Neverwinter Online: A Jewel of the North or Free-to-Play Drek?

The new and highly anticipated MMORPG, Neverwinter Online, has been in available in open beta for over a month now! A host of the Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, Forgotten Realms loremeisters, R.A. Salvatore fans, and MMO aficionados have been able to jump right in and experience Cryptic Studios most recent addition to the Perfect World family of games – which include Star Trek Online, Champions Online, and Jade Dynasty (to name but a few).

One might assert that it is a bit of a misnomer to call it an “open beta”, and might be more precisely termed a “soft opening”, considering that there are no plans to delete already existing characters at launch, and the market for in-game premiums bought with real-world cash is already open for business. This final phase before full launch has been more of server stress test, final bug hunt, and security shake down – as well as an exploitation checker, which revealed serious issues with the auction house and world economy in the dreadful Caturday of Doom only a few weeks ago.

As an avid MMORPG player, from the days when Verant first unleashed EverQuest to the online gaming community, I immediately leapt at the chance to play an MMORPG which was both D&D and free to play. And having spent the last month of play time, I thought it was high time to review this new free-to-play MMORPG, and give a comprehensive report on what I found in Cryptic’s
Neverwinter Online.

Neverwinter Online (MMORPG)

  • Coding: Cryptic Studios
  • Publisher: Perfect World
  • License: Wizards of the Coast
  • Platform/Type: PC / MMORPG
  • Price: Free Client (Downloadable)
  • Subscription: None (Free to Play)

Neverwinter Online
is an Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Game written by Cryptic Studios for Perfect World Inc. It is set in Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms setting licensed from Wizards of the Coast, and features an over-arching storyline inspired in part by the writings of R.A. Salvatore’s Neverwinter Trilogy. It uses the D&D 4th Edition (4E) game system as inspiration for the MMO’s game mechanics, and its AEDU power structure.


Controls and Interface

The control interface is probably one of the most important facets of any PC game, and often decides whether a player will like or dislike a game from the outset. Neverwinter Online uses a fully customize-able HUD, allowing users to decide where they want the hit point bars, mini map, chat window, and other HUD features to be displayed.

All key commands, including combat controls for powers, default to the number keys and TAB-key, but can be customized and changed as well. For instance, I found it useful to move some combat keys to multiple mouse buttons, giving me more control of when I used my encounter and daily powers. Most of the other windows - such as character display, quest journal, guild window, and so on – have pre-assigned keys to access them.

The mouse is used for both steering and aiming, with a targeting reticule in the center of the screen. The reticule is used to target enemies and or to interact with NPCs (shopkeepers, questgivers, etc.), objects like chests and traps, and other players’ characters. Regretfully, there is no mouse cursor unless called up by tapping the ALT key, which grays the screen and prevents fighting and movement. This affect also occurs when any window is opened, including the character sheet and backpack. Personally, I found the limitation frustrating, the equivalent of your character opening his or her backpack and stuffing their head in it, leaving themselves completely open and defenseless to monsters.

The aiming feature was also a cause of frustration for me, as it is possible to accidentally target another character who gets in your way while trying to access a chest, loot on the ground, or an NPC. Selecting a character grays out the screen and opens am options box, which again can be counter-productive in many situations.

Neverwinter Online
has an on-screen quest objective list and mini-map, as well as a “magic trail” feature, which presents a sparkling graphical trail to the next objective. All one has to do is follow the trail. The mini-map also shows shaded areas and points where all quest objectives can be located to get characters to the right place. The “magic trail” is pretty good at pathing along the shortest route most of the time, and can be turned off for players who find objectionable or non-immersive.


Play Style and Combat

The play style of Neverwinter Online felt more like console game or FPS than it did a representation of a tactical D&D 4E experience. Left and right mouse buttons fire off At Will powers, making it a simple matter of aiming and holding down your favorite attack to repeatedly attack monsters. Due to the aiming reticule instead of TAB targeting, lower powered monsters can get in the way of a major attack like an Encounter of Daily power against a “boss”. I frequently found Minions getting in the way, spoiling a major attack, and making tactics less important than just pounding out damage.

Encounter powers operate on a timer, usually 6-10 seconds before they refresh. So yes, they can be used more than once during an encounter, making the naming of them an oxymoron. Daily powers refresh typically after so much damage is done by the character to monsters, and a large d20 icon “fills up” to show the progress toward the next Daily power being available. While some classes can have more than one Daily power on their action bar, the they can only choose one or the other power which can be used - another odd interpretation of 4E rules.

As you might imagine, one of my personal disappointments in the play style was its lack of adherence to D&D 4E. If you’re looking for 4E play, it’s not there in substance, but just the trappings - names of powers and effects. While I certainly acknowledge that some aspects must change in order to function in an MMO style play versus a tabletop experience, the powers and class features often work quite differently than one would expect, giving the impression that Neverwinter Online is just paying lip service to D&D 4E. And Cryptic has done this before – I know that Champions Online left many Hero System fans unhappy to see their favorite paper-and-pencil game translated poorly into a digital environment.

While ability scores still exist, as does Armor Class, these are used in strange new ways to generate a huge list of combat characteristics for each character. So in addition to AC, a character also has a host of new stats such as Deflection and Dodge, Movement, Armor Penetration, Defense, Regeneration, and Health Stealing. Non-AC Defenses (NADs) no longer exist, and the combat system is now a bizarre behind the scenes jumble of algorithms and code. A far different cry from DDO, which tried and mostly succeeded at translating D&D 3.5, while keeping the core of the tabletop system intact.

All character classes have a physical Evasion feature, that allows characters to avoid big attacks from monsters (there’s usually a windup animation before the haymaker plasters anyone in front of the critter) and spell area of effect attacks (a nasty red reticle appears on the ground moments before the damage comes in). Depending on the class, it ranges from a rolling dive, a short teleport, a beam of light jetting from a holy symbol, or raising one’s shield. It’s cool when you get the timing right and avoid a nasty effect, and I’ve played other MMOs with that feature. But if you’re looking for D&D 4E immersion, then it’s a feature that takes one out of the game system again.


Characters and Storyline

As of the soft-opening/Open Beta, there are only a very few classes and builds available from out of the scores of them available in D&D 4E. These class/build combinations are the Guardian Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter, Trickster Rogue, Controller Wizard, and Devoted Cleric.

Character races include Human, Half-Elf, Wood Elf, Tiefling, Dwarf, and Halfling. Drow are available by purchasing the Founder’s Pack for $199.99, but you also get a lot of other goodies, and your own panther companion. The Drow race and panther companions can also be accessed also unlocking them by spending Zen – the in-game currency purchased with real-world dollars.

It should be noted that free-to-play accounts only get two character slots to use in Neverwinter Online, so choose wisely. More character slots are available by Zen purchases.

Character creation is fairly standard for D&D – you pick race and class, and then roll ability scores. Literally. One cannot just assign them using an array or point system, but instead, you have to roll arrays randomly with the game assigning your rolls until the numbers pop into the ability scores you want. Since there is no limit on how many times you can click the roll button, the process is just annoying and a little silly that uses up player time for no apparent reason.

I was pleased to see that Cryptic included access to Backgrounds, which gives benefits and some fluff. Many of these Backgrounds will be familiar to those who have played D&D 4E. You also get to pick your favorite deity from among the Forgotten Realms pantheon. While the selection is mainly cosmetic fluff, your character does get to pray to the deity for inspiration (see below).

Neverwinter Online
does feature a fairly extensive character customization feature, allowing for many face shapes, hair styles and colors, skin tones, and even minor height/ weight alterations. I really enjoyed making my Tiefling look handsomely diabolical, tweaking his horn and tail size to suit my personal vision for him.

Power progression also does not follow D&D 4E advancement (btw, there are 60 rather than 30 levels in the game), and there are very few choices for powers to choose from. Admittedly, this is not uncommon for other MMOs to restrict power selection with character advancement, but given the number and variety of powers in 4E, the offerings are very, very, narrow.

Skills are also handled quite oddly in Neverwinter Online, if one is looking for any sort of D&D experience. Each class has one skill it can use – Thievery for Rogues, Arcana for Wizards, Religion for Clerics, Nature for Great Weapon Fighers, and Dungeoneering for Guardian Fighters. These skills have no real effect in the game as D&D skills would be expected to have. Instead, these skills allow a character to open specially designed “chests” in the wilderness and dungeons, containing crafting supplies, consumables, and occasionally, a few coins or magic items. But as one can also buy a stack of skill kits to gain all the other class specific skills - at a 75% chance of success – it diminishes the value of skills, utilizing them for a fairly meaningless purpose.

It should be noted that the Trickster Rogue, and only the Trickster Rogue, can find and remove traps. And some of these traps are quite nasty, so having a Rogue adventuring buddy along for a trip can save yourself a huge amount of hurt.

As previously mentioned, the storyline follows some of the characters and major events found in R.A. Savatore’s Neverwinter Trilogy, as well as in the D&D 4E Neverwinter Campaign Setting. One of the real treats of the game is reading and seeing the references to the Realms, which are plentiful everywhere. For those unfamiliar with D&D 4E’s post-Spellplague FR setting, the game provides plenty of lore to learn and enjoy. In fact, books and tomes, certain objects found, and some NPCS detail setting lore, and all these references are detailed in a section of the player’s Journal once discovered.

For players who prefer a solo experience, their characters do gain companions to accompany them, which can be selected from the main character classes in the game. Each character gets one for free (the female cleric ROCKS unless you’re already a cleric, of course.), which you can name and customize. You can find other companions, or buy them with astral diamonds from other players via the auction house, or unlock them with Zen. You get to choose which companion is active at any one time, and make every class a “pet” class – with the caveat that sometimes your companion can start a fight or draw “aggro” from time to time.

One thing I noted about play balance between the classes was that only three of them have decent ranged attacks – Trickster Rogue, Controller Wizard, and Devoted Cleric – allowing them to “kite” packs of monsters and stay away from dangerous “bosses”. The Guardian Fighter and Great Weapon Fighter are relegated to wading into packs of monsters or standing toe-to-toe with a boss monster, which can be fairly life-threatening. However, the Guardian Fighter can block big attacks fairly well – his Evasion power is raising a shield - but the Great Weapon Fighter has to choose between sprinting away uselessly or wading hip deep in monsters. Regretfully, this design makes him very weak, and in constant need of gulping healing potions to survive if running solo missions. Several of my friends, as well as yours truly, tried to play Great Weapon Fighters, and no one from my personal playtest group enjoyed the class when compared to the others.


Settings and Zones

The game world is divided into zones which can be traveled to instantaneously from an interface – usually a city or district gate. The zones turned out to be surprisingly small, giving one an impression of playing on a backlots at a movie studio, and Neverwinter Online lacks those wide open expanses and vistas that other MMORPGs have to offer.

In addition, the fact that one teleports from a gate to a gate with no travel time in between, enhances the feeling of a world that is really small, and distracts from the immersion. In one moment, you can be in Neverwinter City, and seconds later join your friends on the slopes of Mount Hotenew, or vice versa.

On the plus side, there are a wide variety of areas to visit in Neverwinter Online, and the rendering and graphics are a little cartoony, but good looking: city-scapes both rebuilt and ruins, graveyards, sewers, caverns, forests. But again, the size and scope of the areas was really noticeable after playing other MMOs. It make the “massive” part of MMO seem like a misnomer when the world is quite small.


Questing, Dungeons, and The Foundry

Many quests in Neverwinter Online are the fairly common ones we’ve seen in previous MMOs – kill x monsters, find x thing, gather x supplies, etc. But there is a larger storyline that all players engage in, and has a specific series of quests and dungeon delves which move the plot along.

These dungeon delves are somewhat like mini-dungeons, with most of the content being soloable, and having a pretty good story told as part of the adventure. The magic path will lead you through the dungeon, and there are goals in certain areas, such as go here, find this, activate that, and kill that boss. If you choose to deviate from the quest path, you often find more combats and traps, but the designers also put chests or skill nodes to loot, so it does pay to explore around a bit. It also helps to make the mini-dungeons fee l less linear as well.

Unfortunately, due to zone/quest design, replaying Neverwinter Online will mean going through the exact same quests again, but with a new character. The game suffers the same design flaw seen in The Old Republic, but even more so, as all characters start by washing up on a beach, and have no different experiences in the quests, regardless of what class they play.

There are a few class-specific quests, but not a significant number to make the game anymore replayable. As these quests are not marked as such in the quest journal, the first time I encountered one with my buddy, it lead to confusion, as you suddenly have a quest that another character cannot access, and no real explanation as to why they got it.

All characters have one repeatable permanent quest – Inspiration. It’s accessible once per hour at a campfire or shrine, or by using a portable altar. A character can pray for divine blessing, and receive a variety of random boons – experience points, tradeskill items, Ardent and Celestial coins, and short term (15 min) buffs.

Multiplayer Dungeons occur about every 15 levels or so, allowing friends and/or strangers to perform a dungeon crawl. A typical group is five characters, and there is an automated function to find a group of random players if you don’t have friends handy. The dungeons are stocked with a wide variety of monsters, traps and lore, and progress the overall story arc. At higher levels, characters can go back and play through lower level dungeons on a “hard” mode for better equipment and drops.

To provide additional content, players have the option of creating content in what is called The Foundry – although at the time of this review, it is limited only to those who have purchased a Founder’s Pack. Player created dungeons can be made by using an application like ones previously used in the Neverwinter Nights series – and I believe Star Trek Online also has a mission creator of similar ilk.

The dungeons in The Foundry are accessible from anywhere in the game through an interface, as well as from signboard and Harper Agents. They are given ratings in stars (1 to 5), with certain dungeons given special note by the design team with a little badge. A repeatable daily quest is available that rewards players for tracking through a dungeon from The Foundry.

However, from personal experience, I found that the rating system is not reliable, entering several 5-star-ish dungeons which were buggy, poorly designed, and filled with overly powerful or underpowered encounters. Some were massive and went on for hours at a time, filled with corridors and rooms that had no purpose, bereft of monsters, loot, traps, or points of interest. Some of the designers using The Foundry are also quite juvenile in temperament, naming monsters after their friends, hackerish screen names, and other silliness that drags one immediately out of any sense of immersion in D&D lore. After playing almost a dozen 4.5 star to 5 star dungeons, I found that I only enjoyed about three of them, found a couple that were average (meh), and the rest felt like a complete waste of my time and effort. Not a good track record for player generated content.


Treasure, Commerce, and Gear

There are several treasure system employed in Neverwinter Online, with the most typical being the gold-silver-copper standard familiar to most fantasy gamers. Unlike D&D, there is 100 coins between values rather than 10, but it’s not a massively difficult change to get used to.

However, the coinage goes on to include other non-standard coin types – astral diamonds, Ardent Coins, and Celestial coins – and of course the almighty Zen for real money. Astral diamonds is the major currency in the game, rendering gold-silver-copper coins almost entirely worthless – all you can with those are small items – healing potions, medical packs to heal wounds, skill kits, some minor low level magic items, and tradeskill items. About the only major purchase one makes with gold is a mount. Astral diamonds are used in most other major purchases, such as identify scrolls, and is the tender of the auction house. If you buy and sell at the auction house, your gold is useless here – better find astral diamonds or you can’t trade.

It should be noted that all magic items found must be identified before they can be used or sold on auction – they can be sold to a vendor at reduced cost for mere coins if desired. Identify scrolls are found in from monster “drops”, bought with astral diamonds or zen. They cannot be bought with cash, and in a way, Identify scrolls are their own currency.

Ardent coins can be transformed into 5 different “seals” – Lion, Manticore, Pegasus, Unicorn, and Drake – each one used to buy potent “blue” magic items from specific vendors, at various level tiers. These coins come as rewards fro Inspiration, or from drops from bosses in dungeons. Celestial coins buy potent elixirs and buffs, as well as rare tradeskill items.

One frustrating note about monster loot drops - treasures fly off monsters in random directions like one sees in the Diablo series. Conveniently, monster bodies disappear quickly, leaving the dungeon tidier than when the heroes first arrive. But this flying loot also means that some treasure can be lost in physical geometry where characters cannot go to pick it up – up walls, on ledges, on top of window dressing items, etc. It’s frustrating to watch an item sail off a ledge and into the abyss, as though the monster threw it away to spite its murderer.


The Power of Zen

Zen is the currency bought with real dollars or by spending vast (millions) of astral diamonds to get enough to make an important purchase.

It should be noted that some very cool items are only available by zen – certain mount upgrades, companion pets, clothing dyes are just some of the nifty options. But zen is also required to add character slots, bank and bag slots, which are fairly sparse without spending real cash. There is also a special chest (the Nightmare Lockbox) that drops fairly often, and promises the possibility of amazing elite loot like a Nightmare mount, rare magic items, and other coolness – but keys to open these wondrous chest can only be gotten through zen. I have a massive stack of these chests in my bank vault, hoping I might see a key randomly drop to open one, but no such luck during the time I played the beta.

Zen is purchased in $5.00 increments to get 500 zen. Typical purchases range from 125 zen (nightmare lockbox keys) all the way up to specialized mounts, like an armored bear for 4000 zen. Additional character slots cost 500, and 16 additional bank slots cost 600 which is not too terribly expensive – but they definitely want to get you to spend real dollars to enjoy a bare level of comfort in Neverwinter Online.


Tradeskilling and Leadership

The tradeskilling system in the game consists of only five disciplines. Four armoring ones – Cloth, Leather, Chain, and Plate, and a meta-game called Leadership which allows characters to control a small (but unseen) army.

Leadership lets you create mercenaries, upgrade them to guards, and eventually into heroes, and to send them off to do various tasks like scout areas, guard caravans, and assault forts. The benefits of commanding this meta-game army of followers is to gain loot, experience points, tradskill items, and astral diamonds. Advancing leadership also allows you to display a title of Sargeant, Captain, and General in your name tag.

Armor making trade skills are a hands-off system as seen in The Old Republic and Star Trek Online. Artisans (weavers, blacksmiths, etc.) are hired to create items for you, using tradeskill missions to make “recipes” or raw materials. Regretfully, I found the system terribly disappointing, as by the time you get to finding items to make stuff and level up your tradeskilling level, most of the items you can make are lower level than what you have found as drops or been given by quest completion.

Armoring and Leadership “missions” take anything for a few minutes to 18 or more hours to complete. Sadly, many rewards for the missions are not always commensurate with the time spent – this is particularly noticeable in the Leadership missions.

Another annoyance of armoring is that some recipes for “blue” gear are only available at certain times and at random intervals. If a quests come up to make “blue” magical gear, you either have to possess the right tradeskilling level and have the right materials on hand, or that “recipe” will gone in 60 minutes.

To allow players to trade skill outside the game, there is an interface at the Neverwinter Gateway. I know several comrades who play around with Leadership all day long at their workplaces, assigning missions to their armies while they’re working on their spreadsheets and applications.


PvP

It exists but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like PvP, so I do not feel that I can comment on it objectively. I’ve heard some favorable and some unfavorable reactions to it from friends who do PvP, so my only comment is to try it and see if you like it or not.


Final Thoughts

There are a number of good qualities and bad qualities to Neverwinter Online, and many gamers will not think those bad qualities are all that “bad” to them. Personally, I think the game is poorly designed, with limited replayability, too linear of a storyline, and a way too tiny setting. While I enjoyed the idea of playing in Neverwinter and the surrounding area of the Realms, the frustration I felt toward the controls, FPS playstyle, the poor translation of D&D 4E to a video game format, and lack the immersion, makes this a game I would not be interested in playing for any length of time. And further, it saddens me that the rich content from the Realms and the Salvatore novels is rather wasted on a game that failed to capture my attention, and worse, left me frustrated after every play session.

If the game had a price tag, I could not recommend it in all good conscience - the fun factor was overshadowed by the bad qualities of the game. But as it is a free game, I can recommend that any gamer, particularly D&D fans, can at least give it a chance and download it to see if Neverwinter Online works for them.

We all have different expectations from our MMORPGs, and I’ve offered my own assessment of this one. But I must admit, I’m happy to finally set Neverwinter Online aside, and head back to Guild Wars 2 to play my evil little Asuran Necromancer once again…

So until next Review… I wish you happy MMORPGing!
 

Comments

A few things:

1. This is not a D&D game, this is a D&D-inspired game. An MMO that used real D&D mechanics wouldn't work very well, and even DDO (which stuck closer to 3e mechanics) had to make quite a few concessions to work.

2. On minions getting in the way of attacks against bosses: that doesn't remove the need to use tactics, it adds it. Sure, you could just power through everything like a brute and curse the game's lack of tactics... or you could actually use some tactics and move around a bit. If a minion is in your way, move so the minion is no longer in your way. Not very difficult. Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but I get tired of hearing people make silly complaints like "I refuse to use basic tactics like paying attention to my position on the battlefield, therefore this game has no tactics!"

3. Great Weapon Fighters are just fine. You shouldn't be having a problem with wading into melee, you can toss out so much AoE damage that it's ridiculous. If you're really having a problem with HP, get a Cleric companion. I have over 100 potions just sitting in my inventory because I haven't needed to heal myself since level 16.
 

Matt James

Game Developer
Great review. I have played the game extensively and wholly agree with your conclusions on it being entirely too linear with no incentive for replay. I am enjoying PvP, but not because of the game itself, but because I feel compelled to play my L60 that I have put time and effort into leveling.
The game is not difficult, nor do any of the quests compel or challenge you. It is very hack and slash with little depth.

I am not giving up on the game yet. I want to see what fixes and additions they make once they go live in a couple of weeks. I am enjoying the idea of the Foundry, and I hope this notion is picked up by future MMORPG makers. Having the ability for a consumer to create content for the game is very fun. In a MMORPG, it needs to conform to the quality of the game (balance, et al.), and they have done a good job with that.

Great review (as usual) Mr. Neuroglyph.
 

Jester David

Adventurer
I went through my own pretty detailed review of Neverwinter and echo your comments (albeit much less succinct).

I think the two good points you raise that I omit are the uselessness of crafting (unless you grind you're always going to outlevel anything you could get from crafting) and loot flying everywhere.

As for Great Weapon Fighters (GWF), I'm playing with a friend of that class and it's amazing how much more damage my rogue can put out than him and how much more hurt he is after only a few minutes of adventuring.

One tip on the game. As it's free and signing up for an account is easy, it's super-quick to make a new account using an alt e-mail (who doesn't have 3 nowadays?), run through the tutorial and set-up a mule account. Double your storage for free in five minutes.
Which also defeats the sting of only having two slots for characters.
 

Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
Another note about the Foundry. I think I saw this somewhere: You need to have five people review your adventure for it to be made available to the public. I've made two, and neither has received a single review. Admittedly, they aren't very good, but I specifically asked for help to fix up the second one... and not a peep. Needless to say, no one -not even me- can run through them because they won't show up using Search. (Yes, you can run through ones you've made, but only with a special character -or several- that are specific to the Foundry.)
 

Jupp

Visitor
it should also be noted that this game is still on beta. just to put things in perspective. And this is meant as neutral statement without saying whether the game is good or bad
 

Derren

Adventurer
it should also be noted that this game is still on beta. just to put things in perspective. And this is meant as neutral statement without saying whether the game is good or bad
Being in beta means nothing for F2P MMOs. You can spend real money on it and there won't be a character wipe. So for all it matters, it is live.
The word "beta" is only used to have a cheap excuse for things not working correctly or being bad.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
it should also be noted that this game is still on beta. just to put things in perspective.
I've only played the game for about 10 mins, so have no particular opinion - but the word "beta" has no meaning these days.
 
A

amerigoV

Guest
So let me get this straight. The common 4e hater pointed to how 4e was basically an MMO on paper. Then they make an MMO "inspired" by 4e, and its nothing like 4e rules other than the occasional name.

Somebody owes the Internet an apology.
 

Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
A note about needing to identify items with scrolls. The article says you need to do that for all dropped items. This isn't so, you only need to do it for about half of them. :cool:
 

Herobizkit

Adventurer
My experience with Neverwinter Online amounted to a hell of a lot of lag, entirely too much lag, and some crashes to desktop. I'm running a pretty old rig, but it's not that graphics intensive a game... since it was free, I deleted it from my hard drive after 6 or so hours of gameplay. Also, the wizard is broken a class as you can have in an MMO.
 
My perceptions so far (not too deep into it yet - not yet made 30th and I think level cap is 60(?):

I AM having a certain amount of fun. Playing a rogue will do that since they are the clear DPS champs at the outset and if I weren't so casual and lazy (and bad at hotkeys) I might not have even died once so far. That's actually a good place to start...

The interface. They seem to have felt the need to re-invent the keyboard/mouse interface and only managed to foul it up good. It REALLY irritates to not be able to do anything with your mouse but turn and L/R click to activate two of your several abilities. The HUD is strictly a display - you can't interact with it without hitting the alt key which removes you from being able to interface with the active game world while you interface with the interface. Words fail at describing this needless frustration. Things that I could do smoothly by clicking on an interface and using hot-buttons when I NEED to become frustrating when I have to mash my fat fingers in tight, distorted keyboard-only combinations to activate movement special abiltiies like tumbling or blinking. I am constantly activating powers I don't WANT to activate.

One thing I will say in FAVOR of the game is that it is not just a speed-click fest. Simply activating more powers faster is not all there is to combat in this game. You even want to PAUSE a bit between taking actions because you'll root your PC in place with certain animations for actions you take when you want to retain the ability to move out of the way of area-effects of the enemy.

Money. It's one thing to base an economy on a silver standard but this seems based on a copper standard. At low levels nothing you find is WORTH anything - not that it matters though because there's nothing of worth in terms of equipment that you'll want to buy. Oh you'll want to buy a few potions/scrolls, but you equip your characters using items that you find which are otherwise valueless. You can customize those items but there'd be no point to it because everything you wear winds up being replaced by something better within a level or two. Cash money seems all but utterly useless and pointless in this game.

Now, outside of hard currency like silver and copper there are gobs of different currencies to be used which can sometimes be traded for each other but generally all have their own separate vendors or markets. There's Astral Diamonds, Zen, Ardent coins, Celestial coins, Seals, Insignias, Trade Bars, and Glory. WHAT. THE. F...ASCINATING economic mess they have created. The two important currencies are Astral Diamonds and Zen which can be traded for each other. Zen is the currency you buy with your REAL WORLD money if you choose to go that route. Believe it or not, at this point it may well be THIS element - the bizzaro and so far (to me) unfathomable economy of multiple currencies they have, which will drive me away from this game.

Crafting/professions. There is certainly no point in crafting as an attempted means to equip your character with weapons, armor, etc. as it would be in ANY other MMO. It isn't even the point to earn cash - since as noted you can't buy ANYTHING of much use with cash. I have found that through the Leadership profession you can "craft" some boxes containing general supplies like a potion or two and other cheap gewgaws, and now I've found you can use it to "craft" small amounts of Astral Diamonds. Maybe crafting gets better only as it gets maxed out (though I haven't heard any such thing yet). My guess has been that since this is still "beta" they want the system in place but it won't be useful for anything until the "beta" is over - and maybe not even then. It'll be there if they WANT to use it but with all the other economic wierdness they have going on it doesn't have a particular position of importance.

The game is mercifully free of grinding. xp is gained by turning in quests not by just walking outside the safe zone and earning xp for every thing you kill as most MMO's would have you do. So far there have been no particular places/monsters to camp and farm for Teh Phat Lootz. On the downside the quests are exceptionally linear. Heck, the currently selected quest leaves a glowing trail to follow leading you from one objective to the next, and those objectives are achievable in a matter of minutes as opposed to needing to grind on creatures or gathering herbs and ores all day. An occasional boss may defeat you but you can readily just beeline right back there and try again. Long as you don't go watch TV for an hour everything you've already killed in a dungeon instance will still be dead; only the boss and his minions/mobs will respawn.

This also means that the game world is very bounded - it's not an endless, open expanse so for better and worse there is no exploration and discovery. There's a hint of separate quest lines for different races/classes but pretty much the quests are going to be the same for every PC.

As I said I AM having some fun with it despite all the knocks, but I think I'd rather be playing City of Heroes.
 

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