I love games that have an absolute ton of stuff to do. When I start a game for the first time and am overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of its world and gameplay mechanics, I’m excited. I love knowing that, if I want to, I can dump hours and hours into that world and still have a lot more to see. Neverwinter is a game that inspired this in me. Being one of the few free-to-play MMORPGs on the PS4 certainly helped draw me in, as well as being one of a scant few MMOs that can be played with a controller.
I put well over 100 hours into the game, giving my character a specific build that worked with my playstyle and going through the mountain of repetitive zone quests that displayed in my quest log. I enjoyed the zones, the combat, the lore, and found plenty of reason to come back and dump more hours into it every day. But there was one giant problem with it; Neverwinter wanted to become my life.
It started slowly at first. There are a lot of items you need to make the game more manageable; new mounts, helpers, and the like in order to really keep your speed and damage up. But this is an f2p game, so Neverwinter couldn’t just let you buy them with in-game currency. The publisher wants the player to either pony up some serious cash or grind co-operative quests every day. I ended up playing one of these quests twice every day since it was the fastest and only one that I could easily find other players in reliably.
And here’s the kicker; you can only get currency from two runs a day, making it take weeks or possibly months to afford the items you need. There is a way around this, though. The currency is account-based and not character-based, so you can get a second character free of charge. That’s right. I made a second character for the explicit purpose of grinding out two additional quests for that sweet, sweet currency.
But that’s not all. The endgame relies very strongly on Campaigns, which require you to mostly grind through a familiar set of content every day in order to complete them, bit-by-bit. For instance, in one Campaign, there’s a boss enemy you need to beat in order to collect coins and you need a certain amount of coins in order to fulfill the part of the Campaign. On top of that, there are multiple Campaigns in Neverwinter, all with bonuses that you need to survive higher-tier content.
At this point, I’d gotten through the original story content, but still had quite a bit of post-release content to work through. When I played the game, I would frequently have to play for six or more hours a day in order to even see any progress. I’d log in, play the story content for hours and then stop when the cutoff for the currency quests and the Campaign quests was, at which point I’d put hours into them. In order for me to be as strong as I needed to be. Neverwinter wanted me to play the game basically all-day, every-day.
I don’t typically play f2p games super often and although I’ve heard of games that try their best to get people completely addicted, I’d never found myself playing one of them before. And it kind of slowly sneaked up on me too. Early on, I didn’t think it was that sort of game, but little-by-little, it introduced these features and tried to basically take over the player’s life. And I wanted to keep playing. I wanted to get the currency so that I could get a faster mount or a familiar that would greatly increase my damage. I wanted to go through those campaigns and unlock all of the great completion bonuses. But I had been playing for 8 or more hours a day every day for well over a month and didn’t like the way this was going. I didn’t want to just play that game all day, every day.
At that point, I decided that enough was enough and uninstalled and quit playing immediately. There are so many games to play and so many things to do that it would be a waste to just completely dedicate my time to a game that was specifically engineered to become the outlet for all of a person’s free time. It’s been a long while since I’ve touched the game, but I still occasionally find myself wanting to jump back in and keep up the daily grind, curious as to how insanely far I would have come by now. But I also worry at the prospect that, had I not stopped, that I could easily have wound up still playing the game, grinding away to this very day.
I think it’s very good to realize when games are designed with these tactics in mind. They aren’t geared around fun or unique content. They’re geared for finding little ways to addict the player in the hopes they’ll be loose enough with their finances to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to feed their addiction. Neverwinter is a good game with a ton of content, but I had to quit it and not go back, lest I fall directly into the trap the developers set for the game’s player base. It gave me the chance to personally experience that feeling of being pulled into something that I felt obligated to play daily and allowed me to come to the realization that I should not play games like that.
It’s a bit frightening to me how widespread this sort of model of gameplay is and it’s definitely not going away any time soon. I’m glad that I have the sort of personality that allowed me to turn it off and never play it again, but there are a lot of people who are basically ruled by similar games and have had their financial situations and social lives degraded by how successful some of these games have been in hooking them. I’m not saying free-to-play games are bad or that I didn’t greatly enjoy my time with Neverwinter, but sometimes enough is enough and the grind in this game was just too much for me to put up with.
Andrew Farrell has an extreme hearing sensitivity called hyperacusis that keeps him away from all loud noises. Please do not throw rocks at his window. That is rude. He loves action and rpg games, whether they be AAA or indie. He does not like sports games unless the sport is Baseketball.