MMO Theorycrafting 20 Comments

Dear Neverwinter: it’s not you, it’s me

Listeners of the podcast will already know that I tried out Neverwinter in one of the closed betas, and along with Arolaide and Ellyndrial I tore it apart on the show. While the animations were truly terrible at the time, my real problem with the game was it didn’t add anything new to the MMO genre. Why does this game exist? Why would I play it over anything else currently available?

neverwinter devout clericNeverwinter launched last week — okay look they’re calling it an open beta but there’s no character resets and we all know what’s really going on here — and I was surprised to see a very positive response to the game on social media and blogs. (Ardwulf called it a potential surprise MMO hit of 2013, which seems appropriate.)

Perhaps I had been too hasty in my judgement? The client was still on my computer, so I patched it up and gave Neverwinter another shot. After a few hours of playing, I.. remain unconvinced, but I suspect now that the problem is me and not the game.

But let’s start with a disclaimer — I have only put 5 or so hours into this launch version of Neverwinter, which admittedly is not a lot. However, for three days in a row whenever I sat down to play the game the servers were down, including a “scheduled” 4 hour maintenance window during prime time on Saturday night. I mean hey, launches are tough and Cryptic is hardly the only company to see their servers go up in flames during a launch, so while I don’t see this as some permanent black mark on their record it certainly meant I had less exposure to the game before writing this.

I rolled a Devout Cleric because I cannot stop creating healers. The intro experience has been vastly improved from the beta. The interface seems on par with other “action MMOs”, although I don’t think any game yet has figured out a smooth way to toggle from aim mode to UI mode (it’s the ALT key in Neverwinter, which feels awkward to my hands).

Launch changes aside, the game still doesn’t feel fresh to me. I realize that the D&D/Forgotten Realms lore  has been around well before many modern MMOs were just a gleam in a dev’s eye, but nonetheless Neverwinter has been released after them and comparisons are inevitable. In fact, playing the game made me realize that I am so tired of many MMO and Tolkien-esque fantasy tropes. I have come to twitch at the sight of yet another quest giver with punctuation over their head. I am no longer charmed by Dwarves calling out for ale in Scottish accents. I am over transparently grinding boars to gain skill points to kill more boars.

While playing the game I kept thinking that it was essentially Lord of the Rings Online, only with no ring.

As I said before, judging by my peers’ reaction to the game this is more a reflection of me than of it. I think that I’m finally burnt out on standard fantasy MMOs with standard MMO mechanics and standard F2P cash shops.

All that being said, there are a few elements of Neverwinter that deserve special recognition. The first is The Foundry, which lets players create their own dungeons and encounters for others. I’ve heard some complaints that the tools are limited, but at least it’s a new idea and I think people are enjoying it. For me the most unique part of the game is the Neverwinter Gateway, its associated website. From there players can look at their character’s armory, use the auction house, send and recieve mail, even craft. And it’s all available for free! The Gateway is honestly the best set of web tools that I’ve seen with a non-browser MMO, and I’m hoping that other developers steal the idea.

All in all, Neverwinter is a serviceable game that I wish I was enjoying as much as most others seem to be. However, I think at this point in my “MMO career” I need something more than serviceable — I want new ideas, new lands, to be amazed. We’ll see if burnout has caused me to set my expectations too high.

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  • Reply
    May 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Ah, that burnout. I’ve had MMO heartburn for years now. Every game seems to be doing more of the same, and there’s just no escaping it. I play around with the notion in my head that there could just be so much more to these virtual worlds, but the reality is that there simply isn’t. That amazement and wonder fades after your second or third MMO, and you lose that imaginative spark that there’s something a little more around the next bend that you’ve never seen before.

    Maybe it comes from seeing it all, or being perpetually disappointed when that next bend hides yet another boar to skewer. These games aren’t going to gain any new depth, and that sense of wonder is gone to the innocence of our MMO youth. There comes a point in your career where you’re calling the action before it happens and the faults are painfully obvious.

    Neverwinter is another breath of a mummified genre, it doesn’t add much, stinks of many past years of MMO’s, but it’s where the people are right now. All of the social circles are devouring the content, and hanging on for the ride is the most excitement to have as I’ve learned over the past several game launches. Maybe this is the one you can skip, stay content with what you’re playing now, or take a hiatus. That’s a perfectly natural part of the ebb and flow of online gaming and blogging.

    I have no expectations that the genre is going to get another title any time soon that really shakes things to the core. We have far too many developers out there used to this sort of work, it’s cheaper to hire experienced staff that is already in abundance than trying to create something brand new. If you’re not interested in the current flavor of the month, just wait. Something else shiny is bound to come along and trick you again into that desireable sense of wonder and amazement. :D
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  • Reply
    Wilhelm Arcturus
    May 6, 2013 at 10:52 am

    I was there with Guild Wars 2. Beautiful game, a few new twists, lots of cheers from my fellow bloggers, but left to my own devices, I just stopped logging in. It wasn’t because I hated it, but because I just wasn’t moved by yet another fantasy world.

    I am going to give Neverwinter a shot at some point. I have a great fondness for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. We shall see if Neverwinter can capture and transmit enough of that to grab me.
    Wilhelm Arcturus´s last post: Fireworks in Amarr

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Right, exactly! I’m glad that folks are enjoying Neverwinter. It’s just not doing anything for me. (I’m also a big fan of trying all new big-name F2P games. You never know which might turn out to be just right.)

  • Reply
    May 6, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I have no problems with Neverwinter in general, I have enjoyed overall most of what I have played. The problem is it just is not new, fun or otherwise different enough to make me not want to play something else. I made a handful of posts about the launch, but honestly I have not played since it opened to the public as a whole.

    The game is not bad, and quite possibly one of the best completely free titles out there. But that does not make it inherently better than a title I am paying a subscription for, or make me want to log into it more often… in fact when I am NOT paying a subscription I tend to log in far less.

    I am just very luke-warm as a whole. I pre-ordered the game for no real reason other than the secure the baubles pending I would want to play it. I am totally happy if someone thinks it is the best thing since sliced bread, but for me honestly if I want action combat… I will just boot up Skyrim and run around and explore the areas I have yet to explore.
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  • Reply
    May 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I am enjoying it for what it is, which pretty straightforward. I would play (I I do play) stuff with more depth. But Grimnir is right, there’s not much new and innovative out there right now. (I want my holodeck! Could you imagine running an actual dungeon in one of those?)

    At this stage of my gaming career, I have no subscriptions, and am not sure I am willing to pay one. I’m happy with dropping the occasional wad on cash shop items, if necessary. I’m even willing to pay for the “Box.” Will Neverwinter ultimately replace TSW or even GW2 for me? I doubt it, but it’s cheap fun for now.
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  • Reply
    May 6, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    I;m not claiming Neverwinter is anything super special, but one of the main complaints that the OP and other here seem to bemoan is that it brings “nothing new” to MMOs.

    Huh? Isn’t the Foundry exactly that? Granted, my experience is limited, but isn’t Neverwinter the ONLY MMO offering original fan-based content? Isn’t that new and original?

    • Reply
      May 7, 2013 at 6:01 am

      I think Liore, in the post, specifically called out the Foundry as one of the more interesting and original parts of Neverwinter.

      Although, Neverwinter is certainly not the first to do something like this – see, for example, EQ2 Dungeon Maker.

      In general, I agree that evolving, dynamic worlds (rather than static, scripted worlds) are what I want to see and that player-generated content could be part of that (along with procedurally generated content).

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 7, 2013 at 8:45 am

      As Mangle pointed out below, EQII has had player-made dungeons for some time, although I think on a more limited scale. The Foundry is a really cool idea and I bet it will be Neverwinter’s stickiest feature. However, it doesn’t really add any new gameplay or virtual world — you’re still a Scottish dwarf wizard who has to kill boars. It’s neat, but not a gamechanger, in my opinion.

  • Reply
    May 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    I can understand the whole not-another-drunk-Scottish-dwarf thing, but that does beg the question of what setting you would like to see. I know a lot of people default to Space! as the alternative, but as we’ve seen in SWTOR, the fantasy future is a little dreary to look at.

    Personally, I would play a Jade Empire MMO until my fingers fell off, and there are some wuxia/ancient China MMOs coming out of Asia on the F2P boat, but I’m a spoiled American who wants everything to be AAA.

  • Reply
    May 12, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Love how you say that neverwinter has not added anything new to the MMO genre. Then you go on to talk about the new elements such as the foundry and gateway. Sounds pretty fresh and new to me…. Unlimited player made content. Crafting while away from a web browser. Seems as they did add something to the genre.

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 12, 2013 at 11:40 am

      Player-made content was already in EQII, so that’s not new. Crafting from a website is neat (as I said), but that’s not really the GAME, is it? Both those things are neat on their own, but not new to the MMO genre.

      I mean hey, glad you’re enjoying Neverwinter, but for me it’s same old, same old.

      • Reply
        May 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm

        The player made content in EQII is not nearly what they are producing here. That system was much more limited than this system. I agree that the fantasy mmo has been done to death, but as you’ve said this content has been around for a lot longer. Being a D&D nerd from all the way back to first edition I am looking forward to the potential endless amount of classes and prestige classes. From the cookie cutter ones out now, to more random ones like psions, invokers, or wardens. Don’t even get me started on races! Sky is really the limit here, will be nice to have some new flavors, for example the tank could be stuff other than the fighter or the paladin for once! I’ve played mmo’s back to legend of kesami and ultima online. Did the wow thing until that became stale, enjoyed rift (the wow clone) for a while, but the combat in this game is what keeps me coming back. I like the no mana bar and how it goes to traditional D&D where everyone each gets to “act” during a “turn.” Feels faster and more fluid than waiting on mana bars to regen. MMO’s can become stale, and this one may do the same for me, as of now it is far better than wow for me. I would still rather play a new version of ultima online…..’nudges someone in power to make this game.’

    • Reply
      August 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      well yes … and def NO … play it … foundry play becomes repetitive and lame … VERY quickly … its like no one has any imagination … its hard to figure out HOW to do it to begin with! …. and I watched the “devs” for it on a few diff vids and um .. well … they didn’t know much more than we did .. pretty sad imho … but u love it up …maybe its for u .. made just for you.

  • Reply
    Biggs Tobacco
    May 15, 2013 at 7:15 am

    There are many things I don’t like about Neverwinter. The biggest is the characters are ugly and goofy-looking and the customization is pitiful. Armor and weapons look the same for each class for way too long as you level.

    And yet, I keep playing. I grew bored of Guild Wars 2 (not to mention that I absolutely hate both dredge and karka, so… yeah…). I also have been playing Defiance and while there are a lot of interesting differences between that game and your “usual” MMO, it gets very boring and repetitive quickly.

    Neverwinter’s pacing and progression are very agreeable to me, even if the story and other elements are old hat. The combat is fun and enjoyable (I still think TERA has the best combat “feel” and Guild Wars 2 combat is too “airy” and feels insubstantial by way of comparison).

    Its crafting system is also interesting and different from what I’ve experienced in other games. It may not have existed in the beta you played but it’s in the game now and might be worth a look.

    For all the tired, worn-out fantasy elements in games, I STILL have yet to find a game that lets female dwarfs have beards or that lets you create a classic old-man-with-a-long-beard wizard.

    At this point, I wonder if many of us who have been playing MMOs for a while are really just looking for the right combination and feel of elements with which we’re already familiar. It’s not that I want something spectacularly new, it’s that I want the best combination of what I like from other games I’ve played.

    On the other hand, I’d kill for a steampunk MMO I actually liked. :)

    • Reply
      August 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Great points! and ones I should have mentioned myself. As far as searching for the holy of holies in gaming … you are correct … I just don’t think it exists yet … its doubtful it ever will …. On the other hand for me … id kill for a steam punk Vampire, were-wolf mmo with true substance … ahh yes … dream a little dream …

  • Reply
    August 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Neverwinter suffers from 2 things imho … lack of class and a crappy community. People who don’t learn their class and the simple fact … its broken … play for a while you will see .. endgame is awful … pvp sucks and quite honestly … its just not that good … foundry runs are most times the same thing …. rehashed and then done by someone else …. some owed to this or that nonsense …. (ie: the wizard of friggin oz??? … REALLY?) if I wanted a GD wizard of oz game AND I DONT id go look for one … I was pretty excited and then I played EVERY class to 60 … got the loot and discovered it was a cookie cutter build that ALWAYS worked best for EVERY class … everyone LOOKS the same … everyone fights the same and the ONE healing class is a torturous endeavor where one finds one self chasing sugared up, seemingly mentally challenged teens, around that have NO IDEA how to play their class and having to put up with them berating the healer because, quite fankly, you get very sick of trying to chase them down for heals etc etc … I would say until they offer a sub for it … and or truly complete it; add more classes etc … its done … they promised 2 months ago that there would be new content “coming soon” … more BS … nothing on the forums … forums are response locked … what kind of asshat thing is that??? … nah .. when I review a game I don’t open my mouth till ive tried it … truly given it a world class effort. Nothing new there kids … go back and play LOTRO .. one of my all time favs and the leader in the FTP mmo genre … BY FAR> p3ac3

  • Reply
    Christopher Barnett
    January 1, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Personally I’ve had a few great ideas for MMPORGS that stray from the whole medieval fantasy thing but it’s hard to find people wiling to help out with it so it’s pointless.

  • Reply
    January 15, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    I shared your thoughts of the game being “serviceable.” I think I put 100+ hours in over a few months. It had some interesting features. Did you ever give Neverwinter a try again?

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