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A Free-To-Play MMO? Neverwinter Performance, Benchmarked

A Free-To-Play MMO? Neverwinter Performance, Benchmarked
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Neverwinter is a new free-to-play MMO in the Dungeons And Dragons universe, sporting an action RPG flavor. We benchmark it with a number of graphics cards and CPUs, uncovering a processor-oriented bottleneck along the way. Does your platform measure up?

Neverwinter is a new action-MMORPG from Cryptic Studios. This franchise has its fingers in so many pies, I don't even know where to begin. Do I talk about how it relates to its Dungeons and Dragons tabletop game roots? I don't think that would be particularly interesting to our readers. Perhaps I should spend some time discussing the Forgotten Realms locale, popularized by writer R.A. Salvatore and the character Drizzt Do'Urden? The game is thick with references. But if you haven't heard of it, all I can do is recommend The Dark Elf Trilogy for a good read. Maybe we could dig into the mission creator, reminiscent of BioWare's (unrelated) Neverwinter Nights games? This is more for wannabe dungeon masters than players, though.

After all is said and done, it makes the most sense to compare Neverwinter to contemporaries like Dungeons And Dragons Online, Tera, and Vindictus.

Let's start with Dungeons And Dragons Online (DDO), a game from rival developer Turbine that's still going strong. DDO was one of the first "freemium" MMOs. It was designed around the old subscription-based method and retrofitted for free play. There is plenty you can do without paying a dime, but if you're serious about the game, you'll be constantly reminded about the adventures and features you aren't allowed to partake in unless you pay a subscription fee, or at least buy portions of content with cash. This is the revenue model that Star Wars: The Old Republic took, and it's irritating as hell. Yes, I know I'm suffering from slow XP gain because I'm not a subscriber, but thanks for telling me again, BioWare. As great as The Old Republic content is, I got tired of being pestered before I was engaged enough to spend money.

This is in sharp contrast with Neverwinter's revenue model. No content is gated, and progression isn't slowed for free players. Sure, you can use real money to buy in-game items, but you can also earn those items through by playing and trading in-game currency (Astral Diamonds) for paid currency (Zen, sold online through the game's publisher, Perfect World). This is an ideal way for a free-to-play game to operate: no restrictions on non-paying players, and everything in the cash store can be earned through play. [edit: we should clarify that DDO does allow you to earn Turbine Points in game, but they're relatively difficult to accumulate. More importantly, DDO requires players to purchase access to game content, but all of the content is free in Neverwinter]

Of course, none of this matters if the game sucks. Thankfully, that isn't the case. Neverwinter combines the fast pace of action-RPG games like Vindictus with the rich world and nuanced progression of traditional MMOs. The result is more fun than I anticipated, with surprisingly powerful character abilities right out of the gate, and a rate of progression that keeps you coming back to acquire more powers or upgrade existing ones. Neverwinter's combat system is a lot more twitchy and than I'm used to, and it removes a lot of the power-queuing typical of the MMO genre. It makes you feel a lot more involved and connected to the fight. I'm not a huge fan of Vindictus, so it's a little surprising that Cryptic Studios found a balance that really appeals to me.

What about everything else? For a brand new game, it certainly feels very mature, with rich environments, mini-games, and a plethora of different things to do. There are many standard missions to help progress your character, the PvP arenas are a lot of fun, and so are the group PvE quests, dungeons, and events. You can also manage and level-up your companions (mercenary and animal NPCs under your control). There's even a crafting profession system that's playable in-game or outside the game through a browser that awards the same in-game items (at gateway.playneverwinter.com). In addition, you can create your own adventures using the game's foundry tool, mentioned previously. Others are able to experience and rate those adventures through an in-game job board and NPC informants. As a result, this title feels quite rich. Of course, it's impossible to say how much end-game content there is at this early stage.

So, what about Neverwinter is weak? Well, there's not much of a story arch. The adventure plots are nothing special and you're not going to find any innovation in the narrative department. Don't expect many cutscenes or much spoken dialogue, either. As far as your NPC companions, a human cleric will demonstrate as much personality as a honey badger (read: none). Cryptic can only dream of the budgets that BioWare gets for writers and voice acting. Then again, you can't have a honey badger companion in Star Wars: The Old Republic, so +1 for Neverwinter.

It's impossible to properly rate an MMO without spending a life force-draining amount of time on it, but since the price tag is free-ninety-nine, I heartily encourage you to try it. Progress at least until you've picked up three abilities, since the title's very beginning is fairly weak. The good news is that it gets better quickly.

How does it look? How will it perform on your hardware? Glad you asked...

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  • 2 Hide
    Yargnit , May 8, 2013 9:45 PM
    Although I play on my desktop normally, I've briefly tested logging in to Neverwinter on my Ultrabook, and it is actually surprisingly playable with settings turned down.

    It's running a 3317u w/HD4000 4GB RAM on Win8 @ 1600x900 & it runs w/o issues on minimum settings (100% scale, 50% hi-res character draw distance).

    No exact numbers to report, but I can run around the main city (which with it being the central congregation point for everyone tends to be one of the laggier spots) without issues. Sure it doesn't look the best my any stretch, but it's workable without a doubt in a pinch.
  • -3 Hide
    de5_Roy , May 9, 2013 12:15 AM
    i can't believe it...
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/neverwinter-performance-benchmark,3495-4.html
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/neverwinter-performance-benchmark,3495-5.html
    i could believe fx8350 sinking itself to core i3 level performance (it's kinda fx8350's routine) but hd4000 significantly outperforming radeon 7660g in min., avg., and frame time variance? with dual core i5 vs quadcore a10 even...
    how would an overclocked i5 3550 or 3570k or fx6300 would fare in this game?
  • -3 Hide
    rootheday , May 9, 2013 12:17 AM
    well... would you look at that. Intel HD 4000 soundly beats the top AMD mobile APU
  • 8 Hide
    silverblue , May 9, 2013 1:06 AM
    The 4600M is horribly limiting - it's that low clock speed. I can only hope that AMD have learned their lesson and gone for a much higher clock speed for Richland's mobile derivatives.

    A good measure of how badly the 4600M is limiting performance would be to give the 5800K a run with its integrated graphics - there's a significant clock speed difference.
  • 7 Hide
    Greg Williams , May 9, 2013 1:41 AM
    TheCapuletI don't want a Neverwinter MMO. I want a Neverwinter Nights 3, with a proper toolset and brilliant online/modding community. That's what Neverwinter is all about. Twitch action has never been what this IP was about. Thanks again for ruining everything, WotC.


    You obviously missed where they said it is unrelated to Neverwinter Nights - different studio, totally different game. Neverwinter is merely a place in the Forgotten Realms. So bringing up 'waaaahhh, I want NWN3' is rather pointless here.
  • 2 Hide
    Greg Williams , May 9, 2013 1:44 AM
    Greg WilliamsYou obviously missed where they said it is unrelated to Neverwinter Nights - different studio, totally different game. Neverwinter is merely a place in the Forgotten Realms. So bringing up 'waaaahhh, I want NWN3' is rather pointless here.


    And I don't see how an MMO based on the Forgotten Realms ruins everything. Why can't you have both this AND NWN3? Just don't play this one, and play what you want... :) 
  • -3 Hide
    DarkSable , May 9, 2013 1:54 AM
    Quote:
    Sure, you can use real money to buy in-game items, but you can also earn those items through by playing and trading in-game currency (Astral Diamonds) for paid currency (Zen, sold online through the game's publisher, Perfect World). This is an ideal way for a free-to-play game to operate: no restrictions on non-paying players, and everything in the cash store can be earned through play.


    I'm sorry, but this comparison is ABSOLUTELY WRONG. Yes, it's easier to trade for pay-to-play content in neverwinter, but you then say that this is far better to DDO, where you can't...

    Except that you can. Playing even a little bit will give you favor with certain patrons. As you get more of this favor, you are AUTOMATICALLY given "turbine points" which is the currency you buy with money. You can earn everything in the game just by playing; sure, it'll take a little while, but I'm sure that neverwinters' solution will too.

    So don't make a claim that's completely wrong, please. The "review" parts on the game felt so biased it's not even funny.
  • 1 Hide
    digiex , May 9, 2013 4:03 AM
    That a lot of specs for an MMORPG.
  • -8 Hide
    Cryio , May 9, 2013 4:36 AM
    This joke "the price tag is free-ninety-nine" looses its importance when you realise that it accumultes to 1 dollar and therefore isn't free anymore.
  • 0 Hide
    alidan , May 9, 2013 5:03 AM
    wow... whats with the couboundness of this game...
  • 2 Hide
    Traciatim , May 9, 2013 5:26 AM
    Yet again we see any game that requires a descent amount of CPU power that AMD falls flat on it's face.

    I sure wish AMD was still in this competition so that we wouldn't have things like Haswell being essentially the same CPU as Ivy Bridge with a few tweaks and a better useless section that gets instantly disabled if you want to actually play games.
  • 2 Hide
    jacobdrj , May 9, 2013 5:39 AM
    "But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that Hyper-Threaded. "
    Should read:
    "But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that is Hyper-Threaded."
    or
    "But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that has Hyper-Threading."
    or
    "But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that uses Hyper-Threading."

    Thanks ;) 
  • -1 Hide
    kettu , May 9, 2013 5:45 AM
    Why are you not giving out the CPU framelatency results anymore? Sometime ago you had an article about it and I got the impression that it was going to be incorporated to your future articles. What's going on with that?
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , May 9, 2013 6:15 AM
    I'll probably try this, if only because it's free, but I really hope it isn't too twitchy. I've got an uncoordinated left hand, which really limits my enjoyment of twitch games.
  • 5 Hide
    maddogfargo , May 9, 2013 6:55 AM
    Ok thats better...

    My 1090t @ 4.0GHz on max detail and a single 7950 gives 60+ FPS in explorable areas and mid 40's in populated towns. Happy to say it performs well, much better than the APU in this test.

    This game, like Guild Wars 2, seems to rely heavily on a single core render pipe. 2-3 other supporting cores will get used, but at a reduced level. So the intel CPUs will do better thanks to stronger single core performance.

    The problem is, single-core development is 5 years old. No matter what CPU you use, modern games will bottleneck there when developed this way. Optimizing to take *FULL* advantage of 4+ cores will greatly improve performance for everyone, intel or AMD.
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , May 9, 2013 6:55 AM
    kettuWhy are you not giving out the CPU framelatency results anymore? Sometime ago you had an article about it and I got the impression that it was going to be incorporated to your future articles. What's going on with that?


    Because CPU frame latency results are so consistently low (well below 15 milliseconds) they're insignificant. The only time I've seen them be an issue is with APUs, and that's covered.
  • 0 Hide
    xelliz , May 9, 2013 6:58 AM
    Definitely a fun game and even more enjoyable as I've spent more time with it. The gateway page is an awesome addition, imo.

    I know its getting a little long in the tooth, but I would have loved to see an I7-920 included in the test. I am now very interested to see how my system compares as far as numbers go. Playing I haven't felt like the game was running slow at all, but I haven't actually looked at fps numbers, nor have I changed any of the graphics settings from default.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , May 9, 2013 7:03 AM
    jacobdrj"But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that Hyper-Threaded. "Should read:"But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that is Hyper-Threaded." or"But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that has Hyper-Threading."or"But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that uses Hyper-Threading."Thanks


    Actually, *all* of those are incorrect due to our omission. :p 

    Fixed to:

    "But don't bother with a dual-core CPU that isn't Hyper-Threaded. "
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , May 9, 2013 7:09 AM
    DarkSableI'm sorry, but this comparison is ABSOLUTELY WRONG. Yes, it's easier to trade for pay-to-play content in neverwinter, but you then say that this is far better to DDO, where you can't...Except that you can. Playing even a little bit will give you favor with certain patrons. As you get more of this favor, you are AUTOMATICALLY given "turbine points" which is the currency you buy with money.


    You're absolutely right, we neglected to mention Turbine points. That was an oversight that's been fixed with the following edit:

    [edit: we should clarify that DDO does allow you to earn Turbine Points in game, but they're relatively difficult to accumulate. More importantly, DDO requires players to purchase access to game content, but all of the content is free in Neverwinter]

    Having said that, if you've played DDO you know that it's not viable to expect to have all access to all the content simply by playing and accumulating Turbine points "a little while". They're much, much harder to come by than Astral Diamonds.

    DarkSableYou can earn everything in the game just by playing; sure, it'll take a little while, but I'm sure that neverwinters' solution will too.


    Astral Diamonds are much easier to accumulate, but the real point here is that you don't need them at all to access every mission in the game. That's a huge distinction.

    I've played DDO for years with friends who won't play anything else, so I'm not without experience. It's just not realistic to suggest you can have access to all content in DDO without using actual cash. In Neverwinter, it's not an issue.


    DarkSableThe "review" parts on the game felt so biased it's not even funny.


    I would disagree. Your accusation seems a bit vague, aside from the Turbine Point mistake that we fixed, what "review" parts are you referring to?
  • 3 Hide
    Wisecracker , May 9, 2013 7:39 AM

    Geezzz ... what a horribly coded game. 5% difference between a 650ti and an HD 7970?

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