This week, Cryptic’s Neverwinter entered a state of open beta, and as a result a state of immediate chaos. This is of course both a testament to the interest in the game, and an indictment of Cryptic’s preparedness for that interest, and as a whole is exactly what any experienced MMO player should have expected. There are long queues, newly revealed bugs, a shift in the tone of the community — largely not for the better — and features that worked just fine a couple of days ago, now inconsistent at best.
In truth, I’m inclined to be a little more forgiving because, in the first, this is clearly positioned as a game still in beta and, in the second, giving Cryptic money to play their game is entirely voluntary. Free-to-play can mean a lot of different things in the genre, and often the result is a factual statement that hides behind the reality of providing a subpar experience that goads and annoys you into spending something at every possible turn. Want to be able to sprint like the cool kids, have more character slots like a real human being, receive mail like you exist or are important to anyone? Well, pony up.
Neverwinter is almost remarkable in the amount of access and availability a player gets without shelling out a single dollar. That’s not to say Cryptic doesn’t nudge you toward the idea of paying money, but the model seems built more around rewarding the decision to pay rather than crippling those who make the decision not to. No question: Spending money gets you benefits. But they are more convenience benefits than simply buying in-game success, and Cryptic claims that anything available through their Zen currency is also available within the game.
But is the game itself actually worth paying any attention to? I spent a substantial chunk of last weekend, after having just paid for the convenience of early access, trying to find out.