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Neverwinter Plights

Well, my Marvel Heroes infatuation was short lived.  I had a ball playing Iron Man back in the last open beta weekend, but since the last wipe I had been playing Hawkeye.  Hawkeye is a lot slower and less interesting overall than Iron Man... who has, himself, been nerfed to be slower and less interesting.  The game is also suffering through some annoying technical issues as of late, resulting in frequent disconnects (which result in a rollback for that character) and sometimes even failures to load a new zone!

Things may well turn around for Marvel Heroes, and for the better.  I did already shell out for a $60 "Founder's Pack," so I am committed to at least give Marvel Heroes a try at release, and I am currently anticipating that it will end up being a game I play in short bursts.  In the meanwhile...
Bear in mind that this gameplay video from the always-excellent TotalBiscuit is a few months old now, having been uploaded on Feb 7th, but it's nonetheless an excellent overview of the present-day gameplay and backed up with some developer commentary offering some hints as to what they were going for.

....my attention is on Neverwinter, Cryptic Studio's latest MMORPG that is currently in an "Open Beta," and they are planning a wipe before the headstart begins at a date yet to be specified, according to that FAQ.

If there's not going to be a wipe, that may just be a big problem, because  a major exploit pretty much destroyed the game's economy by allowing people to dupe millions of astral diamonds, one of two game currencies which are the primary thing their F2P cash shop operates upon.   Reacting to this at last, Cryptic took down the servers for the later half of Sunday while considering what to do about the situation, eventually deciding to do an 7 hour rollback.  However, the exploit has been around for over a week, such a measure is greatly inadequate.  This they know, but they believe they're capable of reverting all the damage done on a case-by-case basis.

I'm pretty confused about whether the game is released or not, truth be told: they're doing this weird "soft launch" where the game is already released in headstart while simultaneously in open beta.  The main page of the game says, "Apply for Open Beta" right now, with a beta application.  You can still buy the founders packs which (according to the extended FAQs) are no longer available during headstart at pre-headstart prices... and they're currently at pre-headstart prices as far as I know.  Further, there's not actually a release day announced for the game yet, it's still officially going to be released "Early 2013," and even the Wikipedia entry for Neverwinter lists its release date as "Open Beta, April 30th, 2013."  What the Hell?

Even if there was a wipe as a result of the astral diamond fiasco, which the vocal majority on the forum is pushing for, there's going to be some lasting damage: they actually allowed Astral Diamonds to be converted to yet another kind of currency, "Zen," and this is the stuff used by their Perfect World bosses for all of their games micro-transactions.  Consequently, this Astral Diamond fiasco will not only affect Neverwinter in open beta, but all Perfect World Entertainment games now and after the Neverwinter wipe.  Whoops!

I can only assume that the greater amount of effort spent on reversing the damage on their exploits will actually be spent reversing what was done to the Zen, so don't go buying any third party Zen you see offered: it's probably going to go poof, real soon.  (But then, if you ever financially incentivized obnoxious gold sellers in the name of getting in-game shortcuts, I have no pity for your under-the-table dealings blowing up in your face, and actually hope it happens even more often to you.)

One thing that may come of this is that any future MMORPG being developed by people who have heard what happened to Neverwinter will never make the mistake of promising no wipes while the game is in beta.  As applies to MMORPGs, the concept of a "soft launch" may be dead and, frankly: good riddance.
So, what do I think of Neverwinter itself, in terms of gameplay?  Eh, it's alright.  I think the most apt comparison for Neverwinter is to set it beside TERA.  Both are MMORPGs with action-based combat that involves getting your crosshair over a target and activating abilities while dodging enemy attacks, but each game does something better on its own.

Things TERA does better:
  • Greater number of character classes.
  • Character classes are a bit better balanced, since the game has been out for quite some time in South Korea and has received many tweaking patches.
  • Central combat mechanic is a bit more robust in terms of how action combat is handled.  It's not quite as "sticky" as Neverwinter, and there's a greater importance to observing enemies telegraphing attacks which, while not non-existent in Neverwinter, is more ever-present in TERA.
  • Better job of segregating players of different nationalities.  I'm not racist; it's just an annoying chore to have to sift through content left behind by German or French players in Neverwinter in languages I do not understand.
  • No pretense of having a Dungeons and Dragons foundation, which Neverwinter pays some homage to but otherwise throws completely to the winds in a game that largely plays like the latest and greatest iteration of Cryptic's other games.
Things Neverwinter does better:
  • Considerably easier on Western eyes.  TERA has an art style that is unabashedly Eastern fantasy (thanks to its South Korean roots) with many characters looking like something out of the Devil May Cry or Final Fantasy series.  Granted, TERA is generally gorgeous in any nationality, but what I'm saying is some of the conventions they take look weird to westerners.  Neverwinter, developed by Californians, has no such problem.
  • The "foundry," a module that allows players to create their own quest scenarios, a nod towards Neverwinter Nights' legacy of player scenario creation.  This allows potentially unlimited content for players to play through.
  • Greater diversification of end game activities, thanks in part to the event mechanic which cycles their players through all of the end game activities, thereby creating a perpetual churn of end game activities: foundry scenarios, player versus player, dungeon delves, skirmishes, and more.  TERA has fewer such activities, mostly just dungeons, open-world guild-on-guild PvP, and a politics system which has promise but is ultimately not featured enough to be of any consequence.
  • A companion system that better facilitates soloing.  However, some might call this a drawback, as interdependency on other players is somewhat the glue that holds MMORPGs together.
Which game is better?  Honestly, I'd rate them at about the same, and which you'd rather play comes down to a matter of personal preference.  I would say that, currently, Neverwinter is rather popular, even more popular than present-day Guild Wars 2 in terms of the number of players I see in the game, and recent MMORPG.com visit statistics are showing that Neverwinter is #1 in weekly and monthly unique hits.

Neverwinter will probably survive.  Sure, this recent Astral Diamond scandal may have been a setback for them, but I think Cryptic is nevertheless going to do very well on Neverwinter.  Then again, if there's that many players at level 60 (the maximum level of the game) inside of the game being "soft released" for only 3 weeks, maybe Neverwinter's actual longevity will be very limited?  Well, it did not hurt Neverwinter Nights, and the foundry feature may well be the lynchpin that has players still playing months from now.

Even I might become a Neverwinter regular, but first I have to figure out which, if any, of the five classes I want to play.  I'm planning on running through the five current classes of Neverwinter in open beta to get an idea as to what the different classes can do, but so far they all seem pretty samey to me.  That may well be the topic of my next blog entry, as I am not stranger to compiling MMORPG class comparisons.

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