Prior to a game's release, I like to bone up on the basics without crossing over into spoiler-heavy territory (especially guides and extensive video walkthroughs, but that's just me). It's a great time to get into dedicated podcasts on the game as well; I swear that podcasts at pre-launch are always more interesting than afterward.
So this week we'll go over a few essential resources that all Neverwinter fans, current and aspiring, should include in their bookmarks, as well as a brief discussion about the game's monetization plans.
Pretty much any pre-launched title has one or two enterprising fans who take it upon themselves to compile all of the scattered official information into one helpful FAQ. This here is the one for Neverwinter, and it's a perfect place to begin reading up on the game if you're already interested in playing it.
What's really helpful about this FAQ is that it covers all the bases of the MMO, especially how D&D is worked into it, from the perspective of someone who's coming fresh to it for the first time. Trust me, some of the most common pieces of information might have eluded more people than you think, and it's good to go over the basics. It's important to note that a lot of this FAQ was written prior to the beta weekend and lacks hands-on knowledge from the game itself.
2. The official site
This is kind of a gimme, but it'd be irresponsible not to include it. Neverwinter's official site is the go-to place for official news, registration, pre-order packs, forums, and the client download.
3. Neverwinter Wiki
If this list seems very much limited to the official forums, it's because there really isn't much out there for Neverwinter (yet). Even the unofficial wiki has a pathetic 26 pages on it at the time of this writing. But it's the only wiki I can see, so until it's beefed up or someone makes one better, it's what we've got.
4. Dev tracker
I wish that some day we'd arrive at a point when players weren't forced to comb through dev trackers just to find out essential information and news about a game, but the MMO industry isn't there yet. Until that day, links like this one are a newshound's best friend because often a developer will say something important in a forum post that will never see the light of day in the news section of the website.
5. There is no five
Unfortunately, while there seems to be excitement for the game in general, the blog and podcasting community isn't creating any Neverwinter-specific sites that I could find. If you're aware of a community resource that should be on this list, please pipe up in the comments!
A few days ago, Cryptic released a new dev diary covering the studio's approach to monetizing Neverwinter. Unlike Champions Online and Star Trek Online, Neverwinter will be free-to-play at launch with no subscription option. This means a lot rides on the game's ability to make money with its cash shop, as there are no subs helping to (pardon me) subsidize the overall effort.
"We're doing this acrobat routine without a net," Jack Emmert said, and I can see as much trepidation behind that statement as I do excitement.
While Emmert avoided discussing the in-game store, he did deal with a subject that's confused some over the beta weekend: Astral Diamonds. If you've played STO, then all I need to say is "Dilithium" and you'll completely understand.
For those who haven't, let me sum up: Diamonds and Dilithium are a sort of middleman currency that can be used to buy certain items in the game as well as be exchanged for premium currency (ZEN). ZEN can be purchased with cash or Astral Diamonds and is used to buy the really good stuff from the cash shop. While you can't earn ZEN from playing the game, you can earn Astral Diamonds and then exchange them with other players for ZEN or gold. It all depends what you want to buy, really.
It's a system that's provided a lot of money for Star Trek Online because it encourages somebody to plunk down real money for ZEN, which then is put on the market for a variable rate of this middleman currency. Players will be able to get a lot of purchasing power if they buy ZEN for the intent of turning it into Diamonds or gold, but other players will be able to earn free ZEN by earning Diamonds and trading up. Personally, I love the setup. And there are the founder's packs if you want a head start on your Diamond collection, of course.
The big question is what will be sold for Astral Diamonds and what will be sold for ZEN, and I'm not seeing a lot of details on that at the moment. STO keeps churning out new starships and costumes to sell, so I'm thinking that translates into "mounts" and "outfits" as two strong possibilities, along with companion pets. Oh yeah, Cryptic could make a fortune off of selling combat pets. Also, the 4th edition of D&D is replete with classes, so there are loads of potential moneymakers right there if Cryptic can put them in the game fast enough.
Whatever the company sells, it has to straddle the line between being incredibly compelling and not unbalanced (i.e., selling pay-to-win and alienating the playerbase). It's going to be quite interesting to see the answer to that question as well as how the early days of this back-and-forth economy shapes up. It could be prove to be a strong money engine for Cryptic, or we could end up with a flat, dead acrobat on the floor. Time will tell.
Chances are that at any hour, Justin Olivetti is prowling the streets of Neverwinter to bring lawful goodness to where it's needed. He chronicles his adventures in his bi-weekly column, Neverwinter Days, and will appreciate any alms or feedback you have to give.