Goodbye, Gateway

The final news post that caught my eye this weekend was about the Neverwinter Gateway having been shut down for good. (Gotta remember to remove that link on the side bar...) For those who didn't know, this was basically Neverwinter's "companion app", letting you access your professions from out of game, enabling you to prevent your celestial coins from disappearing if you couldn't log in (back when that was a thing), and offering the Sword Coast Adventures mini game, where you rolled dice to let your companions explore some small dungeons for loot.

I can't say that I'm personally very saddened by this, as I only ever used it a couple of times, such as to get the little white quality dog pet. But I find it interesting that during a time when people talk about mobile add-ons to MMOs clearly being the future (when even Blizzard does it, it must be so), companies that have had this sort of feature for a while are actually shutting it down again. Cryptic's reasoning was pretty much that it was too much effort for all the abuse it attracted, and RIFT already stopped work on its mobile companion app three years ago.


Fun With Numbers

Also in the news, Cryptic released an info graphic celebrating 2 million players on the PlayStation 4 and 12 million players in total. This is one of those numbers that sound amazing when you first hear it, but of course it's not quite all that once you realise that the game is free to play and they counted everyone who's ever created an account over the past three and a half years.

The part of the info graphic I personally found the most interesting was that (on the PS4) "over 30,000 players have reached the max level cap" because... that's really not that much. It means that the conversion from "I guess I'll try this free game" to "I'll level at least to the level cap" (which really doesn't take very long at all) is only 1.5 percent. If we extrapolate from that to the total number of players, there are only about 180,000 players with max level characters in Neverwinter, and presumably only a small percentage of those actually play regularly. So the overall active population is presumably "only" in the tens of thousands.

I also liked their note that 18 million mounts have already been attained on the PS4. With 3.2 million characters created, that makes for an average of more than five mounts per character - and in reality that number is probably even higher, as I'm sure many lowbies don't even get far enough to acquire more than their first mount.


Level Up

It's been quiet on here because in the past month my attention has been elsewhere once again, which is why I only found out today that ten days ago, Cryptic introduced the option to buy max-level characters from the Zen store. It's actually kind of surprising that it took them this long, considering how many other MMOs already do this and Crytpic's general tendency to let you buy advantages for real money in every possible area of the game.

I'm never really tempted by these offers because I actually enjoy levelling, but this one comes with an extra perk: Every boosted character gets to choose one of five painted owlbear mounts for themselves (picture from the official news post):


Seriously, who wouldn't love to own one of these? I especially like the purple one.

Of course, then I checked the actual price of a boosted character on the Zen market, and it's 5,000 Zen. Even if you buy the biggest bundle to get the most bang for your buck, that's still about thirty quid. No owlbear is worth that to me.


End of an Era

With the new module, invoking was changed once again, this time so that it doesn't reward astral diamonds anymore. Instead you get "bonus diamonds", which means that the next time you do a "real" activity that rewards AD, such as a dungeon run, you get more than usual - if I understand the new system correctly anyway. As I do those activities so rarely, this bonus isn't worth the repeated daily logins for me, so I'll be back down to only logging in only once a day for the first invoke (I still like getting those coins) and to queue up professions.

When they originally introduced the now scrapped system that required logging in six times a day, staggered over the course of at least four hours, I wasn't thrilled, but somehow I got caught up in it anyway and ended up pursuing its rewards pretty obsessively. I actually feel kind of relieved that the incentive to continue doing so is gone and I won't be staring at the clock as much anymore. I do think it might also reduce my involvement with the game though. While logging in to press ctrl+i repeatedly wasn't engaging per se, each time was an opportunity for others to grab me and drag me into group content while I was online. And the time between the first couple of invokes was so short that I often didn't find it worth logging out and ran around taking care of a couple of small bits and pieces instead.

Also, I do wonder where my AD are going to come from now. I was pretty cross when they removed them from leadership, but things ended up being okay for me because my regular outgoings are small enough that my income from invoking was sufficient to keep me afloat. I'm not sure what's going to happen now. I shouldn't run out of AD too quickly, but I would expect to run out eventually. Also, any new characters will have a really hard time earning their first bits of currency now.


New Look

What's this? A new character selection screen? But they didn't do that for any of the previous expansions!

Now my characters will look even colder every time they load in in their underwear...


Summer's End

I really spent a lot of time at the Summer Festival this year, despite of still not caring that much about any of the rewards. It was just fun. Nonetheless I ended up getting myself the full Sunite outfit as well as the water horse, simply because I could.

My only gripe was that they gave the festival an unexpected extension... why did this annoy me? Because one of its main currencies, Fireblossom Petals, are only temporary, and I had spent all my leftovers on what I thought was going to be the last day. If I had known that the festival was going to continue for another couple of days, I would have saved them and would have ultimately been able to afford another one of the nicer items.



The Summer Festival has come around again and since I remember quite enjoying it last time, I wanted to have another look at it... however SWTOR's Dark vs. Light event has its hooks in me pretty firmly right now. I kept telling myself that I probably wasn't missing anything as the festival would just offer the same activities that I've already done before, however it turned out that I was actually wrong about that!

There is a new ball game called Sahha, which is played in an instance in teams of 5v5, and while it's a bit slow, I did find it decent fun to play with my guildies. Once again Cryptic gets credit for trying to come up with some fun non-combat gameplay as an alternative to all the fighting.


For the Alliance!

A recent patch introduced a feature called guild alliances. The system remains opaque to me, even though our guild has joined one such alliance. One thing I've learned is that not all guilds in an alliance are created equal; instead one gets to be the "boss", who has several subordinates, each of whom has another bunch of subordinates of their own. We hold the lowest rank of these while being beholden to a "boss" guild called "GOD", which has led to all kinds of opportunities for punny humour (comments about "seeing god", "being with god" etc.).

One clear benefit is that all the alliance strongholds get linked up for easy visitation rights, and members of all participating guilds can team up to tackle the heroic dragon encounters on the stronghold map, which seem to require 20+ people if you want to kill more than one of the four dragons.

Annoyingly, part of the rewards from these encounters are contained in special kinds of lockboxes for which you need a new kind of key from the cash shop, and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I did shell out some zen to be able to unlock the few I got. And to think the rewards weren't even that great...

It's been fun to be part of the loosely directed zerg to kill the dragons a few times now (they need to die close to simultaneously, so there's a lot of "everyone except two people switch from red to black" kind of shouting going on), but I could see those fights getting boring quickly as there isn't much else to pay attention to. The fun is additionally reduced by the fact that one or two of the dragons have glitchy/hard or impossible to see mechanics that one-shot people, so depending on which dragon you are on, you can end up in an ongoing cycle of dying, resurrecting at the nearest campfire, using an injury kit, running back, landing a couple of attacks and immediately dying again.


Bear Cub

I'm a sucker for cute things. The New Life Lockbox was what pushed me over the edge into buying a month of VIP time, because I figured that I'd quite like using one of my daily lockbox keys on one and ending up with an adorable little baby pet. Of course I didn't actually get one, because you never get what you want out of these boxes - that's pretty much the business model.

I didn't really think much about it afterwards, but my pet tank remembered my desire for a cute little companion and when he saw that you could buy a bear cub directly from the trade bar store, he decided to get me a little gift.

The little fella is so cute that the whole guild gathered round just to look at how adorably he rocks back and forth while wiggling his toes. You just can't beat the cute.



Protector's Jubilee is over and I actually achieved all my goals!

Getting the horse for my control wizard was actually very easy as renown was available in spades. I had enough for the mount after only a couple of days, bought the associated outfit for good measure and still had plenty left over.

Getting the Protector's Garden key was trickier. A commenter actually asked me how one could get the required 15 figurines in only 8 days, and the advice I gave was at least partially wrong since I hadn't fully figured out the new system yet. Figurines didn't used to be rare because you'd get them for doing the event daily quests. This year this was changed however so that the quests only rewarded purple boxes... which would grant you a figurine the first time you opened one on any given day, but that appeared to be it.

The only reliable way we found to get extras was to have other people give you gifts through the protector's hospitality, since that had a random chance of dropping a figurine, and actually more than once per day. Fortunately my pet tank was grinding the event like crazy and showered my hunter ranger with all his gifts, plus a few guildies were nice enough to chip in as well. Thanks to their generosity I managed to hit 15 figurines on the last day and got my key.

Also, my hunter ranger - the character on whom I really wanted to take things slowly again - gained about 15 levels throughout the week. There's just no way not to level fast in this game.