Proper MMORPG reviews are difficult to do. Except for power levelers, the whole idea of playing a game in that genre is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That doesn’t mesh well with the concept of deadlines, which is what editors usually insist upon.

So for the recent release of Neverwinter, we’re doing something a little different. I’ll be spending my (mostly fictional) free time over the next five weeks exploring as much of Perfect World’s free-to-play spin on the beloved D&D setting as possible, doing a sort of diary of what I find every week. Then I’ll wrap it up with a more formal review, hopefully giving you a more complete picture of what to expect.

Check out week one here, and once you’ve done that, read on to week two!

 

Week 2: Astral diamonds, and Zen and seals, oh my!

As Aeris Brightleaf continues on his quest to help set things right in the city of Neverwinter, I’ve moved on to the Tower District, which is in even sadder shape than previous areas. Now it’s not undead, but orcs who are the main source of trouble, and I’ve helped Aeris kill a lot of them. I mean a whole lot.

One thing I didn’t mention in the first review diary is that Neverwinter has a very simple way for you to stay on track toward your current quest objective: it simply puts a glowing trail on the ground to follow. It’s great for times when you are in a brand new area or simply are feeling too lazy to plot out your own route using the map, but like trusting too much in your GPS, it can occasionally lead you astray. The game has all kinds of shortcuts to get you right to the heart of quests, and the path ignores these on occasion. Most of the time though, it’s a godsend.

 

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The wealth and purchasing system is another story. If you’ve played D&D, you know the basic currencies are going to be copper, silver and gold pieces (and you may even remember the exchange rates). You’ll also be hunting for Astral Diamonds, which you normally acquire in their rough form and can only refine in a limited quantity each day. Diamonds are important, as you’ll need them for the majority of the stuff you’ll find most useful on your adventures.

But that’s not nearly all. Zen is the game’s hard currency, and the main way that Cryptic and Perfect World are monetizing Neverwinter. The temptation to buy some Zen hits pretty early on, though exchanging Astral Diamonds for them is an option as well. Then there are Seals, obtained by killing dungeon bosses and completing bounty missions. The nice thing is that Seals are the same over multiple zones, so you can work on stockpiling them as you go. That doesn’t change the fact that they occupy another layer of an unneccesarily complex currency system, and I haven’t even mentioned Ardent Coins, Celestial Coins or Tarmalune Trade Bars. It’s a bit overwhelming.

My efforts at getting my hands on some Astral Diamonds caused me to take my first steps into the Foundry, which is the game’s player-generated content system. I’ll delve into the Foundry in more detail in a later diary entry, but in brief, it gives players powerful tools to create their own quests, complete with dialogue options, bosses, and the whole nine yards. It’s pretty slick, as the quests can be linked to locations in the existing game world so they feel like part of the main gameplay experience – though they are clearly marked to ensure that players understand that they are not.

 

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Cryptic put tools in place to make sure Foundry content can’t be used as an easy farming exploit. This was explicitly spelled out by the author of the first Foundry quest I undertook, who seemed almost apologetic that the difficulty and rewards scaled to my level. A community rating system and a Foundry Spotlight help to highlight especially worthy creations.

Aeris ran into trouble against some particularly nasty Drow, but was able to persevere once I got someone to watch his back. I’m not talking about grouping, but the companion system that unlocks once you hit level 16. Companions are one of my favorite parts of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and they function in a very similar manner in Neverwinter. You can pick from several different classes (or a dog who serves in a DPS role, unlike any dog my family has ever owned) and swap between them as you see fit. Companions can level up, use gear, and generally make your in-game life easier in every way. The only slightly unnerving thing about the Wayward Wizard I chose to accompany Aeris is that he seemed to be laughing at his own private jokes at regular intervals.

Ah well, at least he’s good at slowing down and damaging orcs. Until next week…

Try Neverwinter for free by clicking here.