The popular free to play MMO on PC for the past two years finally lands on Xbox One and is much better than expected. Yes it has flaws and is essentially a console-ized version of the PC version, but it is a great experience and is completely free for anyone to play (Xbox Live required). It’s very simple to ease into and understand but has depth and an endgame, with more content on its way, and surely almost something for everyone, even if you’re not an MMO veteran. Neverwinter is a great first step for MMO’s on Xbox One and if other MMO’s come that are similar in quality and content, I would be very happy.
+A true MMO on Xbox One
+Incorporates your Xbox Live friends list for easy party and group invites
+Smartglass and USB keyboard support
+Feels natural on a controller
-Cash shop prices are quite expensive
-Massive framerate issues
-Convoluted and confusing currencies
It’s almost Neverwinter’s two-year anniversary on PC and us Xbox One owners now to get to enjoy basically the same game finally on our TV and couch. These days if an MMO can not only stay alive, but thrive, then they’re doing something right, and Neverwinter doesn’t seem to be losing any steam, especially considering they’re about to drop their newest mod (expansion) for free, for PC players that is. Why am I mentioning the PC version of Neverwinter? Well, this version on Xbox One is essentially the same game, so if you’ve previously played on PC you’ll definitely feel right at home, but there are also a lot of changes, either fundamentally or mechanically that had to be changed or altered for the console version, which is what I’ll be focusing on more so than anything else.
So let’s get all of the Xbox One related similarities and differences out of the way before delving into some of the game’s mechanics. Firstly, Neverwinter on PC will generally release a new Mod, better known as expansions to MMO vets, every few months, with the sixth now available on PC. It needs to be noted that the Xbox One version is slightly behind, and from the sounds of things, always will be, but there’s no timeframe of how long console players will have to wait between Mod releases. Neverwinter on Xbox One launches with Mod 4, though has some of the tweaks and balanced of Mod 5. We have the Tyranny of Dragons expansion but nothing past that yet. That also means that it ships with the full range of classes that PC players also use: Guardian Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter, Control Wizard, Trickster Rogue, Devoted Cleric, Hunter Ranger, and Scourge Warlock.
Neverwinter was free on PC and is no different here on Xbox One. Simply go to the Game marketplace and install. There’s no need to ever spend a dime of real money in the game, but doing so will definitely make your life easier and more convenient. There is a cash shop, and yes, I can hear the groans now, but it’s not as ‘pay-to-win’ as you might think. Yes, there are items and bundles you can buy to definitely become more powerful, but it’s not like you can drop a few bucks on individual pieces of armor. Well…you kind of can, let me explain. To make money, the game uses an in-game currency called Zen. Zen can be gained through different means, the easiest and quickest is with real cash (directly linked to your Microsoft wallet), but if you take your time and grind through the game, you can convert other currency you earn simply by playing into Zen, allowing you to purchase Zen only items without actually spending a cent. There’s even a player driven market exchange for buying and selling Zen or the other main currency, Astral Diamonds. Play your cards right and you can easily be rich in Zen or Astral Diamonds with a little know-how and determination.
I used to play on PC back at its launch, so I was excited to see how its console counterpart would look and perform. It is a slightly older game, and Neverwinter never was one to push your graphics card to its limits, so it looks essentially just like it did on PC. Where it differs greatly though is its framerate. The short of it is that the game simply doesn’t seem fully optimized yet and you’ll be guaranteed to have some major framerate issues at some point, especially when there’s a lot going on screen at once. These aren’t just minor dips either, you’ll reach single digits and might even think the game has frozen for a moment. It seems like it happens to some players more than others also, so it does simply seem like it’s an optimization issue that will hopefully get worked out in future updates.
Neverwinter feels very natural with a controller, which is something I totally didn’t expect. Neverwinter is an action orientated MMO where you’ll constantly be moving to attack enemies or avoid damage, so having a controller in your hand does feel quite natural and you’ll get use to shifting your abilities with the Left and Right Bumpers in no time without having to think about it. The HUD isn’t customizable and you can’t change the FOV or any other options aside from the opacity of some of the windows, so don’t expect any freedom in that regard. Given that you have to do everything on the controller, some things are a little more tedious to get to or activate, but once you learn how to do it all it also becomes second nature.
Like any good MMO, you’ll begin your journey by creating your character by choosing a race (some races are locked behind the pay wall), class, and then customizing how they look and their stat points. You can mix and match any race and class unlike other games, but given race bonuses, some are simply better suited for particular roles than others. You get to pick your deity and background story, but it’s simply for replay purposes and has no bearing on gameplay at all. Neverwinter doesn’t fall into the ‘holy-trio’ group system that others do, so you don’t always need a tank, healer, and DPS in group to succeed. Granted, it is much easier when you do, but any class can solo all the way to level 60 if you desire. There are full dungeons to complete, skirmishes, and PvP, so there’s plenty of things for you to get distracted with.
As you progress in levels and venture to more difficult places, you’ll not only earn gold for killing monsters, but completing quests and other events will net you special currencies which can be used to purchase gear and other items. Sadly the game doesn’t explain this to you in any way, nor try to, so make sure you read up on the game externally if you want to make sense of it fully. By the time you hit max level you’ll have to keep track of at least a half dozen currencies, and that’s simply for the large scale campaign quests that have prerequisites to begin or even complete. You’ll quickly learn that gold doesn’t have much value really and the game truly runs on the Astral Diamond and Zen market more than anything else. This is also how the game encourages you to purchase Zen (or convert your Astral Diamonds into Zen), as you’re given a very slow mount, one basic companion (a pet that follows you and either attacks or heals), and very limited bag and bank space. Open your wallet and you can quickly have these things though, so the temptation is always there for the convenience and time saving.
The skill tree in Neverwinter is a great example of how you allow players to have a choice and create their own builds based on their preferred roles and play styles. You get a point to spend in the tree every time you level up and the skills you use most frequently can be leveled up three times to make them even more powerful and useful. Each skill has a prerequisite amount of points you need to spend before gaining access to them, so there will be some ‘wasted’ points spent to reach the better ones, but by the time you’re max level you’ll have a good idea of how you’ll want to play your class and how to specialize. You’re only able to have a set amount of skills on your action bar at a time, so you’ll need to prioritize what skills you want to bring into battle, but can be swapped out at any time given the situation you’re heading into.
I was surprised, as I usually go in expecting the worst at a new MMO game launch for its first week, but there’s been very little issues, even on opening day. There are some bugs still present like getting booted to the main menu when zoning, but as a whole, the launch has been fantastic and no real issues to report luckily. Playing with a group of your Xbox Live friends is where Neverwinter shines, especially when a full group of 5 is filled out and you’re making progress in a new dungeon. Instead of 1000 players in a specific zone, the game breaks the zones into instances to avoid overcrowding. Most of the time in a group it will keep you in the same zone when loading, but there are times where you’ll manually have to switch instances, which is no big deal once you know how, but this isn’t taught to you in any way either.
Questing is very straight forward, to the point of always having a glowing trail at your feet leading you to where you need to be next. Some quests are a little more ambiguous and will only lead you to a general area, but don’t expect to get stuck or lost as there is some very heavy hand holding in Neverwinter and isn’t possible to toggle off. There are dozens of quests in each zone and you’ll gradually make your way through them all during leveling but once you’re max level you’ll be primarily focusing on obtaining better gear and working on the long and arduous main campaign quests for special loot and bonuses to your character.
As an MMO it may feel a little entry level if you’re used to many of the other offerings out there, but for Xbox One owners, this is your go-to. It feels great on the console and you can play casually or hardcore and always seem like your making progress in some way. While some might label it pay-to-win because of the cash shop, I learn more towards pay-for-convenience since you can convert your hard earned Astral Diamonds into previous Zen, meaning you never need to pay a cent for as long as you play should you choose. The game is free to download and play and I’m very glad to see that Xbox One’s foray into the MMO space was as successful as I hoped, as I know I’ve already sunken dozens of hours into the game and still haven’t even scratched the surface of end-game yet.