The cash shop
Micro-transactions. Love it or loathe it, RMT lives hand-in-hand with F2P, at least on the AAA level. They share a lovely condo in South Beach and throw the coolest Halloween parties.
NFSW includes plenty of micro-transactions, sure, but they're maybe not as bad as you think. As is typical, you use real-life money to buy bundles of in-game currency, here called SpeedBoost points. The smallest bundle of 1,500 points will cost you $5, while the largest -- 17,500 points -- costs $40.
Once you buy some SpeedBoost points, you can simply press a button in-game to purchase an item you want. The price of in-game items was not set in stone yet, but King said most items should run you a good deal less than $1. Most of the power-ups I saw on Wednesday, for example, looked to cost around 75 cents or so for packs of five.
So, what can you buy with SpeedBoost points?
- Power-ups -- NFSW is brimming with power-ups, which fill the role of clicky abilities. They range from basic speed-boosting Nitrous to such cool stuff as Traffic Magnet, which induces NPC cars on a race course to swarm whoever's in the lead. You have a chance to win power-ups at the end of every race and Pursuit through a random-loot system called Lucky Draw, but you can also buy the power-ups you want using SpeedBoost.
- Accelerators -- No, these don't increase your car's speed. Instead, after a race or Pursuit, you have the option to buy a buff that increases your reputation gains, meaning you level that much faster. The accelerator King showed me lasted for 72 hours, so these are not a one-and-done deal.
- Rentals -- King stressed that every car in the game is available without ever using SpeedBoost points, but the really high-end cars ain't cheap. So players also have the option of renting cars using SpeedBoost for different periods of time. I saw one- and three-day rental options, for example.
I said the RMT maybe isn't so bad because the $20 Starter Pack, which you need to make it past level 10, includes $20 worth of SpeedBoost points. So if you're the sort of person who would be inclined to use the cash shop, the Starter Pack really does pay for itself, and $20 in SpeedBoost will pay for a lot of power-ups.
While I tore around town ramming police cars and losing races -- I won a single multiplayer race, and only because my one opponent mysteriously stopped driving -- King dropped a few hints and made a few promises about the future of NFSW. First and foremost, EA plans to support NFSW for a long time.
"And we're not talking paid DLC here," he said. New cars, new locations and new skills are in the works. Also, Q4 will see a proper content update for NFSW, and King touted two of its principal features:
- Performance Customization -- Players will be able to acquire car parts that improve different aspects of their cars' performance. King said this will be one of the new RPG elements coming to NFSW.
- Multiplayer Pursuits -- At the moment, Pursuits are solo affairs only, but the content update is set to allow groups to enter pursuits for greater rewards. (Gimme!)
My hour with NFSW was immensely fun. The game is beautiful despite being designed to run on fairly low system specs, and it handled like a dream. The power-ups felt suitably powerful, and the blast of streaking taillights after I used nitrous was a really cool, Men-In-Black-ish touch.
I also recall grinning like an idiot every time a freshly smashed police car flew into the air as it twirled into dust-eating oblivion.
I did have one major misgiving. As I ran from cop cars and fruitlessly raced other players, I suspected that I'd enjoy the game less if every press of a power-up button cost me, say, 25 cents. It remains to be seen how effectively one can compete without buying power-ups.
With that said, I can see NFSW being a great success for EA, largely because of its place in the MMO market. With the game in windowed mode, King suggested that casual fans could hop into a few quick races while queued up for battlegrounds in another game, for example. And hardcore racing fans will have plenty to keep them busy. Plus, how many new Need For Speed-caliber racing games can you get for free -- or, heck, even for $20?
Whether I take the $20 plunge or stick to the free portion of the game, I know what I'll be playing when NFSW goes live July 27.