Neverwinter Online is Not a "Pay to Win," But...
I wanted to put in a nice comment to some other reviews of the Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) Neverwinter Online game, but it got to a point where its length and depth became a review of its own. So, here it is in a nutshell.
I agree with many of the other reviews stating that the in-game advertising to spend real-life cash distracts from the immersion a Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) is supposed to offer. I also agree that while it is an open beta (or soft-launch) there seem to be quite a few bugs plaguing its launch. However, these are relatively minor in comparison to what this free-to-play (F2P) MMO brings to the table.
At this point, I've spent zero dollars on Neverwinter. I may spend money on the game. I may not. But, up to this point, I've spent some considerable amount of time playing the game on my two (free players only get 2 character slots) toons. Better yet, I've been playing with friends and family and we've gotten much, much more out of it than what we've put into it.
Bugs, you ask? Being in any kind of beta, I expect things I'll choose to overlook and report so the developers (Cryptic, in this case) may address them. This being a Perfect World game and being far from their first F2P game, expectations are much higher in handling server loads and addressing how to choke down the lag associated with the authentication servers. But, the queue implementation was not smoothly handled and was rife with bugs. The wait times were excessive and felt arbitrary as I watched my wife login at the same time as I did and gain near-immediate access (#7 in queue) and my 20 minute wait (#3476 in queue). I won't get into the 2 hour waits we all endured the morning of the maintenance to patch/fix the bugs. After which, the queues seemed to work as intended, which causes a little dismay since for open beta we're using three shards (servers) and will eventually move to a load-balanced single shard as they move into final release.
With all of that aside, the game play is exciting and feels fast, responsive and interactive with a blend of console-like "PC-clicky" and a more conventional MMO quickbar approach used in other games. For experienced MMO players, think of DC Universe Online (DCUO) combined with Guild Wars 2 (GW2). The clicking-combinations aren't as robust as DCUO and the quickbar isn't as feature-rich as GW2, but the elements and room for expansion exist.
One point of irritation, I find, is the stationary combat mechanic. This seems old school to me. There are exceptions to this. The Guardian Figher, for instance, can raise his shield and move at a slower rate which is an actual skill. But, for most character classes, every combat move roots you in place until completion. Over the many years of playing different MMOs, I've developed a preference for dancing/mobile combat instead of a stationary combat system. After all, anyone who's fenced (sword play) knows that while in combat, you move or you lose and it adds to you and your opponents opportunities and overall experience.
The holy trinity of MMOs (Tank, Healer and DPS) exists with crowd control, buffs and debuffs. Not every dungeon and/or boss requires all three or more, but it will help and the teamwork experience cannot be paralleled when a well-coordinated team pulls it off.
As a member of a family that plays online games together ("a family that plays together pwns together"), we found the ability to party or solo enjoyable. The dungeons' difficulty scale according to the party size (solo to maximum of 5 people). The world maps and options to grind, quest, dungeon crawl, craft, and pray for experience points (xp) and rewards (loot and in-game monies) offer diversity and choices a number of play styles.
However, and more to the point of the subject of this post/review, the constant barrage of reminders to spend your real-life cash to get ahead in the game is daunting and distracts from players' immersion in a fantasy world. While the game is not a "pay to win" format, it definitely will give an accelerated experience to those willing to spend money. What I mean by that is you can buy items that would otherwise be available to you if you chose to work for them (grind).
Those that chose to pay in advance and purchase different packages from Perfect World could have additional character slots, in-game items and mounts that are otherwise not available to non-paying players. But, they do not necessarily give a winning edge to them, with the exception of receiving them and possibly an accelerated rate of gaming.
If, by any chance, the developers and Perfect World were to read my post and take anything from it, I'd like them to walk away with three messages from me and my family of gamers:
- Ease off of at least half of the in-game advertising attempting to pry cash from our wallets. I can understand it, to a certain degree, but honestly it is taking away from the immersion in a fantasy world to be reminded of spending real-life cash.
- Look into expanding upon the clicky-like options... such as combos instead of just clicking, stacking and holding them down. How about hold-left and click once, or left click twice and finish with a right click? Then, the quickbar... why not use the remaining numbers above the keyboard? Tab, Q, E, R, 1 through 6 and the mouse while more than some other games isn't nearly enough for master combatants and experienced MMO players.
- Was it easier combat mechanics coding to plant our characters in place to swing a sword, heal someone or throw a dagger? Pick up a real sword or throwing dagger, go outside and have a go at trying it while sitting still. When you get used to that start taking a few steps. See? Easier than you thought, right, and didn't require as much concentration as you may have thought. If you tripped, perhaps your dexterity isn't as high as required.... oh, wait! There we go... maybe you can unlock certain capabilities or chances to succeed based on stats like in Dungeons and Dragons. Just a thought.
Sorry if it comes off condescending, but this would be right in line with action gaming and the base game Neverwinter comes from (DnD). Thanks to anyone and everyone that read this post.