16/05/2020

Siege

Devil Siege or Siege for short is one of the large heroic encounters in Avernus, and it's an odd one. The objective is to damage a massive siege engine until a boss appears, then kill the boss.


To achieve this, people first have to operate some catapults. How to do this is not terribly intuitive - for example they cannot be interacted with while any combat is going on too close to them, meaning that someone other than the catapult operator needs to make sure to drag any mobs away first.

What's really flummoxing though is that none of the actual objectives are displayed on the encounter tracker. It just tells you to kill devils - no mention of the siege engine at all - even though this appears to only be a bonus objective, and one I've never seen come even close to completion due to the insane number of kills it requires. I'm sure everyone new to the zone spends at least their first few runs of this heroic just killing devils in the middle, confused about what's going on and having to rely on one or two veterans who know what to do to actually progress the encounter.

More recently, the siege engine's health bar that can be seen in the above screenshot disappeared too, so now you don't even have an indicator of how well the fight is progressing. It's just confusing to me how anyone at Cryptic could have thought that this was a good idea.

03/05/2020

Legacy Campaigns

When the level cap was raised to 80 with Undermountain, most old campaigns were awarded "legacy" status and not updated. I'm not sure what the selection criteria were, considering that the old Elemental Evil is still considered "current" while the much more recent Ravenloft has been designated a legacy campaign, but I'm guessing it might have simply come down to avoiding the hassle of re-scaling content where it would have been required.

With those old campaigns stuck at level 70, quests there can be completed with much more ease than previously now. To what end though? Cryptic were clearly asking themselves the same question and decided to add new weekly "legacy campaign quests" that ask you to either do quests, kill mobs or run heroic encounters on those old maps and that reward a special currency that can be used to purchase certain desirable items which were previously very hard to come by, such as companion upgrade tokens and high level enchanting stones.

This is one new feature I really love, as I'm both a fan of giving old content a new purpose and I really benefit from this new, more casual avenue to accessing those rare items.

All legacy campaign quests also reward currency for the campaign they are related to, plus bonus currency for a campaign of your choice (e.g. you could complete a quest to do Icewind Dale heroics and get both Icewind Dale currency as well as Chult tokens). This is useful to help get alts through campaigns you don't like as much and to get extra tokens that are required for stronghold upgrades.

I think this is really great design as it has also worked to greatly reinvigorate some of the old maps and especially the larger heroic encounters on them, which many people had previously lost interest in due to lack of rewards.

26/04/2020

Tales of Old

My husband and a guildie have spent the last week going on about this event that's going on right now called "Tales of Old" and yesterday I finally gave in and agreed to take part. Apparently it centres on a selection of old dungeons that were previously removed and are selectively being returned for this event in a sort of challenge mode.


The framing for the event is that your party is working with a bard called Nipsy to spin an epic tale of how you supposedly once conquered a particular old dungeon, and you re-tell/re-run it several times to embellish your exploits. The first time you just do/did it without using any consumables, the second your artifacts didn't work either, the third time around you were hurting yourselves with every at-will power you cast, the fourth time all the enemies were doing poison damage on top of their normal abilities, and the final time you also had most/all(?) of your stats halved and are shrunk in size.

There are limitations both in the form of a timer (though it's not too tight and can be extended) and a death counter, which work together quite nicely to keep you going at a decent pace but without getting careless, as running out of "lives" ends the adventure just as prematurely as letting the timer run out.

We only did the first three difficulties in our run of Lair of the Mad Dragon as it was coming up to the event's reset time and my husband found out first hand that being in the instance when it resets leads to nothing but a very bad time. These were all fairly chill, though I'm told that the difficulty ramps up considerably at stages four and five.

As someone who's generally not super keen on Neverwinter's dungeons I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun this was, though I can imagine the required repetition becoming quite tedious in the long run. Still, now I want to try some of the other dungeons in the rotation before the event ends in a few days.

19/04/2020

Chicken Farm

During one of our first visits to Avernus I saw a player talk in general chat about soon being able to open a chicken farm, and I remember wondering what that was all about.

As it turns out, one of the reward mechanisms in Infernal Descent is that you can use the currency acquired from repeatable quests and heroic encounters to buy "surprise bags", which have a chance of containing good gear, astral diamonds, or a random companion, vanity pet or mount. As it happens, by far the most common drop from them is the "infernal chick" vanity pet, and after a few weeks of buying these bags I, too, am up to owning 24 of the little things.

Unfortunately you can neither trade nor sell them, not even to a vendor, so they've just been accumulating in my vanity pet inventory. As of now there's still plenty of space in there, but I do wish Cryptic would let me do something with them other than delete them. As I generally hate deleting things in MMOs, I'll stick to the chicken farm in my bags for now.

14/04/2020

Shorthand

In-game shorthand can tell you a lot about new content even when you don't quite know yet what all the acronyms stand for.

For example, when we first started questing in Avernus, we quickly noticed that chat was full of "+siege" and "+ape". This indicated that there were at least two big heroic encounters (BHEs, or "beehees" as my husband likes to call them) on the map that people liked to run for the rewards.

"Ape" seemed like a bit of an odd name, mind you, but we soon found out that this was because while the encounter was technically called "Demonic Summoning", it involved killing a giant Barlgura, a type of demon that looks like - you guessed it - some kind of ape. Why waste precious syllables when a simple "ape" will do it?

10/04/2020

In Hell

Infernal Descent takes place in Avernus, the first circle of hell according to D&D lore. Players are provided with a safe haven there in the form of your base of operations, a stronghold that was pulled down into hell due to a curse or something, but otherwise the environment is (understandably) very hostile.


I think it's always challenging to make players spend extended amounts of time in zones that are by their very nature extremely hostile and unpleasant, because if the environment truly lives up to its reputation, no amount of rewards will make people want to hang around.

Avernus, too, largely manages to deliver on what you'd expect from a circle of hell, with a slightly grating soundtrack and everything being tinted in unpleasant shades of red. Even the mobs contribute, as the Erinyes' screeching for example is a proper pain in the rear. It's bearable for the duration it takes to get your weeklies done and the gameplay is fun, but unsurprisingly the first circle of hell is not a place where I'd like to spend more time in the long run.

06/04/2020

April Fowls

In the past, Cryptic impressed players on April Fools' Day by creating a whole new, lovingly crafted joke campaign for the event, which became so popular that they just turned it into a generally recurring event after a while.

Since then I don't recall seeing anything new for April Fools, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them come up with something new this year: "April Fowls".

This silly event is chiock-full of bad chicken puns and mostly consists of a few daily quests that involve you turning into a chicken and using unique combat abilities. The currency you earn from them can be used to buy a giant chicken mount or a couple of vanity pets.

There is also a chicken themed PvP brawl that involves you taking on the same chicken forms and abilities as in the daily quests while pecking enemy players to death. I've only done it once so far but couldn't stop laughing pretty much through the entire thing.

It's not the most sophisticated event ever, but the light-hearted silliness of it all is just right for the current climate in my eyes, and for a limited-time event it's been great fun. It's on for a few more days if you haven't had a chance to give it a go.


Also amusing: guards continue to salute me while in chicken form.

02/04/2020

Infernal Descent

As much as Uprising was a letdown, fortunately the newest module seems to be a good one again. In fact, my immediate impression was that after something like three lacklustre modules in a row, someone at Cryptic must have sat down to check which one was the last module that players really liked (Ravenloft) and decided to simply copy that.

Infernal Descent doesn't feature as iconic a setting, but it also has an introduction with some neat-ish cut scenes, interesting NPCs, and the way the overall campaign works is almost a straight copy and paste from Ravenloft: a map with a mix of big and small heroic encounters, endlessly repeatable quests on a randomised rotation and some very rewarding weeklies.

31/03/2020

Uprising Letdown

Having just completed Uprising at the time of writing this post, I have to say that it has to be the laziest campaign that Cryptic has ever released, and lazy is not a word I use lightly in a context like this. It literally adds nothing but a tiny new quest hub where an NPC gives you a mission to fetch four whatsits.

To get a whatsit, you first need to gather thingamabobs. To get thingamabobs, you need to run more of the same expeditions that you've been running for all of Undermountain, only without the relics and with some different boss mobs at the end.

To get access to those ever so slightly different expeditions, you first have to get doodads. To get a doodad, you have to do a daily quest to kill mobs in the exact same zones that you used to level through Undermountain, only now they have some different mobs in them.

So basically, aside from the quest hub and a couple of new boss mobs, there were no new zones, story or content in Uprising. Worse, what I explained above isn't even properly conveyed in game either - you're just given the quest for the four whatsits and then two daily quests to get doodads, with no indication of how the two are connected. For some reason Cryptic couldn't even be bothered to create an actual campaign screen for this one to track your progress. You'll just have to google it to figure it out.

It's not that I hated the content (mob grinding is a big part of Neverwinter and doesn't need to be particularly inspired as far as I'm concerned), but I'm stunned that they officially labelled this as module 17 considering that there've been sub-modules in the past that had more than this to offer.

28/03/2020

Neverwinter vs. STO

There is a little chart called "weekly top games" on the Arc launcher, and for as long as I can remember, Neverwinter has held the number one spot on it, followed by Star Trek Online in second. Ever since I came back though, I've noticed that STO has been in first place some weeks. Has Neverwinter really decreased in popularity that much?

I consulted the Steam Charts once again, just to get a gauge on the relative popularity of the two games, and they do indeed show more people having played STO than Neverwinter for most of 2020. The last time that happened was back in 2016! Then I realised that STO recently celebrated its 10th anniversary though, which I'm sure helped it garner some extra attention, and activity does appear to have been dropping off again since that event ended on PC.

That said, the Neverwinter chart has definitely seen better days too. The game's last major peak appears to have been in July 2018 with the release of Ravenloft (understandably), and after the release of Undermountain in particular you can see a noticeable decline in interest (also understandably if you ask me - people don't like having to relearn the entire game!). We'll see if the current climate encourages more players to give the game another chance, like I have.