Tobold's Blog
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Heroes of Neverwinter

I've been trying D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter after receiving several invites from various Facebook friends. I played a cleric up to level 3, but I'm not sure I want to continue playing. I simply find it too annoying that three quarters of my group consist of characters that aren't my own. I already disliked Dragon Age Legends for exactly the same reason.

I can see how the developers got the idea: Playing a Facebook game with your friends doesn't sound all bad. But in the end the problem becomes exactly the same as with playing World of Warcraft or other MMORPGs: You can only play with friends of an appropriate level. If you friends are much stronger than you, your own contribution is minimal and thus boring. But if you outlevel your friends, their lack of progress is holding you back.

Heroes of Neverwinter is somewhat better in that respect than Dragon Age Legends, because you can always hire mercenaries instead of friends in the tavern. And I see that as a trend in MMORPGs as well: Games like Guild Wars, SWTOR, or Diablo III all offer NPC mercenaries / companions / henchmen to help you over your lack of friends.
"Games ... offer NPC mercenaries / companions / henchmen to help you over your lack of friends."

Is this really the issue? As you said, you have friends playing this game, you just can't play with them due to level spread.

I'd argue that strict linear vertical progression - and the fact that developers haven't been able to mitigate it - is the real problem with group leveling games these days. The harder it gets to find people of the appropriate level playing the appropriate role, the more important it becomes to have solo (or NPC-assisted solo) play if you're going to be able to play at all. This then rockets the player who has more time to play even further ahead of the group, because the time they have online after their friends have signed off can be spent continuing to level, rather than managing banks, auctions, or other things that don't require a group but also don't grant exp.
Like the previous poster, I don't think that "Games ... offer NPC mercenaries / companions / henchmen to help you over your lack of friends." is a accurate or reasonable description of the problem NPC helpers solve.
The low level cap in the original Guild Wars alleviated much of this problem and yet Arena net have seen fit to abandon the idea for the sequel. Not sure why.
Well, I should have said "lack of friends of the appropriate level". Of course the same problem can be solved with mentor/sidekick systems.
The two main issues with the game is that 1) Gold is too hard to get and 2) you cannot evaluate characters before you hire/recruit them.

They have improved the gold situation somewhat as dungeons generally now have two or three treasure chests/lootable enemies now whereas earlier in the beta there was only the final chest. It is still open to chance though, as there is no guarantee that the item you pick will be gold (you are presented with 10 options, all hidden, to pick from). This alone makes the game difficult if you do not have alot of friends, as it gets quite expensive to recruit as you level up.

They could easily change this by just adding a gold reward to EVERY dungeon, say, half what it would cost to recruit 3 party members. This means those with few friends would have a decent chance to at least break even, while those with more friends would be likely to end up ahead, thus be more easily able to buy armor and consumables (which, after all, is what a social game would want, right? More friends == more success?)

Character evaluation is a must. You have no idea how many times I have recruited a cleric only to find that he was focused on battle spells and had almost no heals at all. That along can ruin your chances of success.
Yes, in GW2 the problem is alleviated by sidekicking rather than the low level cap. It's just a slightly different-looking bandaid but accomplishes similar results.
I don't really care for mixing of the genres. I want either a Single-Player RPG (read: KOTOR, Elder Scrolls, etc) or an MMORPG (WoW, SWG, Eve, FFXI) not some mixed game where if I want to be anti-social I can do so with a full group of bots.

Then again, I'm a purist
I have never met, nor would I even believe any of you have ever met anyone with 9 real life friends playing the same online game as them. I think it is exceptionally rare to even have 4 actual friends in the same game at the same time (even if level isn't a factor).

Raids and groups are not designed to "play with your friends." You almost never play with your friends. They are designed to force you to play with strangers.
I enjoyed playing strictly with NPCs (because I don't actually have friends who play, or any other for that matter).

I really like the tactical game play, although I find it very frustrating that I have to go back to previous areas because I'm unable to complete the one before it. I'd rather just go back to the one I couldn't get done without repeating the older stuff I've already finished.
Well-programmed NPCs can be more fun to play with than other players. No drama, never have to walk their dogs/pick their kids up from school, often make more amusing comments, don't ask you to do stuff you don't want to do.

I'm pretty sure that once the AI gets sufficiently sophisticated, playing with other actual players will be a minority interest and the phase of MMOs where socializing was a key part of the experience will be seen as the dark ages of the hobby.
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