The Neverwinter 'Underdark' expansion stirs up a controversy on Xbox One

Out of the three MMORPGs available on Xbox One, Neverwinter is easily my favorite. Perfect World Entertainment has created a truly massive multiplayer role-playing game that boasts tons of content and frequent updates such as the Underdark expansion.

That expansion did not arrive without controversy, however. A few last-minute changes and event cancellations have many players riled up. Read on for a quick look at the challenges currently facing Neverwinter on Xbox One.

Trade Bars and Wards

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A quick primer on Trade Bars. Neverwinter is a free-to-play game, monetized in various ways. One of those is chests called Lockboxes dropped by enemies that can only be opened with premium items called Enchanted Keys. These keys sell for approximately $1.40 worth of Zen (premium currency), and can also be purchased in packs of 10 and 20 at a discount. VIP members get one free key every day, with VIP membership costing $10 per month.

Lockboxes have a small chance of dropping some of the rarest and most desirable items in the game. Even when you don't get any special items from one, it'll always contain Tarmalune Trade Bars. These bars can be spent on unique items from the Trade Bar Store, providing players with a choice in the premium rewards they get.

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Two highly-desirable items traditionally found in the Trade Bar Store are Preservation Wards and Coalescent Wards. These items are essential for upgrading high-level Enchantments (modifiers to equipment, Companions, and artifacts), Artifacts, and Equipment.

When players upgrade an enchantment, etc. from one level of rarity to another, the process has a chance of failure. The higher the level of rarity, the greater the chance of failure. In fact, Epic Enchantment upgrades (combining four unusable shards into an equipable Enchantment) have only a one percent chance of succeeding.

Should an upgrade attempt fail, players lose the ingredients required to perform the upgrade. Preservation Wards prevent the loss of the reagents involved during a failed upgrade, but they don't guarantee that the upgrade will work. You need a Coalescent Ward for that. Use one and the upgrade will definitely work. Naturally, that makes Coalescent Wards an important item for high-level players.

Trade Bar Store changes

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The Xbox One version of Neverwinter lags about four months behind the PC version in content. The PC version received the Underdark expansion back in November, whereas it just arrived on Xbox on February 9th. Naturally, players assumed that changes made to the PC game in November would also be made to the Xbox game this month.

One of the PC version's changes included improvements to the Trade Bar Store. The Store received new items, and prices on old items were adjusted to make them more enticing. The price of Coalescent Wards, for instance, was 200 Trade Bars on Xbox One – the equivalent of opening 20+ keys' of Lockboxes. On PC, Coalescent Ward prices dropped to just 75-85 Trade Bars.

Dedicated Xbox One players were highly anticipating the same price drop from the Underdark expansion. Some players – perhaps with way too much time and money on their hands – had amassed thousands of Trade Bars specifically in anticipation of the price drop. Once it hit, they'd be able to buy all the Coalescent Wards they could ever want and then either use them or sell them on the in-game Auction House.

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Only that never happened. Following the Underdark update last week, Coalescent Ward prices did not drop. In fact, Perfect World removed them from the Trade Bar Store entirely! Now Coalescent Wards can only be purchased from the Zen Store (for $10 worth of Zen). It can take 11-12 Coalescent Wards to upgrade fully some items such as Epic Enchantments.

Players can also potentially win Coalescent Wards for free by spending coins earned from Invocations (a simple in-game ritual that awards XP and other boosts) on chests. Wards have a subtle chance of appearing as a reward from these chests. But the likelihood of receiving one is so small that you can't count on every receiving one, let alone the quantity needed to upgrade fully an item.

Let's be clear. The removal of Wards from the Trade Bar Store will only affect truly dedicated, hardcore players. Casual players probably wouldn't have bothered with the kind of upgrades that require Wards, and they definitely won't now. It's entirely possible to reach Level 70 and see every bit of meaningful content Neverwinter has to offer without ever dealing with high-level upgrades. Still, the potential for controversy must have been plain for Perfect World to see.

Weekend events canceled

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As if the Trade Bar Store scandal wasn't bad enough, the Underdark update coincided with another player-unfriendly circumstance – this one involving weekend events.

Every few weekends, Perfect World schedules one or more limited-time events. These typically offer double rewards for in-game actions, such as donating items to a guild or participating in PvP battles. Enterprising players might even plan their schedules or gameplay habits around weekend events. The in-game Upcoming Events page even lists the currently scheduled events to help with that planning.

From January until the release of the Underdark expansion, the Upcoming Events page listed two events for the weekend of February 12th: Double XP and Double Astral Diamonds. Like many MMOs, much of Neverwinter's content can't be accessed until the endgame – reaching maximum level. The double XP would've sped up players' progress towards that goalpost, Level 70.

As for Astral Diamonds, they're the currency used to buy and sell things on the in-game Auction House. When a player receives a rare item from a Lockbox, he or she might opt to sell the item for Astral Diamonds to be used for buying other things. Astral Diamonds can also be converted into Zen, although the exchange rate favors buying Zen with money rather than grinding for diamonds.

Many players had saved up Rough Astral Diamonds all month as they waited to turn them into usable Astral Diamonds during the weekend of the 12th. For my part, I scheduled our Neverwinter weekend stream for that weekend because of the Double XP enticement.

On February 9th, the Underdark expansion arrived on Xbox One. Mysteriously, both the Double XP and Double Astral Diamonds weekends disappeared from the Calendar on that day. They had been canceled without notice at the last minute.

Perfect World addresses the controversy

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Understandably, a vocal portion of the Neverwinter Xbox One player-base has loudly decried the removal of the Wards from the Trade Bar Store. Complaints about the cancelation of the Double XP and Astral Diamonds weekend have been passionate but less numerous.

The decision to make Wards purchasable only with Zen seems to have happened only a short time before the Underdark update launched. A February 8th Patch Notes list warns that "things may differ [from the PC version] in the actual Trade Bar Store on Xbox."

On February 11th, shortly after the items' removal from the Trade Store, Perfect World issued a lengthy statement in the Neverwinter forums. This statement includes a fairly humble apology:

"We as a company failed to distribute this information before we made the change. For that, we apologize. It has always been our desire to be transparent with the community in an effort to ensure that you have the necessary information for our game. However, this change wasn't something that was planned and withheld. Both the PC and Xbox version operate in different ways especially in regards to their economies. Similar to real-world economies, there are highs and lows mixed with hundreds of variables.In this particular situation, we made the decision to remove the wards and rubies late in the cycle of our communication and after we already communicated the previous changes that were available in the PC version of Underdark. This last minute change did not give us the opportunity to distribute that message to the players before the launch of our expansion. In the future, we will work towards giving a larger timeframe to properly communicate this message to you."

The statement also outlines a couple of steps the developer is taking in order to compensate players for the sudden change to Wards. All players received a free pack containing one Coalescent Ward, one Blood Ruby and five Preservation Wards – I can vouch for this. And players with 200+ Trade Bars received a free Coalescent Ward for every 200 Trade Bars in their inventories. Essentially, anyone who had stockpiled Trade Bars got the equivalent number of Wards at their old Trade Bar price.

Players react

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The apologetic announcement and compensation have not completely appeased irate Xbox One players. The announcement thread spans 12 pages at present, with over 380 replies and more than 22,000 views. The first page of the thread alone contains complaints from 17 different users. Many of these players claim they will no longer play Neverwinter because of the recent change to Wards.

The Trade Bar Store controversy (and to a lesser extent, the cancelled weekend events) represent a real risk to Perfect World Entertainment and the long-term health of Neverwinter for Xbox One as a whole. The players most affected by the decision to charge Zen for Wards are hardcore players. Casual players won't notice or mind the changes, but they're not the ones who typically spend money on free-to-play games.

Hardcore players – the most dedicated and vocal of the player-base – are the ones who spend real money on free-to-play games. These 'whales' keep server-based free games afloat with their purchases, effectively subsidizing the non-spending casual players. Thus a mass exodus of paying players hurts everyone in the Neverwinter ecosystem, including casual players and Perfect World itself.

Perfect World admits that it made a mistake by failing to warn players of the removal of Wards from the Trade Bar Store. The developer has offered free Wards to players as compensation. But with affected players still upset about the change, it might be more effective to return Coalescent Wards to the Trade Bar Store.

More about Neverwinter

Trade Bar Store and weekend event cancellation controversies aside, Neverwinter still offers one of the best role-playing experiences on Xbox One. The recent Underdark update is one of many expansions the game has received so far.

Geared mostly at high-level players, The Underdark adds a new campaign, Demonic Heroic Encounter events, two new Skirmishes, new content for guild Strongholds, plus new Xbox Achievements. This should give level 70 players many more hours of adventure.

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Windows Central maintains an active Neverwinter Guild with over 100 members. We're always recruiting new members, and we'd love for you to join us. See these resources for details:

Don't let this controversy keep you from trying Neverwinter. It's still perfectly possible (and delightful!) to take a character from level 1 all the way to 70 without ever running out of things to do.

Get Neverwinter from (Free with In-app Purchases)

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!