 other people. There’s tons of real people out there looking to group up for quests, dungeons, and PVP, an auction house for you to sell your unwanted goods, a plethora of AI companions to level and fight alongside you, and plenty of other things to keep you occupied, and it’s all free.
As with any free-to-play MMO though, microtransactions exist to make your life a little easier. How they work in Neverwinter is pretty basic as well: You buy an in-game currency called Zen at the rate of 100 Zen per $1 USD, and you can spend it on things like additional playable races, in-game mounts, combat companions, expanded inventory space, more character slots, cosmetic gear that doesn’t affect the game’s balance, and time savers like XP boosts and profession packs. I’m always okay with these types of transactions, as nothing you can pay for will drastically alter the game’s balance.
Of course you can’t just buy the exact amount of Zen you need, as that would be too easy. Aside from the minimum amount of 500 for $5, you can only purchase it in increments of 1000 or more. So if you want that wolf mount for 1750 Zen, you’re stuck paying $20 for 2000 Zen and having some left over for later. So far I’ve spent $55 on additional character slots, a faster-than-normal wolf mount that’s available on all 5 of my heroes, and an Heirloom Bag that offered expanded inventory space, one extra character slot, an exclusive Assassin companion, and rare gear for all of my characters every 5 levels up to level 50 (the max level on Xbox is 60, and I believe it’s 70 on PC as of 4/7); since my objective is to reach max level as fast as possible in order to take part in the end-game raids/heroic dungeons, this has been drastically speeding up the process.
Paying for that sort of thing may sound stupid, but I like that I can pick and choose what’s important to me and expand it a little bit if I feel so inclined. For me, I like trying out all of the different classes. In WoW, I had all 11 classes leveled to max, sometimes one on each faction just to see how the other side lived. With seven classes to pick from, being limited to two characters made that impossible; the first thing I did was pay to open up more slots. I also don’t like walking everywhere, so when I reached level 20 I was okay with paying $15 for a faster mount that I could use on all 5 of my characters.
There are some rather odd paid services though, like keys that unlock random epic-quality lockboxes dropped from enemies that can contain anything from rare crafting materials and legendary artifacts, to exclusive Imperial Drake mounts, but it’s not a pay-to-win game at all. What it does is basically limit things, like character slots or inventory space, and offer to expand those things for a cost. You can open up more inventory space for up to 10$, or unlock loads of starter gear and an exclusive playable race in the Dragonborn for $75. Yes, $75. There’s even a $200 Zen package if you’re feeling bold and want to buy all sorts of stuff. The point is, you don’t HAVE to buy any of it. The entire game is there for free, you’re merely deciding whether or not to pay for convenience if you think it’ll cause you to enjoy the game a little more.
Neverwinter is also really accessible, so even if your MMO experience is limited or non-existent, it eases you in to its world in such a relaxed way that it’s easy to follow along and pick up at your own pace. Again, it’s free, so if you end up hating it all you’ve wasted was a download. It was awesome to see so many people on my Xbox Live friends list trying it out, even the ones who have no interest in MMOs. And while some have admittedly given up or slowed down, there’s quite a few out there who have fully embraced the game–like our own Paul Novak! There are definitely a few areas that are a bit confusing, like how Campaigns work, but for the most part it’s relatively simple to jump in to. I never once felt like I was being fed to the wolves as soon as I created my character, and starting off in an MMO is usually pretty daunting. If WoW taught us anything, it’s that making your game more accessible will attract a larger player base.
Neverwinter offers some really cool fantasy classes to play around with, although you’re initially limited to just two character slots. I currently have a level 44 Control Wizard that splits his time between dealing damage and disabling enemies so his fellow party members can beat them to a bloody mush. It’s a rush to feel in total control of the battlefield, and I enjoy having the option to Jedi Force Choke or freeze the hell out of everything, but sometimes I just want to blow shit up. To scratch that itch, I recently rolled a Drow Scourge Warlock. Between bathing enemies in Eldritch flame, throwing around curses, summoning Soul Puppets, and delving in to all things evil and awesome, I think I’m in love.
I also think I’m in love with the game’s take on class customization, as that’s something Blizzard removed from WoW a few years back that I’ve sorely, sorely missed. Each class has a large variety of spells and abilities to unlock, on top of different paragon paths and feats that drastically alter your class’s play style. Scourge Warlocks, for instance, can choose between dealing explosive amounts of damage by dipping points in to the Fury feat, or opt for more of a support role by draining enemies to heal and buff their party members in the Temptation tree. Control Wizards can aim for a more sustained damage-over-time approach by choosing to paragon as a Master of Flame, but Spellstorm Mage is a viable option if you prefer more burst DPS.
Of course the main reason I continue to play Neverwinter, despite its glaring flaws, is simple: It’s fun and a lot of my friends play it. Okay, that’s two reasons, but there’s more to it than that. I enjoy its action-oriented combat system, since there’s more to do than sit around and wait for abilities to come off cooldown. I also love the interactive dodge system. Like, a lot. Basically instead of stacking passive damage mitigation stats like dodge and parry, which is EXTREMELY boring and cliche to me, you have to rely on quick reflexes to either get the hell out of the way or raise your shield in time to avoid eating crushing blows. Then there’s the above mentioned class customization options, the lore, the dungeons and skirmishes, and the potential fun of end-game raiding.
But again, for me, it all boils down to having fun with my friends. Hell, my girlfriend and I are both avid gamers, and we recently decided to sell our PS4 to buy a 2nd Xbox One in order to play more games with each other online and together with our mutual Xbox Live friends. We’ve always been limited in what games we could play together, especially with MMOs not being cross-platform and many of the bigger games not offering local co-op, so having the option to dive head first in to Neverwinter with her and all of our friends around the world is a huge selling point. Thanks to Neverwinter I’ve become more acquainted with Miles’ circle of friends, and have connected with people I haven’t played with online since the Titanfall beta or even the original Borderlands back on the Xbox 360. This is also the first time I’ve actually played a game online with Paul Novak, and we’ve written together here at What’s Your Tag? for almost a year!
I’ve always been convinced that any game, no matter how bad, is always more fun with friends. Neverwinter isn’t exactly bad either, which just makes it all that more enjoyable. Have you been delving in to the Forgotten Realms? If so, which race/class combo did you go with? Have you dipped in the ol’ wallet to partake in some microtransactions?
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist from Baltimore, MD with a deep seeded love of video games, pro wrestling, horror films, and cats. He’s currently addicted to Neverwinter, Diablo III, and Warframe, and can usually be found on Xbox Live at any hour of the day. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.