Neverwinter, the Free-to-play-the-slot-machines MMO

paragon_achievementNeverwinter launched on the Xbox One on March 31st and I’ve been playing it ever since, at my usual casual pace. My character is level 31 at the moment, and I’ve generally been enjoying myself except for one thing: the constant exposure to gambling systems.

Neverwinter is free to play and the company takes every opportunity to try to squeeze a few more bucks out of you. And I get it, to a certain extent. They need to keep the cash rolling in. But even once you get past that it’s all about gambling for things you need or want.

For example, in my 2 weeks and 31 levels of playing I’ve accumulated about 60 of the Enchanted LockBox things. To open these requires a key that sells for 125 Zen. A Zen is worth a penny if you buy normal quantities (when you start buying in chunks of $50 and above you get some bonus Zen). So $1.25/lockbox. It’d cost me $75 to buy Zen to open these boxes. And that’s from a mere two weeks worth of playing. I did open 3 or 4 of them and never got anything the least bit exciting so at this point they just feel like a ‘nag’ from the developers. And you get them ALL the time. Last night I played for like 20 minutes before dinner and picked up half a dozen more. Three in a single trash-mob battle!

But OK let’s just agree to ignore these things. Then there’re the loot chests that you buy with coins you earn from ‘praying’ every day. I’ve opened three of these so far. (I have a 2nd character who is just high enough level to ‘pray’.) Every time I got “junk” (not my description, the game actually said I had rewards of junk quality). So that’s frustrating too. I make a point to log in every day even if I’m not going to have time to play and my reward is literally junk. So let’s ignore those too.

Then there’s enchanting. As you play your character will be standing in a virtual rain of little enchantment gems. In an hour your inventory will be full of enchantment baubles (unless you spent Zen on upgrading your inventory space, of course!) You’ll want to combine these to make an enchantment worth using. As you smoosh them together they get to a point where they’re ready to be upgraded. In order to upgrade you need a reagant that can (as far as I can find) only be purchased with Astral Diamonds. Astral Diamonds are the quasi-real-money currency in Neverwinter. There’s a brokerage where you can exchange Astral Diamonds for Zen and vice versa.

Now admittedly an Astral Diamond isn’t worth much. Currently on the Xbox 150 Astral Diamonds will buy you 1 Zen, and we’ve established that 1 Zen = 1 cent so… But anyway back to enchanting. So you buy these Reagants to upgrade your enchantment and you then have a CHANCE for the upgrade to work. If it fails you lose your reagants and have to buy more. There are ‘wards’ you can use to preserve your reagants but I’m not sure where they come from. Suffice to say I have none. So spend 1000 Astral Diamonds (about 6.66 cents at current exchange rates) and you try to upgrade and it fails. So you buy more reagants and it fails again. And you try a third dime and success! But it’s cost you 13 cents to upgrade this one enchantment. Every piece of armor you own has an enchantment slot and your companions have several. It adds up… I mean it’s never going to be an onerous amount of money (and you can earn Astral Diamonds by doing daily chores pretty easily) but it’s just one more way you feel like you’re literally being nickel-ed and dime-ed by the game. Can we afford to ignore enchanting?

But the last straw for me was a limited time event that went live yesterday. It’s called the Challenge of the Gods and the way it works is that just about every mob will drop a little challenge icon if you’re not already in the midst of a challenge. Challenges are all short term 3-5 minutes tasks (the one exception is a 20 minute crafting challenge) and you have to do things like kill enemies without using a sub-set of your skills, or kill 5 “powerful” enemies in 5 minutes. Stuff like that. If you succeed what do you get? A Gift From the Gods which is another slot-machine item. You might get something good, you might get crap. And surprise, all I’ve gotten is crap. Though you do get enchantments and stuff that bring you closer to spending more Astral Diamonds on reagants.

A side effect of these challenges is the game now feels completely frantic. As soon as you finish one, the next mob you kill will drop another so you’re always doing a challenge. If you stop to read quest text or check out some lore you uncovered you’re going to fail the challenge by running out of time. Of course we don’t HAVE to undertake these challenges, so let’s ignore them along with enchanting, daily login rewards and enchanted lockboxes.

So listen, if you’re a laid back player who is good at just dipping in and taking what is interesting to you and ignoring the rest, none of this is going to bother you much. But if you have the slightest hint of OCD or the completionist gene (which I do), having all this stuff pop up in your face and choosing to ignore it starts to really wear you down. And choosing to not ignore it and then being disappointed when the RNG gods don’t favor you (and let’s face it, Neverwinter is a casino and the house always wins) isn’t a good feeling either.

I’d be so much happier to just pay Perfect World $15/month and be able to play a game without all these gambling systems being thrust in my face all the time. (I do like a little gambling here and there, but I also like knowing that working hard towards a goal will get you closer to that goal, not a random chance of obtaining that goal.) I love playing an MMO on the console so I’ll probably keep poking at Neverwinter while grinding my teeth at these systems, but I’m really hoping The Elder Scrolls Online feels more like a game and less like a casino when it hits console. If it does, I’ll be leaving Neverwinter behind and heading for Tamriel. (If FF XIV didn’t mix PC and console players together I might go back to that, but knowing I’m playing with a controller in a group where everyone else is using a keyboard and mouse makes me feel like the weak link, unfortunately.)