Neverwinter Online – First Impressions

FINE Denise – I’m playing it and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.

We’ve been playing around with Neverwinter Online for two days now, I think, so things are still in that sort of “honeymoon phase” before you discover the horrible truths of bad design underneath.  I can lay out what I’ve seen so far, though!

If you’re not familiar with it, Neverwinter Online is an attempt at a MMO based on the popular Neverwinter Nights style of games, which are themselves based on D&D.  It’s has gone into “open beta”, but they claim no characters will be deleted, so really it’s more of a “We haven’t finished all the classes yet and there might be bugs but BETA guys we claim BETA” sort of thing.  Other than the choice of trying the “Coming Soon” class in character creation, I haven’t seen much that was terribly unfinished… although some things can certainly use a little bit of ironing to smooth out the wrinkles.  Lag has been a pretty big issue too, although it’s release so it’s not unexpected.  You can choose instances of a zone, and if you’re in a crowded one you’ll be rubberbanding so much that you will be at risk for whiplash.  The lag manifests in odd ways, with everyone around you freezing mid animation like some sort of bizarre “stop and go” game.  Moving to a less populated instance helps a lot, but it still feels sluggish in a number of ways.  But (so far) the server hasn’t been crashing every 5 minutes so a better launch than some games!

I started with a rogue.  I was anxious to see if this would be the kind of D&D where rogues are utterly indispensable due to traps/lockpicking, or if it would be the kind of D&D where they are simply smaller, squishier, less effective fighters due to being dead 20 seconds into every fight.  I went into the game mostly “blind”, so I hesitated a bit at the character creation.  It’s D&D so you have to roll your stats and such, but it turns out you don’t have to pick feats and everything off the start, and the rerolling mechanics seemed to give me the same three combinations of stats repeatedly so I have my doubts about how “random” it really was.  I rerolled for several minutes just to see if anything would change, then took the best looking combination of stats.  I also had to choose a deity, so, being a rogue, I chose the god of Luck.  I have no idea what that does for me yet (if anything… it could just be cosmetic), but hopefully it makes me lucky!  I also had to choose an origin and backstory.  I am unsure whether that does anything but affect some text on your character sheet, too.  I don’t think I saw a way to just write your own if it doesn’t affect anything which is too bad… although there is an editable section of the character sheet for people to write their god-awful descriptions of boobs into.

The game starts you off with the common trope of “whoops your ship wrecked and you washed ashore, thereby explaining your shitty-ass equipment”.  The opening section is pretty typical, and kind of boring if you’ve played any MMO in the past 10 years.  You have two abilities to start with – your main attack which is controlled by left click, and something on the right click.  In the rogue’s case, right click is a ranged attack.  The cleric I made later had a sort of “heal reflect” debuff that allows all hits to heal the attacker.  The whole first 10 minutes or so of the game are “Talk to this guy.  Run over there and hold down left click until they’re all dead.  Talk to that guy.  Run over there and learn to use F to interact with shit.  Talk to this guy.  Run over there and hold down left click until they’re dead.”

Rogue combat has some flashy animations, but I wasn’t terribly impressed because it was so simple.  It was literally “run into them and hold down left click until you win.”  I levelled and unlocked some special abilities which were even flashier, but it only changed the combat to “Run in and hold down left click until you win, unless there are more than 4 of them, in which case you can hit Q to win faster if you want.”  I was kind of disappointed and thought the game might be nothing but mindless hack and slash.  When I made my cleric later, it was strange because it was kind of the opposite – she had to debuff things in order to heal herself and not die, but her attack animation was incredibly boring.  The rogue kind of leaps around and slices and dices (even though YOU are just holding down a key and watching, at least it’s kind of cool).  The cleric stands there and chucks magic lances over and over and over and over and zzzzzzzzz.  But the combat itself was more interesting because of the debuff mechanics.  I was so confused about how I should feel… did I like the combat more or less as a cleric?!?!

Before you start writing angry replies… I got the rogue to level 16.  When stealth opened up, the game completely changed.  At its roots, its still just holding down the left click button and watching things die, but now it feels like I have more options for abilities to combine to create more powerful attacks and more things to activate to turn the battle.  Also the animations got cooler.  I still think the combat is a bit too simple and I haven’t seen much use for strategy yet, but the potential for interesting combat is there somewhere, so I will see how it plays out.  I’m also curious to get my cleric up in levels and see how things change there.  I looked through the rogue abilities and most of them are like “Kill things faster.  Kill things in this way.  Kill things in that way.  Die less while killing things.”  The cleric trees were a little scary to look through because so much seemed to be going on in there.

The quest missions were… about what you expect, I guess.  I didn’t see anything that impressed me, but nothing pissed me off either so that’s a plus.  So far, the quests tend to rely on their dialogue to make them unique, because the actual mechanics are all “Kill X of those.  Loot X of these.  Interact with X of those things on the ground.”  Standard fare.  What is incredibly dumb though is that if you are in a party (gosh why would you want to group in an MMO) a bunch of limitations start to pop up.  Only one person can interact with an object at a time, so you all pile around the thing on the ground and race to see who can get their interact dialog to stop lagging first.  In the case of reward chests it’s not so bad because you can all take turns looting, but for certain things on the ground (like piles of money), only one person can grab it.  I haven’t verified whether it shares the cash with everyone if one person grabs it, but I don’t think it’s ever given me a cash popup when someone else looted money off the ground.  I really dislike that sort of inter-player competition and it’s too bad to see a “modern” game that hasn’t tried to utilize the “everyone can use everything” sort of mechanics of games like GW2.  I know Neverwinter has been in development limbo for awhile and it was more of the norm back when it was first coded, but it’s probably not the sort of thing that is easy to change in the engine now.  Unfortunate.

Along those lines, and much more disturbingly… we were doing a quest which had a lot of dialogue.  I read really fast and I was also a bit impatient because it was getting late, so I scanned the text, got the gist of it, and clicked through.  Which, apparently, clicked through for everyone in the party.  Do I really have to explain why this is a really terrible thing in a story-driven group-based game?  I mean, it’s the same way it worked in the Neverwinter Nights games but it was an absolutely terrible design there, too (actually in those games I think it just froze everyone else while whoever initiated the conversation was reading… which is pretty much the worst way to handle it and kinda turned us off of playing it as a group :/).  It’s bad enough when you’re grouped with friends and can communicate over voice chat about when you’re done reading or whatever, but when you’re grouped with random strangers who have already done the quests before and don’t give a shit about whether you want to read it on your first time through?  No.  Bad.  When quests are pretty much solely relying on storytelling to make them unique, you should not make it easy for one asshole to ruin the story for everyone.  I didn’t see any way to go back and read the text again if you missed it, either.

There also seemed to be some party bugs which will hopefully fall under the “soon to be ironed out” category.  We did a “Foundry” quest, which is player made content.  You sort of expect that there might be bugs associated with the tools, and we ran into a few quirks along the way but it was decent overall.  Then we got to the end, the reward chest unlocked, I looted it, and up popped a “rate this quest” dialog box.  It’s kind of neat because it lets you rate it, write a comment, and send some in-game cash to the creator of it if you really liked it.  So I rated it and clicked submit.  One of our party members was suddenly no longer able to loot his reward.  He said the chest lit up for him to interact with, and then poof, went dead.  I kinda suspect that when I submitted my rating, it “ended” the whole mission and screwed him out of his reward.  Not a big deal at low levels, but kind of worrisome :/

Speaking of Foundry, I haven’t messed with the tools or anything, but I’m kind of interested in checking it out.  I’ve done two player made quests so far.  Both were extremely average, but average in the same way the whole game is – the text is the only place it can attempt to make an impact.  The entire rest of the mission is “go there, kill that, loot this.”  I suspect it’s less an issue of bad authoring and more an issue of limited things to work with.  But speaking of bad authoring!  A lot of the highly rated quests are split between the ones that state flat out that there is no story it’s just there to grind experience, and the ones that state that there is nudity.  /facepalm.  I’m interested to see what comes out of the Foundry over time, but I’m hoping it’s not too difficult to sift the wheat from the enormous mountains of chaff that will undoubtedly be generated.

Back to being a rogue!  I established that the rogue (so far… at least) isn’t completely worthless in combat.  I got the highest damage ratings in all the group missions (skirmish/dungeons) we tried so far, and I didn’t seem to be dying TOO quickly (yet).  There are traps, and I can disarm them, but so far all that seems to happen is they show up as sparkly things for me, I move in to disarm, and everyone runs past me and steps on them before I’m done.  So I’m not sure how useful disarming really is.  There doesn’t seem to be traditional lockpicking – each class seems to have it’s own separate ability to collect craftables from.  There are “thievery” nodes that are relatively common, but it’s not obvious why one needs to be a thief to open a little leather backpack and collect some wool out of it.  There are plenty of “dungeoneering” nodes which seem to be the fighter node, and a decent amount of those actually seem to open secret passages and reveal secret bosses.  Which kind of annoys me because I’ve never seen a thief node do anything cool.  There are religion nodes, arcana nodes, and nature nodes… and you can buy kits for them if you want to fiddle with it despite not having the proper class (the kit is used with each loot, and has a chance to fail).  I haven’t seen them do anything cool yet, either, but the game is young.

There are rotating events that give you bonuses.  For example, we did a dungeon while the dungeon delving event was running, and it unlocked a bonus chest for us at the end.  Unfortunately, since it was a random group finder and we only had three of us, it put us in a group with random people.  It was our first time doing the dungeon, but it was very clearly not the other guy’s first time, and we were railroaded through it like a herd of cattle.  I really hate doing dungeons with random people for precisely this reason. Sure when everyone has seen the place a thousand times and everyone just wants to do it quickly and get to the loot a speed run can be more interesting, but the first time we do a dungeon it’s always exciting to explore and check everything out.  It’s just not possible with random people.  That’s a flaw with MMOs, not just Neverwinter, though. (ie: people suck and I hate them).  The dungeon itself didn’t have any nifty scripted events or anything though, it was more of the same.  Fight these things, move ahead, fight those things, move ahead, whoops a boss let’s fight it.  We did see a side passage with a chest in it, but because we were on the steam powered train of “gogogogogogo” with the random party members, we didn’t get to explore the side paths. Ironically, the lack of scripting means we didn’t really “miss” much by rushing through the dungeon… but I’m not sure if that’s a pro or a con.  I suspect it is more of a con. Maybe we can go back as a group of three in a few more levels and properly check it out.  One thing I do really enjoy is that there are a decent number of hidden goodies throughout the world and I’m hoping dungeons are similar (assuming you can get a group willing to relax).  We found a quest inside a book that was sitting in the dirt by a rock, and it would easily be overlooked by someone who wasn’t curious.  I like that kind of exploration.

The game does have NPC companions, which I just unlocked last night.  I hired a cleric companion and I’m hoping that we will eventually be able to get by with three of us and three NPC dudes helping.  It might allow us to explore some of the dungeons and such without having random strangers getting pissy about it.  I haven’t used the companion yet, but I suspect the NPC AI will suck because they always do.  As long as it heals us and doesn’t die every 20 seconds it should be decent, though!

The crafting is somewhat unique and I’m enjoying so far.  I’m not really sure what the point of it is but dammit I want to fill up those experience bars!  Everyone can do every craft – you are only limited by the number of queue slots you have unlocked.  At first you only have one so you can only work on one at a time.  It’s time limited, in that you queue up a job and then it takes a long time to complete.  Sometimes it takes many hours.  The thing is, this is all running in the background while you do other shit.  You don’t even have to be logged in.  In fact you don’t even have to be in the game to queue a new item!  You can go to gateway.playneverwinter.com and queue things from there, so it’s even doable from your phone while at work, or whatever.  Also of interest – the AH is also available from that site.  I’m still dicking around with the early levels of crafting so I haven’t made anything worthwhile, but I did harvest a crop of Astral Diamonds, which are an important currency in the game.  Which I should speak about next:

Neverwinter is free to play.  That, of course, means microtransactions.  Games need to make money to run!  You have your standard “gold” currency, and then you have “zen” which is the “funbux” currency you buy for real cash.  In between those two are Astral Diamonds.  You can buy Zen with AD, meaning you can (eventually) buy things with in game currency if you don’t want to drop real cash on the game.  It takes a long time, of course, but I appreciate that zen is not a hard and fast wall that forces everyone to pay to win.  You can earn quite a bit of AD each day through daily quests and crafting and events, but there’s an additional catch.  You earn “rough” AD in game and then have to refine into into proper AD.  All that takes is a click of a button, but there is a limit to how many you can refine each day.  So even if you earn a million rough AD in a day, it will still take you quite a bit of time to refine it all.  Some of the rewards cost hundreds of thousands of AD.  Suddenly dropping 5 bucks on it doesn’t seem so bad?  But I like that there are multiple options.  I’ve always felt that having a slow but steady in game path while real cash is the “buy it now” option is a good way to do a lot of these things.  Some of it seems a bit blatant though… almost anything you do throws a button in your face going “hey if you spend cash on this it will go faster!”  I really don’t need to be prodded with it all the time.  It’s going to make me resent you.  Fuck off.

We spent a lot of time subscribed to DDO because we liked the dungeons and the group mechanics.  I’m sort of hoping that Neverwinter will capture us in the same way and convince me that it’s worth investing into.  We’re having fun, but with only 15 levels under the belt, the verdict is not yet in.

Neverwinter – Second Impressions
Neverwinter – PvP

 

 

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About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

2 Responses to Neverwinter Online – First Impressions

  1. Pingback: Neverwinter Online – PvP | Tagra Reviews Things

  2. Pingback: Neverwinter – Second Impressions | Tagra Reviews Things

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