Whereas many games will be nearing their conclusion once they hit the ten hour mark, Neverwinter sees only the surfaced scratched. As a fully comprehensive MMORPG – the kind consoles have only received in a butchered state in the past (Defiance and Ascend: Hand of Kul spring to mind) – it was always a given that there would be a learning curve. What’s surprising though is just how gentle that curve is. Organic, even – instead of dull tutorials there are a handful of easy going missions cunningly disguised as such.
The first ten hours simply see your handpicked hero being prepared for the colossal 60+ hour adventure ahead. Your hand taken gently and the basics explained, all while trying to recover a sacred crown from a gang of mercenaries. This honeymoon period, if you will, also entails picking an AI controlled companion to join your side, while another early mission involves a trip to the stables to rent a mount. With money flowing freely though, you shouldn’t be far off from buying a horse outright by the time comes. These summonable steeds make exploring the Sword Coast slightly less of a trek, ignoring the fact that it only takes a paltry three hits to separate horse and rider. They can’t be relied on to escape danger, that’s for sure.
Another early mission teaches how to praise the lords – a feat that can be performed once an hour in exchange for a handful of random goods. It soon transpires that most tasks take an hour, whether it’s sending your AI buddy away for training or partaking in a dungeon crawl with four other players. Another example – it generally takes an hour of questing to level up, unlocking additional skills in the process. Older skills and attacks quickly become redundant, replaced by fancier and more efficient ways to heal and maim.
This near clockwork sense of progression makes an already addictive experience even more addictive, and with so many tasks achievable within 60 minutes (or thereabouts) we very much doubt this is down to coincidence. It more than likely boils down to being a design choice, enticing players into staying online for “just one more hour”. The logic behind even the most complex of aspects is incredibly sound throughout while the pacing, ergo sense of progression, is impeccable. Enter new area and every player you meet will be around the same level – no saviour of the Sword Coast gets left behind.
Every area has a unique enemy faction – Neverwinter’s swamp is suffering from a zombie infestation, for instance, while the local cemetery has been overrun with zealous cult members. Most enemy factions are formed of melee attackers who swarm to your location, projectile flingers who attack from far, spell casters that can evade attacks and damage-absorbing behemoths of various descriptions. Every now and then you’re teased with a surprise appearance of a new enemy type – one early dungeon contains the devil-like entities that aren’t commonplace until stepping into a blood-soaked battlefield much later on – thus giving a sneaky taster of what’s to come.