NVIDIA Free-to-Play 2 Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: September 4, 2013
Earlier this year, NVIDIA launched a Free-to-Play bundle, whereby purchasing select GeForce hardware would reward you with premium, in-game currency for certain free-to-play games. The green team has returned with another Free-to-Play bundle, this time featuring Warframe, Marvel Heroes, and Dungeon & Dragons: Neverwinter. Having reviewed that previous bundle, it only makes sense to review this one as well. The qualifying hardware this time are GTX 650 desktop GPUs and laptops with 700M Series GPUs.
Like the previous F2P bundle review, I am also going to comment on if the titles are 'Pay-to-Win.' For those of you unfamiliar with the term, many (if not all) free-to-play games offer small items for sale, as a means of producing revenue for the developers. Often you will see items such as costumes for sale via these micro-transactions, but sometimes the items can be much more impactful on gameplay. Depending on the impact those items have, gamers may refer to the game as 'Pay-to-Win,' meaning that only by purchasing items can someone complete the game or compete with other players, or that the items would take too long to acquire through in-game effort.
The current bundle gives you $25 worth of the in-game currency in each of the three titles, for a total of $75. Of course it is only if you play the game that you can benefit from the credit, so let us see what is worth playing.
You are Tenno, a species of great warriors that have been dormant for many centuries. Now you have been awakened to fight a new war with your mighty Warframes. These tools are very powerful suits of armor that also have special abilities tied to them, such as the Excalibur's dash attack and the Loki's teleportation ability that switches it with an enemy. You are also equipped with three weapons; one primary weapon, a side arm, and a melee weapon.
To fight this new war, you travel from place to place completing missions, such as capturing an artifact, rescuing a prisoner, or just killing every enemy you come across. Every mission is placed on a tree, so completing one mission can unlock access to multiple, and this tree stems from Mercury and expands out into the Solar System.
The graphics are superb for a free-to-play game. Good detail and effects, including PhysX particles. Primarily I see the PhysX particles when enemy bodies dissolve into them. Practically the definition of eyecandy, but the effect is still nice to look at. At the highest settings, the game ran very well on my computer. When playing multiplayer there was some lag associated with the other players. They would jump around some, like their position was only being updated once every half second or so. That may sound extreme, but it is not that severe. It is not like they or the enemies were suddenly crossing the map, or I suddenly, and mysteriously, died.
Combat is fast paced, in a sense. Ideally you will be moving around as you fight, so your enemies have a harder time hitting you. However, your weapons, at least at the beginning, are not particularly effective or enemies are just so strong that you can expect it to take some time to take them out. Also the reload speed of your original primary weapon, an assault rifle, is so long that it will take a moment before you can re-enter the fight.
You have multiple options for how you want to play a mission. You can play in an online party, which means the servers find partners for you to play with; set up a private match to keep out the random people; set it to invite only, so only your own friends can join; and finally you can play solo. In this situation, all 'can' means is that you are able to do so, because honestly I do not know why anyone would, unless they are trying to show off. The game is very much balanced for multiplayer. Levels are labeled with what level of Warframe you should wear to play it. My Warframe is a level eight and even the very first level, meant for players with no experience in the game, killed me. You do have the ability to revive yourself, but you can only do this so many times in a day and when you do, you are revived on the spot, which may be surrounded by enemies. Also, do not try going slow and just exterminating every enemy you find, because they will just keep coming until you finish the level. You will run out of ammo before you run out of targets.
With multiple players though, the balance is much fairer. The other players are able to run over and pick you up, if you should fall. While on the ground though, you are able to crawl around and use your sidearm, being what help you can be. Fortunately the servers are fairly quick with finding you people to play with, though they do only look at the level you selected. You are not able to just view parties with room and join them, no matter what mission they are playing. One benefit, of sorts, with the mission-focused party forming is that you are not prevented from playing with higher level players. Players with the best gear may be playing with those that have the worst. Honestly though, even two poorly geared players are going to be more effective than a solo player.
There are a few pathways to get new weapons and even new Warframes, along with other equipment, in order to improve your effectiveness. You can spend real money for the premium in-game currency, platinum, and purchase them; find the blueprints and materials needed to construct them; or in a few cases, they simply unlock as you earn Mastery Points.
Warframe has two forms of experience called Affinity and Mastery Points. Affinity is associated with specific weapons and Warframes, while Mastery Points are tied to your character. Leveling up Affinity allows you to attach more mods to your equipment, and you acquire Affinity by using the equipment, so the more melee kills you score, the more Affinity your melee weapon accrues. Mastery Points are almost completely separate from Affinity. Instead of gaining them in a similar, fluid manner, you gain them by leveling up your equipment. Either way, we are talking about mechanics that take quite a bit of time to have any impact.
Naturally the next topic to address is if Warframe is a pay-to-win game. Technically no, as there is no competition between players; it is just co-op multiplayer. However, it definitely feels like one with how long it can take to improve your character, without resorting to the premium currency. You can expect to spend days trying to acquire something, like a new Warframe, and not just because of having to collect the materials. The actual construction of items takes hours. The only two items I have blueprints for take twelve hours to complete, each, and Warframes require three parts. Why it takes so long to build these parts, I do not know. I cannot think of what reason exists for this balancing decision.
Overall it is hard to recommend this game for its gameplay, unless you are willing to invest many hours into it, or real money. I could see this game working well as a medium for hanging out with friends. Getting everyone on voice chat and going on some raids could be fun, and it would not matter so much that it will take hours upon hours to really advance.
Marvel Heroes Review:
Everybody wants to be a superhero and/or wants to be rescued by one. Potentially this is why so many superhero movies are being made today, as well as video games. Marvel Heroes allows you to take up the masks of superheroes from the Marvel Universe in an action-RPG game. Your task is to stop Dr. Doom who seeks to take over the world using mystical artifacts of great power. On the way though, you do encounter many other supervillains who are more than eager to destroy you.
Initially you have a choice of one of five free heroes: Daredevil, Storm, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Thing. Unfortunately you are not given any stats about these heroes at the time. To change to a new hero requires either purchasing them with real money or collecting Eternity Splinters to purchase them in-game. Collecting enough splinters can take a long time, as they are not a very common drop, but at least they can be dropped by any enemy, instead of being limited to the bosses.
The graphics are not particularly impressive, as the game tries to keep to a cartoony style, but this style is very fitting. There are also some nice effects, such as distortion behind Hawkeye's arrows. Also it has employed a fairly decent system to remove structures, like walls and pipes, from your view as you walk in front of them. They kind of melt away on the screen to reveal what is behind, as opposed to just showing outlines of characters. Graphical performance is very good, although loading times could be better. When lag occurs though, you can see it. Other players will jump across the screen or appear to just stop in their tracks. When you disconnect, everything just stops, except for you. You are still able to run around, but enemies will ignore you and your attacks. Fortunately when you log back in, everything is how you left it, just you spawn at a waypoint. Enemies are still dead and the map is still revealed.
Like other action-RPGs, you control the action almost completely with your mouse, as movement and attacks are mapped to it. The combat controls do have one mechanic implemented that I wish was in more action-RPGs. When you click on an enemy and hold the button down, you will attack that enemy until they die. If before they died you move your cursor to a different enemy, still holding the button down, your character will switch to attacking this new target, once the first is dead. Instead of having to click to select each target, you can just press-and-hold for an entire battle. Useful items, such as medkits, can be bound to the keyboard. The Tab key is also used to switch between a minimap in the corner and a semi-transparent minimap displayed on the center of the screen. You are never able to turn off the minimap.
When killed, enemies have a chance to drop credits, gear, crafting materials, and orbs. There are different kinds of orbs that provide you with different things, including health, energy, and perhaps most importantly, experience. Instead of only getting experience whenever you kill something, you can collect the orbs that drop for more experience. Luckily it does appear that the loot and orbs you see are only available to you, so there is no mad-rush to collect experience.
Thus far the game, with one reasonable exception, is well balanced for single-player. You are able to just run around and do everything on your own and not be overwhelmed. This is a game you can just jump into and play, without having to arrange groups for almost everything. The only exception to the single-player balance is the event bosses. These are bosses or other challenges that spawn in the overworld, have a large amount of health, and can do a fair amount of damage. As they spawn in the overworld though, every player is able to come and help defeat them, so these have been balanced for multiple people to fight.
Sometimes you may find yourself thrown into groups for certain arenas. It appears these arenas are considered private, so no one can just appear and get credit for a battle you mostly completed. However, if you enter the arena at approximately the same time as other players, you are apparently teamed up for that arena. Afterward you can freely leave the group.
Is this a pay-to-win game? No. A player's ability to purchase in-game items with real money is mostly limited to new heroes and costumes. The costumes you may not be able to purchase any other way, but the heroes can be bought with an in-game currency. Of course it would be nice if that in-game currency dropped more often, but at least it drops from any enemy.
Personally I am finding Marvel Heroes to be a lot of fun. It is a very well designed game for its genre, even compared to titles you have to purchase. Of course the purchased titles are more likely to have greater depth to their gameplay, but that does not make this game any less enjoyable. I am sure I will get back in it soon, so I can stop Dr. Doom and hopefully unlock another hero to play with.
Dungeon & Dragons: Neverwinter Review:
Ever wanted to help rebuild and defend a city? You have your chance with Dungeon & Dragons: Neverwinter, an MMORPG. Neverwinter was once a great city in the lore of Dungeon & Dragons, but disasters have stripped away some of its majesty. Thanks to Lord Neverember and adventurers like you though, the city can once again become a jewel of the realm. All it will take is killing a number of enemies, completing quests, some leveling, and a lot of running. (Auto-run has a default binding of 'T,' by the way.)
Being an RPG, you have the ability to design your own character, selecting races from the fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons, your class, history, and you can even write your own backstory, if you wish. Each race has its own native abilities and each class its own specialization, and all of this information is presented to you in-game when you make your choice. You can also find it online.
Being an MMO you will, at times, find yourself surrounded by other people and occasionally suffering some amusing lag. When the lag strikes, just stop moving (if you can) and enjoy watching your character dance. You can also try quitting and coming back later. If you are disconnected and try to log back in, you will find yourself exactly where you left, which is nice as that means you do not need to run back to where you were.
The graphics are pretty good, but sadly I cannot comment on them too specifically. While playing, the game suffered many video driver crashes and the only way I found to stop them was to switch to DirectX 9 from DirectX 11. This gave the game stability and curiously allowed facial animations to work. For whatever reason the animations were not performing for me when using DX11, but perhaps your experience will be different. With either version of DirectX, the game's performance was very good, with the only possible exception (save the crashes) being at times of the greatest lag.
Combat is satisfying, at least with my Great Weapon Fighter as he swings his greatsword through my foes. You can just click and hold for the primary attack to chain on your target, and press a key if you want to unleash an ability. It appears the abilities just rely on a cooldown for balance, and not a mana or energy pool, with the exception of the 'Daily' abilities. These abilities are very powerful but can only be activated once you have enough Action Points, which may not take long if there are enough enemies around to kill.
Something I feel is worth noting, because of my experience with some other games, is that health potions are applied immediately. When you press the button, the whole amount the potion can give you is given, instead of it trickling in over time and potentially too late.
So far I have played the game alone and so far it appears to be well balanced for this experience. I have not come across any quest that is too difficult for my young character to handle, though I cannot charge in with reckless abandon. I was not able to read it all, but one of the loading screens stated that all of the primary game content can be played solo, with only some dungeons and something else requiring a party of five people. Being an MMORPG, it is understandable to expect people to form groups and join guilds, but it is nice to see that it is not required to succeed.
Speaking of loading screens, to help reduce them you can select the 'Disable On-Demand Patching' option in the launcher. This will force the client to download the entire map for the game, instead of having to download it when you arrive there in the game.
From what I can tell, this is not a Pay-to-Win game, though real-money purchases can definitely prove useful, as they will give you mounts and companions earlier than you would normally acquire them. Fortunately even some of these items can be purchased without having to spend any money. The game's publisher, Perfect World Entertainment, uses a currency called Zen that can be transferred into almost all of its games. Adding Zen to your Perfect World account can be done by spending money on it or by completing some free offers, such as surveys. Of course it may take a while to collect enough Zen by completing surveys to get the cool stuff, but that is the cost of 'free.' Not everything can be purchased using Zen though, as some items are only available from packs you do have to spend real money on. The packs can unlock things such as a new race to play as and special companions and mounts.
Overall, the game has proven enjoyable to me. I would say it is a serious RPG though, so if you start playing it, I recommend you keep playing it and not take an extended break. This is just so you can remember what you were doing and what is going on in the game when you return.
Before I forget, the game has mod support, to a point, thanks to the Foundry. With it a player can design their own adventures to share with everyone, so there is always new content to play.
With the three games looked at separately, it is time to look at them together and see which is best. Actually make that worse, because that is much easier to do with these three. Warframe is easily the weakest in this bundle with its poor single-player balance and excessively high requirements for upgrading in the game. If you enjoy investing many hours into a game with not much to show for it, or if you just need a game to play with friends, you may like it. If you want to play a game to enjoy it, and feel rewarded by what you are doing, then try the other two titles in this bundle.
So which is better; Marvel Heroes or Dungeon & Dragons: Neverwinter? Honestly, I cannot say. Personally I am finding myself enjoying Marvel Heroes more, but I do appreciate the experience of Neverwinter enough to recognize that many of you may prefer it. Perhaps this comparison will help explain myself: Marvel Heroes is a game, plain and simple, while Neverwinter is an immersive adventure. If you are looking for a distraction you can put one hour or several into, depending on how much free time you have at any moment, then you want Marvel Heroes. If instead you want a new game to invest time in every night and/or weekend, then Neverwinter will probably satisfy you best, with its deeper RPG design. It is possible that if I were looking for that kind of experience right now, I would say Neverwinter is best, but that is not the case now, so you have a tie; a tie between two enjoyable and well-designed games.
Now for two quick points I want to say about the bundle and this review. The first is that I have not benefited from this promotion and have not invested any money into these games. I simply installed and played these games for free, just as anyone can. The second point is that some may think that the idea of a Free-to-Play bundle is silly because the games involved are free. The bundle is not about the games, though, but the in-game currency that pays for the developers to continue supporting the game. If you want to support their efforts, this bundle gives you a new way to do so, while also getting you a new GPU. Not a bad deal if you need the hardware.