If you're desperate to sheathe that flaming broadsword or to holster that space blaster, a new option from the world of massively multiplayer online gaming may be more your speed. Need for Speed World is another four-wheeled foray into the crowded MMO space from EA, following its inauspicious 2001 launch (and the subsequent 2003 shuttering) of Motor City Online.
World of Warcraft and many other well-known MMOs operate on a subscription basis, but Need for Speed World is free to play with optional microtransaction payments. Every street dealer knows the formula: give away the first taste to get 'em hooked and then you start charging. Real world dollars and cents convert into SpeedBoost, an in-game currency spent on progression amplifiers, high-end car rentals, and other advantages. A level cap keeps the freeloaders buckled into lower-tier Toyota Corollas and four bangers; serious players will buy (with real world dollars) a starter pack to unlock the full game. While the exact pricing model is still up in the air, we can safely assume that it'll be similar to The Sims 3's SimPoints and Battlefield Heroes' BattleFunds.
NFSW is NSFW
Need for Speed World has the potential to be the most important game in the franchise yet. The team behind Need for Speed World is going big, including cars from the entire series' history and administering an intravenous drip of MMORPG-styled rewards that should keep players coming back for "just one more game." If it works, racing fans will lose sleep, their jobs, and their marriages. If it fails, then we'll have another Motor City Online on our hands.
MMOs need to provide content to keep the player base entertained, and they need to reward players for their time invested. In Need for Speed World, you can stave off boredom by driving around town, tinkering with your color scheme and vinyl decals in the paint shop, maybe even racing against AI opponents for easy experience points. The open world is pleasantly detailed and bustling with activity, but visually it's blown away by Need for Speed: Shift. We also miss the cockpit view option, but NFS World looks great by MMO standards when running on a high-end gaming PC.
Exploration could be fun, but we predict that players will instantly teleport to queue up for races. It's funny how driving was designed as an unnecessary hassle in a racing game. That's fine, because the real draw will be the high speed head-to-head competition.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Hold Down W!
Races aren't pure tests of skill, though knowing how to powerslide through turns will help. It was hard to get a feel for control responsiveness when steering with WASD controls or arrow keys; a racing wheel or gamepad would be preferred, except that this is an MMO with lots of buttons to push.
Winning Need for Speed World races depends on you pushing those buttons effectively to activate power-ups, though you won't find any red tortoise shells here. It starts with nitrous-powered speed boosts and just gets crazier from there. Stuck way behind the pack? Slingshot enables some wicked rubber banding so you can catch up. Need to make things tough for the lead driver? Traffic Magnet will send AI vehicles in to run interference. Since you can pay real world money to restock these boosts, one can predict that players with money to burn will have an advantage.
The free to play contingent will be able to compete; they'll just be at a slight handicap. All the boosts and powers available to paid members should be available to free players as well, only it'll take more time to earn the goodies as rewards for winning races. Even losing races will net you something, thanks to the lucky draw system. At the conclusion of any race, a random reward card can be picked from a set of five, generally some in-game currency. While it's easier to just pay for this stuff with a credit card, earning it yourself is always an option.
It was good to see that the rich kid segment won't be able to just buy their way into a high-end car and the more lucrative races without paying their dues. While you can buy the car, you still need to reach a level prerequisite to drive it off the lot. That's where car rentals come in. Rentals last a couple days and provide an affordable way to test out an expensive vehicle without committing to that big price tag. You don't get to abuse lower-tier vehicles either. Rent a Lamborghini for a few days and you'll face other Italian sports car drivers in a level playing field. That makes sense -- you don’t want some jerk in a Ferrari lapping your humble Volvo in the starter races.
My Driver Has a +5 Hood Ornament
The real potential for imbalance lies in the aforementioned level cap. With each level gained, a player earns one driver skill point for that profile. These points are assigned to skills from three branching paths: race, pursuit, and explore. However you choose to specialize, players that pay to unlock the level cap and reach the higher levels will have an advantage over those who don't open up their wallets and pay for the starter pack.
Even though Need for Speed World is set for release in the very near future, we still haven't seen all the features the game should offer when it's finally unveiled to the public. The Need for Speed series is well-known for high speed pursuits, and police chase gameplay modes are in store, but details weren't available. Limited play time and a closed testing environment kept us from experiencing more than just a handful of races and tracks, though we were assured that the map would be covered with racing opportunities to hop into once the game finally goes live. You can't predict anything about an MMO launch, so we'll just have to wait and see.