Beta Diary #4
The journey through Cryptic’s Neverwinter has been a fun and entertaining one over the past four weeks. Whether visiting character creation or questing or the Neverwinter store, the trip has been a blast. We have, however, left one aspect of the game untouched until today: namely the Neverwinter Foundry, arguably the crown jewel of the title. We’ll spend a bit of time talking about the Foundry before jumping to a few “Etc.” thoughts and then wrap up our series waiting for the time to post our official review.
As Deckard Cain always says, “Stay awhile and listen.”
According to many, the Foundry will be the one feature that will make or break Neverwinter. I can’t say that I disagree. With content locusts already having consumed all of Cryptic’s story, it will fall to Foundry artists to fill in the gaps as players await new character classes, quest content and/or expansions. Honestly? That’s not a bad thing either. Some of the Foundry quests have been the as good as, or dare I say even better, than the content created by Cryptic.
Cryptic has tapped into the wildly popular Forgotten Realms and into the pre-existing Neverwinter Nights modding community with the Foundry. Some of the best and most comprehensively brilliant stories I’ve ever played in any RPG were made by modders in the NWN days. Now, with the Foundry, that community of storytellers can once again come to life.
The Foundry quests run the gamut of play styles from total action-RPG to heavy role-playing with player decisions making a difference in the way the quest plays out. Of course there is a valid complaint that there are also Foundry quests that exploit the character experience and leveling system by allowing players to fight top end monsters that neither move nor fight back, “rewarding” the player with maximum experience for expending little effort. That those types of quests are still in the Foundry a month after release is strange.
Last year when speaking with the Neverwinter team during PAX Prime, we asked whether or not there would be any oversight on Foundry creations. We were told that there would not be any checks into what players create. At least as of this writing, that still seems to be the case. There will always be those who exploit any game’s systems but most developers try to stay on top of those situations by closing the loopholes. We can only hope that Cryptic will do so here.
What I’d love to see is an oversight committee either elected by the player base or chosen from among Foundry artists by Cryptic. That way, exploit mods can be shut down before ever seeing the light of day and we can be assured of the cream of the crop, so to speak, being released to the larger Neverwinter community.
Exploits aside, some really great mods have been made in the NW Foundry. One of the best that my friend Shelassa and I have played is Cragsteep Crypt. Not only was it a challenging but it was breathtakingly beautiful. One only has to look at these screens as proof:
The Foundry is the make it or break it fulcrum on which Neverwinter hangs. With storytellers able to literally and figuratively spin their tales for others to enjoy, the entire community benefits. The ability to do so is what will keep players interested and returning to the game as they await more content and expansions from the Cryptic team. What is slightly worrisome is that the development team may become too reliant on the modding community to create content to keep players happy. While the Foundry is good for short-term fixes for players, it’s not the same as expansion content and endgame content that must come from Cryptic.
THE CATURSDAY CATASTROPHE
Last weekend saw a huge exploit perpetrated on the Neverwinter community when players were able to take advantage of a bug that allowed for a statistically few players to buy out all of the Zen in the Astral Diamonds / Zen exchange market. By so doing, the economy fell into a shambles, a seven hour rollback was implemented to ‘correct’ the issue and the offending players were banned from Neverwinter.
I give big props to the Cryptic / Perfect World team for rallying to the office to get the situation under control as quickly as possible on a weekend, no less. Also, rather than implementing a server(s)-wide wipe, the team has chosen to track individuals down for punishment, though there are those who feel that the seven hour rollback is punitive to all players. There’s no question that the loss of experience and items gained during those seven hours is a big deal to legitimate players. I can’t imagine what I’d have felt like had I lost some epic item gained during the time in question. It’s definitely something that Cryptic/PWE will have to address in the coming days.
I can’t say that this snafu has had much of an effect on my beta journey as I’ve not been even remotely interested in participating in the Zen/Astral Diamonds Exchange Market but it’s completely understandable that players who do will be put out by the PWE’s decision. Add in that something so, as Bill Murphy put it in a conversation we had earlier, “inherently breakable” and there will be hesitation on the part of potential paying customers to pony up the cash.
For more on the Catursday issue, check out Rob Lashley’s op-ed on the subject.
There are a few other things that don’t truly belong anywhere else that deserve mention as either just inexplicable or head-scratching:
- REGION BLOCKING: What's the deal with Perfect World blocking entire nations from playing what is arguably a great game? On the PWE site, there are eleven nations that are blocked full stop and a few others that are “limited”. I’m sure PWE has its reasons for blocking users but entire countries is way too extreme. Perhaps Country A is blocked for the perception that many players are hackers. Does that mean all players from that country are hacking? The obvious answer is “no”. The whole issue leaves a bad taste in my mouth and smacks of discriminatory behavior. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that, financially speaking, such action takes money out of the developer’s and publisher’s hands and keeps good players from experiencing a great game.
- LOOT IS TOO PLENTIFUL: Pedestrian (white and green) loot in Neverwinter is way too plentiful. We need an Identify all spell or scroll or something and a better statistical chance at scoring blue and purple items.
- ARMOR CUSTOMIZATION IS LACKING: While character creation is spectacular for customizing the look of one’s character, the armor system is not. Every Control Wizard looks pretty much the same on any given character level. Yes, items can be altered to look like something else but it still is a “more of the same” look overall. Dyes are expensive and, to date, I haven’t found any from loot drops even though it’s indicated that that can happen.
- COMPANIONS ALL LOOK ALIKE: Companions all look exactly the same. For the human or humanoid companions, why not adopt a Star Wars: The Old Republic type of customization that at least gives three choices on look? For the animal companions, look no further than Lineage 2 to see how a growing pet should change and eventually evolve into an armored mount. How cool would that be?
- SINDRAGOSA? Why is it that the NW Dragon looks ever so much like World of Warcraft’s Sindragosa? The whole opening cinematic reminded Shelassa of Arthas and his undead army along with Sindragosa attacking...Neverwinter. Of course, the argument can be made that D&D far pre-dates World of Warcraft but you get my point.
- KIND OF EASY, ISN'T IT? What about difficulty? So far, there have been few times that either Shelassa or I have died or even felt terribly threatened with death. Both of us are approaching level 50 so we are not far off cap. Granted, there will be more opportunities to die in the 50-60 zone, but there is really very little difficulty leveling or passing through areas that are designed for levels 3-5 higher than we are currently. Players will quickly tire of a game that offers scant challenge.
- END GAME FOR PvE: What about the large PvE community? What will there be for them to do at level cap? Dungeons? Foundry missions? Both are great but not enough to keep people coming back for more.
- END GAME FOR PvP: I’m also unsure whether or not Gauntlgrym’s addition will be enough for PvP players either. As only the second type of PvP included in the game, it likely won’t be enough for competitive players.
THE LAST WORD
If you're taking money from customers, your game is released. 'Nough said. Our review and final score is coming up next week.
So there you have it: Our four week series of beta diaries to cover the most important aspects of Neverwinter's open beta. Be sure to leave your comments on the Foundry, the Catursday exploit and anything else Neverwinter-related in the comments.
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can harangue her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.
Thanks more than words can express to my best friend, Shelassa, for her insight and input into all of the Beta Diaries as well as her spectacular screenshot photography and for the time spent adventuring with me!