Current gen console owners have been increasingly privileged to newer gaming experiences within the last 20 months. Freemium titles have become more and more commonplace, and a slew of indie titles have flooded both the PS4 and Xbox One, most of which have extended their reach from the PC platform. And though it’s strange to see so many different types of games making their way over to console, it’s even more unusual to see MMOs find their place in the living room, reaching an all new audience who might have never experienced the genre.
We’ve seen the success of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn on PS4, and The Elder Scrolls Online is rapidly gaining traction. But for the past two weeks, I’ve taken the opportunity to get my hands dirty with Xbox One’s Neverwinter, the first MMO that I’ve ever played.
Getting started in Neverwinter was surprisingly familiar to my experience as a single player RPG’sman, perhaps even a bit too involved for a game where so much of your time is spent looking your avatar’s hip-pivoting posture. You’ll be tinkering with everything from race and class, to facial features and body type. The level of attention to detail isn’t what I expected from an MMO, especially giving that my impression on games of the genre are less about character detail, and more about acquired assets and socialization.
Once you get into the game itself, if you could separate the daunting “look” often associated with MMOs – stuffed with crowds of players with hovering gamer profiles, the incessant scroll of server text updates, and the tile-set of abilities occupying the bottom center of the HUD – you might just be convinced that Neverwinter was born and raised on the Xbox One. The density of the on-screen real estate measures up to be just a tad bit more overwhelming than the most hardcore western RPGs on console, but developer Cryptic Studios managed to make it work for the most part. While the use of the left bumper is smart as it swaps the tile-set to a new list of abilities, having to constantly bring up the start menu after you finish your business in one of the tabs is a clunky pain in the ass.
Settling into the game itself is a bit bumpy, but you’re almost certain to make it there. As any system-heavy RPG should, Neverwinter is assertive enough to step into your play session and walk you through the basics via voice and text tutorials. But because the action never stops in an MMO, I felt that I had missed just a few of the tips that were so rapidly set in front me mixed into the wall of persistent stimulations that would have better gotten my attention otherwise if they had just slowed the action down. My advice: put everything down and listen to the disembodied gruff gentleman speaking to you within the first hours in Neverwinter.
The initiation and indoctrination would have been a lot more difficult if the gameplay itself hadn’t been as approachable as it is. When playing as my Tiefling Warlock, the grove was hardly different from my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition, minus the overhead command screen. Character movement and attacks are all performed in a one-to-one fashion; there’s no need to fear any point-and-click nonsense on console. In fact, the combat – and the everlasting venture to unlock more combat options by leveling up my character – was the primary reason why I’ve spent so much time in Neverwinter. Positioning, timing, reflexes, and some loose aiming all play a role in this surprisingly entertaining action RPG.
Neverwinter continued to surprise me with just how easy it was to navigate my way around independently. The game employs a sparkling objective path (much like what I’ve seen in the Fable games) that is intended to point you in the right direction. It doesn’t always do so however, as there’s a repeatable instance that occurs in the Blackdagger Ruins that draws a straight line from a wooden fence on the ground to the side of a mountain in the air. Also, oftentimes the game is unable to establish a path, which forces me to dig through my quest journal and piece together which quest-giver resides in which district. To its credit, Neverwinter does right by effectively tutorializing players through some of the more advanced options such as enchantments and the use of companions over the course of the first 25 levels or so.
This may all sound painfully nonspecific to MMORPGs, but that’s the point. Where I initially felt that I was going to miss out on much of the game’s content venturing solo without spending a dime on micro-transactions, Neverwinter was a commendably full experience on my own terms that empowered me to lean into its more MMO’ish assets.
Now, some of Neverwinter’s multiplayer modes were completely uninspiring to me. Dungeon runs merely add quantity to the formula where instead of raiding a dungeon individually, you’ve got four other players mucking about. And PVP matches only confirmed my hesitancy from engaging with it in the first place as it felt like a janky third person shooter/brawler. Events, on the other hand, were very different, like the phase of a social experiment that presents the group with a common goal. After spending most of my time running in the opposite direction of most of the players I came across, watching all of us congregate to the same location to watch a countdown timer before having to face off against a massive dragon was a multiplayer experience I have never been exposed to before. It was the first time I really understood the concept of a “persistent, public world”.
But these events were rare in my experience. If treated as a largely single player game as did I, Neverwinter doesn’t satisfy the same itch standard RPGs do. Where games like Dragon Age and Final Fantasy employ the micromanagement of team dynamics, and Bethesda’s Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series master the concept of world building and exploration, Neverwinter isn’t built to cater to either. Group runs, PVP, and the Skinner Box that is comparing your gear to other players are what supplement the MMO experience, neither in which I was thrilled about or had the wherewithal to partake in. Overtime, Neverwinter was distilled to a progressive pass time rather than a compelling occupation that I kept coming back to.
Nonetheless, if you’re an Xbox One owner, there’s little stopping you from dipping your toes into Neverwinter. It’s free-to-play with little in the way of “convenient” micro transactions, and its systems and gameplay are intuitive enough that almost any fresh players with a modicum of experience with RPGs can dive in and develop a fair handle on. Like me, I wouldn’t be surprised if Neverwinter has become the first MMO for many.