Here We Go
Neverwinter is now in “open beta” and I have been checking it out. Trying to make up my mind. My rogue is now level 30 and I’m kind of having great fun – and kind of loathing the shit out of the game.
It’s probably problematic to use the term “WoW-style MMO” since the World of Warcraft was itself a mashup of the MMOs that came before but since WoW is the most popular game of its type to date one tends to use it as the reference. In my optics a WoW-style MMO has the following traits:
World: Building a MMO on D&D as well as using the Forgotten Realms setting ensures that the game has all sorts of amazing material at its fingertips. Years and years of D&D players have made this world come alive and as such it’s a great thrill to meet known characters and monsters, to be able to create a character originating from an area you like and to collect bits of lore as you advance through the game.
Quests: The city of Neverwinter is beset by an evil necromancer. It’s D&D classic and you progress through the world as the hero of the day. Sorting out trouble and exploring the story (dare I say “plot” ?) of the game. The quests are linear and reasonably well planned. There’s very little frustration and I do like that you often enter little one man dungeons with mini-bosses and a lot more atmosphere than the open zones.
Character: There’s a reasonable amount of customisation in terms of looks available for your character to begin with and as you level up you start to feel like you are building something of your very own. Between gear, powers and feats there’s enough customization available to make most powergamers happy.
Combat: I do like the feeling of Neverwinters combat – it’s reasonably challenging (meaning that if you play well you get a feeling of accomplishment and if you fuck up you just end up losing time and resources) and makes you feel like you’re the hero. The few of combat is dynamic and you are rewarded for being clever and getting out of the way of special attacks as well as feeling like you can pass the offensive if you choose to. Getting off a well planned combo of abilities feels great. In groups tough there’s a tendency towards clusterfucks and frustration because you simply cannot see what’s going on or react to everything. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time you get put down or otherwise taken out of action due to numerous disabling abilities. Some bosses have enough health to keep your entire group occupied for way too long while not being challenging otherwise. I found myself in an eleven minute boss fight – steering my character around with one hand while sipping tea and cuddling my cat.
Crafting: Tolerable – which is more than you can say for most games. I see no way to use crafting to create gear that is useful while you level up since it takes a lot of time to complete even simple tasks. Once you are done you will have levelled up at least twice making the gear you were creating redundant. I often wonder why crafting has become such an important part of the “classic” MMO – more often than not it seems to be a source of frustration.
Teamwork: You have the opportunity to team up – of course – and create the classic adventuring party. So far my group experience has only consisted of running forwards as a group while dispatching monsters. Only when I hit level 30 was coordination an issue. As previously stated 5 players each with their own companion on top of 8-10 monsters can make for a confusing battlefield. The que system is more or less standard and you might end up with three rogues and two wizards – it’s pretty random.
As for the Foundry (player made adventures and quests) I can’t say much about it – played through a few scenarios that were halfway decent and a few that were just not worth the time. I guess time will tell on that one.
So all in all Neverwinter is not a bad game. There will always be things you like and dislike and specific mechanics that you can’t get the hang of (such as healing potions being the only option for regaining health) and in general I am always willing to forgive games for a lot of things but when it comes down to it I do not believe that Neverwinter will be anything but a passing blib on the radar – there simply is no ambition in it.
Now for the real rant:
Neverwinter is yet another game running under the Perfectworld umbrella. All of these games are free to play only they rely on microtransactions to pay for them and I am just not a fan of that business model.
The term “free to play” annoys me when a game is anything but that (especially when it’s promoted as “free” at every opportunity). While it might live up to the technical definition of the term – it’s free to install it and play it – it’s just not feasible to do so. At each and every turn the game is designed to make you want to pay for a little help here and a service there. When you die you are asked if you’d like to buy a chance to get back into the fight. If you want to respec there’s a price tag on that as well. Want to ride a cool horde? Want to have the best items? Want to play a race the “regular” people does not have access to? The argument that “you can just choose not to” doesn’t apply – the game might be free to play bit it’s not free to enjoy.
Even if you decide that the game is worth it and spend money it’s like being in a shop with an unbearably pushy salesperson constantly asking you if you’d like this or that but not helping out when you finally decide on a purchase. The currency system is hideously complicated and you constantly have to check if you have the right coin, the right seal, diamond or whatnot. The best example would be the “Nightmare Boxes” – chests that drop as loot at random and promises great rewards – if you buy the key to open them of course.
On top of that I find that there is an inherent paradox in creating a game and making it run as smoothly as possible and making purchases a necessity are not compatible goals. I was reminded of this when – after a failed boss encounter – I found myself suffering from an injury that made my character less effective. The game was kind enough to have provided some free “injury kits” to begin with but I have to wonder why this mechanic is there in the first place… and once you start wondering about these things there’s a thousand little issues that pop up and makes you realise how the game is not trying to be a streamlined experience. It’s interest is to place as many bumps in front of you as possible that you might want to buy your way out of. Equally frustrating is how getting good at playing the game becomes irrelevant when you can just buy the epic items and interesting mounts. It has been argued that not everyone has the time to engage in proper raiding which – granted – is a lot of work. But I really don’t see how making the rewards available for money and thus removing the motivation to be that one guy who killed the dragon and won the special price altogether is any kind of solution. As it happens I don’t think there was any motivation for solving the problem from the game developers in the first place.
I am not expecting a game for free. But it seems to me that free to play MMOs are becoming like the Facebook games: copy/paste entities with no other purpose than luring people into spending as much money as possible (on that note it saddens me to see how Star Trek Online has ended up in the Perfectworld fold). These are simply not the kind of games we need and as such my conclusion on Neverwinter is a harsh one. While the game is in itself not a terrible MMO I find that it has no ambition as a game, that it is working against the very people playing it in order to make purchases necessary and that it’s business model is unethical and detrimental to games as a whole.
…and hey – we can sell stuff and still call it a beta, right? It’s not like there’s rules or anything.