Neverwinter Open Beta

screenshot_2013-05-22-18-11-15I discovered that Neverwinter is available in what they’re calling an “open beta.” Rabid fans will tell you that you should only play if you are willing to test the game and that you should expect bugs, but in truth, this is not a beta in the software development sense. It’s beta in the Google sense. It’s live, and there will be no character wipe at the end of it.

When I first loaded up Neverwinter I was like: This is a joke, right? It’s a kid’s game! It looks like a cartoon in comparison to most of the recent MMOs I’ve played. It’s bright and colorful and cell-shaded.

But I pressed onward because the folks on the Gamers With Jobs podcast said it was worth checking out. They were unusually positive about it, actually.

Neverwinter is very action-oriented and uncomplicated to play. It defaults to mouselook behavior, and the left and right buttons perform your most-used actions (like Tera, if you’ve played that). It’s almost Diabo-like in its action, except that it’s in third-person instead of an isometric view.

Overall it’s a fun, no-stress, but it’s nowhere near the quality or complexity of games like Rift, GW2, and The Secret World, in my opinion. It’s also still missing features. Classes and races and skill trees are still “coming soon.”

Now for the bad part. Unfortunately, NW has two very large drawbacks which are going to hinder its long-term playability.

The first is that the class selection and replayability is rather limited. You get five class choices: 2 types of fighters, 1 wizard, 1 cleric, and 1 rogue. Basically that breaks down to 1 tank, 1 healer, 1 cc support, and 2 dps. There’s a “coming soon” class, so I assume more are forthcoming, but right now this is not a very alt-friendly game. Also, most of the classes play basically the same way: Hold down the left button, occasionally dodge, occasionally hold down the right button, occasionally hit another key. In fact, the traditional roles of tank and healer are fairly worthless in this game because tanks can’t hold aggro and healers draw too much aggro, so basically everyone needs to be able to tank, heal, and DPS all the time. In fact, the LFG tool makes no attempt to put a tank and healer in each group, it just makes groups willy-nilly, so you can have a 5 DPS going into a dungeon. (Personally I think it’s cool, but traditional MMO trinity players are going insane.)

The second problem is the blatant attempts to get you to spend cash. NW is a free-to-play game, but it’s one of the first mainstream games to *start* as f2p. Most other MMOs started with a subscription model and switched to f2p, with a cash shop for generally cosmetic items. NW, on the other hand, basically charges you to make the game less annoying while you play. It’s like it’s dangling carrots in front of your nose all the time, particularly for things that take time. It’s saying: “Your character needs to do this upgrade and it will take a long time, but if you spend 10,000 Astral Diamonds it will finish immediately.” It reminds one a lot of Facebook and iOS social games.

Technically, you *can* earn Astral Diamonds in the game by regular playing, but it’s a LOT easier to just buy them. You have to do “special” events to get a lot of AD, like dungeons and skirmishes, and there’s a limit on how much you can accumulate per day (I think it’s 24k). Unless, of course, you pay cash for Zen Currency, which you can exchange for Astral Diamonds at a (variable, user-controlled) exchange rate of about 1:400. Ie. you get 400 AD for 1 Zen. And you can buy 1000 Zen for $10, so if my math is right that basically means it costs $10 to get 400,000 AD, making cash payments *vastly* more efficient than gameplay.

Most of the haters on the forums will tell you Neverwinter is a “cash grab,” but I just see it as “the same free-to-play business model that’s been wildly successful since Zynga invented it.”

The bottom line is that you will likely want to buy one or more bags, and possibly a horse and companions. The founder’s pack will take care of the horse for all your characters, but not the bags. If you spend wisely, it will end up being about the same cost as a subscription game.

I’m generally okay with the “cash grab” concept, but there are several cases that annoy me.

The mildest annoyance is your inventory space. You start with one bag that’ll work through about level 10. Somewhere along the way you get another, smaller, bag as a quest reward. But as you pass level 20, you discover you don’t have nearly enough space, because you start getting tons and tons and tons of these “enchantment” and “rune” drops, which fill up your bags really quick. You get another small bag in another quest in the 30s, but again, it’s not nearly enough, and you’ll be wanting to buy a big ol’ Bag of Holding. Unfortunately, the only place to buy bags is in the Zen Marketplace, for which you have to pay real money. Technically, you *can* convert Astral Diamonds into Zen, but you would have to accumulate so many that it’s not worth the effort.

Another annoyance is companion training. Periodically you have to send your companions off for training to level them up, and each time it takes longer and longer (eg. up to 30 minutes or more). If you don’t want to be down that long, you can, of course, spend AD to complete the process instantaneously. It’s outrageously expensive, however, so you’ll have to go out of your way to earn that much AD from gameplay without getting out your credit card. Fortunately, you can survive without a companion. In fact, the companions I’ve had don’t really do that much. I’d say they are about 80% cosmetic.

I can deal with the bags and companions, but this next example is very annoying. You can attach enchantments to your gear to improve them, but if you make a mistake or want to upgrade one, you have to pay AD to remove them. Unlike identification scrolls, these removals cost quite a lot, and it gets more and more expensive the higher the level of gear. I blew half of my starting AD trying to upgrade enchantments. After that, I decided I would either not use enchantments at all or just overlay them without saving the old ones. The content is generally pretty easy anyway, so there’s no compelling need for the modest boosts you get from enchantments. And you get enchantments like candy falling from the sky, so it’s not hard to replace ones you lose.

But even *more* annoying than that is that you have to spend AD to re-spec your feats and powers. A lot of AD. I think you get one free re-spec if you buy the founder’s pack, but other than that, you’ll want to save up your AD for when you get to level 60.

I haven’t made up my mind about crafting yet. It’s an interesting system, but so far it seems kind of pointless. I’m level 48 with around rank 9 tailoring and I have yet to be able to craft a more useful item than regular drops. The main purpose of my crafting so far is to … level up my crafting.

So far the fun gameplay in Neverwinter still outweighs the obnoxious business model, but not by much. If I get a month of entertainment out of it, I suppose it will be worth it.

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