In true free-to-play fashion, Perfect World Entertainment’s Neverwinter has been with us in open beta for almost two months but just recently launched into full blown availability. As a result, it’s about time we revisit this amazing MMO and take a look with a more critical eye towards what an astute gamer wants from an MMORPG.

First and foremost, Neverwinter is a game that pulls a lot from the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons universe as seen in the novel Gauntlgrym. The setting is well narrated, heavily developed, and fitting for a fantasy mediaeval universe filled with magic, strange races, and monsterous dragons. So far, the open game has made a brilliant impression on players and those of us at GameOgre.

If you’re curious we’ve plumbed through Neverwinter once before for a first impressions and even spoke with Zeke Sparkes, Cryptic Studios lead designer, about how the game works and what went into the design and story.

While I think Neverwinter is a great product, the newness of the game also shows that it’s not entirely mature–that’s not to say that the game has huge errors, it’s just missing content, or a full roster of classes (having only one healing class is a little bit of a problem) but all these things are easily overlooked for both the hardcore and the casual player.

Spelunking in the sewers and dungeons is just as fun as exploring the city and countryside–and looking at how Cryptic has developed the story of Star Trek Online, it’s obvious that the spectrum of fantasy RPG story and campaign that will greek players in Neverwinter has a lot to grow into.

All of these elements went into my considerations in giving Neverwinter such a high score and if you’re into fantasy games, you’ll probably find a good free-to-play MMORPG in this game. Stay tuned for a better, more detailed explanation as to what sets this game apart and why you should give it a chance.

Graphics and Sound: 10/10

Neverwinter does a great job of deploying a game that looks good in the free-to-play market–as I’ve described before, the graphics look and feel good and they degrade gracefully. Wandering around the city of Neverwinter itself is an experience worth the time to explore, from looking over the varied architecture of buildings, to the detail put into the citizens wandering the streets. Imagine, wandering down a cobblestone street (brushed by adventurers bustling by on giant spiders, or followed by flaming birds) and looking over the edge at floating towers, with rocks spinning slowly, held aloft by unearthy magics.

The adventure zones are no less interesting to look at, although they begin to feel a little bit contrived, it’s impossible to not gauge how big they are. Many of the zones have instance exits that open into new areas (with new bad guys and expansion of the story). The zones themselves feel well thought out and look a lot like what they’re all about.

In my exploration of the dungeon instances those were also fairly fun. The architectural fundamentals and interesting spaces do not end there. I’ve seen burnt out buildings, ghoulish catacombs, dank sewers (lots of sewers), and even caverns filled with colorful crystals.

The presentation of this game makes it a fun experience to see what’s going to crop up next. The design does a good job of compiling animations, textures, and environments into a compelling atmosphere (see sewers, caverns, etc.) Filled with monsters, traps, and the occasionally really weird guy yelling, “Waterdeep!”

Story and Content: 9/10

It’s early for Neverwinter so story and total content are going to be a little bit abbreviated, but that’s not how it feels right now for getting into the game. There’s a lot of story to build through, most of which is narrated and spoken to aloud by voice actors–and that makes a real difference. Especially nice is that some story segments the voicing continues even after cutting out the long text and moving along.

The first few zones that players are led through also introduce them to Skirmishes (should you pick them from the UI menus) which are kinda simplified dungeon-like instances that involve a short scripted event. The one that I’ve played the most so far involved fighting a drow-elf dedicant to a slime god–a rather gross fight involving mostly the undead and not so much slimes, for which I am thankful.

The city of Neverwinter itself is a living thing with a lot of hustle-and-bustle and several of the zones are all about the citizens retaking their city post-disaster. So players find themselves drawn into the inner workings of the city and some of the politics involved in trying to keep it running in the face of past events. This means there’s also a great deal of lore and a huge depth of story to reach into.

While the quest-lines and missions are voiced, like every other MMORPG there’s a lot of back story hidden in fluff text, achievements, and other places. Lore-hounds and D&D enthusiasts will find this game worth their while.

New content:

Probably because the open beta has been going on for 2 months, Cryptic sees that new content is needed to make the launch (today) more lively. So new end-game content has been added in the form of The Caverns of Gauntlgyrm–this adds the Alchemy profession, and “ a series of new challenges leading up to the most exciting–and rewarding–dungeon delve in Neverwinter.”

This new instance, and its content, represents end-game developments for level 60 characters.

Apparently, the new content also delivers a permanent drop in prices for some ZEN market items.

Gameplay and Mechanics: 9/10

The way that Neverwinter approaches gameplay is a little bit novel and a lot fun. It involves a carefully paired down interface for combat combined with open targeting–this sometimes goes a little awry and it has a notable learning curve, but it’s innovative and fun in that it adds a sense of action to fights that would otherwise with calculated and slow. Have a smaller number of actions to choose from limits the amount of thinking needed and allows the game to let players think about positioning.

There are five different character classes all of which fall nicely into the holy trinity: DPS, Tank, Healer–although right now there’s only one healer (the Devoted Cleric) and that’s a little bit restrictive. Each class has its own style of gameplay: the Guardian Fighter and Great Weapon Fighters both dive into melee combat and have a lot to deal with close-range fighters; the Cleric and the Wizard both have a lot of ranged attacks and ways to move around the battlefield; the Trickster Rogue can flash in and out of range while slicing and dicing.

This means that all of the different classes have a sense of personality and the difference in play style can lead to players finding their groove in interesting ways. We’re not looking at a game where different classes essentially blend into each other.

Underneath the mechanics is another level that fits different types of powers that sit either on cooldowns or slowly build up over time (and combat) to allow for massive attacks or interesting support powers that can only be pulled out every few fights (or maybe more than once during one big fight.)

Part of the gameplay (close to content) is also that traps can occur in dungeon instances that keep you on your toes–spaces that either toss spikes, poison gas, or even spears/arrows from the wall. Rogues can detect them early and steer around them (and warn party mates) but in general the game taught me to look at corridors at potential trap-laden stripes and to watch columns that have odd looking lipped holes in them (in case a spear might pierce me.

Final Verdict: 9.5/10

If it’s not hard to tell from most of GameOgre’s coverage of Neverwinter: we like the game. Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment have brought a really good game to the free-to-play market.

I didn’t cover all the races and the different types of missions that players can find in this review–but they’re there in the game for you to explore–and it’s obvious that Cryptic intends to add more. Even the races seem to have yet-another-candidate comes down the pipeline; so players who may have gotten through all the content right up front have more to look forward to.

There’s an amazing and fun game in Neverwinter.

Players have taken to it extremely well, even the release of lock boxes that deliver beautiful mounts and flaming birds. The market is already filled up with players seeking to buy and sell equipment as they take the wild ride from level 1 to 60; and as seen already, Cryptic has been working hard on bringing new content for people who have flown all the way to the level cap.

There’s even a place for PvP players looking for arenas, or instances surrounding puzzle-based or event-based combat (which gives PvP an interestingly PvE-styled edge.)

Between Fury of the Feywild and The Caverns of Gauntlgrym currently new and upcoming content is looking extremely good. The addition of Alchemy with the launch (to the multitude of crafting professions) and the expectation of weaponsmithing and artificing. The upcoming Feywild itself should be throwing in three new campaign areas, three instances, one dungeon, and the requisite loot, monsters, and the like for adventurers to carve through.