NeverWinter - A Perfect World "Free-to-Play" game - Open Beta thoughts

Well… had a friend, Sophie, with whom I have gamed for years, suggest I check out NeverWinter.  This is the latest game from the makers of Perfect World.  Below are my thoughts after playing for something like 8 hours in the Open Beta (Production release is scheduled for 6/20/13).

First off, I highly suggest as a first read.  Its long, over 66 pages in length, but will give you a good overview of the game mechanics.  It is NOT a hint guide or walk-through however.

My initial thoughts on these type of games always focuses on the character creation panel.  As my readers know, I loved the character creation in Perfect World, which was surpassed by those in Aion (which to date still has the best modeling tool), had more lifelike but less control in Tera, and feels just a bit strange in NeverWinter.  One has a LOT of things to tweak, like finger nail length and hand width, but a female elf face is going to look like the same basic female elf face no matter what you do.  Yes, you can change hair styles, hair color within race specifics, etc. but the basic structure is pretty fixed.  I’d call it “good enough”, but found myself spending 10-15 minutes tweaking things instead of the hour+ I routinely spent in Aion.

Of course, more important is game play. The UI is a natural for any MMORPG player, with WASD movement and mouse control.  A bit odd is the use of the ALT key to toggle cursor control.  If you want to click on a control button, you need to tap ALT to do so, then tap it again to return to normal more.  The only other key related thing I struggled with until I accidentally figured it out was invoking the class specific “mechanic”.  Apparently this changed a bit during alpha and beta since various guides talk about using the Tab key, or double clicking the shift key.  Currently, you simply double click the WASD key (at least for my Mage-like character) – that causes her to teleport a few feet and is really handy for getting out of AOE circles.

Having been badly burnt by Wartune’s “free to play” model I remain highly attentive to spending real money to play NeverWinter.  So far, it is similar to Perfect World, which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise.  The difference is that virtually required items, like companions and mounts, do eventually become available for free.  For instance:  Companions are the classic “pets” – they level with you, and can help you attack, or act as a tank, or I’m told play a healer role.  You get a free on when you hit level 16.  You can buy one with Zen (the Perfect World’s universal real money currency – 100 Zen = $1 USD) I suspect immediately.  I bought one around level 8 in order to write this commentary (and to help!). Zen Companions are suppose to be better than the free ones and will set you back $15-$30.  Good news is they are permanent.  Bad news is that they, like virtually everything, are associated with a specific character.  Reroll and you won’t have access to your Zen based goodies.  OK news is that they appear to be tradable.  (Trick:  Register two accounts with PW, use two computers, and bounce your items between toons).  So… if you spend money early, you can start leveling your companion sooner – and it does make the game a whole lot easier.

Like Wartunes, if you want to speed things up, you can spend in game currency (diamonds in this case) to do so.  Of course, you can trade Zen for Diamonds…  So far, I’ve found (2) real-time events this works for:  Training your companion, which is required to level it, but during which its not available to help you, and crafting.

Crafting is, well, different.  You hire (apparently for free) workers to craft things for you.  It takes real time.  At level 1 start, just seconds, by level 2, hours can be spent.  Good news – its real time – you can start a crafting task and log off and the clock still runs.  There is also a “Leadership” “Craft” which yields coins, exp, and crafting skill levels.  At my current level, as an example, I can do some 5 EXP, 5 Skill point tasks that take 10 minutes, or something that generates 100 copper, 20 EXP, and 20 Skill points in 2 hours, or something that would generate 40 skill point in 4 hours (great when you log out for the night).

Game play starts out very prescriptive, like most games with an initial training area.  That is OK, one needs to learn how to move around, etc.

One has an option to engage a “sparkle trail” that will lead you to your next quest area (and sometimes to individual quest items).  That’s handy, but know you need to go “off trail” if you want to find some treasure chest.  Chest and other reward items often require usage of a skill kit – thievery or nature or dungonning, or … which are for sale fairly inexpensively at most merchants.

One can also pray to your god (called “invocation”) once you hit the first main town and find the quest to do so (near the top of the map).  Some guides say this in only available after you reach level 11 – took me awhile to find the lady to talk to, so I was like 13, so can’t confirm that.  You can pray once an hour and get various goodies for doing so.

This real-time activity stuff is a mixed blessing.  In theory, you would need to login in every hour to maximum your goodies.  That is also very WarTune like where people spend their lives around the game clock.  The real-time training and crafting is very Eve like though, shy the training queue, and apparently escalates fast enough that I hope it will simply be a once a day thing.

PVP is different, and so far, nice.  You queue up to join a PVP team, everyone on the team is artificially set to the same level with the same gear – so it really is about your skill rather than equipment as it is with so many games.  A PVP event takes 15 minutes or so (or so it felt, might have been longer) and consist of a red and blue team battling over ownership of a central tower.  You get points for being the owner, first team to 1000 points wins.  This is very Wartune GuildWars like from a goal perspective without the domination of static op teams.

In the open beta, your allowed 2 characters – more slots available for Real Money.  Likewise, larger inventories, more bank slots, and the universal fancy clothing options all cost Real Money.  I much prefer Tera’s model where Real Money is only spent for costumes, character renames, and things like that.  In NeverWorld, spend rate will make a difference in the ease of playing the game – but I’m still way to young in the game to understand the total impact.

Bottom line:  I’m looking forward to spending some more time with this game and seeing where it goes.  Its my hope that it truly is, like Tera, very playable for free.  My fear is that it won’t be at higher levels.