So, what’s the catch with Neverwinter?


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.

Neverwinter On The XBox One

Like an awful lot of people I played the original Neverwinter games as they emerged from the series of strong Dungeons & Dragons PC games developed by Black Isle and Bioware, so the news that a new title was coming out certainly made my ears prick up. I don’t play very much on the PC any more, mostly because I don’t have the budget, time, or desk space to dedicate to a gaming rig, and mostly play on consoles these days. That’s mostly why I didn’t pick up on Neverwinter when it launched on PC as a MMORPG – that and the fact that I was still playing EVE regularly and didn’t want to stretch either my wallet or time any further.

Fast forward a bit and the free release on the XBox One reminded me that it existed so I downloaded it and rather tentatively gave it a go. I’m glad I did, and it’s not just for nostalgia’s sake.

Neverwinter is a firmly traditional fantasy game with a rich tradition in games that have been published in the setting over the years. That history can be seen everywhere, from flavour decisions in character making, building and character design and naming conventions and in the lore liberally scattered around the place. There are enough players and NPCs around to feel that the city is a living and thriving location, matched by opponents that respawn fast enough to make their faction’s threats feel credible.

Considering how steep some games make their learning curve (I’m looking at you EVE), I was pleasantly surprised at the way the narrative was employed to peel aside the layers of complexity available to you as a player without feeling restrictive. In some ways that comes from the levelling system that (appropriately) feels entirely helpful and natural here – at least to this grizzled tabletop campaigner.

I’ve played through to level fifteen so far, and this morning spent some time unpicking the complicated process of talking someone through joining for a multiplayer group session. This took a bit of perseverence and I’m not sure if that was down to the XBox Friends/Party system or the Neverwinter shards/instance implementation. I suspect a little from column A and a little from column B – or at least the interface between the two. That said, when we’d managed to get into the right shard and team up it felt very smooth and the only disruption we had came from a technical issue with the other person’s XBox rather than any network or server-side problem.

Graphically, it feels a little last generation – but not unbearably so, and the sheer amount of things going on at once and the speed and ease of doing things make these part of the charm of the game. There’s a quietly retro feel to the game that I think is entirely appropriate. We’re not talking blocky Minecraft-style graphics or horrible glitches, but don’t expect to be parkouring around the neighbourhood.

I really like it – and I think I’ll be wandering around making myself a nuisance there for a while. There’s a huge amount of material and options that I’ve only just started to look at – including the professions minigame, crafting and making sense of the daily dungeons and alternate monetary systems at play. There’s a lot here that I suspect would make more sense if I’d ever played World of Warcraft – but beyond a ten minute demo a number of years ago that’s not been on my radar either so I’m learning a lot of this wholesale.

I’ll post more (spoiler-free) as I go along – there’s quite a lot to play with, which is always fun with a free-to-play game.

Weekend Chaos

Well, I’ve managed to write up last Monday’s game, so I guess I’ve managed to achieve something this weekend! A busy day of work at the library, unexpected hiccups in getting us all to Lady P’s birthday bash and then a slew of people being ill/unexpectedly tied up with family meaning we cancelled today’s game has at least given me some time with the Charleesi while she revises for her upcoming exams. We’ve had some lovely Harris and Hoole coffees, people watched and traded quips with various staff as they’ve popped their heads round to say hi and see how we are.

On the console front, I’ve been enjoying getting to grips with Neverwinter on the XBox One – I’m running around as a half-orc warrior, enjoying laying about me with a huge sword and soaking up the atmosphere. Charleesi has created a warlock, and last I saw was running around zapping zombies, and later this evening I’m provisionally booked in to spend some time with an ex-editor of mine as we test the multiplayer elements and see what carnage we can unlock. If that works properly, I’ll be suggesting a team up Twitch stream with Lady P or something, see how the MMORPG elements work.

So, all in all, a bit of a weird few days where things haven’t quite gone to plan, but where I’ve been able to make the best of the rapidly changing options available. Unsettling but fun enough I guess.

Oh, a special shout out to Warren – whose 40th birthday it is today – someone who has stuck with me on my weird and winding journey for far longer than is probably safe, wise or intelligent; been my Best Man, and a very tolerant landlord. Anyone who manages all that and still calls me up to come over for a Chinese takeout with his family deserves all the applause and good wishes we can give him 😉