For those who are interested in the MMO lifestyle, content at max level is slim right now. That said, after over 150 hours on my first character, I have still not entered the "final dungeon" - Castle Never - and with Gauntlgrym available at launch, the "lack of endgame" complaint feels hollow. Cryptic has been throwing content at us faster than an overly-zealous mage shoots Magic Missiles at the darkness, and their End of Open Beta event has me squeezing in a few extra minutes of game time between everything else I do, my personal benchmark for MMO enjoyment. With the first free expansion, Fury of the Feywild, set to launch sometime this summer, the Neverwinter team has a lot on the horizon. For now, though, the content coming out has been enjoyable and original, while maintaining a very true D&D style. If Cryptic can keep up a production cycle like they have been in the last few weeks, then Neverwinter players will have nothing to worry about.
The Zen Market (Neverwinter's real money shop) is something that has been surrounded by some controversy, especially in the discussion of free to play versus pay to win. The case against the Zen Market doesn't hold much water in Neverwinter, as players can buy or sell Zen or Market bought items via in-game currency. Players who want to enjoy the game without spending a single dollar will never have to, and the majority of the items in the market are cosmetic rather than functional. That said, Neverwinter does have a few places that hits you where it hurts. They give you very limited bag and bank space, and even respeccing your character to try new feats needs to be purchased with real money. Although being charged for respeccing feels a little bit like a slap in the face, spending a few dollars in this game goes a really long way. Cryptic has recently announced permanent price reductions on a number of items in the Zen Shop, which not only obviously makes the game cheaper to play, but gives credibility to Cryptic's willingness to appease players.
As both a D&D and MMO player, Neverwinter earns a big thumbs up, but it may not have what it takes to become your day-to-day MMO. Neverwinter will be a great game to play alongside other games or for a casual gamer to jump on and quest around for a few hours a week, at least until more endgame content is released. The user-generated content of the Foundry adds endless playability, but beyond engaging with that community, the need to purchase bag space and respecs may grate on some players. Neverwinter definitely has a lot to offer, but just because it's free to play doesn't mean it's actually free to play.
Bottom Line: Neverwinter is an extremely fun adaptation of D&D's 4th Edition, with all of its strengths and weaknesses. Though the game is arduously linear at times, they've made the roller coaster gameplay into a wild ride with beautiful environments, and just the right amount of freedom to explore.
Recommendation: Dungeons & Dragons fans will enjoy this game for the iconic feel that the game has, and for the huge host of favorite monsters that Cryptic has included. Spending some money is almost a must, but the bang for your buck can get you far if you spend it wisely. Casual and social gamers will have a blast playing through this with their friends, while more hardcore MMO players might want to take a pass for something more dedicated.
Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment