First, you’ll have to forgive me if my response to comments is sporadic the next few weeks; it’s the end of the semester here, so I have three sets of portfolio essays to grade, topped off next week by three set of exam essays. I’ll work to make sure I keep my regular update schedule, but the comment responses may be put off longer than normal.
In the little free time I’ve had recently, I’ve begun playing Neverwinter Online with my buddy. We initially heard about it at PAX 2012, but other than getting yelled at for “touching” the Dracolisk (which my buddy wasn’t) and then noticing that the cute young girl that went up and tried to ride the thing did not get yelled at for “touching” it (which she was), we didn’t have much to do with the booth this year. As a result, we didn’t realize how soon it was going to come out and were surprised when we learned it was available (from the omnipresent (in a good way!) MMO Melting Pot, so thanks!).
Our expectations were low, since it was a Perfect Worlds game. My last Perfect Worlds encounter was a catch 22 situation when my buddy and I were trying a lot of free games back to back to find one we liked. I’d made a login for Forsaken World, but couldn’t retrieve my password. I got the “no account matches this email” error when I tried to reset it, but got the “this email already has an account” when I tried to register anew. Since I couldn’t be bothered at the time to deal with such nonsense, we skipped the game.
However, when I learned it was really a Cryptic game, I got more excited. I enjoyed Star Trek Online quite a lot, much more than my buddy, who found the ship battles slow and dull but enjoyed the ground missions. I let him know that this would be all ground missions, and he was a little more excited, even though he said, “How do you know there won’t be spaceships in D&D?” He’s a jerk like that.
We logged in and were immediately drawn in to the excitement from character select. We love D&D, have played a ton of pen-and-paper D&D, played almost every D&D game (minus Daggerdale, which we heard was terrible). Just getting to make race and class selections got us excited. He decided on a half-orc Great Weapon Fighter. I chose a dwarf Devoted Cleric named, of course, Stubborn.
We played to about level 7 and were having a really good time, except that I was destroying him in damage. He decided to reroll mage, so I played a rogue up to level 7 to help him catch up. I enjoyed both my classes immensely, but decided to stick with the Cleric for practical purposes.
I waited to write about it until now because we’ve just capped level 18, and I think all the basic features are open to us. We’ve got our professions, our companions, our powers and talents, have done a dungeon and a skirmish (but not PvP, nor do I expect he’ll be willing to). I did a foundry quest, which I really enjoyed.
Overall, I’d say the game is so far 90% excellent. On the positive side, I feel that the class designs are fun and well-themed. I think the professions are sensible, especially since you can access them from anywhere with Internet from a web page gateway. The companions seem to make the game more soloable, if that’s your preferred playstyle, and you’re given your choice of your first one for free; I chose a tank. The combat is fun, if a little repetitive at times, and the bosses have so far been of an acceptable difficulty without being too punishing.
The game has been scaffolded very well for new players. Every few levels a new feature appears, so while you can see everything that you’ll eventually be able to access from the start, you’re not immediately overwhelmed by it. You’re led in slowly through a very useful “What’s New?” feature at each level that breaks down exactly what you need to do when you level up.
On top of that, Cryptic ported over what made STO such a late-game success: the Foundry. The foundry allows players to generate content, which is perfect for a D&D world where so many of the players could be former DMs. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, there’s a ranking system that prompts players to review each foundry mission they play afterwards and leave feedback. This lets the game choose to highlight certain missions and, in the end, gives the game nearly infinite replayability. This is one of the greatest weaknesses of conventional MMOs; eventually, content is exhausted. Even with frequent patches, if all the content comes from the same team, eventually, the ideas are exhausted. By allowing players to participate in the creative process, Cryptic has empowered its fans not only to be able to play as much as they want but more importantly to become creatively invested in their project. Much like other projects’ embrace of fan fiction and art, Cryptic knows that allowing the players to be a part of the design helps build community and investment in the game. Ingenious.
There are a few features that are problematic, though. After mobile, fluid combat in Secret World and Guild Wars 2, going back to having to stand still to attack or cast has made combat feel very static at times. Additionally, you cannot dodge to avoid attacks while attacking or casting, so if you’re unlucky and start a cast a split second before an effect begins that you need to avoid, you may just be stuck in it with no recourse. I vastly prefer the option that dodging breaks or cancels your casts or attacks, as survival is usually more important to success.
Additionally, some things smack of addictive free-to-play behavior modification. You can pray to your gods once an hour to get free stuff, which compels people to log in over and over. One of the things you get from that is a currency that disappears if you don’t log in each day to renew it, so they’re attempting to force you to log in every day. To be fair, the currency isn’t used for much and can only be accumulated up to 7, so the compulsion is admittedly low, but to some people – like my buddy – who will not lose anything he can avoid to lose, it’ll probably become an issue. On the currency topic, another Free-to-play gimmick is the three currencies in the game: zen, which is the real-money currency, crystals, which can be accumulated in game, work as an in-game currency, but can also be speculated for zen in a stock-market like set up, and gold, which as far as I can tell serves little practical purpose, but is what most quests reward. It may be that eventually people are forced to get crystals one way or another, which may force them to purchase Zen or grind in game. Regardless, it is a business that needs to make money.
Overall, there’s far, far more good to say about the game than there is bad. I strongly urge you to give it a try, and if you do, look me up. I’m on the Beholder server as Stubborn Goldfarb.
Stubborn (the druid, not the cleric)