Face Frost Giants in Our Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder Review
Things are getting chilly in Neverwinter. In fact, they're getting downright freezing. It seems that frost giants are wreaking havoc in Icewind Dale, and it's up to the players to figure out what's going on and to stop it. The online rpg not only draws inspiration from the vast history of the pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons rpg, but Cryptic works closely with Wizards of the Coast to follow along with the latest storyline for D&D. The Storm King's Thunder also happens to feature some of the most iconic characters from the D&D novels. So, will this expansion to Neverwinter force the player to wear thermal underwear to withstand the cold? Do frost giants hate s'mores? Find out the answer to neither of these questions in our Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder review.
Let's begin our Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder review with the basics. The new expansion starts off innocently enough. Lord Neverember asks the player to escort Makos, who is acting as a delegate of Neverwinter, to a festival being held in Bryn Shander, the largest settlement of Ten-Towns in Icewind Dale. The player is tasked to meet with Xuna, an elvish rogue, Makos, and a pair of adventurers for the journey in order to bolster security as the number of hill giant attacks have been on the rise. This leads to a small instance where the player helps Xuna defend villagers from attackers. After the attack, the other two adventurers decide to head off to Bryn Shander while the player and Xuna wait for Makos, who is running late (as always, according to Xuna). An amusing cutscene follows as the pair wait a full week before deciding to venture on without Makos. I really got a laugh out of the scene of Xuna kicking a dead monster in frustration. It's the small doses of humor like this that really make Neverwinter (which you can play for free here) such a good game to play.
There are three new zones found in the Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder expansion: Bryn Shander, Lonelywood, and Cold Run. Bryn Shander features the town of the same name and a small outpost called Knucklehead Camp. Something is definitely wrong as the zone is filled with giants, people, and creatures that are frozen. The icy claws of winter are on a rampage, and the player eventually finds out that the Ring of Winter, a powerful artifact, has been stolen by the frost giant Storvald, who intends to use the ring to freeze the entirety of the Forgotten Realms. The storyline for the expansion unfolds as the player progresses through the new zones.
Let's turn the attention of our Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder review towards the underlying structure of the expansion. The foundation for the expansion is quite similar to other expansions for the free mmo, which is not a bad thing. The player has to build up favor with Ten-Towns as well as gathering a few forms of campaign currency (supplies and such) to progress through the campaign and unlock new tiers. When the player gains enough favor, they then unlock the Lonelywood zone, which is then followed by Cold Run. To gain this favor, the player can do a daily quest that requires them to do three quests overall. When the player starts off in Bryn Shander, all three quests can be completed there. When other zones become available, the three quests are then spread out amongst those zones. No matter what, each zone will offer three daily quests that will reward the supplies that are spent on the campaign. Additional favor can be earned by doing a weekly quest in each zone. Overall, I really like this design as it features quite a bit for players to do. There is a decent variety in the daily quests that are offered.
Another facet of the Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder expansion is the new resource that can be gathered and exchanged for items. Players can gather Ostorian relics, which are the remains of a long-dead giant civilization. These relics can be redeemed for Voninblod, which can then be spent on some useful items, such as potions to help defend against the cold damage that everything in the new zones inflict in addition to their normal damage. There are also several tiers of gear (which need to be unlocked via the campaign) that offer additional protection from cold damage. The various daily quests reward the player with this Voninblod, and there are named individuals (and monsters) roaming around each zone that will drop an item that can be used to activate a quest reward that is redeemed for Voninblod.
I won't reveal the details of the storyline in the Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder expansion, but it is really good. My main enjoyment of the story is that you get to interact with Wulfgar and Catti-brie, two iconic characters from the Drizzt novels. I love the Drizzt books, so it goes without saying that I really enjoy the inclusion of these characters within the mmorpg. I actually shouted out in excitement when Wulfgar made a dramatic appearance in a storyline quest. The fact that the player has to unlock each zone, which then continues the narrative, means that you won't run through all the content in just an afternoon. I don't mind doing daily quests to gain favor and supplies, so the pace of unlocking new content was not an issue.
As for the zones themselves, they are really well designed. An issue I had with many of the original zones in Neverwinter was that they were very linear. Such is not the case with the new zones as they are quite open, and each of the new zones is very distinct in appearance and creatures. Bryn Shander features a heaping dose of snow and ice, not to mention tons of frozen creatures. It's quite amazing to see frozen giants still clinging to the walls of Bryn Shander. By contrast, Lonelywood is heavily forested with one half looking normal (albeit cold) with a small seashore settlement and the other half under a blanket of snow. Cold Run is an absolute frozen horror, and I really love that the base of operations for the player is in a hidden spot that's camouflaged by an illusion spell. Cold Run features soaring cliffs and frozen rivers. It's so cold that if you go a short distance into the water, your character will start taking damage or die outright. A humorous bit in Cold Run is that Xuna is holed up in a small cave next to the frozen seashore, and she is absolutely freezing. Her constant shivering and flavor text about the cold just cracks me up. Overall, I can't say enough how much I enjoyed how well each of the zones were crafted.
I have to point out in this Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder review the utter threat that frost giants represent. The player will come across some giants in Bryn Shander and Lonelywood, but Cold Run is absolutely crawling with them. They are some very powerful foes to face in battle. Their basic attacks do a tremendous amount of damage, which required my trickster rogue to do a fair bit of dodging to avoid. Their best attack is a charge that knocks the player over, which is then followed by them hurling a boulder at the player. Trust me when I say that you don't want to get hit by that boulder. While I'm not uber-geared, I can hold my own against a couple of them, but I do have to move around quite a bit. Another factor in this expansion is that a lot of the creatures are very mobile. Wolves, goblins, and others will constantly race around, making it more difficult to track them and to concentrate attacks upon a single foe. As a number of creatures have a ranged area attack, this movement and pack numbers can mean overlapping fields of fire. Personally, I like this as it makes combat more challenging and, therefore, a lot more interesting.
So, what's the final verdict in our Neverwinter Storm King's Thunder review? I think that this is an extremely strong expansion for the game, and I find myself still doing quests in them weeks after I started playing it. There isn't a weak design element to be found in this expansion (the caveat is if you don't like doing daily quests to accumulate campaign currency). The visuals are tremendous, especially the zone of Bryn Shander. The storyline is well written, the monsters represent a challenge, and you get to adventure with Wulfgar and Cattie-brie. I give this expansion a very enthusiastic thumbs-up.