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 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.