Neverwinter nights is a game that I have been watching off and on since I first heard it announced. It has kinda just existed out there in the ether, as something I knew was on the horizon, but not necessarily something that I was overly hyped with. I think to some extent, a part of me has decided that while Dungeons and Dragons is an amazing pen and paper game system… that something is lost in translation when it is “mmo-ified”.
I missed out on getting my invite to beta testing through the Torchlight II preorder program. So when they started offering the various flavors of founders packs I decided that I would go ahead and pick up the $60 Guardian of Neverwinter pack. At the time I felt like a bit of a sucker, but at least it was nowhere near the “I want to play as Drizzt” pack for $200. Since god is cruel, I had a friend offer me an alpha invite a few weeks later.
Alpha, Beta and Pre-Release
Firstly let me take this moment to complain a little bit about how absolutely silly it is to be inviting players to an “Alpha” when there are some pretty public “Beta” events going on. I could almost see calling something an Alpha, if it was an always on “test our broke shit” version of the game. However for the most part the Alpha server was sitting at the exact same version as the public beta weekends. But semantics aside, it did let me play a lot of this game prior to the current wind up to the public free to play release.
The game is this weird dichotomy. It is enjoyable, and does a much better version of “making D&D fun as a video game” than Dungeons and Dragons Online did. Being an “Action MMO”, it does a really good job of giving you the abilities that you actually need at your fingertips without having to stray too far off the WASD. Your primary and secondary attacks are bound to your left and right mouse buttons. Your key class special abilities are bound to Q and E with looting/interaction bound to F.
Essentially this makes combat feel extremely fluid as you aren’t really having to think much about the abilities you are hitting. As always I have been playing the “Tank” character, in the Guardian Warrior. Shift becomes your way to block incoming attacks and reduce your damage. Playing the character, feels a lot like playing a WoW Warrior with much more predictable and intuitive combat. I still ping pong around the map like I do in WoW or Rift, but I am also swinging my sword instead of watching ability timers.
Savior of Sleeping Dragon Bridge
The storyline is very much what you would expect from a Neverwinter game. Some big bad person is trying to lay waste to the city, and all of the internal factions are fighting over the rubble. This has been pretty much the base storyline of every Neverwinter game so far save for maybe the AOL original… quite honestly I can’t remember much about that game rather than being amazed I could play it online! The questing system works extremely well, you use your interact key to talk to NPCs, open boxes, flip levers and generally move through the process. All of the NPCs are voiced, and while the dialog comes off as stilted at times it is definitely better than most free to play titles.
One off the things I really like is just how streamlined the questing is, and how you do not have to use your mouse at all of you do not want to. To interact with an NPC, you hold the F key, then every option on the screen has a clearly labeled number associated with it. If you REALLY want to skip through the dialog, most of the times you can just press 1, 1, 1, 1 until you are out of the options. Another thing I kinda dig is the fact that the speech continues even if you are out of range with the NPC. I know that might sound a little odd, but you can accept a quest and move along your way and still be listening to the quest intro.
Cash Box Rising
I’ve played roughly as far as I have gotten during testing. I’ve put in a couple of hours playing the Guardian, and now sit at level 10. It was about level 9 when my old foe raised its ugly head. For those who are not familiar with the term “Cash Box”, it essentially a way of gambling in an MMO. You are given a box in lieu of loot that cannot be opened unless you purchase a special key from the in game store. This concept is massively popular in the various Asian Free to Play MMOs, and with Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR has been invading the more mainstream MMOs.
They can be pretty banal like the three free game tickets you get a month in Everquest 2, to extremely heinous like the hundreds and hundreds of items that can only be gotten through the 5 and 10 dollar cash boxes in SWTOR. Overall I have to say the ones in Neverwinter seem to be some of the most equitable. They do something that I first saw in EQ2, essentially every box contains an amount of currency, in this case Tarmalune bars. This currency can be then saved up and turned in to buy outright the various items contained in the box including the signature Armored Nightmare mount.
You can purchase one of the keys for 125 Zen, which appears to be the universal currency for all Perfect World games. However it was super unclear exactly what one of these keys cost me in actual money. Neverwinter has a dual currency system, that I do not fully understand, but essentially you have Zen the Perfect World universal currency and Astral Diamonds which appears to be a game specific currency. After looking up conversion rates, it appears that 1 Zen directly equals 1 Cent. So the 125 Zen key is $1.25, which places it considerably cheaper than the loot boxes from Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, and I believe LOTRO as well.
It seems like you can purchase the cash boxes themselves from the Astral Diamond vendor for 200 diamonds. There appears to be some sort of exchange rate letting you trade Diamonds for Zen and Zen for Diamonds. But honestly I suck at markets in general and have not been able to figure this one out. From what I understand, the Astral Diamonds are essentially the same thing as Dilithium is in Star Trek Online, so potentially the folks that play that will immediately “grok” what all this means. Needless to say I find the whole process extremely confusing, and I have 600,000 Astral Diamonds that came with the starter pack that I have no clue what I can actually do with them.
The Drizzt Tax
Today was really the true head start for the game. Sure the folks that played the “Drizzt Tax” have been able to play for some time now, and I promise I am not trying to be excessively cute because if you look at the above image.. we have a Drizzt sighting already. So far the servers are doing fairly well for the increased load. I’ve rolled on the Mindflayer server, because seriously… Ithilids are hands down the coolest thing to ever come out of the D&D Monsters Manual. While there are pockets of lag and rubber banding (classic cryptic network code issue), it has been fairly stable.
I’ve not experienced any rollback, or loot issues and for the most part I have been able to quest my way through the game smoothly. This was definitely not the case at times in alpha/beta testing, so it appears they have reworked whatever was causing the instabilities. My only fear is that since we are already seeing lag and rubber banding before the official launch, will it actually be playable on the 30th? I am hoping they have ordered up additional hardware for the launch that will stabilize some of these issues.
The Not so Shining
This will not be one of my “Best Game Ever” posts as Kadomi likes to call them, but all in all the game is not bad. There are definitely some less than stellar moments with the game. The graphics overall are nothing to write home about. The models while a massive upgrade from the WoW generation, still fall down when compared to the current crop of MMOs. This gives the game an almost retro feel at times, and there are certain moments where it reminds me of Lord of the Rings Online. There are definitely moments where the game looks great, but most of those moments are deeply augmented by a lot of post-fx and bloom going on behind the scenes.
The biggest issues I have noticed so far however are with the sound system. There will be times where I go through an entire fight without hearing any fight sound effects. Other times they will come through far louder than they should, and slightly offset from the action. I’ve also experienced dead spots in the ambient soundtrack that seem to come and go without explanation. Hopefully these are lag caused, and over time they will go away, but they can lead to a fairly disjointed experience at times. They are nothing that cannot be looked past, but definitely not what I expect from a game that went through as long of a alpha/beta process as this one has.
Was it Worth It?
So since I have paid 60 bucks for the privilege of being able to play the game early, ultimately you have to ask yourself whether or not it was worth it. Had you asked me that question last week, I would have said no, and that had I been able to get a refund I would have. I was basically at the same place with Neverwinter that I have been with Defiance. I had played enough of the game in testing, to decide that the game really wasn’t worth spending much money on.
However after the head start today, and seeing all the doodads and widgets I got… I am starting to turn the corner to feeling that the whole process is worth it. Essentially for my 60 dollars I got two extremely powerful items that have made the leveling process go extremely smoothly. Having not played the game, it would be hard to look at the items on the right hand side and glean just what that means. Basically those two items, can be used at level 1, and are essentially equivalent to level 15 or higher blues.
I went from taking 3 hits to bring down a minion type mob, to being able to one-shot them upon just equipping them. Sure this is essentially play to win, which gets into all sorts of ramifications. But when you play a game with a cash shop, you are ultimately going to get into pay to win territory. I am sure by level 20, that both items will be completely useless, but starting out they are an amazing boost in damage and survivability.
In addition to these you get a really cool dire wolf companion at level one. I was totally expecting this to be a cosmetic pet that followed me around, like every other game preorder. In essence, what this really is is a mercenary that follows you around and fights for you. Granted it has without a doubt some of the worst pathing I have ever seen in any game, but just having an extra set of attacks lets you breeze through most elite type mobs. Combine this with getting a nice looking horse as soon as you ding 20, I definitely think it was worth the purchase.
Not Amazing, But Still Fun
This game is not going to inspire epic ballads, or be the catalyst of a social revolution, but it is fairly fun to play. While it has some definite rough spots, the more I play it the more I enjoy it. The combat is fun, and fluid enough to let you move through the game without really thinking bout what you are doing. In an action game, this is what I look for, the ability to just zone out and kill lots of things along the way. The game doesn’t feel as polished as say Skyrim, but the game doesn’t really get in the way of the combat fun.
For me it fills the same place that Guild Wars 2 does. It will never be my primary MMO, but it is a fun change from one of the more traditional experiences. Since there is no monthly subscription, it should support a nomadic play style like mine. Launching with foundry content, basically means that there will always be a fresh flow of user generated dungeons to keep players busy. The real challenge will be whether or not that is enough to hold players attention once they have maxed out.
Since they have a class marked as “coming soon”, it is my hope that they will release a fairly regular flow of new races and classes as DLC to keep the game fresh. It is also my hope that they will sell the Drow ouside of the founders pack. Drow/Dunmer are literally the only Elves I like, but there is no way in hell they are worth $200 to me to be able to play one.
For now, it will definitely be something I put in my regular rotation of games. I personally think that it is worth it to go ahead and purchase the 60 dollar pack and get access before the 30th. It is definitely worth playing once it goes fully free to play. I realize this is not the most glowing review I have ever given a game, but I feel that in spite of its short comings here and there it is a good experience overall.
If you’ve made it this far in the post, you can find me over on the Mindflayer server. Add @BelghastStern to your friends list and say hi. I don’t have a guild up and running, since this is another system where you have to gather up a full party of people and all go to the guild vendor at the same time. But hopefully in the coming weeks I will have a version of House Stalwart going. I am sure the Stalwarts will be giving this one a spin, since the cost of entry is next to nothing.