Release Date: June 20, 2013
Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Well it certainly has seemed like a long time coming, but the final release of Cryptic Studios’ Neverwinter is finally upon us, so grab your sword and a potion or two, and let us all rejoice! A lot of what I said in my initial preview of the game (when I got to embark on a special VIP quest with one of Neverwinter’s developers to beat the crap out of Vansi Bloodscar at the bottom of the murky Cloak Tower) still rings true in the final build of the game: Neverwinter is still a total blast to play, and the addictive mix between hack-and-slash dungeon gameplay and deep RPG elements will be sure to draw any gamer in to the wonderfully imagined world in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. But after playing through the game on and off for a few weeks now in various beta events, how does Neverwinter stand up against the test of time to rival the longevity of other MMORPG greats that so pointedly suck away so much of our lives?
The big thing about Neverwinter, though, is that I think the entire experience would have been perceived in a completely different light if it didn’t come attached with that MMORPG tag. In many ways, the game is much more story-driven and linear than larger MMORPG’s that most gamers might be familiar with, and Cryptic Studios has frequently listed games like Dragon Age and Oblivion as big influences for Neverwinter’s own method of progression. For instance, there is always a clear-cut path for you to follow at any point on your adventure, and deviating from this path will either net dead-ends or little rewards, or have you clearing out areas that you’ll just have clear out again later when the game actually intends for you to do some.
Now personally, I don’t mind the linear nature of the game. This is probably because I’m more accustomed to playing single player experiences that always reach a definitive end, and in this regard, there certainly comes a point when Neverwinter hits that inescapable end-game wall. Whether you’ve reached the level cap of 60 or not by the time you finish the final stretch of the story, there’s very little incentive to keep on grinding towards that goal, despite the promised updates and future quest expansions that will be factored in later on down the road. In many ways, I think a large part of whether or not you wind up loving Neverwinter will boil down to how linear you like your MMORPGs.
Not exactly helping the MMORPG cause, however, is the surprising lack of community to be found at times, and just the overall wealth of singular experiences that pepper the world of Neverwinter at regular intervals. I didn’t exactly find that partying up with other players was always required to finish some of the more difficult quests, and being the loner that I am inside the game and out, I managed to just always go my own way and be none the wiser. Still though, it’s not like questing with others in the game would have been all that exciting had I made the effort to really go that route. Maybe I was spoiled by playing the game in the special closed beta event weekend, where dwarves and warriors were running around every which way I could see, and camaraderie was the name of the game, but I couldn’t help but feel that the online community had significantly diminished from when I first started my adventure: alarmingly so, for a game still so fresh off its release date.
To combat this linearity a little bit, Neverwinter’s Foundry mode offers a wide playground of player-created levels to keep the experience fresh and alive even after you’ve excavated the very last dungeon in the initial main game. Now I’m not as much a creator as I am a run-through-the-hallways-slashing-everything-that-gets-in-my-way kind of guy, but after fiddling around with the Foundry interface for a little bit, it certainly seems like it has more than enough options to offer for all your aspiring Dungeon Masters out there. However, you may have already heard about the item drop restrictions that Cryptic has placed on these user-created levels, and I’m sorry to say that does happen to be the case in my own experience of playing through some of my fellow questers’ creations. While there may not be a very good incentive to play through a lot of them, or some long-term goals the Foundry will ultimately help you reach, the option does prove to be a nice breath of fresh air when the main story quest starts to grow a little too stale. But like any online game with a heavy community-based component, the strength and longevity of Neverwinter’s Foundry mode will fall squarely on the community’s shoulders: and only time will tell if the intriguing original content will continue to pop up a few months down the road.
Nevertheless, however you might feel about the linearity of Neverwinter or the seeming lack of things to do thereafter, there’s still no denying that the presentation of the game positively shines. I mean, just look at the gorgeous opening cinematic of the game, which was another nice surprise for us beta players upon booting up the full retail release for the first time. Even though I’ve been playing the game for a few weeks now, I’ll never forget that incredible sense of magic that I felt the very first time I stepped into the rich and breathtaking D&D-inspired world, and got to run wild through the decrepit streets of the game’s opening moments and battle a giant boss monster at the end of a bridge. There is still very much that is truly exhilarating about Neverwinter, and even though that sense of open-eyed wonder and magic will slowly fade into repetition and indifference as the experience wanes on, it’s still something that should really not be missed, for MMORPG and D&D fans alike.
And do you know the best part about it? The entire Neverwinter experience is completely free to play! Now, I’m sure there will be more than a few who find some irksome things about Cryptic Studios’ free-to-play model, but for the most part, I’d like to think it’s a pretty fair one, all things considered and the decently sized breadth of the game as well. At the end of the day, I can play through the entire Neverwinter story without paying a dime, and so I have to say that’s certainly enough for me. Of course, I may not ever be able to utilize some of the decidedly cooler features that can be possible in the game without paying, such as the epic riding mounts like the Heavy Inferno Nightmare, which is quite literally the most badass-looking horse I’ve ever seen: complete with demon red eyes and deadly flames licking at his hooves and his mane. The prices of store items such as these can get insanely expensive though, but the developer needs to make money somewhere in here, and there are definitely a few purchases that I can think of that seem cool enough to more than warrant that slightly steep asking price.
All nitpicking aside though, Neverwinter is still a very polished, very fun adventure, whose addictive gameplay qualities are only matched by the amount of time and effort that you’ll want to put into the game. While Cryptic Studios may have traveled down the straight and narrow path more times than most might have desired, you really can’t say that the path they chose isn’t filled with consistently great action, and breathtaking scenery and set pieces that are simply to die for (that hopefully won’t make you die in the actual game!). Hopefully a dedicated stream of updates, along with a healthy online community in the game’s Foundry mode will enable Neverwinter to stand the test of time, and reign supreme in the world of MMORPGs as the D&D brand has continued to reign over most of our geekiest pastimes today.
Story – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Multiplayer – 6/10
Sound – 7/10
Replayability – 7/10