I’m going to withhold my original post about Final Fantasy because stop the presses; Yahtzee said something. More specifically he talked about the increasing trend to merge multi-player into single-player in today’s Extra Punctuation. Which is good because it gives me reason to talk about a game I’ve been dreading for some time now; Neverwinter.
No not Neverwinter Nights, or its sequel, the magnum opus to DnD 3.x that gave us awesome single-player campaigns like Hordes of the Underdark or Mask of the Betrayer (which I can’t shut up about for some reason), along with the ability to create custom modules and play them with your chums online. No I’m talking about it’s blighted red haired foster step child that was raised by wolves; Neverwinter. Not Neverwinter Nights 3 like we wanted, just Neverwinter. The idea behind this slight name change was that Wizards of the Coast and Atari didn’t want a follow up to a phenomenally successful and popular brand, possibly out of a fear of money, but to create something like it but with less of a focus on single-player content. And by less I mean none. I’ve been following this game from its announcement, and with every tiny detail that’s been released, I’ve grown to hate it more and more.
Neverwinter Nights has a bit of a confusing history. The first game and its expansion packs were developed by Bioware, and NWN2 was made by Obsidian, because if its one thing Obsidian does best, its ride Bioware’s coattails. By now the franchise has been hauled off to Cryptic Studios, famous for those super-hero MMO’s like City of Heroes, which did pretty well thanks to its robust character creator, and Star Trek Online, which failed miserably because it had no worthwhile content. You’ve probably noticed a pattern here; Cryptic Studios do MMO’s. Now I’m not saying that a company that only makes one type of game can never do justice to a different type. After all, a famous developer of classic strategy games blew every single MMO out of the water with a title you may have heard of.
But the problem is that it doesn’t seem like Cryptic want to break their MMO habits, and have announced that Neverwinter is going to be more like an MMO, with auction houses, storage space and griefing noobs. Here’s the thing: what made the first two games so great was that they understood that you can’t predict multi-player. If you base your entire game around multi-player content, then you’re hoping that people are still going to want to stick around with your game longer then the next shiny thing to come around and steal them away. In an online game, players are the content, and if you have no players, you have no game. Yes, people do still play the original game online, but Bioware understood that you carry an RPG with the single-player, and use the module builder and online community to spice up the experience. Now Cryptic has promised that the game can be played single-player, but that just feels like soloing in an MMO. You can even hire henchmen to fill our your party roster. Now where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, the original NWN campaign. You see Bioware made the exact same mistake, creating a single-player campaign that had be carried by playing with other people. And instead everyone just played their own module adventures. When the expansion packs came out they were single-player only and had NPC characters like Deekin the kobold bard. And everyone loved them.
I guess that’s the point I want to make, and I hope Cryptic can realize it before it’s too late. I have no problem with playing online, and I love the idea of a map editor. It’s allowed for some wonderful player made content. A strong modding community is the cinnamon frosting on top of a delicious single-player cake. But Cryptic is gambling that their frosting is so much better then everyone else’s frosting that it will make up for a flimsy, sub-par cake. When you start putting the focus of a game on its multi-player, you harm the story. Valve gets that. Multi-player and co-op games like Team Fortress 2 and Left-4-Dead have no story, while the single-player Half-Life series is all about the story. Playing a game for the story is like reading a book, it’s something you do by yourself, at your own pace. Have you ever tried to read a novel with another person? Role-playing games have always been about their stories, the genre is as close to a novel as you can get with games. Now Cryptic wants you to read a novel with four other people, all of whom read at completely different rates, and one is slinging racial slurs about the President in your ear.