Sunday, March 1, 2015

Neverwinter Online

A ranger standing in the middle of the winter festival in Neverwinter

Developer: Cryptic Studios
Release Date: June 20, 2013 (PC) March 31, 2015 (XBox One)
Genre: MMO, RPG

One Sentence Review:
The most innovative MMO yet with their new "pay to be comfortable and able to enjoy the game to any degree" monetization system!


I'm not going to openly admit on the internet how massive an erection I got from the very thought of a possible Dungeons and Dragons game done right! Dungeons and Dragons Online just left me so barren and dry that I could feel my literal skin cracking under how generic they had turned a beloved franchise. I wanted this to be good. I needed this to do it right.


Controls

It controls just like you'd expect from an MMO but with a few twists. The most noticeable difference in controls is that you have a limited selection of skills or powers available to use. Two skills are bound to the mouse by default while the others are bound to various keyboard keys. Oddly enough it's quite intuitive and interesting and livens up the monotony of the game! You move around with standard WASD controls and you can even do a doge roll, though you can't jump.

Genre Mechanics

This game is an unfortunate case of what I like to call a Stealth Grind. Basically, it's grind up the butt. However, the game tries to hide its grind behind exposition and dialogue rather than just accepting that it's an MMO and its grind will exist. You'll grind gold to buy potions, you'll grind astral diamonds to buy everything else, you'll grind glory to buy PvP gear, and you'll grind the daily quests to give your existence in the game some sort of purpose. Yep, it's one of those games.

Fortunately, Neverwinter Online does provide a decent number of ways to grind and some of them are fun. The only downside is that there aren't enough fun things to do and you'll swiftly grow bored of repeating the same fun things over and over again.

the neverwinter online logo with the D&D logo right above it

It's Not D&D

Here I will address something that most of you will probably be asking about if you've heard anything about this game. I couldn't think of another category to fit it in, so there's the problem right there in the title! Despite sporting a nice and friendly Dungeons and Dragons logo right above it, this game is not D&D.

Neverwinter Online is basically Champions Online, another Cryptic Studios game, with some of the features whitewashed out and replaced with a splash of Dungeons and Dragons colored paint. There are no skills, no actual feats, your weapon choices are limited by your class, and the classes are named after Dungeon and Dragons builds rather than D&D classes.

I would not give a shit about this fact if it wasn't so prominently used as a selling point. Not only do they include D&D shamelessly in the logo but they also advertised the developers as being die-hard D&D fans! If that's so then either those developers were bound and gagged for the entire process or they need to be shot for the purity of the fandom. This is a disgrace to the name of Gary Gygax and Dungeons and Dragons in general.

Storyline

This'll probably be a jarring tonal shift for most of you but I actually like the storyline. It's abysmal and pathetic from a D&D perspective but compared to most other MMOs the lore is rich, the story is decent, and the characters are somewhat believable. A lot of these races and factions were hostile to each other but are brought together by something worse than all of them. It's a storyline that's simple to pull off and a good choice for a game like this. I can applaud Cryptic on that decision.

Quests

The quests are as described earlier, grind. Unfortunately there's not much to talk about here that I didn't cover in my Lord of the Rings Online review. Why don't you click on that link, check out that review, and come back here! I'll wait.

Okay done.

Dialogue

Here's something you don't see very often, actual voice acting in a free to play MMO. Not just important cutscenes either, every single quest. The voice acting is actually decent as well! The characters seem like they're into whatever they're talking about. Nice, nice.

But what about the content of the dialogue? Well, Cryptic has surprised me here too. The dialogue isn't just well voice acted but well written as well. It still has the same problem as LoTRO in that you quickly become friends with the skip dialogue button, but it is nice to be able to open a decent audio book when you inevitably get bored of playing the game.

Level Design

Neverwinter Online is not open world. Instead the game is broken up into various areas that you can travel to. I find that I'm not a big fan of this type of world design. It does make sense to have a main hub where you get quests, and outer areas where the quests take place, but it just feels so disconnected.

However, the levels are well put together and have good cohesion. Whoever they hired to put the levels together from assets did a good job and deserves praise because it's one of the few things about the game that I really miss.

AI and Combat

What do you expect? It's an MMO. Every NPC is about 10% dumber than you think they are and you win if you bring the biggest numbers to the fight. PvP works about the same way except reverse NPC with Yourself.

A dark elf stands in front of a glowing magic pillar in a tavern


Graphic Design

Now, I've seen some really beautiful games in my time but most free online games tend to be pretty lax in this department. Neverwinter Online is not. I don't know exactly what type of steroids they pumped into their graphics engine but the game is gorgeous by MMO standards. Most games in that genre need to keep polygon counts low to maintain server performance but Neverwinter opts to just make instances and keep the dynamic things that players render low.

Sound Design

The music is good but it gets repetitive pretty quickly. As is customary in MMO circles I eventually turned it off and started listening to YouTube videos on my laptop while I did the monotonous quests.

The Problem

Okay let's get to the part you've all been waiting for. Some games are pay to fashion, some games are pay to play, some games are pay to win, but Neverwinter Online is none of these. In my humble opinion it's far worse. Neverwinter Online is pay to be comfortable.

Everything that you want in this game costs either ZEN, a freemium currency, or Astral Diamonds. There are about a hundred other currencies, not kidding or exaggerating, but they can buy only subpar gear at best. Now you can grind Astral Diamonds until your fingers fall off but in the later game you'll need Astral Diamonds to do half the quests more than once. So you need to quest to grind and you need to grind to quest. Or you could pay.

There is one element of the game that is pay to win, however, and that's the PvP. Once your PvP rounds start up it's expected that you'll hop on your mount and ride to the nearest point. Because disabling mounts in PvP would be too much work! It would also discourage the people who are willing to pay upwards of $50 and minimum $20 for a decent mount from the cash shop. I have so many problems with this that I'm not sure I can fit it into half a library.

The Foundry

I guess I have to mention this don't I? The foundry is a place where the developers try and get you to do their job for them by allowing players to make their own quests. Of course this comes with the usual caveats of creating serious restrictions on loot, XP, assets that can be used, the builds and abilities of the monsters, and number of entities in a single area. So you're starting with maybe a tenth of the tools that devs use to build player excitement.

Now I can understand not allowing players to assign loot or even resources in their maps, but why not experience points? The entire process to reach level 60 from 1 takes about 2 weeks if you play a couple hours per day. Get this, you only get experience points by killing monsters in the player made quests. This means it's actively discouraged for players to make a quest that contains a lot of puzzles and conversations, and anything that isn't combat.

Even with these restrictions I found some Foundry quests that were better than anything the developers themselves made. That's without voice acting, professional script writing, and what I assume is a team of highly skilled professionals working on every aspect of each level. This proves that there is certainly potential in the Foundry but it's completely ignored.

Summary

Now even Lord of the Rings Online I could've recommended throwing a few bucks at to open up some of the more interesting quests and maps but this game I can't recommend even that for. At the very least LoTRO kept itself from just being offensive to the source material. This game smears its shit all over D&D's good name and disgusts me to no end. As a fan of the Neverwinter Nights series created by a real development team, I deem this game to have no right to exist.

If you choose to ignore me completely it will take up about 3 months of your life. That'll be enough to get your 2 free character slots up to level 60 and get bored with the repetitive nature of every aspect of this game. If it's not, then you need to seek a therapist.