Five minutes into Neverwinter on the PlayStation 4, I found myself talking to elves, slaying orcs with my arcane powers, strolling past a downed Dracolich and coming face to face with the Lich Queen Valindra. As a longtime fan of Dungeons & Dragons, this felt more like a homecoming than my first trek into a new MMORPG.
To be fair, Neverwinter isn't exactly "new" on all platforms. It's been available on PC for a number of years and launched on the Xbox One in 2015. But Perfect World Entertainment has finally brought the free-to-play romp to PlayStation 4, making this my grand introduction to the game. I've spent the past week diving as deep into Neverwinter as possible, and I suppose it's a good sign that I have no intentions of stepping away anytime soon.
For starters, Neverwinter is a free-to-play MMO in the purest sense of the term. While similar games charge for additional gameplay nodes or mission packs following the initial storyline, Perfect World has opted to make all of the main content, including nine current expansions, part of the free-to-play model.
I'm nowhere near reaching the end of the initial adventure, so my mind kind of reels when I think about all of that additional Neverwinter content just waiting for me in the months ahead.
But all of that content wouldn't mean a heck of a lot if Neverwinter wasn't fun to play, so let's dive into what I got out of my first week with the game.
I tend to stick to sword and board fighters in the pen and paper version of Dungeons & Dragons, so I decided to change things up in Neverwinter and built myself a warlock drow. Neverwinter also plays a bit more like a third-person action game than your typical MMO, so I figured it might be fun to focus on a class with lots of flashy ranged spells for a change.
As the campaign begins, the massive and fractured city of Neverwinter is under attack by the undead. I found myself washed up on shore following a disagreement between my boat and the ocean and, before I knew it, I was enlisted by the protectors of the city to lend a hand in all manner of missions.
The flow of Neverwinter is your standard MMO fare. You'll grab missions from key characters and have the opportunity to pick up side quests along the way. You'll need to thin out the enemy numbers, track down specific targets, collect stolen goods, etc.
You'll be bombarded by access to a bunch of menus from the get-go, but I recommend not worrying about all of that and just follow the bread crumbs for the first 20 or so levels. Neverwinter actually does a nice job of walking you through all of the game's systems, explaining how all of those options and menus work as the plot unfolds.
You'll start your journey battling kobolds, various gangs, orcs and the like, learning a bit more about the city and how it became divided by war along the way. I was pretty impressed with the lore on offer, especially since you have the ability to pick up tomes, scrolls and other bits of information to fill in the blanks along the way. Dungeons & Dragons has a lot of history at its back, and Neverwinter takes full advantage of those legendary places, people and events to breathe life into the setting.
While some of the character models aren't going to win any beauty contests, the settings are certainly nice enough to get the job done. Unfortunately, heavily populated areas like Protector's Enclave take a noticeable hit in the framerate department, though that's the kind of wrinkle that can be ironed out via patches. Otherwise, the various regions of the city and the surrounding areas are nicely detailed and offer a lot of variety, and the looting, treasure hunting and occasional mini-games give you plenty of reason to explore off the beaten path along the way.
That's actually one of my favorite things about Neverwinter so far. While the dungeons haven't gotten overly complex just yet, there's frequently more to do than just run from one group of enemies to the next. Traps pop up from time to time, but they're visible and usually avoidable for folks who pay attention. Along with hidden treasure chests, you'll also discover resources peppered throughout the dungeons, hidden areas, additional lore, etc. There are opportunities to explore and, more importantly, rewards for folks willing to give their surroundings more than a cursory glance.
While questing will fill up most of your time in Neverwinter, there's still plenty more to uncover along the way. Some regions offer their own instanced events and side activities, there are a number of professions to master, mounts and armor sets to collect, bounties to track down, loot to grab and sell, additional stories to uncover and much, much more.
As for the controls, Neverwinter maps nicely to the DualShock 4. Unlike many MMO's, you don't receive abilities at a rate that fills up 40 slots on the HUD. Instead, your class gets a handful of unique abilities that are mapped to certain buttons on the controller and, as you get additional abilities, you can pick and choose what you want to take into battle to customize the class to your liking. Your map, chat log and quick inventory items are mapped to the D-pad while spells, abilities and the like are mapped to the face buttons and triggers. Hold down the L1 button and you have access to a second pallet of options. All told, there's plenty there to give you some variety, but not so much that you'll become overwhelmed with options.
And that's kind of a common theme for Neverwinter, actually. There's loads of content here, but a lot of the fat has been cut from the typical MMO experience to make for a more focused romp through a beloved fantasy world. And again, this is just my first week with the game, so I'm still barely scratching the surface here. I've only spent a little time with the PvP matches and only seen a couple of the game's more epic dungeons. Most of Neverwinter can be played solo (you even get an AI companion to fight at your side, if you like), but there are also tougher challenges that require forming parties to get through.
As is customary with free-to-play games, there are certainly things you can drop a few dollars on along the way. Convenience items, cosmetic items, flashy mounts and the like are up for grabs, as well as expansions to your inventory, bank holdings and character slots. There's even a subscription service for those who want to be a VIP, gaining access to regular rewards and additional perks like a private room at the fanciest tavern in Neverwinter.
But like I noted earlier, all of the actual game content is gratis and, since Neverwinter has proven to be a solid action MMO, you really have nothing to lose by giving it a shot.
While Neverwinter is free-to-play, an Onyx Head Start Pack for PlayStation 4 was provided by the publisher for the purposes of early review.