MMO’s are a tricky genre to port to consoles. The mass of input options, the expansive and persistent world, and the many different social and questing systems don’t lend themselves to the same pick-up-and-play mentality of multiplayer console favorites. Neverwinter doesn’t reinvent the wheel on console-based MMO’s, but it certainly takes strides towards making them easier to jump into.
Set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, fans of older titles like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate will immediately feel at home here. Your character can be chosen from a variety of both race and class options, your equipment and stats are displayed on a character card, and instead of abilities, there’s skills and feats. Neverwinter pulls on the classic mythos of D&D, and rather than feeling dated, it’s that abundance of familiar systems and concepts that keeps you rooted in this new adventure.
The storyline of quests is pretty straightforward: you awaken on a beach, are given equipment and told to kill baddies. You prove yourself to the local militia, and earn bigger and better quests, becoming the hero of the land. It’s straightforward and a little dry at times, but it moves the plot forward and keeps new enemies and locales coming. There’s lore to be found and a deeper understanding to everything, but it’s often buried in NPC dialogue and quest text. More often than not, I found myself just slamming A to get to the next goal.
The biggest selling point of Neverwinter is the F2P system. Any gamer toeing the water on MMORPG’s at least has a way to try them out without the fear of subscription costs, and that definitely helps it appeal to a demographic that has likely never tried this genre before. While there are microtransactions in the form of currency, at best they are time-savers for PvP and raid grinding.
Transitioning to consoles can be tricky, but Neverwinter has struck a nice balance in their control scheme between keeping options available and not having to play thumb-piano to do a single ability. The four D-pad buttons and four face buttons all act as different options, for either in or out of combat, and the left bumper modifies to a second set, allowing 16 total options to be mapped to just the D-pad and face buttons. While tricky to get the hang of at first, pretty soon I was flipping through my abilities with ease and pulling off quick, acrobatic combos with my rogue.
The user interface, however, is a serious issue in the console port of Neverwinter. There’s a lot of information on-screen at once, especially in larger areas. There’s your standard health bar, quest indicators with small summaries on what the next step is, a chat window, chat pop-up’s, a minimap, names of characters over their heads, flashing quest lines, admin text pop-up’s that take up a large amount of the midscreen, the list goes on and on. There’s a major information overload, especially in the more public and crowded areas, and a lot of the text is small and difficult to read if you’re sitting far back from the screen.
Loneliness is a strange feeling to get in an MMO, but the lack of effective social integration in this port makes Neverwinter a more isolated experience than its PC predecessor. There’s few opportunities for interaction besides watching other characters run by and occasionally seeing them stop long enough for you to run up and inspect their equipment, admiring hard-earned armor and weapons before they sprint away again. Typing on consoles has never been easy, and there’s really no method of communicating besides tediously navigating through chat channels and manually inputting letters, so most forego socializing entirely. If you want to play multiplayer, expect either silent cooperation or recruiting your friends into it.
Technically, the game looks and feels the same as the PC version, but there are noticeable hiccups in the framerate, especially in some of the larger hub areas. As NPC’s, player characters, text windows and architecture crowd the screen, it isn’t uncommon to see sudden and significant drops in framerate. A mild inconvenience at worst, and I never experienced huge frame drops in combat or important quest areas, but it’s noticeable that Neverwinter chugs when things get heated.
All the qualms aside, Neverwinter is still an engrossing experience with plenty of content to consume and areas to explore. Though the social aspect is lacking, this is a fantastic title for the solo dungeon crawler looking for a time sink. Most of my time spent with Neverwinter was shared with other sources of entertainment as well; I’d put on a Netflix series or a sports game and grind out dungeons. There’s also plenty here to catch the D&D fan’s imagination, and Neverwinter Nights fans will also find a lot to enjoy here. This isn’t the MMO that will revolutionize the genre for consoles, but it’s still a solid MMO-styled dungeon crawler.