NVIDIA F2P Bundle (2014) Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: April 2, 2014
Price: $ Free
It is not uncommon to find select hardware components include bundled software and games, both to put the hardware to use and to entice customers to make a purchase. Last year NVIDIA had two Free-To-Play bundles, which gave gamers premium currency for some free-to-play games as a reward for purchasing certain graphics cards. The Free-To-Play bundle has returned for those purchasing GTX 650, GTX 750 graphics cards, and their variants, as well as GTX-equipped 700M and 800M notebooks. The three games you will receive $50 worth of credit in are Heroes of Newerth, Path of Exile, and Warface.
Along with looking at the experiences these three titles offer gamers, I will also consider if any fit the category of a pay-to-win game. Of course these games are free-to-play, with the only cost being the creation of an account, but to keep the developers' families from starving, some mechanism exists for players to spend money. The question is if these mechanisms allow a player to advance themselves ahead of their experience and time investment, and perhaps even eclipse those who have not spent any money.
With that covered, we can move on to see which of these games, if any, I enjoy and whether you may enjoy them as well.
Heroes of Newerth:
Heroes of Newerth is a multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, which can pit as many as ten people against each other in a five vs. five fight. Like other MOBAs, you win by pushing down lanes, destroying towers, minions, and enemy heroes, until you finally come to your enemy's base. Once there, you destroy the central building to claim victory.
It may sound straightforward, but with the variety of heroes and abilities to choose from, along with the many items and their effects, the gameplay can be quite deep. To succeed you have to be aware of your own character and every other character in the game, and of course be aware of the map. You also have to employ strategies such as last hitting enemy minions to gain gold with each kill, and even killing your own to deny your opponents any rewards.
As the action will largely keep you removed from your base, where the shop is, your team has a courier that can be used to deliver items to you, wherever you are, assuming it is not delivering something else already. It may take some time to get what you need, but at least you are not leaving your lane undefended.
Though the most fun is likely to be had playing with and against other people, Heroes of Newerth does have the ability to put bots in games. This can be useful when you just want to jump in a match and mess around without bothering other people. I actually played a couple of bot matches after installing the game, because while I have some experience with MOBAs, this is the first time I have played this game. While much of the experience was similar, enough was different that my decision to have some practice matches first was a good idea. Also, it has been long enough since I last played a MOBA that I needed some time to re-acclimate myself.
Unfortunately there is one aspect of Heroes of Newerth that made getting used to it more difficult than I would have preferred. It appears that every hero to play is available to you at the beginning. The problem here is it makes the game not very approachable for someone unfamiliar with it. With such a wealth of options, how can someone make a decision? However, if you have friends who also play and are interested in playing with you, this issue will likely cease to exist. If nothing else, they will put up with you having no idea what you are doing as you learn.
All-in-all, I suspect that my last comment there may be the best description I can give this game. It is best played with people you know at first. Eventually you will become more comfortable as you climb the learning curve, and then you can jump in and win some matches with whoever. Either way, it is a fun experience, at least after you pick a hero to play as.
The microtransactions for this game appear to be limited to cosmetic items and some account items. These items are not going to influence your in-match play, but can still be useful, such as the Sub-Account, that can join different clans and have its own friends, while benefiting from the purchases of your main account. As these do not influence gameplay, Heroes of Newerth looks to be a true free-to-play title.
Path of Exile:
Unlike the other games in this bundle, I have been playing Path of Exile for a number of months now. This means I am more familiar with the experience it offers than the others, but that I may also have a bias for it due to the time I have invested. I will try to prevent any bias, but this disclosure is in case I fail.
Path of Exile is an action-RPG that has you rise from being an outcast, washed up on a beach after being thrown from a boat, to a force great enough to free the other exiles from their constant dangers. This involves defeating many dangerous and horrendous creatures, as well as powerful humans looking to keep their power.
While action-RPG is a very accurate way to describe the temperament of the game, there is much more to it thanks to some interesting tweaks to the traditional mechanics. One of these that you can discover very early on is how the health and mana vials work. Instead of having a slot filled with potions to restore whichever stat, you have only five slots for vials, and there is no stacking. Each vial can contain so many charges, which restore whatever they are supposed to when activated. Recharging vials requires returning to a city or killing enemies. Effectively you have unlimited health potions, but you have to earn them.
The skill gem system has some interesting twists as you can freely move them around at any time. This is definitely useful as you swap out one piece of gear for another. In general, if you can have a gem equipped, equip it because the gems will level up as you kill enemies. Each level makes the ability they grant you more powerful, and those abilities can change the direction of any battle. Also, you do not need to worry about an equipped gem being too high level to use, as their stat requirements increase with their level. You have to press a button to allow them to level up, and that button will be greyed out if you cannot equip the next level.
The economy in Path of Exile is a bit more complicated than trading piles of otherwise-useless gold with a store owner. Selling items will give you other items, such as orbs. These orbs can be used to purchase other items or they can be used to modify those you already have. Do you want to try to improve what you already have, or just buy something that looks to be better? Up to you.
In my time playing, I have found these mechanics above to be very well balanced and well implemented. One tweaked mechanic, however, that is not as well implemented as I would like is the passive skill tree. All characters use the same tree, but start in different places. This is pretty nice as in theory you can make any character into whatever you want. The catch is that the tree is huge! A player could probably invest over an hour just exploring the tree to plan out what skills they want to put points in, which gets me to the one issue I have with it. There is no planning mechanic in the game. You cannot trace out the path you want to take along the tree, so when you get a point to deposit, you can't quickly find where to put it. Instead you have to move through the tree to find what is open, then possibly take the time to read the options before choosing. That takes a while, and something in-game to help with that would be greatly welcomed by me.
One final thing I want to mention before moving on to other elements is the league system. At any one time, there are four leagues going in Path of Exile, and these are roughly equivalent to difficulties, but really are something completely different. The lowest league is the standard league, where you can die and respawn. Next up is the hardcore league, which is identical to the standard league, except that death kicks you to the standard league. You will keep whatever items are on your character when this happens, but anything in you hardcore stash remains there for future characters. The next two leagues actually change every few months, but can be considered more difficult sub-types of the two permanent leagues, with better loot. Both of these temporary leagues offer a greater challenge, though only one is hardcore. When you die in that one, your character will be moved to standard. Because the stashes are connected to the league instead of the character, you can store up items to make advancement easier on your new characters. When a league ends, the items you collected will be moved to the appropriate permanent league.
While it can be a little frustrating to think that the character(s) in the highest difficult league are just going to be pushed out of it at some point, this does actually add some replayability to the game. Every few months the challenge changes, so how far can you get now?
The graphics of Path of Exile are described as gritty by the developers, and I completely agree with them. You are not spared from seeing the darkness of the game-world, and it is all made to look real. At least on my computer, it also runs almost flawlessly. As far as the graphics are concerned, it is flawless, even at the highest settings, but one mechanic does complicate performance, and it itself is complicated.
As Path of Exile runs on both your computer and a server, there can be issues with the data being synchronized between them. Different games handle desync differently, and because Path of Exile has been designed for fast action, any issues with how it handles desync can be exacerbated. For example, I have personally had to spam-click/press before because it can take an extra beat for something to be activated, and if I did not press the button multiple times, it may not happen at all. This can be quite frustrating, but eventually you can get used to it. Whether you consider that a negative or not is up to you. I am just letting you know.
As you can guess by the fact that I have already invested many hours into Path of Exile, I do enjoy playing it, and for someone looking for an action-RPG, I would comfortably recommend it. Even if you had to pay for it, I would recommend it, but instead it is free-to-play, making the only cost signing up for an account. Of course there are micro-transactions in the game, but these are limited to non-gameplay-altering effects. For example you can change the visual appearance of your loot to look awesome, but the stats are unchanged. Pets similarly are for visual effect and do not impact combat (except by maybe getting another player to try attacking them, thinking they are another enemy). You can also purchase additional stash pages to store more of the loot you pick up. Simply put, Path of Exile is not a pay-to-win game.
Something more I want to mention before leaving this game is something I personally enjoy a great deal. This may sound weird, but I love the fact that you can sign in with your Steam account. The reason I like this as much as I do is that I have in fact decided to not play some free-to-play games specifically because I do not want to have to worry about yet another account somewhere online; yet another place with my email address, a username, birthdate, password, etc. That may sound silly, but I personally prefer to keep a smaller digital footprint, and not all free-to-play games allow that.
Warface is an FPS developed by Crytek with its famous CRYENGINE, so you can expect it to look good, and it does. It does not look great, with soft details on faces and textures that look a little upscaled, but the graphics are still quite good and the performance was excellent for me. It did stutter a little, taking the framerate down from 60, but that could have been due to brief lag spikes.
The gameplay of Warface is very action focused, as the co-op matches start off with you and others being dropped off from a helicopter. Before touching down though, the windows open up allowing enemies to shoot at you, and naturally for you to shoot back. As the level continues, you advance forward with enemies popping out from buildings, coming around corners, and appearing behind you, always with something to shoot you. To survive you will have to keep your eyes and ears open, and try not to become too separated from your team.
The game features four different classes, which fill the standard roles of assault, sniper, medic and engineer. Assault and sniper are available from the beginning, and personally I have stuck with the assault class. I did play some sniper in the tutorial mission, but have always found that my sniping skills in a single player game do not translate well to a multiplayer game. The assault class was fun to play as, running down streets and through buildings, picking up and eliminating targets on the way. You do have a limited amount of ammo, but the assault class has the ability to restock it for you and your enemies.
Successfully completing a mission gives you experience based on your performance. Obviously this experience will give you some stature amongst other players, but it also appears to be necessary to unlock certain things, including gear and the other two classes. Co-op missions are unlocked by completing previous co-op missions. Versus is always available to play and, somehow, in my first match I actually came in second on my team. (That is unusual for me in an FPS.) It was fun, but there were some deaths that I did not like much. Specifically those where it appeared my killer was shooting through a wall or corner. Now this could either be because you can shoot through these objects, or it could be that the placement of where the bullets spawn and the placement of the character model do not fully agree when viewed by another player.
All in all, a fun game that can satisfy an itch for some quick, gunfire-fueled action. It handles as you expect of any online FPS, which makes it easy for almost any gamer to just jump in and get to it. Although the matchmaking system could be better by providing information such as how many players are required to start, and having it start based on a countdown, instead of the first person in the lobby having to press a button. Also it would be nice if the versus lobby did not constantly un-ready me whenever something changed. I must have readied myself five times because the teams were being shuffled/balanced, someone was changing their class, a butterfly flapped its wings, etc.
Is it pay-to-win though? That is a little hard to say. There are weapons and gear that can be purchased with in-game or premium currency, but how much does that matter in the co-op missions? I suspect that success in those missions is going to be more influenced by skill and teammates than equipment, though I have not been able to get into the later ones yet. My guess is that no one else is playing those missions.
In the versus matches though, I could see someone who spent real money getting an advantage as there are better weapons and body armor. Of course you can earn the in-game currency to purchase these, but it looks like that will take a long time to get the best stuff. How long, I am not sure. So for the co-op, I cannot say if this is pay-to-win, and for versus I can see it making an impact. How large an impact I cannot predict without actually testing the equipment, and I am not able to do that.
In the previous NVIDIA Free-To-Play bundles, I would compare and contrast the titles in the conclusion of the review, in an attempt to show which I felt was best. I will not do that this time though for one very good reason; these games are too different from each other. Each one can satisfy a specific niche, making almost any attempt at comparing them irrelevant as one would play each for different reasons.
Warface offers straightforward action that can come in bursts just ten minutes long. For those times you just want to shoot things, this is a game to consider. It you want to shoot things with friends, it is even better. It would be nice if the economy were not so balanced to favor players who spend real-world money.
Heroes of Newerth requires investing a bit more time into each match as they can run from twenty minutes on up, and also has a steep learning curve for a new player. If you can climb that curve or have friends to help you, this is going to be a good game for someone looking for a more team-based and deeper game than Warface.
Path of Exile is designed to absorb more of your life than the other two games. I am not sure how long the campaign takes, but I would guess at least ten hours, and possibly between fifteen and twenty. That is for one character though, and there are multiple to choose from, as well as the different leagues to play in. Path of Exile is possibly deeper than Heroes of Newerth, but is more approachable with how it is presented to you over time.
Truly these games are all strong examples of their free-to-play genres and by having such different genres represented, almost any gamer will be able to find one to enjoy. Just know your interests and pick which one you want to jump in to.