Free to play games are maturing rapidly, with many established titles, like World of Tanks, starting to really polish the genre so that casual and dedicated players alike can play as they wish, either for truly zero cost, or spending money when and where they want. Then there are newer titles that are not only proving that free-to-play can offer amazing depth of gameplay, but are showing larger AAA titles how it’s done.
Neverwinter, the latest game set in the fanciful Forgotten Realms setting from pen-and-paper RPG Dungeons and Dragons, does just that, and then some.
The game’s not a sequel to Neverwinter Nights, but there are some common points. Both games use the existing DnD ruleset as the basis of their mechanics, but while NN used 3rd Edition DnD, Neverwinter uses the slightly more appropriate 4th Edition ruleset. The reason this is a good fit for a computer game is that the rules themselves were in part inspired by the popularity of MMOs. It’s a contentious issue whether those rules work on the tabletop (personally, I don’t think they do, and the direction of DnD’s next edition seems to suggest that the writers agree), but they are perfectly at home in an actual MMO.
Rule nerdery aside, Neverwinter offers a surprising amount of game for something that costs you literally nothing to play. The game world is vast, and there is a tonne of quest content, and the decision to have only three servers at launch means the communal areas are always packed with other players. In a lot of ways it feels like early World of Warcraft, when capital cities were abuzz with players looking for groups, selling gear, and generally hanging around. And if you’re of a roleplaying bent, Neverwinter lets you fill out your toon’s background in detail, with a full field for your own history, and some tasty choices about where you come from in the Realms and your role in society.
The meat of the game, however, is some classic dungeon-bashing, and it’s a very slick and entertaining experience. Neverwinter eschews the standard auto-targetting, button mashing attacks in favour of a more agile reticule-based system. This makes aiming and movement skill far more important, especially for close-in fighters with the ability to hit multiple targets in single blows. However, it does mean that lag is more impactful; we didn’t have huge issues, but when we did get occasional lag spikes combat became that much more lethal – for you, that is.
With a group though, the active combat and dungeon exploration is fantastic.
Even better is the vast amount of quest content, both within the game itself, and player-generated via The Foundry. This is a system where players can make their own quests, and it’s already packed with high-quality, player-driven material that can be simply amazing to play. There’s some real drek, of course, but there are some serious DnD and Forgotten Realms fans putting their all into making thrilling canon adventures that have a really rich, tabletop feel to them. Foundry adventures scale to your level, too, so you can always play them. It’s a wonderful way to keep fresh content coming at an almost daily rate, while giving passionate fans of the setting another outlet to explore the world.
The game’s economy, though, is a little daunting if you want to explore it. There’s gold, which is the most basic cash resource, but also Zen and Astral Diamonds, which can be purchased with real money in the case of the former, or earned via the auction house and some other ways in the case of the latter. Thankfully, it’s easy to ignore this and still get a lot out of the game for free, but with just even $20 invested in the game you’ll find a much richer experience.
At launch, classes are limited – for instance, the iconic Hunter class is missing entirely – but we expect that more classes, and even races, will be rolled out in later content drops, or even offered as cash purchases for those that really want them
Slight niggles about economy and classes aside, this is a confident entry not only in the free-to-play arena, but a great MMO besides.