I’m a Gen X-er, so I was right there in the mid-1980s to experience some of the industry’s biggest growth spurts and accompanying growing pains. I went to private and fairly progressive schools all over the place, each of which already had a computer lab set up for elementary-aged kids (whereas most of my contemporary public school counterparts didn’t gain access to computer labs until high school), and I remember quite vividly racing through all of the typing challenges so I could traverse The Oregon Trail on our Apple IIs for the remainder of the classes (I am still firmly convinced that my competitive nature, which required me to beat my brother’s scores in Alphabet Soup and Hangman, and my desire to play The Oregon Trail for as long as possible during school hours are the primary reasons why I currently type around 125 wpm). My brother and I had an Atari 400, Atari 800XL (Star Raiders FTW!!!), and Atari 2600, all of which we used for gaming as well as for our workbooks of PILOT and BASIC lessons (at the tender ages of 7 and 4 as part of Le Mumz’s Get ‘Em Geekin’ While They’re Young brainwashing scheme). Later, we had an NES and Sega Genesis, and I got my first job as a teenager solely so I could buy a Sega Saturn and, later, a Dreamcast.
I remember being able to just pop in a game and play it immediately (no half-hour updates, no installation required, no insanely long load screens), most of those games didn’t have re-spawn points so if you died you had to start over (a great life lesson, really, IMO), and if the game glitched or went all wonky all you had to do was pull out the cartridge, give it a shake or blow some air across the underside to remove any crumbs or dust, and pop that sucker back in. Besides the games we had at home, there were still arcades (O, Primal Rage – your controls were janky, but nothing sent a thrill through a wee me like the dulcet sound of those dinos screaming their heads off through the arcade… except maybe the Stars Wars Trilogy, cuz, hell yeah, Bobba Fett!). I played MUDs and had CompuServe, which I still sometimes miss since the hourly access rates kept a lot of the “riff-raff” out of our faces, and I remember the thrill when AOL exploded onto the market (you mean we can get online access by the month??!!).
And speaking of access, I very vividly remember connecting via dial-up; oh, the horror of having all of one’s hard work rewarded by finally being able to remort only to have your mother pick up the phone and send everything crashing into oblivion! I think my first feelings of true anxiety actually manifested while waiting desperately for the dial-up to stop making that horrible static noise (the natural byproduct of sending data over a network that was only designed to carry voice) and finally give its celebratory beeps signifying a successful connection had been achieved before clicking into service.
But what I’m specifically talking about today is one of my favorite current games. I should add that the list of my favorite all-time games is actually really long and extensive, and it changes depending on my mood, but this is one game I have been going back to quite frequently since it hit the market.
I had previously played Neverwinter Nights (2002) and its sequel (2006), as well as many of the expansions for both, but by 2013 I had fallen into a gaming funk; we’d just bought a house, I’d started a new job, the Manimal was cramming for his certifications and stressing himself and me out about the tests… so, really, all I wanted was something comfortable and familiar and fun. When Neverwinter rolled out I was actually in the process of joyously annihilating Ganon for the umpteenth time, so I entirely missed it and ended up being introduced to it entirely by accident, when a friend of mine mentioned in passing that she and her husband had been playing the game nonstop for months.
It still took me a minute to get it, because I ended up playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (fave Mario game ever by a landslide!!!) in its entirety for the duration of the time that the Manbeast was taking all of the aforementioned certification tests. Once that was over and said certs were slam dunked into his ever-growing repertoire, a huge weight was lifted, and I was able to take a deep breath and give a no-longer-new game a fair shot.
I’m so glad I did, because there are so many things I love about it. And it came out for the Xbox One in March, so maybe I’ll be able to talk the Manimal into finally trying it out (he typically sticks to console games, since most of his friends have either Xboxes or PlayStations):
Release Date: June 20, 2013
Developer(s): Cryptic Studios
Publisher(s): Perfect World Entertainment
Platform(s) Played: Primarily PC with a bit of dabbling in Xbox One
The premise of the game is simple enough: the Lich Queen Valindra has called up a massive army of the dead against the already ravaged Neverwinter, which is being torn apart from the inside by rising factions and a disgruntled populace. Your job as the hero of this tale is to bring the people of Neverwinter back together while simultaneously stopping the ongoing conflict with the country of Thay.
There are a total of eight classes available (which will be pretty familiar to my D&D homies out there): Wizard, Warlock, Cleric, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, and two fighter classes: Great Weapon and Guardian. Upgrades are fairly linear, and paragon abilities open at level 30. The game itself is fairly free-roam and has tons of expansions that are simply uploaded upon their completion – not to mention that the Foundry content-editor of the PC version makes it possible for tons of additional content and quests.
(1) While not actually part of the Neverwinter Nights series, it is still a Forgotten Realms story based on a handful of R.A. Salvatore’s novels. And, hey, there’s Drizzt!
(2) It’s F2P. No, really, it is. You can use Zen (market coins purchased with real money) to buy upgrades and fancy schmancies to change your appearance or get yourself a few nifty steeds and followers, but they’re not necessary to successfully play a satisfying game.
(3) Even though it’s F2P, it has the feel of a P2P – you won’t be harassed for money, and the game is solid as far as server access and storylines. The acting and graphics are decent, as well – especially when it comes to the animation and sound effects during battles.
(3) Cryptic is actively constantly updating and expanding content for the game, even now, with plans to continue doing so and incorporating additional aspects from Salvatore’s novels.
(4) The Foundry is a really great story-editor feature which allows players to create their own integrated quests and campaigns within the world and open those quests up to others. This isn’t a mod or your typical stand-alone content-editor; this is you + your imagination + the game-provided content-creation editor = whole new stories that earn coin, equipment, and XP while keeping you right within the world itself.
(5) The game is free roam with a fairly large world as far as MMORPGs go. There is a main quest, of course, but there are so many secondary quests and player-made quests and expansions that one could literally spend years of one’s life casually bopping around the countryside (and maybe I have done just this very thing).
(6) Playing solo is actually possible, and that’s a huge draw for me. I love playing games with the Manbeast and two of our friends, but I avoid people I don’t know and quite often just want to take on the baddies all by my onesy. My primary character is a Trickster Rogue, and she’s had zero problems single-handedly saving the world; you do have to play a little smarter and use some strategy, since you are all alone without anyone to back you up when a horde of enemies respawn or you face off against a boss, but it’s entirely doable. Not only that, but I very rarely enjoy PVP action; PVP is possible with Neverwinter, and there are plenty of areas set aside specifically for that very purpose if that’s your thing, but such interactions aren’t necessary to have a fulfilling Neverwinter experience.
The Bantha Poodoo
(1) My biggest and possibly only real complaint with the game is that there just aren’t a lot of reasons to have similarly classed characters in your party. You have the eight classes mentioned above, but there is no real variation as far as choices when it comes to leveling. One Trickster Rogue is the same as any other, and they all unlock their new skills / abilities at the same level; even after you hit the paragon paths, there are only two of them to choose from for each class (typically one made for a more melee-style of playing and the other focusing on ranged attacks), and every other Trickster Rogue who chose Master Infiltrator over Whisperknife will have the same skills and abilities… and vice versa – and that goes for all the classes.