Yes, this is a post about another game other than SWtOR.
No, this does not mean that I'm finding SWtOR a drag and am following the oft-shouted "play another game if you aren't finding this fun" clause. The title may suggest this, but if you don't know what it's a reference to, you clearly need to brush up on your Shakespeare.
So, NeverWinter Online. If you've never heard of it, it's a completely free-to-play MMO based on the Fourth Edition of the well-known physical RPG Dungeons and Dragons. It's not even buy-to-play - compared to other "F2P" MMOs such as GW2 and ESO which are - making it by far one of the easiest MMOs to get into in general.
I myself had never heard of it until earlier this year, as it is a running joke that everybody in my particular raid team "must" have a toon in the game. Indeed, only one regular attendee (out of the ~11 or so who are in some way a part of the team) hasn't installed and started the game.
Not being a particularly "gaming" gamer - I don't play games for the sake of playing games and I can only really get invested in games based on Universes I'm familiar with - and because I've never actually played D&D - although I have played PathFinder - I'm honestly surprised that I've taken to this game as well as I have. Similar to Skyrim, I believe this could have something to do with my fascination and appreciation with the Lord of the Rings universe.
Or at least that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
Whilst this post is overtly about NeverWinter, I will be comparing it to how SWtOR does things, and see what things either game does better than the other.
There are a couple of things which just can't be compared.
The first of these is combat. Combat in both games is just so very different that comparing them is just impossible. One is a 'traditional' MMO with multiple ability bars and many key bindings whilst the other is just far more 'empty' in comparison. By far the easier game to compare this with for NeverWinter is Elder Scrolls Online.
The second of these is the endgame. SWtOR - being the traditional MMO - has Dungeons, PvP, and Raids. NeverWinter, on the other hand, only has Dungeons - 3-man 'normal' and 5-man 'epic' and skirmishes - and PvP whilst there is also a whole host of ongoing story content known as Campaigns which can take several days, if not weeks, to complete in-full, and even then they don't really ever "end" until you've got the best gear.
The Case for: NeverWinter
SWtOR's F2P model is severely hampered. You can't access all of your ability bars, earn more than 350,000 Credits without an Escrow coming into play, equip artifact gear, unify colours or hide headpiece, and of course there's the Weekly cap on Flashpoints, Operations, and Warzones. Even XP gain is limited by whether or not you're subscribed. Neverwinter, having no 'true' subscription model, allows anyone to do anything. There are no Dungeon caps, no currency caps, nothing. Do I need to stress any further just how easy and painless it is to get started?
SWtOR's classes are very much "by the book". You have a numerous abilities to use regardless of your spec, and rotations can get somewhat extensive and complicated, and there's not a lot of wiggle-room to really inject your own flavour into how you play; if you aren't using at least one guide written by an experienced player, people may very well call you out on it. NeverWinter, whilst also having written guides for the best-of-the-best, does allow for a lot more wiggle-room, and this is simply because each class can only take five active abilities - not including the "Daily" Power - meaning that there is a significantly lesser chance of running into somebody who does things the exact same way as you do. It's not too flexible, and due to the limited number of abilities it is far easier to see what other players are doing in-game so you don't feel as easily overwhelmed.
Companions in SWtOR can only gain combat proficiency in one way as of 4.0; grinding Influence. Back in the day, they used to have abilities which would progressively unlock until you and they reached Level 35 and then all you had to do was maintain their gear. NeverWinter actually gives Companions their own Experience, meaning that all you need to do to get a Companion up to the highest ranks is to take it to high-level combat zones or turn in high-XP missions and their XP will just go through the roof. They will need to be sent out for Training afterwards, and this is how they get newer abilities. It's an entirely different ballgame, and is definitely far easier to keep track of since you can only have five active Companions to choose from at any one time.
Speaking of Companions, NeverWinter has a nice "subset" of Companions called an 'augment'; Companions of this nature only serve to bolster your own stats with their own, and play no other active part in combat. Such Companions include cats and bear cubs, and they're all blasted adorable. I'm totally not using this awkward terminology casually in an attempt to get out of a deep hole I dug myself into. Nope.
Guilds in SWtOR can only buy a ship and a stronghold, and that's it. Once you've spent the credits to get everything unlocked, you're done. In NeverWinter, a guild Stronghold does take far longer to level-up, but it has various events of different scale - ranging from simple beast attacks to actual Dragon invasions - which turns it into an actual questing hub. Not only this, but a Guild can enter into an Alliance with another Guild - or series thereof - which encourages events such as Guild Sieges, or the equivalent of Guild PvP.
Mounts in SWtOR are just "there". They've recently added ones with a flourish, but the majority of this aren't anything worth writing home about. Mounts in NeverWinter actually play a very active part in helping gear your character, as the best ones - although they have a significant problem which we'll get to in a bit - provide stats which bolster your own character's combat stats and every mount can even have additional items called "insignias" installed which do exactly the same but in far smaller and more controllable increments. For example, this would be the equivalent of one Varactyl giving 500 Critical Rating, and another 500 Defense Rating, to whomever owned it simply for being able to use it. It's interesting having sources of stats other than gear, but by no means an awful concept.
Events in SWtOR are tailored specifically to doing this and doing that and killing things. There's no real "celebration!" event outside of the Life Day, and even then that's a very passive Event. NeverWinter Events are nearly all light-hearted whilst still being in some ways active. I joined in time to see the Third Anniversary, which as one small part enabled players to give gifts by drinking with them, whilst other gifts from taking part in specific activities could also help fill the guild's coffers. As another example, I've heard glowing reports that a recurring Event makes a flawless reference to 'actual' D&D playing by replacing some enemy models with Giant D20s because there simply weren't enough character models left to represent them.
The Case for: The Old Republic
If ever you see anyone complaining seriously about how what grind tehre is in SWtOR is ruining the game for them, they've never played NeverWinter. If they have, they clearly haven't gotten very far.
Levelling in NeverWinter is the equivalent to grinding Valor in SWtOR; it's fine until you reach a certain Level (Valor 50 for SWtOR and Level 60 for NW), but beyond this point the requirements to advance to the next levels just drastically increase. For NW, I've seen people say that it takes as long to reach Level 70 from 60 as it does to reach Level 60 from Level 1 - I can already see the truth of this despite currently being Level 68 on my first character. Valor is a grind, but at least this is not an obligatory grind!
Not only this, but the equivalent of augmenting - Refining - to get the best rating gear possible takes an incredibly long time. The leader of the raid group I mentioned before has been focusing on one specific character in NW for I believe two years now and he's literally only just got all four of his Artifacts - the equivalent of Relics - up to the highest possible quality for them.
NeverWinter may be "Free to Play", but it is very pay-to-win. Seriously, you can pay for absolutely everything to skip past a lot of grind, including the most valuable refining equipment. As a more specific example of the "pay-to-win" aspects, the only reliable way to unlock the species known as Dragonborn is to buy it from their Cash Shop. It's the best species in the entire game, regardless of your class, and buying a particular species pack which contains it also grants you a purple (AKA upgrade tier 3/5) Artifact which can then be claimed across all of your characters. Artifacts aren't that easy to come by otherwise..! The Cartel Market may be an absolute nuisance, but even it isn't this bad!
NeverWinter uses what I like to term "psychological warfare" to 'get' players to spend money. You're constantly being out-run by people on cool looking mounts such as a Leopard or a Giant Crab whilst your first horse is just so slow. Or you're constantly being bombarded by the equivalent of Cartel Packs and they need specific keys to open them. Or you get a really useful crate for killing Dragons in Strongholds which also need specific keys to open them. The best way to get around all of these issues - and more - is to, of course, buy the desired items from the cash shop. The Chance Cubes are really insignificant compared to this.
In SWtOR, you can get away with a lot from an RPG standpoint. You can quick-travel, you don't get injured, and you don't suffer any penalties for dying outside of an increasing revive timer and gear degradation which can be negated via repairs. NeverWinter forces players to put up with the exact inverse. All except those who pay for the ViP.
ViP in NeverWinter is a 'temporary' sub option; you pay for 1, 3, or 6 months, and each purchase increases your ViP Rank until it reaches 12, and there it shall stay for as long as you are a ViP. The problem with this is that the really useful stuff comes after Rank 6, meaning that if you want to be able to quick travel, be immune to injuries, summon vendors and mail boxes, and get the best vendor discounts possible, you'd need to fork out for more than you originally bargained for. The only real saving grace is that when you do run out of ViP, the moment you purchase it again you're back up to where you were, if not one Rank higher if you weren't already Rank 12.
It's a lot harder to know for sure which enemy you're targeting in NeverWinter than it is in SWtOR. In the latter, you have a portrait of your target once you've selected them, and you know that your attacks are going to hit them. In the former, you target an enemy simply by hovering your mouse cursor over it; they then glow red to indicate that you're attacking them. For single targets, or small groups of bulky enemies, this is fine, but when there are about fifteen enemies, most of whom are of a hefty size and all squeezed in together, it becomes a lot harder. On my chosen first class of Scourge Warlock, which has an augmenting ability which increases damage dealt to the selected target, large groups play havoc with this as often my selected targets get very lost. I can imagine other classes not having as much of an issue in this regard, however.
This is a very minor point considering the very unique nature of SWtOR, but it still has to be said that NeverWinter is another game which, of course, has only one story. Once you've seen it, you've seen it, and only the Scourge Warlock has anything 'extra' that no other classes get. Rolling newer characters is thus more tedious since they really do nothing new.
I actually haven't had a lot to complain about gameplay-wise for NeverWinter. The biggest complaints I have with it are what everybody else has to say about it as well; that it is far too pay-to-win and grindy to allow for any 'true' casual enjoyment. The nice thing about it is that it is still just fairly easy to get into and you don't really feel compelled to do all that much since there is no subscription riding on it. If you want out, just uninstall, and that's that.
What both games do very well is construct a rich universe which is tailored more to their specific audience. SWtOR feels like it should be a part of the overall Star Wars Universe and NeverWinter feels like it is part of a proper 'Dungeon Master'-led story.
SWtOR has things to learn from NeverWinter, particularly how to increase Guild activity and making more light-hearted events, but NeverWinter is far from perfect in its own rights. The sheer grind and pay-to-win aspects put any complaints of this nature regarding SWtOR to shame. I really want to see people who complain about Cartel Whales come to NeverWinter. They'd have the time of their lives fuming at just how worse things could be.
In conclusion, NeverWinter is fun. It's harmless to get into, provides a decent storyline, and is a fairly well-built game. It does require a lot of tolerance to get through everything and especially to get to Level 70, after which point there's even more grinding to get the best gear, but otherwise I'm finding the experience really rather entertaining so far.