Choose My Adventure: Finishing up in Neverwinter

We need some kind of rule against further cults, here.
I’m going to be honest, before playing Neverwinter I had a very different picture of this game in my head in some ways. Not because I didn’t expect the game’s core gameplay loop; I’d gotten that from demo events. And it’s not because I thought the game would feature a different set of mechanics or a different aesthetic. I did think that the animations wouldn’t be quite so dreadfully stiff for poor Ceilarene, but even that’s not enough to really throw me off of my game.

No, what I really pictured differently was the eponymous city of Neverwinter. I pictured, well, a city. What Neverwinter more closely resembles is a superheroic hometown after the most recent event storyline. There’s exactly one district that seems to actually be suitable for human habitation, and everything else is crawling with stuff that wants to kill you for various reasons. Also, every single part of the game is filled with people insisting that the city will soon belong to them.

In other words, it’s Paragon City without the superheroes.

The gloves help, I have to be honest.This is not, in and of itself, an entirely bad thing. Heck, it even sits pretty well with the game’s style. But it does make the world feel rather… constrained, I suppose. Instead of seeing a city worth protecting, you see a whole lot of ruined messes, most of which don’t seem as if they’re getting any better. There’s also little to no sense of intrigue going on within the city itself, just a whole lot of baddies to beat up who like hanging out in ruined warehouses whilst insisting that they’re totally going to rule Neverwinter, just you wait.

There’s not even much intrigue going on with the Warlock backstory quests, which I found a little bit disappointing. One of the neater parts of Dungeons & Dragons was the entire war between fiends and the idea that both sides are forever jockeying for an advantage they’ll never find; here, it’s basically a footnote. Appropriate, perhaps, but the game seems to bend over backwards to send the message that Warlocks made a dark pact for their power… but they’ll never actually be forced to do something they don’t want to do for that power.

I may be overthinking it, but it feels like the game is going out of its way to avoid any sort of lasting consequence here.

Eager to stop thinking too much about this side of things and to get back into the gameplay that I was enjoying, I headed for the Tower District. But even there, I found myself… not annoyed? But somewhat less impressed, on a whole.

It’s not that the combat changed, obviously. It’s the same combat. But now that I have my full arsenal of powers and I’m making small improvements, the whole thing feels far more… perfunctory. There’s strategy involved, but not a whole lot at this level, coming down mostly to “remember what your buttons do and mostly click the left mouse button a lot.” It all flows well enough, but the abilities wind up feeling kind of… exchangeable.

That’s not to say it’s unpleasant by any stretch of the imagination, mind you; it’s just that, moment-to-moment, it feels like there’s less happening. While I hit a vaguely similar rut when playing The Elder Scrolls Online, that title had the benefit of having more varied quest structures and quest objectives. Neverwinter, by contrast, sticks very much with the stuff that you start out with at the outset.

Go to this area, kill some guys and collect these things. Go to the next waypoint. Kill different people and collect different things. Every so often, go into a mini-dungeon and kill your way through. It’s well-balanced, responsive, and visually distinct, but it still winds up feeling like you’ve seen and done it all before remarkably soon.

Maybe I’m just unusually cranky because I’m playing the game while also highly anticipating something else, maybe it’s just an instinctual reaction, or maybe I’m just looking at it through over-critical eyes. It’s not as if the game starts becoming bad, it’s just that it seems to lose the energy which informs its first few levels as you progress onward.

It may also be the story coming down to more of the same, too; it’s some group or another trying to seize control of the city, or at least a part of the city. Functionally, it all sort of runs together.

Or perhaps I’m more salty than usual about it just because after picking up my first lockbox last week, the floodgates seem to have been open. Rather more obnoxious was the “coupon” dropped in my inventory for a discount on the in-game store as part of the little “new adventurer” pack, which just seems… like, that’s the opposite of a reward. A reward to save me money on something is an ad. Your reward for this is essentially a flyer.

At least floaty bits are honest.

Sure, none of this exactly surprised me because I’ve played games by the studio before. It’s all still charming, straightforward, and balanced. And for a game that clearly wants to be something where you can drop in, do a bit of work, and then drop out, all of it works well-to-good. They’re all nitpicks and I freely admit that.

But they’re nitpicks I found myself noticing more often, and they’re the sort of thing that can bring down the overall experience. It’s not that anything is wrong with the game, just that a lot of the most engaging bits wear down after a little bit. For all I know I’m in one of the known doldrums of leveling, but there’s not much to be done about that at this point.

Despite the aforementioned nitpicks, I was still having fun as I eldritch blasted my way through numerous orcs who wanted to take control of the region for reasons that aren’t altogether clear. (I think there was also a Nasher enclave in there somewhere. I kill everything at range, they all burn the same.) I was making good time, and while my enthusiasm was flagging a bit, I was still fundamentally having fun.

Would I have continued to have fun as I found myself picking up more lockboxes, going through more dungeons with the same basic gameplay? (And the ever-increasing number of traps, which I found hellishly annoying and not interesting to deal with; they create some menu-trawling chores but don’t add much to the actual experience.) I don’t know. But some of that speculation really should be saved for next week’s summation, don’t you think?

I think so, which means it’s time to bid farewell to Neverwinter for now and to this particular installment of the column. Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to Next week, it’s time to summarize my experiences and open up the next poll for voting, so please do look forward to it.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. You do not, however, get to decide the inscrutable whims of his deepest thoughts. Which often involve singing songs at his cats, but hey, we’ve all got our failings.

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Nice Eliot as always but I still have no interest in playing the game. The problem is once you have played one cryptic game you have played them all and a re-skin does not help.

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Tobasco da Gama

I may be overthinking it

Knock it off, buddy, that’s a different column!

Matthew Yetter

Massively true!