Game Name: Neverwinter
Players: Solo (MMO though)
Retail Price: Free to play
Category: Fantasy MMORPG
Not being one of the millions of people enamored by massive multiplayer online games I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time in front of my computer invested in the goings on of fantasy or science fiction realms alongside tons of other players. This isn’t to say I have anything against the MMORPG genre, or the people who play them, but simply don’t “get” the games for the most part; spending countless hours grinding away to find particular elements to complete quests or craft items isn’t my bag of tricks.
I have given some of the popular titles a try over the years simply because I thought there just has to be something to the genre that maybe I just wasn’t getting. Along with a few other releases I World of Warcraft for a couple of months – which left me completely indifferent to the game – and even ran a character up to level 40 in Perfect World. In the end I realized my enjoyment and, more importantly, my progress in these games was always tied to having to play with other people. Obviously I love to sit down at the table with a bunch of folks and tackle a game or three in an evening so it isn’t as if I don’t like a crowd but the MMORPG experience is quite a different animal altogether. I like to feel as if I’m accomplishing something with my time and, with many of the MMORPGs, once you hit a certain point of your character progression, if you aren’t part of a team you can’t advance past certain quests leaving you to while away the hours grinding.
Over the past few years many established MMORPGs have abandoned the monthly fees to go to what is known as a free to play model. That is, there’s no upfront charge for the game but micro-transactions within the game make up the revenues. You’d like a speedy mount to traverse the landscape? That’ll be $20. Want to guarantee those enchantments you collected bind to your magic sword you’ve crafted? That’ll be $3. The reality is there are almost as many ways to “pay to win” as there are ways to play. I don’t have an issue with the business model because the game is free to play in the first place and the players themselves determine how important it is to have the speedy mount or special weapon. When I have an issue is when you hit a ceiling where you can’t realistically move forward without shelling over cash left and right.
As I mentioned I’d played Perfect World and, while certainly not perfect – no pun intended, I did enjoy myself enough with the title that I continued through forty-some levels until reaching a ceiling where my advancement depended upon trying to find the right combination of fellow players at a given moment to progress through required quests in order to level up. It wasn’t as if I had an adversity to playing with other folks but simply the fact it was damn near impossible to get people to team up to assist you for the quest. Or, if you did, hoping they wouldn’t disband the group once the quest was complete and they got what they were looking for but you hadn’t completed what you needed to do for the system to log the quest completed.
Regardless of my previous experiences with MMORPGs, when I heard Perfect World and Cryptic Studios were teaming up for a new D&D title – focusing around the city of Neverwinter – I figured I’d give it a shot and get into the open beta. As opposed to other reviews you may stumble across based upon a few days of playing, or hitting something like level six, I’ve invested enough time in the (a level 57 Devoted Cleric as I write) to have a solid handle of what you’ll find in the game since it went public last week. So without further ado I’d like to present my thoughts in three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Indifferent.
Graphics – While nothing in Neverwinter is going to knock your eyes out of their sockets, the graphics are still good enough where you won’t be rubbing your peepers in awful disbelief. The character models in Neverwinter toe the line of the middle ground; not overly cartoony or anime inspired as in other games but not shooting for more gritty realism, with a darker color palette, like the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online. The environmental effects are nicely done and you’ll even find some areas which are quite stunning. Spell effects are sharp and each character class has some special moves which look great too. Keep in mind though this is a free to play game so don’t expect all the bells and whistles of a pay title.
Getting Started – Within a few minutes you can jump in and get to playing. Character creation is brief – although you can invest time to painstakingly determine the exact width of your character’s waist – and after about ten minutes of selecting your race, class, *ahem* dice rolls, powers, and background you’ll enter the world of Neverwinter.
Combat Implementation – Combat is fairly easy as you’ll use the mouse to select targets while using the left and right mouse buttons for your “at-will” attacks. Other less frequently available, yet more powerful, attacks and abilities are bound to keys on your keyboard. You won’t have to hit the Tab key to cycle through targets or anything of the like but simply point the mouse and click away (or hold down a mouse button to continually repeat that action). The action is pretty fast and furious so I’m sure people will dig this aspect of the game.
Soloing – At least to this point – only three levels from the max level 60 – I haven’t run across anything my Devoted Cleric couldn’t handle without my trusty companion. I think this is an important aspect as there are quite a lot of folks who love playing digital roleplaying games who might not be up for the usual MMORPG take; me for an example? Granted, leveling up might take a little longer if you go it alone but it can be done. I was very pleased to see everything in the player vs environment aspect of the game can be completed solo so there wouldn’t be a ceiling I’d hit which would bring the proceedings to a screeching halt. This isn’t to say Neverwinter is a cakewalk for those going it alone but even the toughest bosses can be dispatched. It just may take a few attempts to bring the baddie down.
Companions – In order to provide solo players the ability to make it through the PvE alone along come the companions to aid you in your quests. The basic companions are available to everyone at a certain point and it’s not as if you’re shackled with a particular type based on your class. You’ll see Control Wizards with Cleric companions or Great Weapon Fighters with dogs but each class does have a particular companion or two which would be the best fit. I will mention the companions don’t have a wide range of options other than attacking, protecting, or staying put but having them along for the ride helps a lot while also making you feel a bit less lonely.
Adventures – There’s enough variety in the quests you’ll take on where it isn’t simply always killing monsters to collect X number of items. Granted, that’s exactly the sort of quests you will have from time to time but there’s plenty of other things to do although you do find almost all the adventures do entail collecting something of finding so many of a particular thing to interact with. Thankfully the combat is fun and you’ll encounter plenty of different foes with various attacks to keep things relatively fresh as far as how they attack you and how you tackle them.
The Foundry – An interesting aspect of Neverwinter is the player created content. These are adventures outside the normal questing system which players can experience for additional experience and rewards. To date the Foundry missions can be a bit of a mixed bag although there are some really interesting quests and, since a lot found in the core game is also available to designers, there’s plenty to experience. As long as creators keep pushing the envelope the Foundry could be one of the main reasons people continue to play Neverwinter long after the main end game.
Zen Market – While it should go without saying, all free to play MMORPGs need some way to keep the lights on. Some online games can become nearly unplayable, or extremely limiting, until players start shelling out hard earned cash to purchase upgrades to equipment for their characters. Additional cosmetic improvements, to make your avatar stand out from thousands of other characters, also sets players back a few bucks. Where Neverwinter stumbles is their skewed pricing system. Most of the rare items such as mounts, mid-level companions, and such are extremely overpriced. Just prior to the public launch the prices on some items in the Zen Cash Shop were dropped but they still seem very high.
Currency – There are five forms of currency involved in Neverwinter: Coins, Bars, Astral Diamonds, Glory, and Zen. As you progress through the game the coinage you’ll receive from defeated enemies will be copper. Even as a level 57 Cleric most of the mobs you face are still dropping fifty or sixty copper coins and throughout your adventuring you’ll find you’ve collected thousands of copper coins. Copper converts to silver which, in turn, converts to gold. Even after all the hours of playing the game my grand total in gold haul is probably in the vicinity of 40 gold pieces after conversion.
You’ll find some items are purchased only with coins; Glory points earned through player vs player; Astral Diamonds gained as rewards for completing additional Foundry missions, Skirmishes, crafting, and daily invocations to your gods; bars which are found in Nightmare Boxes; Zen bought with cold hard cash. This makes for an extremely convoluted economic system as players try to figure out what they need to purchase various higher level items and you start to feel pushed to spending money on the game.