A massively multiplayer online game based on the fiction of Dungeons & Dragons, Neverwinter is out now on PlayStation 4 - and it's totally free to download and play. At the time of writing, we've invested around 20 hours into the free-to-play foray, and we have to admit that it's actually quite difficult to put down. That may just be the nature of a good MMO, but for one that doesn't have to cost you a penny, we've been left rather impressed by Cryptic Studio's high fantasy outing.
Many role-playing games that originate on PC don't always transition well to consoles, but as is the case with thoughtfully ported titles such as Final Fantasy XIV and The Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter proves to be a comfortable fit on Sony's machine. While the multi-layered menus can take a little getting used to, there's a nice snappiness to the user interface that makes playing with a DualShock 4 perfectly viable.
What's more, Neverwinter's great at steadily introducing gameplay mechanics so that you're not immediately overwhelmed. Like so many MMOs, the release is an amalgamation of various systems - from combat to crafting and solo questing to competitive play - and if it wasn't fed to you in chunks, you'd probably lose your mind.
That said, more impatient players may disapprove of the game's reasonably slow opening hours. Initially, you're directed through a series of story-based quests that aren't all that imaginative, but thankfully, it isn't too long until things start to branch out a little, with side quests popping up on a very regular basis. Again, once you're through the grind, you'll find that it becomes increasingly hard to peel yourself away.
Player progression is the real hook here, as the release is constantly rewarding you with loot drops and skill points to spend. The satisfaction that comes with seeing your custom character rise through the ranks is a core element of any good RPG, and it's doled out relentlessly here.
It also helps that a solid character creation system is on hand to properly kick things off. There are multiple playable races to choose from, and while the available classes are of the traditional variety - tanks, damage dealers, healers, etc. - expansive skill trees allow for a lot of customisation, especially as you work your way into the higher levels.
So, how does Neverwinter actually play? On a base level, it's your typical MMO RPG, featuring hotbars that house your chosen skills, cooldown timers, and copious amounts of quest markers. Combat has a touch of Diablo about it as you throw out various attacks that aren't in the process of cooling off, and you'll often have to change your tactics on the fly depending on whether you're dealing with singular enemies or groups of foes.
Battles boast an enjoyable pace, and there's a nice hack and slash feel to each encounter, particularly since slower, more powerful incoming attacks can be avoided by moving outside of their effective area. Granted, deeper strategies don't really come into the equation until much later when you'll be busy raiding dungeons with a full party of friends, but even when you're flying solo, combat rarely outstays its welcome.
Speaking of dungeons, delving into unknown depths can be surprisingly dangerous. It's not wererats, sewer bandits, or even getting lost that you should be worried about - it's the numerous booby traps that cover the walls and floors of each lair. Walking into a trap will cause injury, lowering specific character statistics until it's healed, and you can only patch up your wounds by either resting at a campfire for a tedious amount of time or by using up an injury kit.
Traps tend to be cleverly hidden, but with a sharp pair of eyes - or the right skill - it's possible to spot them and plan accordingly. However you decide to deal with these obstacles, though, they at least mean that you're forced to take things slowly when it comes to exploring old ruins and the like - charge through a dungeon and it's only a matter of time until you get punished for your impatience. Perhaps traps aren't the most productive way to ensure that you pay attention, but they do add a welcome sense of danger to your adventures.
There are a few things that we haven't tried in Neverwinter just yet - namely the PvP component - but even without dipping our toes into the competitive scene, it's clear that you should at least be giving Cryptic Studios' creation a shot. It's chocked full of content, it's fun with friends, and, of course, it's completely free. MMOs aren't for everyone, but you can't really go wrong when the price is this right.
Have you given Neverwinter a go on PS4? What do you think of it? Gather a party and get adventuring in the comments section below.