Neverwinter Soft Launch Impressions

April 30 marked the start of the “open beta” for Cryptic Studios’ Neverwinter, an MMORPG based loosely upon D&D 4th edition and set in a corner of the Forgotten Realms. This is, of course, a de facto launch — they’re taking your money and not wiping your characters, so it’s a launch, despite being labeled a beta for marketing reasons and so that can be used as an excuse for any major issues.

And there was a major issue early in the day — lag. Which shouldn’t be and wasn’t surprising, but in a game that plays like Neverwinter, which is a bit twitchy and where timing and positioning are very important to one’s effectiveness, it was exceptionally harmful, to the point where anything remotely challenging may have been impossible. A mid-day backend patch solved the lag issue at the cost of introducing (rather lengthy) login queues. But if you ask me, dealing with a queue is preferable to a shitty experience in the game.

Neverwinter, though it cries out for more, has five launch classes. My selection was the Great Weapon Fighter, but due to the lag and that the character felt a bit clumsy and underpowered to me, after about seven levels (beyond which, for all I know, those issues would go away) I switched back to Control Wizard, which was the class I played the most back in the closed beta.

Neverwinter is a contemporary themepark MMO, which is to say that it’s got linear content along with scaling, instanced and one-off content that’s available to you at whatever level, so you have the ability to mix it up. This can give a game a bit of sandbox feel if you squint hard enough at it, but I’m not sure that’s really the case here. This content structure feels more or less like that of Star Trek Online and Champions Online, Cryptic’s other offerings. I find that generally agreeable.

And the game, too. Neverwinter is fun to play, with fast, fluid combat that manages not to be too twitchy for arthritic graybeards like myself. It’s set in a world (D&D’s Forgotten Realms) virtually unmatched in depth of lore and the game seems to have enough stuff to keep one busy for a little while. How well it will hold up over the long term… well, we’ll see, but if the login queues are any indication there’s lots of folks wanting to play right now.

A compare and contrast could and should be done with the other D&D MMO, Turbine’s D&D Online, but that’s beyond the scope of this opening day post. Offhand, DDO is far deeper but Neverwinter is slicker and more modern in just about every respect. I’m not sure there is a real need for there to be two D&D MMOs, but then, neither really captures the open-ended nature of a tabletop game. No video game does, of course, but titles like Skyrim or EVE Online can come tantalizingly close.

But anyway. Neverwinter is worth checking out. Nice graphics and good gameplay and if it’s a touch rough around the edges you can tell yourself that it’s technically still in beta. I have new episodes of Ardwulf Presents dealing with it and more on the way, so check those out as well.

Ardwulf Presents Returns! This time, STO

The new, long-delayed episode of Ardwulf Presents covers the charcater creation system from Star Trek Online. Just getting back into the swing of things… but there will be new episodes each week!

A F2P Addendum and an Extended Look at Early Vanguard Gameplay

First up, we have a brief (for a change) addendum to the last epsiode concerning Vangurd’s free-to-play transition, with a couple of clarifications and corrections.

For today’s more substantial second course, I keep promising a look at Vanguard’s actual gameplay, and here it is — an hour-long look at one of the four current starter areas, the Isle of Dawn, on a free account.

I plan to do at least another video or two to follow up on this last one, which hopefully will make it up by early next week. After that, expect some Guild Wars 2 vids from me after the headstart begins.

A Video Double Feature, and More Vanguard F2P Commentary

I have two new videos up this week. First up is this week’s Norrathian Odyssey, in which we delve into customizing the EQ2 User Interface. Not with UI mods, but with the relatively powerful tools built right into the client. The vid’s been up for a couple of days but I haven’t gotten around to posting about it until now.

Next up is the new Ardwulf Presents, the first in a couple of weeks. Here I talk in a very rambly fashion about the Vanguard f2p model, and explain a bit about why it doesn’t bother me very much. You may want to either watch the video for my opinion on the matter, or read the borderline rant below.

There seems to be a lot of anger about the details of Vanguard’s freemium model, which I find both disappointing and a bit strange, since it’s a mild variation of SOE’s established and well-understood EQ2/EQ f2p model. So I wonder what folks expected out of it, and the way I keep reading a lot of the comments is that people are unhappy with not getting the whole game for free. That’s not a terribly fair interpretation, but the Vanguard model doesn’t differ very much from what we’ve seen in the past from SOE, which is presumably working very well for them since they’re leaving the subscription model that they help pioneer in favor of the new thing.

The way I see it, as with EQ2, you’re either going to play casually, in which case the free limitations don’t offer any very serious restrictions, or you’re going to be a serious player, in which case you ought to have no problem subscribing, since $15 a month in general offers very good value to people playing, say, more then ten hours a week. Where the model falls down somewhat is, as I have pointed out before, for players who fall somewhere between the two extremes, or who (like myself) oscillate between periods of heavy play and periods of minimal investment. But there are tradeoffs. Namely, that the SOE model that will soon be in use with most of their titles with relatively minor variations offers basically unlimited access to actual content, or at least to the vast majority of it.

The standard retort to this is to compare the SOE model to Turbine’s, usually noting that while you have to pay for content above about level 25 in LotRO, you can earn the store points through play. Which is true, but doing so beyond about that point is a gigantic pain in the ass, such that buying more than about one zone takes a massive amount of grinding in a game that is very grindy in other respects as well. I’m not dissing LotRO, here — it’s on my short list of games worth playing, and I’m still doing so (though only dabbling at the moment.) My point is that while the SOE model is neither perfect nor necessarily my own ideal choice for this kind of thing, it’s far less clear to me than it is to many other commentators that SOE’s approach is obviously inferior to anybody else’s. You can get at least as much quality play out of (for example) EQ2 while paying a similarly nonexistent amount of money. The points-for-play in the Turbine model is not relevant to this argument, since if you’re playing enough to get the points to unlock even just the content you need to level, you’re playing far more than enough to make that subscription a phenomenal value.

SOE is not a charity. While I would like them to make the Vanguard free package as attractive as possible for obvious reasons, they have absolutely no obligation to provide anything for free, much less basically unrestricted access to all the content in a game that’s content rich even without any updates for the better part of two years. Nor need they, or even should they, make it easy to access absolutely everything in the game without paying a cent. I’ve been over the ins and outs of their model several times already so I’m disinclined to do so in depth again, but I’ve hit on the highlights in this post.

The bottom line is that if the thoroughly anticipated details of the f2p model has unsold you on playing Vanguard, you were unlikely to come back anyway for anything other than a look around. That’s totally a fair call for anybody to make, but let’s not lay out some bullshit line of “I love Vanguard, but SOE’s model is so terribad that I will never return” in so doing. Because either it is bullshit or you’re just a fucking cheapskate.

More From Ardwulf Presents: Returns to Rift and Runes of Magic

Here’s a couple of late-week additions to the Ardwulf Presents stable, both follow-ups. The first offers my final thoughts as I wrap up a round of play in Rift. I went over most of this on the blog earlier in the week; praise for the game but also my reasons for not sticking with it.

The second is a quick revisit to Runes of Magic, where I take a quick spin around the brand-new Dwarf starter area that launched with the Chapter V: Fires of Shadowforge update.

More new vids are in the planning stages, so be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel.

This Week in Ardwulf Presents: Guild Wars 2 and Vanguard

This was kind of a rotten week for me as far as getting videos done, but nevertheless I have no less than three new episodes of Ardwulf Presents to show off this week. Enjoy!

First up we have one of two from this past weekend’s Guild Wars 2 beta event. We’re closing in on the end of the human starter zone at this point, and I take a look at Beetletun and the stuff to do there.

The next vid is the last of the GW2 content this time around, the very end of the Queensdale zone and the start of Kessex Hills, the Human 15-25 zone. I also offer up some concluding thoughts for this round of beta. This is likely to be the last of my GW2 “progression” videos, although I do still have some stuff I’d like to show off in future beta events.

Next up is one I’ve been sitting on for a couple of weeks and decided to upload along with the other two since I didn’t have any midweek vids this past week. It’s another return to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, for a look at the InfoMap UI Mod, pretty much the definitive Vanguard map mod.

Ardwulf Presents plans for the next two or three weeks include returns to Rift and Fallen Earth and the start of a new, dedicated show about EverQuest 2. So be sure to subscribe to the YouTube Channel and take in all the ongoing goodness.

Ardwulf Presents 12: Rift

This time Ardwulf Presents brings you a bit of Rift, playing on the level-limited Rift Light trial. The announcement for the upcoming Storm Legion expansion was made literally while the video was compiling, making it instantly out of date.

Storm Legion sounds insanely ambitious, with two new continents that about triple the size of the game world, ten new levels, new dungeons and raids, and the promise of more new types of dynamic content. Plus what sounds like some kind of player housing. This is what paid expansions are supposed to be like, folks.

Ardwulf Presents #11: Fallen Earth

The latest Ardwulf Presents is up; this time around we take a look at Fallen Earth, the sandboxy post-apocalyptic MMO.

It had been quite a while since I’d played FE, so I started fresh on a new character and before I knew it I was five hours in. Since then I’ve played some more and and having a great time.

Ardwulf Presents 10: Runes of Magic

This week (yeah, see below) we take a little look at Runes of Magic and the first ub/city in the game.

My original intention was for Ardwulf Presents to be a weekly show. This sounds reasonable from a “don’t overload myself” standpoint, but as it’s turned out these shows are easy to do, because they are off the cuff, unscripted and unedited, and generally not very long. So I’ve managed to get out 2-3 shows a week for the most part. I will probably keep that pace up for the next couple of weeks at least. Just so you know.