Saturday, 4 May 2013

Everyone's Doing It: Neverwinter

Ardwulf, Stargrace, Tipa: my Feedly overflows with Neverwinter first impressions. My own take isn't all that far from Keen's.

We really need a better terminology for this stuff. Massively Multiple Online isn't a genre; it's a medium. Even MMORPG doesn't take us all that much further. Jonah Who Will Be 25 In The Year 2000 and Iron Man 3 are both movies but we don't assume that someone who likes one will automatically be interested in the other, although neither should we assume they won't be.

It's coming right at me!!
There's no particular reason someone who enjoyed Everquest in 2001 is going to jump for joy at Neverwinter in 2013. That shouldn't surprise anyone. I see no strong reason why someone who loves GW2 would enjoy it all that much either, though, and that is surprising.

 Neverwinter is fun, let's get that clear from the start. At the always-acceptable price of free there's no reason not to give it a run. The world, if that's the right word, looks good. The aesthetic and the art design follow a line. I found the lighting effects particularly engaging; the way motes drift in the sunlight is striking. For a heavily instanced environment there's a very acceptable feeling of space. The skies are wide. You always want to look up.

The detailing is well done. Rooms, market stalls, streets are all well-furnished. There's some repetitious use of assets but it's unobtrusive. Probably best not to look at the character models too closely. They do a job, that's as far as it goes. The monsters look great.

Bite me! I want to be a rat too!
I don't like the controls and more importantly I don't see the point of them. I'm entirely comfortable using mouselook and center-screen targeting. It's not an ability issue. There just doesn't seem to be much point having a fast-moving, action-oriented control system in a game where your character spends most of his time rooted firmly to the ground. Playing a Devoted Cleric I have to stand in place to cast and the "dodge" is just a bizarre stiff-legged straight-line slide. How this kind of combat wouldn't have worked better with traditional MMO hotbar and mouse freedom beats me.

With the considerable caveat that I've only seen solo up to level ten so far, combat is pretty basic. I changed the mouse buttons to fire continually when held down and all I do is spray Lance and Astral Seal at will as though I was toting twin lasers. If anything's near me I Q-tap Sunburst every ten seconds and I E-tap Healing Word all the time it's up whether I need it or not. Add in a few potions and the occasional angelic intervention from Guardian of Faith and I haven't had too much trouble thus far.

So combat's entertaining in a small way, if none too subtle. I can see that there's going to be a lot more to it as the points get spent and the Feats diversify. The possibilities for individualization seem reasonably complex, but no matter how far you customize, won't gameplay still come down to two mouse buttons and a few key presses? I know we all snort derisively at the banks of buttons in WoW and EQ2 but there has to be a sweet spot somewhere between the two extremes.

If wishes were horses...
The quests so far are generic but that works for me. So sue me but I strongly like Kill Ten Rats and FedEx questing. I like to curse and complain about the ineptitude and idleness of the NPCs as I toddle around doing things they clearly should be doing for themselves. That's kind of the point of MMO questing, isn't it?

I read all the quest text on the first run through in almost all MMOs I play. I rate and review it in my mind and I once had the idea of reviewing MMO quest and NPC dialog in a serious literary style, until I realized just how much work that would be. PWE's PR department wouldn't have found many quotes to excerpt if I'd gone with that plan. I've seen more leaden prose although fortunately not often. It just plods along, determined to get to the end. Reading something written by someone who didn't want to write, writing for an audience they know doesn't want to read, is tiring.

The voice acting, of which there is a lot, is uniformly dreadful. The accents are the usual extraordinary melange of celtic fringe and balkan with the odd transatlantic vowel making an unexpected appearance. Cockney scouse, a dialect unique to video games, sounds almost psychedelically weird. As always, listening to this farrago of incompetence has its own guilty pleasure.

...clerics would ride.
The plot so far seems generic and extremely linear, which makes me wonder how replayable it might be, but then with only two character slots I don't foresee lack of replayability being any kind of problem. The problem is much more likely to be the one I had with Cryptic's two previous MMOs, Champions and Star Trek Online, which is that I enjoy them quite a lot when I'm playing but I very rarely think about them when I'm not. Not thinking about MMOs leads directly to not playing them very often, which is the tightest of spirals to not playing them at all.

Hmm. +2 mace, one devout owner
I will certainly play enough to open The Foundry at level 15. So far I have played two Foundry Missions, one in beta and one Live and while they had their flaws both offered solid entertainment. The dialog in both was a step up from the stuff on offer in the official storyline, which is worrying when you note that one of the Foundry authors apologized in the introduction for English being only his third language. Writing anything takes time, of course, and creating Foundry missions would be in direct competition with writing this blog and playing MMOs, both of which I tend to think would be time better spent, but I will at least give it a go.

All said, I feel lukewarm. Neverwinter looks good and it works, which already puts it well ahead of many MMOs at this early stage. It's not what I would call an MMO, but it's becoming increasingly clear that what I would call an MMO is a quite specific subgenre of what the industry calls an MMO. I suspect that the City of Steam almost-open beta next week will mark the end of yet another brief flirtation with Cryptic for me, although the D&D/Fantasy setting does give Neverwinter a much better chance for periodic revisits than superheroes or spaceships were ever likely to. Time alone will tell.

8 comments:

  1. You mean I'm not the only one who doesn't mind the cliche MMO quest format? We must be rare breeds, or else complaining about them is just the cool thing to do nowadays even if folks really don't mind them that much.

    I think there are far more important issues in games, like interesting combat, than how you get sent off to kill your share of rats.

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    1. What I care about is how well-written the quest text and NPC dialog is, not which generic fantasy cliche we are paying lip-service to this time round. I like lean, spare prose not overblown, overwritten stodge and I especially like an idiosyncratic, slightly off-register voice. The Final Fantasy games excel in that, for example.

      I'm not a major fan of combat at all, though. If I had my choice pretty much all MMOs would feature less than half as much fighting as they generally do.

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  2. I looked at my friend play it a bit earlier. I plan to take a shot at it this weekend, but the combat looks incredibly unappealing. So....jerk-y and static.

    -Ursan

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    1. From my limited experience so far the combat is nothing special and that's being polite. It does feel extremely pedestrian compared to GW2, but is also feels more awkward than standard MMO hotbar combat. They seem to have managed to get the worst of both worlds. It may well improve at higher levels, but I doubt I will be there to find out first-hand.

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    2. Ugh. Yup. I played for about 2 hours then uninstalled it. Back to GW2. I think I'm going to dodge roll for about an hour.

      -Ursan

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  3. I was pretty interested in a flash when I heard this was released and rushed to start the download (free, as you say) and once the DL started I paused - why? I haven't even a clue about the game - barely read up on it, and why chew through a 3gig download. Figured I'd wait for bloggers to start blogging about it before worrying about it. And on the initial reports, I may have to wait until I am extra bored in the (quotes for you!) "MMO" space. No rush here.

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    1. That's probably wise. It is still in beta, even if we do all know that means Soft Launch. Much will change and I'm sure it will be a smoother experience in a few months. In its favor, it;s really nice to look at and it feels quite convincing to be inside of, if you know what I mean. The fighting and the story are meh in the extreme, though.

      Another advantage of waiting is that in a month or three there will almost certainly be some really good player-made adventures. Better than the official ones, that's for sure. That was certainly the case with Neverwinter Nights.

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    2. Yeah, I finally accept I don't *have* to play every game, the date it comes out, and give it months of opportunity to earn my money.

      I'm content now to wait a bit, let the dust settle, and enjoy them in a different way.

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