Summer Festival Thoughts

I completely skipped the Summer Festival last year, so I thought it would be fun to revisit it this year. Especially since some of the cosmetic rewards are really nice and actually quite easy to obtain.

Somehow... it all seems somewhat less fun than I remember though. I forgot just how much I dislike the water fight event for example, simply because I'm absolutely terrible at it. My current strategy is to run in and throw balloons until I hit someone, then run out of the area before I can get hit back, as I'll just end up with a score of zero if I stay.

And Sahha! I remembered that being decent fun despite of its slowness, but now it's just driving me nuts. They should just put a fence around most of the playing field, because it's way too easy to knock the ball out of the area, and with every reset creating 15-20 seconds of downtime you spend more time just standing around and twiddling your thumbs than actually chasing the ball, and that for ten whole minutes. It's ironic that the Sahha ball quest giver tells you that gathering the raw materials for your own ball is much more time-consuming than getting one from actually playing the game, when in reality it's the other way round.


River District Retrospective

While Storm King's Thunder was the last of the "old" campaigns where I still had boons to finish, I had some leftover business in the River District for the last couple of weeks as well. I couldn't help but think about how my opinion of that campaign area has changed.

My initial impressions of it were really positive - and I still think that the map is very nice for example, and that its weekly quests are inventive. However, what I initially considered a nice variety of daily activities unfortunately ended up feeling pretty dull over time. With no particular reason to do one thing over another, it eventually just became a matter of doing whatever's easiest/fastest until you've reached your daily goal. From my recent experience the most popular choice for this seems to be running the small heroic encounters - there are often "trains" going for them that just run in circles doing one after the other, and even a small group is enough to make them go down quite fast.

That's not exactly a bad thing, but after a while I really started to miss the direction provided by quests. Without them your daily goal just feels too much like random mob grinding. Chult had this problem too to some extent, and I'm glad to see that Cryptic seems to have back-pedalled on this, with Barovia once again offering a nice amount of quests to provide structure for your daily adventures.


Angler of the Northern Sea

At the same time as finishing Storm King's Thunder, I also got the Angler of the Northern Sea achievement (catching/finding one of each type of fish in Sea of Moving Ice). I was inspired to go after it after getting Angler of the Soshenstar, though unlike the latter this one actually required a fair amount of work.

Basically I tried to go to a different fishing spot every time I got the daily fishing mission for several weeks, eventually using this guide by DDM's Realm to keep track of which locations I still had to revisit to get the last couple of fish I was still missing.

It was time-consuming, but I thought the amount of randomness and grind required was just right to not feel annoying. I've been displaying my new title with pride, as it stands for one of the rare accomplishments in this game that can't be bought or fast-tracked with real money (at least as far as I'm aware).


Buggy Barovia

I'm really enjoying the new content in Ravenloft, but it also seems to be one of the buggier modules.

Some people have been reporting constant crashes, to the point where it made the game unplayable for them, which is fortunately something that hasn't affected me personally. However, I've seen plenty of bugs around the world.

While doing the rounds in Barovia I ran into two quests (out of five or six) that were so bugged that I had to drop them (though oddly, another time I managed to complete them successfully, so these particular bugs might not be entirely straightforward). Many of the new heroic encounters also seem to suffer from issues with spawn timers, so that you get situations such as being asked to "rescue hostages" but there are only a couple of mobs to kill and nobody to rescue... until ten minutes later, when the hostages suddenly spawn in.

It affects older zones as well: While doing the rounds in Omu with my pet tank last weekend, one of the patrol missions bugged out so badly that we were unable to complete it, as several of the mobs we were supposed to kill kept glitching into walls and refused to come out. (This one's supposed to be fixed by now according to the patch notes.)

However, the issue I currently find the most annoying is that when you're in Barovia, most of the time you can't see any of the other map instances except for one or two (while numbers indicate that actually there are more than thirty instances up). This makes it hard to casually hop around different maps to join groups for the big heroic encounter whenever it's up. Even going old school and asking for a group invite might not help, as I've gotten a nonsensical error message every time I tried to use the "transfer to their instance" prompt while grouped. Even leaving the map and coming back in only sometimes works to unite you with your group mates. It speaks for the quality of the module that people are playing enthusiastically despite of all these issues.


Storm King's Thunder Silenced

At long last, I completed the Storm King's Thunder campaign, the last of the "old" campaigns that were still lingering as incomplete on my main's campaign screen. Even though I already had partial completion when I started on my project to finally finish it up, it still took me three months of near daily play (admittedly not involving maximum effort, but still) to complete all the boons. Seriously, three months! The grind is real.

What's interesting was that the Voninblood, whose number requirements looked the most intimidating initially, didn't turn out to be that much of an issue. As Joseph Skyrim noted in a comment on my original post about the campaign grind, the Ostorian Relics you can collect on all four of the campaign maps and which can be traded for Voninblood largely make that particular currency a non-issue as they can be farmed easily and indefinitely. I just didn't realise this right away, which wasn't helped by me not even having a trowel (required to collect them) for a lot of my early play sessions. Also, duoing with my pet tank initially meant that each of us only got half as many relics as a solo player would have collected.

I soon found that everything seemed to hinge on Secrets of Ostoria, the currency associated with completing the main daily mission (which in turn required you to do one regular daily quest in each of the first three zones). I eventually realised that I could actually collect all the various dailies to save them up for later, they just wouldn't show up if I didn't also have the main daily in my log. I then settled into a routine of doing a whole batch of dailies in each zone on different days of the week while also saving up the completed missions to hand in one at a time each day for the overarching daily quest. If that sounds a bit convoluted that's because it was.

Sea of Moving Ice was a different matter as there was a limited amount of saving up you could do in that zone, and eventually I had to focus more attention on it as I just needed Runic Fragments (that map's unique campaign currency) to complete the last two boons. The main two lessons I took away from that were that the fishing daily couldn't be "saved up" as it auto-completes as soon as you've gathered the required amount of fish, and that "Recasting Alarm" could be abandoned and re-picked until it gave you the super easy circuit just next to the base.

All said and done, I do have to give credit where credit is due though: The zones themselves were enjoyable, with nice visuals and music, and I still enjoyed questing in them again. I just wish the campaign didn't require you to do it for quite that long.


More Free-to-Play Maths

Back in June 2015 I did some maths to figure out how much money I had spent on Neverwinter, especially compared to an old-fashioned MMO subscription. I thought it would be interesting to do a follow-up on that three years later, especially since I realised that I haven't spent any money on the game in one and a half years.

Fun fact: They did actually switch to charging me in £ instead of € eventually, which is why the total will be ever so slightly incorrect as I had to do some backwards currency conversion, but the margin of error should be negligible.

So, looking back at my receipts, I spent £247.95 on Zen in the past three years. Based on blog activity, I was only completely inactive in game for about six months during that time, so spread out across the months in which I actually played that comes to only £8.265 per month, a bit less than your average monthly sub. Go me!

What's interesting to note is that my spending wasn't spread out evenly across that time frame at all. At first I spent a small-ish amount on Zen every three to five months, then I made one slightly bigger purchase that lasted me for about half a year, and then I decided to go all in on a charge rewards promotion that really appealed to me, just for Cryptic to mess up the rewards for that big time. They did eventually resolve the issue, but it still left a sour taste in my mouth.

Since then I haven't spent any money on Neverwinter at all, though funnily enough this had less to do with being grumpy with Cryptic about the messed up promotion (though I certainly was, at least at first) and more with not knowing what to do with all the Zen I bought. Oh sure, Cryptic does have ridiculously expensive bundles in their store I could theoretically buy, but those just never struck me as good value for money, so all I've been spending money on for the past one a half years has been a month of VIP here or a few extra bank slots there. From a fairness point of view it really feels like I should give them some money again considering how much I'm enjoying the game, but I still have over 10k Zen in the bank with nothing I particularly want to spend it on, so... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Ravenloft Launch Impressions

- First time I launched the game, it crashed before I even made it to the character selection screen. Happy patch day!

- New character selection screen! This time it's not just a new background, there are also new features such as the option to sort your characters differently.

- It looks like this module brought with it some sort of graphics update. I already noticed it on the character selection screen, but certain spell effects in game also looked a lot crisper than before. I don't like that the shade of green used for green quality items is much darker now than it used to be though.

- I thought I'd read somewhere that astral diamonds would now be account wide, but I could find no evidence of this. Maybe there's an option to put them all in the bank or something, I'll have to look again.

- The intro mission to Ravenloft felt quite lovingly crafted. Neverwinter's storytelling animations have always been on the poor side, but there was one cut scene where someone even moved their mouth while talking (gasp) and I liked what they did with the little silhouettes for when you're being told Strahd's story.

- Holy catch-up, Batman! Just completing the intro quest rewards you with a full set of 460 gear including rank 8 enchantments for every slot. Note to self: bring any and all alts to Barovia soon.

- At first glance the new map seems quite fun and like it iterates nicely on Chult. I was happy to see small heroic encounters make a comeback in particular as I sorely missed them in the jungle.

- I already attracted the night terror twice. Fortunately people were quite happy to pile on it whenever it appeared, but sadly it doesn't appear to drop anything, though my two guildies each got a title for killing it (not surprised the cleric gets left out as usual...)

- In a move that feels like over-conveniencing players, Cryptic made it so that you no longer have to actively roll on loot when you're in a party; the game just assumes that you want everything, rolls for everyone and then distributes the items accordingly. I actually feel kind of robbed. I liked seeing half a dozen items pop up on my screen and actively rolling on each one!

- The new, instanced hunts could grow on me, as the introductory one seemed quite fun. Less focus on randomised material gathering and more active hunting fun I hope?


All Classes

It took me five years, but I finally have a level 70 character of every class!

From left to right, top to bottom:

Phaelia, tiefling trickster rogue
Shintar, half elf devoted cleric
Ekaterina, human great weapon fighter
Daerys, drow control wizard
Puck, halfling hunter ranger
Ophelie, sun elf oathbound paladin
Shintank, dwarf guardian fighter
Shareen, half orc scourge warlock

I have a few more character slots available, but to be honest I can't see myself creating any more alts right now until they release another class, especially as Neverwinter is one of the few MMOs where (in my opinion), levelling another alt just for the sake of starting over isn't actually all that fun..

That said, there's still plenty of max-level stuff to do on all of my existing characters to potentially keep me busy for years to come.


Happy Fifth!

Yes, it really has been five years! I honestly continue to be impressed by how well this plucky little MMO has continued to do (based on realistic measurements of success, not WoW killer standards). I don't see a lot of talk about it in my little corner of the MMO blogosphere, but based on what limited player numbers we have to try to gauge its success, such as Steamcharts, it actually seems to be one of the more popular "second tier" MMOs, seemingly outperforming some competitors that seem to get a lot more buzz (again, in my little corner of the blogosphere), such as EVE, Rift or Secret World Legends.

In unhappier news, I managed to time my summer holiday in such a way that it will prevent me from actually participating in the Protector's Jubilee event (except for a quick check-in today) for the second year in a row. I'll never feel bad about going on holiday of course, but I do feel kind of bad about missing out all this free stuff and fun activities. I should really be better at this by now, considering I know exactly when this particular event will occur every year...


Alliance Life

Being in an alliance is quite similar to being in a clique inside a larger guild, except that it feels more "legitimate" in a way since there is a dedicated structure for it, and in terms of gameplay benefits, the guild/clique is actually more important to you than the alliance.

Like with everything else in Neverwinter, I'm more casual about socialising in it than I am in my main MMO, where I've always been super involved with any guild that I've been in. In Neverwinter on the other hand, I don't even read chat most of the time, including the green guild/alliance chat. On the rare occasions when I do look at it I notice that the people who are talking are way more into the game than I am, though I also see the occasional newbie question which serves to reassure me that I'm not completely clueless.

One thing that's interesting is that there are a couple of names that pop up in alliance chat all the time, to the point that I feel I "know" them. There is X-tremoz, the alliance leader, as well as some players called Bron, Bob and Bab who just seem to be online a lot. They don't know me at all of course, but just seeing the same names in chat over and over again gives the alliance a sense of stability even for casual players like me. It makes me appreciate that even guildies that never or rarely talk might be quietly benefitting from reading guild chat, and that in my SWTOR guild for example, someone might well be looking at me as one of those always-around public faces of the guild that hold things together.