Neverwinter Beta Weekend #2 Preview
Developer: Cryptic Studios / Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment / Release Date: Early 2013
With Neverwinter’s second beta weekend come and gone, I took a more detailed look at some of the forthcoming F2P MMO’s more unique features. If you want a general summary of what Neverwinter is all about, check out our previous preview.
I primarily targeted Neverwinter’s user-generated content in the second beta weekend, as I have a feeling that will be the real linchpin to the game’s success. I can’t speak to the quality of the content creation tools as I haven’t actually used them, but I can say the content they create is (at least potentially) equal to game content made directly by Cryptic Studios. Most games with user-generated tools typically produce content that looks a little… chunky. You can usually see the seams between the large creation blocks that users are given access to use. As a result, the levels end up looking like a bunch of LEGO blocks stacked together. The UGC content in Neverwinter looks like it came from a full content creation suite, which is thematically in line with the user-generated content that was more common on the PC ten years ago.
Of course, that old-school UGC had a particular flavor that is an acquired taste. Massive blocks of text, awkwardly empty hallways, and… sacks of grain that open doors for some reason… create that adorably awkward design that comes from a total lack of game design experience. As someone who spent a lot of time in the old-school mod scene, it’s nothing new to me, but I’ll be interested in seeing how a fresh, virgin audience reacts to the wild west of user-generated content.
But as you’d expect, there’s a real diversity of user-generated content (even in the beta). Just playing a handful of quests, I found lore-heavy text-a-thons that were stocked full of multi-syllabic names I didn’t recognize in addition to blunt, combat-heavy brawls that exist just to give you some moving targets to kill. The upshot here is that even if the game’s main quest isn’t to your taste, either in lore density or combat variety, you’re bound to find a content creator that makes the sort of content you enjoy.
The game’s content browser makes that discovery process a cinch as well. While not all the features are working 100% (this is a beta after all), I noted the ability to create multi-mission campaigns and subscribe to preferred content creators. That means that amateur storytellers out there with visions of grandeur will be able to create multi-quest epic campaigns, putting out a part 1 to gauge player interest and build up continued storylines. I’m already on the hook for a particularly goofy quest I played that involved being sucked into another dimension from a deck of enchanted playing cards. Worth noting — the Vizier of the Deck kept randomly exclaiming “Oh MY!” which made me read everything he said in George Takei’s voice. Finding that weird gem in the rough is the sort of experience I haven’t had since downloading random campaign mods for 2002’s Neverwinter Nights.
SO MANY GOOD IDEAS
The more I play Neverwinter, the more I’m impressed with all the smart ideas behind the game’s design. Games like Tera and Rift have all pitched in a few refinements on the controls and structure of World of Warcraft, but Neverwinter combines so many small bits that make it so refreshing to play.
Here’s a short list of some of the awesome ideas I appreciate:
- There are keyboard shortcuts to Need / Greed / Pass on rare item drops, which is fantastic when a notification pops up in the middle of combat.
- The voiced portion of a quest dialogue keeps playing after you accept it, meaning you can go on about your business while still getting the story behind the quest line.
- Hourly events give bonus rewards for playing user-generated content, crafting, queueing for dungeons, etc, which will always give you a nudge if you’re wondering what to do.
- An NPC will recommend gear upgrades for you and also show you how much that gear costs in the auction house.
- Merchants auto-filter items according to what your class can use.
- There’s a separate tab on your character screen that allows you to switch to aesthetic clothing if you want to play dress-up.
And this is just a short list I cobbled together after 30 or so minutes of gameplay. All of these may sound like small, even negligible improvements, but when you add them all up it makes Neverwinter a much more welcoming experience.
The last topic that really caught my eye this beta weekend is Neverwinter’s in-game economy. Before I describe the specifics, bear in mind this game is still in beta so most of this could change before the game is released into the wild.
Neverwinter has three forms of currency. There’s in-game gold, which operates as you’d expect. Enemies drop it and you use it to buy gear, healing potions, crafting basics, etc. Above that you have Astral Diamonds, which near as I can tell operate similarly to World of Warcraft’s Justice / Valor / Honor points. You get a batch of diamonds for finishing a scenario or dungeon and can spend them on fancier items like gear and mounts. Finally, you have Zen, which is the currency you buy with real money. This is what you can use for more traditional F2P bling like flaming horses and glowing pants.
Here’s the interesting bit — you can trade Astral Diamonds for Zen and vice versa. The process of doing this works similarly to a stock exchange: you post how much and what unit price you’d like to buy or sell your resource and wait to be matched to a buyer. Not only does this provide players a way to earn for-pay items through in-game efforts, but it paves the way for some nuanced market manipulation.
Say you earn up a chunk of Astral Diamonds. When the market is down, you could trade that for Zen then trade it back for more Diamonds when the market swings back. If you manage your investments, you could theoretically parlay a small money investment into enough Zen to buy all the real-money goodies. Of course, selling currency is what signs the checks for Cryptic so I don’t imagine they’ll make the process trivial, but I think the WoW stockbrokers out there will really eat it up.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL
I have to remind myself that there are still two big aspects to Neverwinter that haven’t even been switched on yet — crafting and PvP. Given the action focus of the game’s combat, I expect the PvP will actually be pretty fun. I’m thinking something similar to Warhammer Online though that’s just pure speculation at this point.
The crafting system could be interesting as well. Near as I can tell most of the crafting materials will come from enemy drops and nodes inside dungeons that only certain player classes can access — Wizards can examine arcade relics, Thieves can lockpick chests, that sort of deal. Whether this will simply be a way to force item rarity or make the crafting system more enjoyable remains to be seen.
But that’s what future beta weekends are for! I have my sights set on PvP and crafting now, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to take a look at those in the future.