Arts & Culture

Game Picks: Familiar ‘Neverwinter’ redeemed by pace, combat

“Neverwinter” (Xbox One; Free-to-play; Rated T) makes a claim to being the first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) on the Xbox One. Technically, that’s not wrong.

Most of the features that make it Massive, Multiplayer and Online have already been done by “Destiny.” The persistent world, the multiplayer raids, the attacks on huge bosses that are only possible with a small pile of new friends – these are all trademarks of MMORPGs, and yet “Destiny” only escapes that designation by its status as a shooter.

Put another way: If it looks like “Call of Duty” and smells like “Gears of War,” it can’t possibly share a genre with “Everquest.”

That said, “Neverwinter” looks and feels very much like a role-playing game, right down to its “Dungeons & Dragons” branding. The characters look like those in a role-playing game, the various races that populate the game have the exact accents we’ve come to expect in high fantasy, and the characters’ specific attributes come down to a dice roll.

It’s clear that “Neverwinter” is aiming for a very specific audience, and they succumb to every single one of the tropes that define a “typical” high-fantasy role-playing experience.

Between the familiar MMO trappings and the equally familiar fantasy role-playing trappings, it would be easy to accuse “Neverwinter” of being little more than a dull retread of existing ideas. This feeling is amplified by the fact that it’s actually a 2-year-old PC game, just now seeing a console release.

But the game’s pace and combat redeem its unoriginal structure.

Go forth and do ‘good work’

Aside from a five-minute introductory movie that doesn’t really do much more than show a bunch of the bad guys getting sliced up and decapitated by the good guys, there’s precious little exposition. Rather, you are washed ashore in the well-established “Dungeons & Dragons” land of Neverwinter (to this point popularized by the popular PC RPG series “Neverwinter Nights”), and set off to do good work throughout the land.

As is typical with this sort of game, “good work” tends to entail picking up ingredients from various locales, defeating enemies, or rescuing NPCs that have gotten themselves into trouble. This could get tedious quickly if the combat on the way to finishing those tasks wasn’t so crisp and satisfying. A variety of attacks – different for each character class – are mapped to easily remembered buttons, and the most effective combinations of those attacks quickly become second-nature.

Combat a ‘strategic dance’

This is the sort of combat that feels a little too easy at the start, but eventually turns into a strategic dance that takes care and patience. This is especially true of the bosses, who are easy enough to begin with, but later require balanced teams of five who know how to work together. Vanquishing some of these later-game bosses can be a lengthy, frustrating drag, but that’s par for the course in the genre; plenty of players love the sense of accomplishment that comes with whaling on a dragon for an hour and picking up the dragonscale chain mail it leaves behind.

Again, genre stalwarts will find all of this to be very, very familiar, but that’s what Cryptic Studios was going for.

“Neverwinter” is not as absorbing as “Destiny,” and it is not as deep as the now-quite-good “Final Fantasy XIV.” It is, however, free – and not in a way that makes you feel trapped into spending money for in-game items. Its free-to-play model offers optional microtransactions that actually feel optional – things that will get you past the initial stages of the game if you don’t enjoy the leveling up process.

So considering you have nothing but time to lose, “Neverwinter” is absolutely worth a shot.

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