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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

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

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.

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

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

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

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.

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

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

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

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

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

The apologetic announcement and compensation have not completely appeased irate Xbox One players. The announcement thread (opens in new tab) 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.

neverwinter Underdark Xbox One

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 Xbox.com (Free with In-app Purchases) (opens in new tab)

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!

45 Comments
  • I was thinking about trying out this game...
  • If you like MMORPGs, it's fine. It's definitely missing depth and functionality of a game like WoW, but it's got plenty to do.
  • Go for Elder Scrolls Online
  • I haven't got to this game yet. I hope for your sake the controversy is fixed or not fixed. Eitherway Paul you can write about it again :D ;) 
  • To the author, game is fun but controversy sucks
  • Gotta make money somehow with ftp.
  • http is better.
  • https :)
  • Is this the first time the PC and Xbox updates have been different from each other? This is something they should have been more upfront about, but it seems like something that only effects the hardcore players.
  •   Tried this game on PC, wasn't thrilled.  Tried on Xbox one and liked it, but never got around to playing it.  Spent about 6 ours in game the other day, had a bit of fun but I tell you one thing I absolutely detest about it is how many curriencies there are.    
  • There's a lot to learn early on, but you'll naturally pick things up like the differences between currencies as you level up and make your way through the game. It's worth the time investment.
  • This is why I generally dislike online or computerized RPGs. It causes focus and obsessions on non-RPG elements.
  • Just go outside and turn the GAME off , everything will be ok, can't see how a game can cause real life "controversy" , that word should be reserved for reality. 
  • if you had a hobby and then someone pretty much ruined it, you would be upset as well. plus, it's still real in that something people enjoyed and something they were doing was messed up. just because you don't like the same thing somebody else does, does *not* mean its ok for you to be condescending. you've just belittled a past time that lots of people enjoyed. i don't play neverwinter, but i'm not going to make fun of someone who does. i can also be sympathetic that something may have been ruined for them by the company performing a money grab. i'm sure someone doesn't think much of whatever past time you may enjoy, but it doesn't make it any more or less important than someone else's.
  •   I use to play Ultima Online , spent plenty of hours playing it and watching it be ruined. So I know how the online world works and once thy ruined it I found a new "hobby" and it wasn't controversial to watch them ruin it. It's a game it has no bearing on anyone's life at the end of the day.   
  • Controversy: disagreement, typically when prolonged, public, and heated. If someone took away something I spent years on, it'd bother me. You do that to a lot of people and a lot of people are bothered. I fail to see how you don't understand this. What definition are you using in regards to having "bearing" on one's life? Oh you spent hundreds of hours to achieve something? well, we're going to take it away. How is that not something to be upset about? Any sort of achievement or goal is still an achievement or goal. It doesn't matter where it takes place. Try to take away a football player's superbowl ring and see what kind of fight you'll get from them. What part don't you get?
  • The part where I said it's just a game! If your power goes out or the game is canceled tomorrow ultimately your life will not change. I'm sure your life will not change, controversy is something that changed a persons life. Just like you said a real life Super Bowl ring , that is real that would be controversy because it's REAL, a game is not 
  • An achievement or goal is something that effects real life or has an outcome on real life. Nobody cares what your high score on a video game is as much as you want that to be true , nobody cares what level you can obtain. Sorry but it's true. No employer ever asks you how good you are at never winter nights and how did the controversy upset your life
  • Jerhomey go home your drunk.
  • I wish i was , be more fun then arguing with people over a game and it would make more sense 
  • i quoted the definition of controversy on purpose. nowhere does it say life changing. and no, losing a super bowl ring does *not* change your life because guess what, football is just a game and that is just a small metal ring. i'm sure you can get a replica online if you'd like. that metal has no intrinsic value. you're giving value to something because *you* give it value. just because *you* give it value doesn't mean someone else does. and just because you might not doesn't mean someone else doesn't as well. i'm surprised you still don't get it. if you lose a ring, your life doesn't change.   edit: fixed typo that changed a sentence so it clarified my meaning.
  • This is probably the worst part of it: "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." Is that to say that upgrading a single Enchantment can run $100+ in in-game money? That's absurd beyond all reason, given you're talking probably 10 or so Enchantements on an entire gear set. Can it really run $500+, even north of $1,000, to max out a high-end set of gear? I didn't even really think abotu the even cancelation myself. However, now that it's brought up, it's very frustrating. Instead of sitting at roughly 12 levels gained over the weekend, I could have had 20+ of them. That kind of sucks. I'm still more bothered by their bad server stabiliy, though. I'm still enjoying the game, but given my general disdain for these kinds of pricing models, Perfect World's tactics here are pretty awful. The apology's totally meaningless to me, because I don't accept "oh, we forgot" from a major business when the end result was a setup to rake in more money. They planned to make the process more expensive, and they forgot to tell everyone? Gifting Wards and Rubies is a Band-Aid that addresses little. Sure, people NOW got Wards, but they didn't address the root of the problem, meaning they leave that high-dollar upgrade path set up to rake in dough long-term. People are mad at the actions, and they're not changing them. Are they making that change for PC as well? I didn't see that mentioned. IF Trade Bards are still a viable Ward currency over there, then they're just basically saying console players are suckers who will shovel money for instant gratification. I guess. It's all a weird, badly explained mess for PWE.
  • I miss the days when we could pay upfront for the game and enjoy it fully.
  • MMOs were never the appropriate genre for that payment model. Even games like Guild Wars 2 still require players to purchase expansions.
  • I have to disagree, Paul. I happily pay a small monthly fee to play some MMO games because I think they are worth the money; however, I will never play a F2P MMO because of how they nickel and dime you to death for everything. I think it's a waste of time when I could be playing something better.
  • Nicely written! I hope PWE return coal ward to trade bar merchant, 1000zen each is just too much for the upgrade.
  • I really need to hop back onto neverwinter, as a casual them changes don't effect me but I can understand from a hardcore player view
  • So the exploiters got burned. Bummer! Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • how were they exploiting? nothing they did exploited *anything*. something that could be grinded now costs real money and not small amounts either. from what i've read, to upgrade an entire set will now cost $500-$1000 in real money and there's zero way around it. that's a ridiculous jump in price that PC gamers don't have to pay.
  • Cool thing about this game is that you can farm enough diamonds to get free Zen/VIP. I got a month of free VIP after two days of farming diamonds and selling items.
  • How do u farm for Ad I been asking people on the game but no response
  • Sorry for that didn't know what I was doing
  • Nice article Paul! I have about 1000 of the trade bars and was looking to go on a buying spree for the wards. Although I'm a little disappointed with the last minute changes, my enjoyment of the game doesn't hinge on the high-level enchantments. It'll all happen in time. Usually the gamers that aren't really patient are the ones that pay for the zen. In my case, I enjoy just logging in and playing some each evening so the process is okay with me. I hope that Perfect World can find a good balance between making money and making a fun game.
  • There are a few things you missed. 
    And players with 200+ Trade Bars received a free Coalescent Ward for every 200 Trade Bars in their inventories.
    Up to 10. No more. Some players had as many as 30,000 bars. They got 10. The same as someone with 2000.  There is also evidently a problem with moving trade bars through the bank from one character to another. Moving over 10,000 causes anything over 10,000 to be lost. They have told one person who reportedly tried to move 16,000 that they cant track the 6000 he lost. I posted a long detailed explanation of how as a programmer I find this incredibly suspicious and that post is now gone. Long and short, if you have a programmer on staff ask them what variable type rolls off at 10,001.  Yes, they are continuing to remove posts that do not violate their forums TOS. Other wise that thread would be much longer.  The reason this stop gap isnt acceptable can be summed up in one of my posts there. 
    By my estimate to fully level my main characters items to mythic (now mind you my items score is already around 2930) and all the stones mounted in them will take at least 13 wards to advance my items to mythic and 17*3 for the enchantment stones. This is not counting the stones on my companion which is another 9 + 18 so all said 91 wards. Do you think I am that eager to give you another $910? If you do its obvious you need to get some fresh air because obviously your judgement is impaired.  I can imagine what you must be dreaming about when you think of someone buying blood rubies to upgrade a level 46 weapon to 60. Over $400 in just blood rubies, not to mention the marks. Is that maybe how you folks think about it? "Oh hell they just spend over $400 for the rubies they wont miss another $10 for a Coalescent ward!" Oh, they cant afford cash, fine let them earn AD and buy it in the auction house, that will only take abut 4,972,800 AD just for the rubies. Assuming you guys don't make all rubies bind to character one day. Don't bother to tell us you wont, why would we believe anything you say? Back to our math. On a good day I can pull about 60k AD so at that rate it will only take me 82 DAYS grinding to afford enough rubies to level that ONE weapon. 
    I have more than one character.. So the above says a lot.  The reason they did this can be summarized by some pre-underdark math. In a nutshell they were about to tank their Zen/AD exchange by posting the Rubies and Coalescent wards, it would have given Zen a new value of 1/100 zen/ad. Typically the exchange before underdark was 1/140-180, I cant comment now how much the difference is as I have not logged in. They saw they were wabout to devalue their purchasable in game currency and paniced. In the course of that freakout they decided to shaft everyone.   
  • "if you have a programmer on staff ask them what variable type rolls off at 10,001." One that is backed by a database field with a max value constraint. It wouldn't be caused by a data type running out of bits, but by poor handling of a validation error.  It could happen without necessarily intentionally screwing over the player. That said, Neverwinter screws its players in plenty of other ways.  IMO.
  • i hoped for a doubel xp event cause i would liek to get out of low levels, maybe they will bring them back.
  • When windows 10 for phone official is rolling out in India??
  • Lol
  • "Casual players [are] not the ones who typically spend money on free-to-play games. Hardcore players...are the ones who spend real money on free-to-play games." Are you sure this is true?  I mean it sounds right on the surface, but I'm not convinced.  There is pleny of money spent on cosmetics, mounts, pets, etc.  As an anectodal example, my family and I played Lord of the Rings Online for a long time.  In spite of how long we played, I never got a single character to level 60, let alone the cap of 80 or 90 or whatever it is/was.  I once added up how much the four of us spent on that game, and it came to something like $800.  I realize that's just one anecdotal data point, but it seems like casual players are just as likely to dish out cash as the hard-core. Incidentally, part of why I quit Neverwinter is because the game got worse and worse for casual players.  You level much too quickly, they made it hard to gather impromptu groups for dungeons, and they set up game mechanics that assume players just want to hit 70 as quickly as possible.  You don't get time to master your class before you hit 70, especially if you spend time crafting or praying, which is a double wammy because most end-game players are complete jerks to anyone who plays like, well, like a casual player.  So you miss most of the content, much of the content you do see you don't get to enjoy to its fullest, and once you're at the level cap you're stuck with people you don't want to play with.
  • There's no hard and fast rule that says people who don't spend a lot of time with a game won't spend money on it and vice versa. But statistically, it's the long-term players who are far more likely to do so. Sorry to hear your Neverwinter experience wasn't great. The time to reaching level 70 is so great that you'd really have to be not paying attention to not understand your class well by then. Leveling fast at low levels does indeed outlevel you for Skirmish queues, which is a shame. But otherwise, you gain access to more and more content as your level rises. You could also join a guild (such as ours) in order to access a base of friendly players who are willing to help you out when you need it, Having been guild-focused from the outset, I've had nothing but good times with Neverwinter to date. It certainly helps playing with friends and cool people. :)
  • Guilds rarely work well for casual players.  As I'm sure you know, many guilds boot players that don't raid often enough.  Casual guilds, on the other hand, have trouble keeping enough players online to get any benefit. Playing solo and playing in a group is a completely different experience, and a different set of responsibilities/skills.  That's the issue casual players often have with learning their class.  Last fall they made some changes that made it really hard to get impromptu groups together for instances, and several dungeons that used to require groups were dumbed down so they could be soloed, or removed entirely.  You can be paying attention just fine but not learn how to play in a group if, well, you're never in a group.  And no, skirmishes don't count because you really don't have to play your role.  Those are basically a big free-for-all. Leveling may open up more content, but only one or two regions at a time is targeted for any given level.  You level so fast that you can't complete a region without being way overleveled for the end-region quest by the time you finish the region, and most of what opened up in the meantime is already too low level for your character. Non-fighting activites give way too much XP.  I leveled one character 5 times during a double XP week, just by praying in the middle of town.  I didn't want to level because it was a 2nd character that I created just so I could go through some regions I missed with my first (because he leveled too fast).  But if I didn't pray I'd lose my coins (I'm glad they got rid of the "pray or lose it" mechanic).  I didn't even do crafting that week, but still leveled nearly once a day by just standing in the middle of town and pressing one button.
  • Hey Paul, you should read rahlquist's post, up a bit. Also, I wouldn't say at all that only hardcore players need those wards. A high gear score(2500+) is needed to participate in much of the endgame content, and you aren't getting that by playing casually. Also, where's muh tip credit!!! lol.
  • <Accidental double post>
  • I was going to join the Windows Central Guild but then I got hooked on Smite and I haven't been back since. The games have a few similarities between the