More than once this week I’ve logged off Neverwinter, the free-to-play MMO that just debuted on PS4, only to walk aimlessly around my apartment before logging right back on. While it doesn’t look all that great (my friend referred to the visuals as Burger King game graphics), in many ways, the world feels a lot more “alive” than other MMOs I have played. NPCs stroll through the market, bandits warm themselves by the fire as you sneak up on them, and a man named ‘MrBoogedy420’ tramples by you on a giant griffin, pausing to judge your shitty electric tiger before continuing on his way.
Make no mistake: this game is pay-to-win. You get a lot of stuff if you spend the monies, and it was pretty clear in my week-long playthrough who the Neverwinter one-percenters are; they can usually be spotted with flaming great swords and in-game mounts that remind me of watching a Maserati drive by from the window of my 2004 Acura. But you know what? I don’t give a fuck. My friends and I decided, once we were hooked on the gameplay of course — I’ll get to that in a second — that we’d each be comfortable spending what we’d spend on a typical retail game: sixty bucks.
“That’s where it gets ya: the loot.”
The practice is nearly identical to my golden rule when I’m foolish enough to hit the Indian casinos. I look out over the sea of bright lights and cigarette smoke and decide I can probably afford to lose sixty dollars in this magnificent hell hole. I make my way through the hordes of orcs, sipping on cocktails and mindlessly pulling levers in the hopes that they’ll hit the jackpot. Neverwinter is no different.
The mechanics are like any run of the mill MMO. Each area has a healthy serving of quests that send you out into the world, hungry for those blue and purple items. Unlike most other MMOs I’ve played though, Neverwinter does a great job of grouping quests together — allowing you to pick up two or three of them, head out into the abyss, and return with all of them completed. It saves a lot of time, and saves players the anguish of toiling in the same area, fighting the same enemies over and over again. After a couple hours, I began to learn which drops were worth holding onto and which ones were garbage and oh my god this new piece of armor looks so dope on my dude and heals me every ten seconds. And that’s where it gets ya: the loot.
“My second character (I’m in deep) is Mad Max of the Grey Wards, a level 17 guardian knight…”
Neverwinter has wisely ripped pages directly out of Diablo‘s playbook when it comes to loot, and I’m not just talking about the sheer volume of it. It’s the sounds. That satisfying ‘cha-ching’ whenever you walk over a shiny pile of gold. The thunderous boom when you achieve a new level. It’s fucking perfect. It’s what it sounds like every time you hit a bonus game on the casino slots. That rush. That addiction. I immediately dropped six dollars on more inventory space without blinking. The advantages gained from the paid items are so noticeable and rewarding that you don’t even care that you’re spending money on a free-to-play game.
The combat seems rather simple at first, which I really didn’t mind as there are only so many functions on the PS4 controller, but as the world opens up and I unlocked new powers, I began to develop my rhythm of melee. The first character I started, a Hunter/Ranger named Legolas (I wasn’t feeling particularly original when I created him), had an incredible set of dodges and teleports that allowed me to dance around the battlefield, raining arrows on my foes from afar. My second character (I’m in deep) is Mad Max of the Grey Wards, a level 17 guardian knight whose primary weapons consist of a sword and shield. While my Ranger is able to quick dodge, when I press the same button with my knight it locks him in a guard mode, shield up, with the ability to quickly sidestep away from danger. I purchased VIP for ten bucks so I could level up ten percent faster and receive daily enchanted keys to open up some of these purple mystery boxes. Fuck.
“It’s all the excitement of gambling except you win.”
I love this game. The scary thing is I felt almost no shame when I typed that just now. It’s all the excitement of gambling except you win. Every. Fucking. Time. Plus, the week I’ve spent with the game hasn’t been nearly enough time to check out all the stuff Neverwinter has going on. There are guilds! Guilds that people can attack that you must defend! There are dungeons! Raids! Shit! Grouping is really easy, making it a cinch to hop on with Julian and lament the state of our wallets while at the same time celebrate the badass-ed-ness of our characters. I’ve only played one PVP match of Domination, a capture and control based instance. It was fucking awesome. I 1v1’d a great sword wielder with my Ranger in an epic ten-minute standoff before those beautiful words ‘Kill +50’ floated across the screen. I felt good. I felt important. I felt wanted. I felt the need to take my wallet out of my pants and set it on the coffee table for easier access. Hope my mom doesn’t read this. Send help.