Review: Neverwinter is the MMO that brings Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition to digital life

Neverwinter Screenshot - 1149403

Back in 2002 there was this Dungeons and Dragons game based around the fictional city in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting called Neverwinter. This classic role-playing game told its own campaign story but also gave players the ability to make their own worlds, host a game session online, have a dungeon master, and tell your own story with friends. Essentially, Neverwinter Nights allowed players to participate in a virtual D&D experience with human players.

Now let’s take this concept, update to modern graphics and processing power, update the D&D edition to 4th, and then add hundreds of thousands of players. What you have is Cryptic Studios and Perfect Worlds Entertainment’s Neverwinter. This MMORPG, now live, takes modern Dungeons and Dragons and presents itself in a free-to-play format. Yes, the game uses microtransactions, but in no way is it ‘play to win.’      

You start the game by picking your race: human, halfling, dwarf, half-orc, tiefling, elf, and half-elf. Each race has different stat bonuses/negatives and passive abilities. You take your character and choose a class: guardian fighter, great weapon fighter, control wizard, trickster rogue, and devoted cleric. The reason there are two fighter classes is that in 4th edition each class has at least two versions. From the 4th edition rule book alone, there is room for expansion as far as classes and races go. I’m more than curious to see what Cryptic does in the future with this game.

Neverwinter - Gel Cube

I suppose this is the part in the review where I say that I’m a bit of a D&D geek. No surprise here that I was picked to write the review for Neverwinter. If I geek out a bit, just deal with it. While I’m not a huge fan of the tabletop version of 4th edition, I’ve always said it would make a damn good video game.

My personal favorite feature of Neverwinter is the abilities. Your ‘at will’ abilities in D&D are attacks you can always do. In Neverwinter, they are your right and left mouse click attacks – the abilities you can always use. In D&D your encounter abilities are powers you can use once (unless stated otherwise) per battle encounter. Your characters in Neverwinter treat encounter powers as cooldown abilities. Lastly, in 4th edition D&D Dailey powers can only be used, well, once per day. In Neverwinter, these abilities are powerful abilities that each class works differently to build up to. Also, the abilities in game have the same names as in the tabletop.

Each class also has a unique tab ability revealed at level 10. Examples include a rogue’s stealth, a wizard that can hold another encounter power, and a guardian fighter’s blocking ability. These abilities when used correctly aid in perfecting your efficiency in combat and with your party.

Neverwinter follows the ‘holy trinity’ approach to MMOs with a tank, healer, and DPS classes. Queuing up for instances and PvP is as easy as pushing a button. The game knows where you should be going for your level and you can only queue for those dungeons. At any time you can physically make a party and travel to the dungeon of your choice though.

Neverwinter - Statue Swords

Combat is really damn fun. My main is a rogue, with crowd control and stealth techniques, and the pure carnage that occurs is quite entertaining. I often find myself killing groups of enemies for no other reason than because they are there. Grinding levels off mobs isn’t all that rewarding for EXP, though, so questing is where it’s at. The other classes have this same ‘action’ sort of feel. Positioning your attacks and dodging enemy attacks is key. There are big red indicators telling you when an enemy is about to go ape s@#$ all over your face, so you’re going to want to do yourself a favor and not stand there.

One of the greatest features of Neverwinter is the foundry system. Sure it takes some time to figure it out, but there is some really great maps being created by players and the community. The foundry allows players to make quests that other players can play solo or as a group. The difficulty scales with level. With a bulletin board or the push of a button, you can jump into a foundry quest. As you may assume, they aren’t all good… but several of them are immensely creative. I like how Neverwinter supports the foundry so strongly and makes completing X of these per day into a daily quest.

A big question in MMOs is always “What about the end game?” From what I’ve seen so far, Neverwinter is keeping things spicy. The game has only been live for a few weeks now and the developers have already added new content for the hardcore crowd. These dungeons aren’t even the typical tank and spank; they have all sorts of added challenges in them. In the newest one, your group is actually competing vs. another party. After a PvE event you enter a PvP battle with the other group. The winner goes to a dungeon where you can be rewarded with better gear then the loser who is sent to a dungeon that has lesser gear than the winners – pretty awesome. Hardcore raiders aren’t competitive at all, right?

Neverwitner Neverwinter

Overall, I’ve enjoyed my Neverwinter experience quite a bit. As a fun of Dungeons and Dragons, the MMO plays pretty true to the tabletop. I’m surprised more classes weren’t available at lunch -- I know there are people in my group that can’t believe there isn’t an archer class, i.e. Archer Ranger or something. I find it interesting that the devs went with two fighter classes instead of a paladin or something else martial. The good news is there is so much room for this game to grow. If you like what’s there, I’d say there is a very good chance more will come. The game practically updates daily and there is constantly new content being added. Let’s not forget Neverwinter is free to play, so if you’re on the fence, give it a chance – you have no excuses.

Historian, teacher, writer, gamer, cheat master, and tech guru: follow on Twitter @AndrewC_GZ

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Andrew Clouther Human, historian, teacher, writer, reviewer, gamer, League of Pralay, Persona fanboy, and GameZone paragon - no super powers as of yet. Message me on the Twitters: @AndrewC_GZ
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