Sunday, May 05, 2013

Neverwinter First Impressions

Cryptic and Perfect World's latest Free-To-Play MMO, Neverwinter, recently had its soft launch. I gave it a whirl, and here are some impressions.

Mechanics

Neverwinter is billed as a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game. It uses a lot of the 4E Forgotten Realms setting. However, mechanics-wise, it is not a conversion of the 4E rules. It would be better to say it is "inspired by 4E". A lot of the mechanics have a nod to the pen and paper game, but are really more standard MMO mechanics.

It actually feels a lot like a third-person Diablo game. You have two "at-will" abilities bound to the left and right mouse buttons. Then there are up to three "encounter" abilities with 10-20 second cooldowns. Finally, you have a "daily" special which can only be used when you've built up enough action points. Targetting is reticule-based, where you aim with the mouse and move with WASD. There's also some dodging mechanics.

On the whole, the base mechanics are pretty fun, and work decently enough.

Character Creation

It's odd, but I've noticed that if a game uses sliders to control character creation, I have a hard time making an attractive character. Perhaps I can recognize an attractive character when I see it, but I can't really identify the specific elements that make that character attractive.

Neverwinter falls into that trap for me. Lots of sliders and options, but I had a really hard time making a character that I was happy with.

There are several D&D races, including humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, half-orcs, halflings, and tieflings. There are also Drow (dark elves) but I think you have to buy them.

There are some nice RP-ish elements where you pick a background and a god that you worship. I made a half-elf cleric of Torm the True, who was a former Purple Dragon from Cormyr.

Finally, let me reiterate my love for Cryptic's naming convention of "characterName@accountName", where the character name is what is displayed most of the time. It is so nice to be able to name your characters whatever you want, rather than fighting "That name is already taken" errors.

Classes

There are five classes so far: Guardian Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter, Devout Cleric, Trickster Rogue, and Control Wizard. I find the classes to be very hit-and-miss. I like the Devout Cleric and the Trickster Rogue, but the others just felt awkward to me.

The cleric is pretty interesting. It's very support-based, and uses debuffs on enemies as well as reticule targeting to heal. You still do a fair bit of damage-dealing while healing.

Monetization

Neverwinter is a Free-To-Play game. The monetization scheme is a bit interesting. There are three currencies: gold, astral diamonds, and zen. Gold is what we all know and love. Zen is currency that you purchase with real money. Astral Diamonds are an in-between currency. You can purchase diamonds with zen, or you can earn them at a slow-ish rate. Most non-basic items in the game seem to cost diamonds.

To make an analogy, it's as if you could buy Valor points in WoW with real money.  You can still earn them normally, but the standard weekly cap applies. However, you can ignore the cap if you use real money.

In general, there seems to be a pretty explicit trade of money for time. I don't know if you would consider this pay-to-win. If something takes 6 months of real-time to earn, but you can skip those six months with real money, is that over the line?

Questing and the Foundry

The default questing is pretty standard MMO questing. There are a lot more dungeons in the game, and they have traps and levers and all those fun elements.

However, the Foundry is the most intriguing aspect. Players can make their own adventures, and release them for everyone to try. These adventures automatically scale to your level. Treasure and experience are handled by the game, so you can't write an adventure that consists of 100 treasure chests. Of course, people have made adventures which are designed to maximize the efficiency of leveling.

I've played one Foundry adventure, that seemed to be rated highly. In the adventure, you were tracking down someone and some mysterious cultists interfered. It was a pretty decent adventure, and the author tried to make a good non-combat encounter where you had to talk to people at an inn and figure out which room you needed to enter. The author provided a couple different options of how you could finish this encounter.

I wouldn't say that it was amazing. It was very verbose, and the author wrote with a lot of unnecessary verbiage. As well, the author made the mistake of telling you how your character felt and reacted, instead of just describing the world. Ironically, more than anything else, this felt like D&D to me, with a decent but not-great DM.

The other neat thing about the Foundry is that at the end of the adventure, you can review it, and you can tip the author some Astral Diamonds if you want. Writing a popular adventure might turn out to be pretty lucrative.

Conclusions

On the whole, I would say that Neverwinter is a B-grade MMO. The game looks decent enough. The character models aren't the best. Classes are hit and miss. The mechanics are decent enough, but nothing amazing. The UI is a bit cluttered. It just doesn't have that layer of polish that you expect from the top tier of MMOs. As well, the monetization scheme has the potential to be very annoying.

However, the Foundry is the wild card here. The Foundry has vast potential. But it remains to be seen if that potential will be realized.

8 comments:

Helistar said...

Many things remind me of Star Trek Online, the name@account and the Foundry and the 3-tier currency (zen/dilithium/credits). On STO the Foundry is quite limited, and it's only by extreme abuse that some authors managed to create some really nice missions.

RJ said...

There are several D&D races, including humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, half-orcs, halflings, and tieflings. There are also Drow (dark elves) but I think you have to buy them.

Drow are a time-exclusive unlock for Founders. There'll be a "normal" Drow race available for everyone in a few months, but the Drizzt version will remain for Founders (for now).

To make an analogy, it's as if you could buy Valor points in WoW with real money. You can still earn them normally, but the standard weekly cap applies. However, you can ignore the cap if you use real money.

To be more accurate, it's as if you could use real money to buy someone else's Valor points. The diamond exchange is a system where players who have zen, but want diamonds can exchange them with other players who have diamonds, but want zen. Cryptic has no control over the market, beyond setting limits on how much and how little a player can offer in exchange.

The system only works because there's people on both ends. And I think it's really great; it does a good job at striking a balance between the idea of being able to earn everything in-game, while still offering the same things on a cash shop.

The diamond system, like dilithium in STO, also allows them to explicitly control the idea of time->purchase. Since there's a limit on how many diamonds you can get a day, there's a very direct relationship between the cost of an item and the time investment required to get it. And by direct relation, the value of time-to-currency. It's like a combination of the Valor caps and EVE's PLEX.


The Foundry is also a great thing. Cryptic has had problems with it over all their games, but when it is not being abused it has the potential for some really amazing things. It's also been great that Cryptic has been very active in promoting well done Foundry missions, in both STO and Neverwinter. If STO is any indication, they'll continue to support the Foundry a lot, if nothing else then because it's an almost never-ending pool of content that players are making for them.


@Helistar: To be fair, STO and Neverwinter are both made by Cryptic, so the similarities are pretty intentional.

Rohan said...

@RJ, that's interesting. I missed the part with the zen/diamond exchange. I thought it was a straightforward purchase.

Heh, I'm only level 12 at the moment. I earned 1000 diamonds by participating in a skirmish at the right time, and then gave 50 as a tip to the author of the scenario I played. That's the extent of my involvement with the diamond market so far.

RJ said...

Yeah, after L10 you can get a lot of diamonds from dailies (1000 for Skirmish, Foundry, PvP, 3000 for Dungeon. These go up as you increase in level, as well; at around L30 you get 2000 each for the Skirmish/Foundry/PvP dailies, but it requires you to do 2 of them), and there's bonus diamonds for doing the Skirmish during it's bonus hour. There's probably more ways to get them once you hit max level, which is the way STO handles it's similar mechanic.

But as my dailies currently stand, I can get 9000 out of the 24k daily diamond cap just on the dailies, and you can probably run 3 or 4 Skirmishes during the bonus hour. I imagine that when I hit max level these dailies will be able to cover at least half the daily limit.


Some friends and I have been really enjoying the game so far, though some classes have a few serious problems in some situations.

Great Weapon Fighter, for example, seems to be really hard to play until you get to L30, because it doesn't deal quite enough damage (but will probably get all the last-hits due to it's AoEs), and can't take enough damage. Once it gets it's Paragon tier stuff, though, it apparently picks up steam quickly. If it's tab ability charged faster and drained slower, it'd probably go a long way towards making it's early levels more manageable.

One of my friends rolled a cleric, and has problems doing ANYTHING alone. He'll probably have a lot better time soloing after L16, when the game gives you your first companion, but getting up to that point can be really rough. We've been helping him level that character since we made a set of characters for group play, but we have more then 5 people, so sometimes he's not able to play along with us and needs to catch up.

I have a wizard as my primary character for the moment, and after a time where I could SEE it's mechanics, but I wasn't really grasping them well, I finally unlocked it's daily power where you summon a black hole, and started using the Shield spell, and suddenly the class just clicked for me. It's really a class focused around the idea of using CCs to hold your foes in the range of your AoE attacks.

Rohan said...

Really? I find the Cleric very good for soloing. It's a bit slow, but relentless.

The key I found was realizing that the level 5 Encounter HoT you get doesn't require a friendly target, despite the description. You can cast it and get the self-HoT any time.

Then if you make sure to keep the HoT on you always, most content is a lot easier.

asmiroth said...

The game for all classes changes once you get companions. A tank companion is truly something to see.

I personally like the simplistic take on combat, similar to DCUO. That game suffered from horrible UI, otherwise I would have stuck around. I am extremely surprised that Cryptic could launch at this level of polish - admittedly less than triple A. Still, it's not being sold at that level either.

Sol said...

One thing that you really notice as you get up levels as a Cleric is your "ability" that reduces heals on yourself by 40%. I presume it is a balance factor to offset the fact that the heals affect the cleric on the side, but it means as you get up levels you really notice how inadequate they are.

If you want to help out low level friends, note that you can buy companions for them - the quest may come at level 16, but they are available at any level if you have them (2G for the basic companions).

The worst thing about the Foundry is trying to find interesting things to solo, when all the group XP grind quests are so high rated. I actually did that Foundry quest you mentioned and would agree with your comments. It was probably one of the better solo ones.

Darraxus said...

I had not heard anything about this game, and have been very down on WoW recently, so I may give this a shot. Sounds like fun, and the Foundry sounds like potentially the best part.