The traditional MMORPG model used to be that you paid a monthly subscription to the publishers for the privilege of playing. The money went to recoup operating costs for hardware, bandwidth, development and active curating. Examples that spring to mind from games I’ve played in the past include EVE Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Elder Scrolls Online, and City of Heroes. To that you can add World of Warcraft, which is still to many the big boy on the block.
It’s not the only model though. Guild Wars had no subscription fee at launch, choosing instead to charge for its various expansions or chapters but then allowing unlimited play. Other games have started as subscriptions-based, but then moved to a Free To Play model, where the basic form of the game is free, but other features need buying to unlock extra content. Star Wars: The Old Republic is a prime example of this approach.
The rise of DLC got console users used to micro transactions in games, but the prospect of paying a subscription on top of the fees required for online console services has proved too unpalatable to most. This is where Neverwinter on the XBox One seems to hit the sweet spot so far.
The game is free, and so far does not seem to be crippled in any way. There are a number of currencies available as rewards for different activities. Your basic missions will give you classic coinage and loot, but daily invocations or raid-like missions also grant rewards in other, more esoteric, currencies. You can also buy another currency with a straightforward credit card transaction that unlocks certain treasures, mounts, races, or pieces of equipment.
That then could be considered the catch to the Free part of Neverwinter, but so far on my play through I’ve not actually felt that I’m missing out on any content by playing through on the game as downloaded. My experience has been so far that its a good game to dip into casually, but there are also deeper complexities to be explored. If I find that anything serious is blocked by sticking to the Free version, I’ll report it, but I suspect it’s largely a matter of bling, or of saving time.