19/11/2014

Rise of Tiamat

Neverwinters 5th module, Rise of Tiamat, released today. How did I know, apart from the giant patch and the fact that it's been advertised on the launcher for weeks? Because I logged in for my daily profession update and noticed that they redrew the icons for the treasure chests! OMG! Somehow that reminds me of the Blizzard joke of old about how every set of patch notes contains a bit about Mage Armor having received a new and exciting icon.

But yes, I'm still in "just doing my daily round of invoking" mode. Nonetheless it's nice to see Cryptic add new content at a steady rate. Means that there'll be all the more for me to do when I get back into the game properly.

28/09/2014

Playing Without Playing

The reason I haven't been posting on here as of late is that SWTOR's housing and associated features have sucked me back into that game without leaving much time or enthusiasm for anything else. So I just log into Neverwinter for five minutes at the start of each day to invoke on all three of my characters and to work on their professions.

It's never good if interest in an MMO drops to the level of "just logging in to do the chores". I sure stopped playing WoW quickly when I realised that my brief re-visit there had deteriorated into paying a sub just to grow some vegetables for no real reason. However, Neverwinter is free, doing the "chores" doesn't take long and they are very rewarding for the amount of time invested. I'm pretty sure that eventually my interest in the game will be rekindled (presumably when SWTOR hits its next major content slump) and then I'll be all the happier that I kept working on it and that I will be that much closer to getting my purple companion for 365 ardent coins.

29/08/2014

In The Shop

I just came back from a holiday in Austria and was quite surprised to see Neverwinter in the gaming section of an electronics store there. "But what are they selling?" I thought. "The game is free to play from the ground up, there isn't even a subscription option!"

The answer? For ten Euros, you would get a code for a forest bear mount and two hundred Zen. I guess they wanted some sort of presence in the shops, even with digitial distribution being on the rise.

It's only after I came home that I found out that the High Forest Bear is actually an account-wide mount that's exclusive to these German "starter boxes". Almost makes me wish I had bothered to spend that tenner.

16/08/2014

Vendor Trash

For a game that makes money from selling bag space (among other things), I've never felt that Neverwinter particularly tries to clog up your bags with junk. Things like currencies and crafting materials go into their own, seemingly limitless inventory tabs, and most things you pick up while questing are actually useful. There's never been a whole lot of vendor trash in Neverwinter.

Today while questing on my lowbie great weapon fighter, I killed a bunch of dragon cultists associated with the new module and they dropped junk like crazy. I seemed to get a useless white quality item on every other pull, and Cryptic appears to have created a whole bunch of new grey items purely for the dragon cultists to drop some rubbish. Even as I stopped to sell things whenever I could and refined enchantments away on the go, my inventory kept filling up over and over again.

Someone clearly wants to sell more bags.

14/08/2014

Pay To Campaign

Module 4 released today, but I haven't actally looked at any of the new content yet. I did however log in to invoke and update my professions. Since the Zen store icon was flashing, I had a quick look at that as well.

Two of the newest items: buy instant completion for the Sharandar and Dread Ring campaigns for five thousand Zen each.

I really shouldn't be surprised, as it's perfectly in line with their theme of letting people pay for every advantage possible. Somehow I still find it disappointing however.

12/08/2014

Professions

Professions in Neverwinter are a "click and wait" game, similar to the duty officer system in Star Trek Online or the companion crew skill system in SWTOR. Your character doesn't do anything herself, she just sends out her minions and reaps the rewards after a few hours.

The thing that feels weird to me is how your "minions" in this case are just really generic items that sit in your crafting inventory and can be traded on the auction house. At least the duty officers in STO have names and personalities, and it makes sense for a starship to have a large roster. As for why my half-elf cleric and my tiefling rogue have random guys doing all their work for them... who knows.

Professions are also really grindy. While levelling my cleric I focused pretty much exclusively on leadership, while ignoring all the other professions. Yet after two and a half months of playing and logging in every day, her profession level is still only 16 of 20.

The profession system is also one of the areas of the game where spending real money will give you huge advantages. Special workers who can cut a mission's time in half are only available from random packs that you buy for real money, while training up the basic white quality workers that offer no speed bonuses takes literally days and weeks of time.

While leadership at least is a very useful profession to have (I don't really have enough experience with any of the others to judge them), it does have a strong pay-to-win flavour to it that can be somewhat discouraging if you get a chance to compare your progress to that of someone who paid real money to gain advantages.

04/08/2014

Levelling without really playing

When I originally abandoned the game about a month after launch, my rogue was in her thirties. When I picked the game up again and rerolled as a cleric this summer, I also started logging onto my rogue again, though only to invoke (pray to the gods) and receive the associated benefits of currency and experience points.


Now my rogue has hit sixty, with most of the last couple of levels gained purely by invoking. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the fact that you can fully level a character to max simply by logging in every day, without actually playing "properly". On the one hand it's a nice way of getting an alt to the level cap without having to put a lot of effort into levelling, plus it's one way of skipping questing content that you've already repeated one to many times.

On the other hand it feels weird that you can't really "pause" playing a character, to later pick it up again where you left off, unless you're willing to forfeit the (considerable) benefits of invoking every day. It can also be somewhat challenging to get back into actually playing the character if you've gained twenty more levels (plus associated new powers) since you last went out into the world and your gear is now hopelessly outdated for the content that you should be doing.

02/08/2014

Dragonborn Legend Pack

Just like I was late commenting on the Tyranny of Dragons trailer, I'm also a week late with commenting on the release of the Dragonborn Legend pack that is meant to go with the new module. Telwyn from GamingSF pretty much summed up my thoughts exactly, namely that this pack offers very poor value compared to previous releases that included both account-wide mounts and companions for considerably less money.

Commenters in the Reddit thread mostly seem to agree with this sentiment, though at least one person piped up to defend the pack, saying that it still offers good value for money compared to the (imaginary) option of buying all the items separately. The problem is that most people wouldn't care to buy everything in the pack separately anyway, and the Dragonborn race alone makes it hard to justify the price of nearly a hundred euros.

A self-identified Cryptic employee also chimed in defending the decision, arguing that they needed to offer expensive things to give the big spenders in the game the option to actually give them as much money as possible. (Quote: "For every 100 people that refuse to pay for it or threaten to quit the game, there's 2 or 3 who'd happily fork over twice as much.")

I guess we'll see whether it works out for them of it future releases will try to offer a better value-for-money ratio again.

26/07/2014

Tyranny of Dragons Trailer

I'm a bit late commenting on this, but about ten days ago IGN posted a gameplay trailer for Tyranny of Dragons, the upcoming fourth module (mini-expansion) for Neverwinter.



It doesn't really show anything amazing, just some characters fighting a couple of new monster models in familiar-looking locations. The implication to me seems to be that this module won't follow the "new area with dailies" model but will instead add new content to existing zones. This is neither particularly good nor bad in my eyes; it just makes me wonder about how exactly accessing the new content is going to work.

Also, a small detail I really liked: "The Scourge Warlock uses forbidden lore and long-forgotten ancient secrets to power her magic." I suppose it's sad that I still have to find this remarkable at all, but too many gaming companies still default to always casting their heroes as male characters.

23/07/2014

PvP in Icewind Dale

There are no factions or world PvP in Neverwinter... except in Icewind Dale. You have to sign up with one of two competing factions to quest there (though you can switch between the factions every day if you want), and in a dedicated PvP area you can then fight people of the other faction if you so desire. Occasionally said area will also transform into an objective-based PvP game, resulting in a heroic encounter that rewards you with a lot of Black Ice if you win.


The whole thing bears remarkable similarities to SWTOR's Gree event on Ilum, and not just because the place is snowy.

- It's a daily area with a smaller, dedicated PvP zone inside it.
- You get quests that don't actually require you to PvP but can only be done in the PvP area.
- Said quests give worse rewards than the regular dailies, so as not to feel mandatory for progression.
- However, you can also do at least one pure PvE daily in the PvP area and finish it more easily/quickly that way.

I like the way SWTOR handles PvP during the Gree event and I like this implementation in Neverwinter too. Unlike in SWTOR, I'm useless at Neverwinter PvP however and always die if I actually get attacked.

21/07/2014

Buggy Skirmish Queue

There is a bug with the queue for skirmishes that I've experienced reasonably often now, most recently during the CTA event this past weekend. Basically what happens is that you'll be put into a group in a bugged version of the skirmish, which is stuck and unable to progress, either because some clicky thing you're supposed to interact with isn't clickable or a wave of mobs doesn't spawn as it should. (Nobody knows why these things bug out in the first place.)

Often there is also a disconnected person in the group whom you can't remove. So what happens is that people leave once they see that the event is bugged, but the group finder has the urge to keep refilling the DCed person's group, landing people in the same bugged skirmish over and over again.

When this happens it's best to just take a break from trying to queue for this content, because getting thrown into the same bugged event repeatedly is just annoying.

18/07/2014

Enchantment!

(I always read that in the voice of that dwarf NPC from Dragon Age.)

Enchantments in Neverwinter are an interesting system with a considerable dose of pay-to-win.

Most gear has an enchantment slot to add extra stats, and enchantments come in ranks from one to ten. You can find the lower level ones out in the world, but to get anything higher than five you pretty much need to "refine".

Refining basically means destroying lots of low-level enchantments and/or expensive consumables to fill a refinement bar, and once it's full you can click a button to upgrade the enchantment if you have certain other consumables in your bag as well. The catch is that the upgrade isn't guaranteed and if it fails, what happens by default is that you lose all your consumables. At lower levels this doesn't seem too bad as the chances of success are still pretty reasonable, but soon the failure rate climbs up to literally 99% and the only way to circumvent that problem is to use an expensive cash shop consumable called a ward.

In short, there are three ways in which this system is somewhat pay-to-win.

1) You can buy "refinement fuel" in the cash shop that's literally a hundred times more powerful than what you commonly find out in the world. This doesn't feel too bad to me yet as you can still fill your bar purely by playing the game; it just takes very long.

2) The basic wards prevent you from losing your stuff if an upgrade fails. There is no way of achieving this without the cash shop, but I still find it tolerable because these basic wards are pretty cheap. They also don't feel mandatory quite yet.

3) The expensive wards guarantee that an upgrade will suceed even if it has a 99% failure rate. These I don't like, as nobody can realistically expect to upgrade their enchantments past a certain rank without using them. Considering that there are over a dozen item slots that can have enchantments, each of which would require several expensive wards to be upgraded to max, this just feels like an attempt to milk dedicated players for all they are worth, just because they want their characters to be as powerful as possible.

16/07/2014

Music

Neverwinter's soundtrack is pretty good. Not amazing, but it does a good job at conveying the general mood of the MMO, which I would describe as somewhat serious and heroic but also optimistic and light-hearted at its core. Here's a playlist of the base game's soundtrack on YouTube.

One of my favourites is the Protector's Enclave theme, which is something you obviously hear a lot, seeing how it plays in the game's main hub. It's fairly short, but also cheerful and catchy.

The soundtrack for newer parts of the game seems to be harder to find online for some reason. I was quite surprised that I was unable to locate a version of the theme that plays in Caer-Konig in Icewind Dale for example, which is another cheerful and catchy tune but with a Nordic-sounding twist.

In the end I went so far as to record and upload it to YouTube myself. Enjoy!

13/07/2014

Heroic Encounters

Heroic encounters are Neverwinter's version of dynamic events and only exist in Icewind Dale. I have little experience with similar mechanics in other MMOs and I'm not sure how I would feel about a game making them its main focus, but I do like the way Neverwinter has implemented them.


They are easy to ignore if you want to ("No! I don't care! How many more merchants need rescuing in this place?") but integrate nicely with the daily quests. When you already have a quest to collect axes from barbarians, why not get them from completing the barbarian raiders encounter that's happening over there right now?

Most of them are also doable with two to three players, which is obviously ideal for people playing in a duo like me and my pet tank. The bigger events which require greater numbers are rarer, but also give better rewards, so they attract plenty of attention as soon as they show up on the map.

12/07/2014

Sharandar vs. Dread Ring

The Dread Ring is the second of Neverwinter's daily areas for max level characters and was released as part of the second module, Shadowmantle.


It's immediately apparent that Cryptic has learned at least two lessons compared to Sharandar:

1) Making repetitive content too linear is not fun.

Sharandar consists of three sub-zones that you unlock over time. You have to do the first one a couple of times to unlock the second one, do the second one for a while to unlock the third one and so on. While you don't get exactly the same quests every day, it's still kind of annoying to, say, be stuck in the area with the witches if you find them really annoying.

In the Dread Ring on the other hand, the whole map is open to you right from the start, but you get a different mix of quests every day. This keeps the zone fresh even if you run it every day, without destroying the necessary sense of progression.

Also, in Sharandar you have to do three regular dailies to unlock the associated lair quest every day, which is a somewhat annoying and adds a feeling of having to run back and forth unnecessarily. In the Dread Ring you can go straight for the day's lair while ignoring everything else if you want.

2) It helps to spread rewards out sensibly to make the grind more palatable.

One problem we experienced with Sharandar was that the rewards came in reasonably quickly at the start, but then there is a huge stretch at the end where nothing happens except that you grind the same content over and over to get to the top reward, which is quite substantial.

The Dread Ring feels better balanced in that regard - the important rewards aren't spaced out too badly, and while it also has the option to keep grinding for an extra reward at the end, it feels a lot more optional and you can work towards it in a more casual manner - or not at all - without feeling like you're missing out on something important.

10/07/2014

Voice Chat

Like World of Warcraft (and probably some other MMOs), Neverwinter has built-in voice chat. Like in World of Warcraft (and probably some other MMOs), its quality is poor compared to a dedicated third party program, not to mention that most people don't necessarily want to engage in conversation while rushing through dungeons with random strangers, so nobody really uses it as far as I can tell.

That is, until you end up grouped with someone who doesn't realise that their V key is set up to be the default push-to-talk key and douses the group in irregular random noises until you get annoyed enough to mute them.

And in my case of course there was also that one time during the Gate Crashers skirmish, when a delighted female voice with a heavy American accent kept giggling about how the Intellect Devourer mobs (brains on legs, basically) looked like "butt monsters". Thank you, anonymous voice. We really needed to hear that, repeatedly.

07/07/2014

Endless Levelling

One thing I find interesting about Neverwinter is that once you hit the level cap of sixty, your experience bar doesn't go away. You keep gaining experience as before, but instead of actually levelling up, you receive a "level-up reward" every time you fill the bar. This usually consists of some minor enchantments, similar to what you might find in some treasure chests, but you also have a chance of gaining an additional power point and therefore unlocking additional abilities. This doesn't actually make you more powerful, as the amount of abilities you can have on your bars at the same time remains the same, but it increases your options and saves you from having to reassign your power points if you want to try something new.

Personally I don't actually care that much about the extra power points, but I like this system nonetheless. Hitting max level in any MMO is an achievement, but if you actually enjoy levelling, it can also feel a little disappointing - a bit like hitting a wall. Retaining your experience bar softens this blow somewhat, and you can continue to enjoy that feeling of levelling up even as you start to dip your toes into endgame content. Of course the rewards lose their luster after a while, as they are really not that great, but by then you will hopefully have had enough time to get sufficiently engaged by the endgame instead.

05/07/2014

Event Gaming

This weekend the "Celebration of Lliira" event is going on in Neverwinter. As a thinly veiled in-game version of the American 4th of July celebrations, it doesn't seem to have much to offer, other than some NPCs with freaky-looking masks as well as the opportunity to set off some fireworks.


While this event has a real-life connection, I'm noticing that the weeks when Neverwinter doesn't have some sort of event going on seem to be few and far between. If there's no real life holiday to adapt into a D&D version, it's some "Call To Arms" event where people are encouraged to run a certain skirmish for extra rewards.

Not long ago I read an article on a blog somewhere (sadly I don't remember where) about how MMOs seem to increasingly turn into "event gaming", where it's not so much about the amount of content you have, but rather about continuously making people feel like they are experiencing a unique event by being present for the release of some new content. Neverwinter's unending stream of events certainly seems to be in line with this.

04/07/2014

Eye for an Eye

There is a daily quest in Sharandar to collect six cyclops eyes. This has inspired the following conversation between me and my pet tank:

Him: "This cyclops dropped two eyes!"
Me: "Well, why shouldn't it?"
Him: "Because if it had two eyes, it wouldn't be a cyclops."

Apparently most of them have a spare in their back pocket or something.

02/07/2014

The Foundry

The Foundry is a seemingly unending source of content, but I hardly ever use it. Levelling up for the first time, I mainly wanted to see the developer-created content, and it awarded more than enough experience that I never had to look for additional XP sources. Being at max level now, I want to do content that continues to be rewarding and makes my character even stronger, which means that the Foundry falls short once again. (During the last Foundry mission I did, the reward chest at the end was actually completely empty.)

While Perfect World has made an effort to integrate the Foundry into the world, with an (unrewarding) daily quest and NPCs that guide you towards it on nearly every map, I'm not sure whether it has truly found its niche. Using other players' ratings as a guideline, you can easily avoid the truly terrible creations, but the catalogue still makes it quite hard to find missions of a particular type that you like, even with the addition of tags. And style and tone of the player-created content can be all over the place, thereby making a lot of the stories feel disconnected from the rest of the game. Still, I may eventually try to see how the Foundry holds up as a source of alternate levelling content for alts of different classes, now that I've seen all the "official" stories.

29/06/2014

Mounts

Mounts are one part of the game where I feel that spending real money gives you a considerable advantage over a free player, especially while levelling. The basic mounts you can buy for gold are very slow and offer only minimal protection against being dismounted. You might be able to acquire a slightly better one during an event, but the really good ones generally only come from the Zen store. At max level you can grind out Astral Diamonds to buy a Zen store mount from another player, but while levelling you're basically hosed if you don't want to shell out real cash.


Admittedly not everyone will perceive the increased dismount protection the same way, but I found it very noticeable. On a basic mount you get knocked off if you take three hits within five seconds. On a purple quality mount five hits are required. This may not seem like much of a difference, but you have to consider that most groups of enemies in the game consist of three to four mobs. On a basic mount, your chance of getting dismounted and being forced into combat at a bad time (which might possibly even lead to your death) is therefore pretty high. On a purple mount, you'll be able to continue riding even if every mob in any given group gets a hit in.

I know that for me, buying a fast mount made a huge difference and made the mere act of moving around the map a lot less stressful. If you're going to spend real money on anything at all, I recommend a mount.

28/06/2014

Sharandar

Ever since hitting the level cap, my pet tank and I have been busy doing dailies. There are several daily areas, with the first one being Sharandar, which was released as part of the Fury of the Feywild module last year.


It has some similarities to Star Trek Online's New Romulus daily area, both in theme (dispossessed people asking for help securing their new home) and execution (do dailies, collect various currencies, unlock rewards in stages by using a special UI). It's not without its issues, but it still feels like an improvement compared to STO, where I often found myself blocked by how much of a sheer (in-game) money sink it was to increase my reputation. You shouldn't have to do dailies to fund your other dailies. Of course it also helps that the combat in Neverwinter is more engaging than the ground combat in STO.

We've also dipped our toes into the campaign areas that were released later, and it's obvious that Cryptic has already learned how to make the experience smoother and even more enjoyable.

26/06/2014

Free To Play

It's been about a month since I returned to Neverwinter, and since then I've played at least a little every day and been having a lot of fun. Since I was enjoying myself so much, I decided to spend some money on things that would help me enjoy the game even more, and to show Perfect World that I thought their game was worth paying for.


I did find it notable however that buying the things I felt my character needed ended up costing me more than a six month subscription to a subscription MMO. I'm not saying that I regret any of my purchases, especially since I got bundles that were very good value compared to buying certain items individually... but it certainly makes you think about just how deceptive the "free to play" label can be.

24/06/2014

Limited Action Sets Suck

One thing I don't like about Neverwinter is the limited action set, meaning that while you have access to X abilities in theory, you can only have Y of them on your action bar at any time, with Y being a much, much smaller number than X. I can just about tolerate the system in this game (though I'll yell "Gah! Need to change my bars around again!" occasionally), but I don't understand why this seems to be becoming the new trend in MMOs. Supposedly it encourages interesting decisions. I disagree with this for two reasons.

1) A lot of the time, these "interesting" decisions are actually no-brainers. As a Devoted Cleric, it's obvious that I'll need some dps abilities while I'm out questing, but want to have heals available when I'm running a dungeon. All the limited action set achieves is that it forces me into a lot of frantic UI fiddling every time I get a dungeon queue pop while I'm out in the world doing something else.

2) When there actually are interesting decisions to be made because ability A might work well on the first boss, but ability B might be better for the second one... the decision of whether to use A or B would still be there even if I could access all of my abilities! I suppose you could argue that it's more "meaningful" if it has to be either-or, but in my opinion that additional meaning is not worth the drawback of having to constantly adjust your UI.

In practice, what ends up happening to me at least, is that I just end up trying to eliminate the need for decisions (and the associated ability swapping) by building a set that has a little bit of everything, even if it isn't great for anything, and then never changing it again.

22/06/2014

Group Chat

In dungeon and skirmish groups, nobody ever seems to talk in this game. In other MMOs I hate this kind of antisocial behaviour, but in Neverwinter I can't blame people, considering that the action combat really doesn't lend itself to pausing to type something into chat - especially since the controls require you to effectively "tab out" of your character to access the chat box.

On the rare occasion when something does need saying, such as when someone is overlooking a crucial fight mechanic that causes the group to wipe, typing feels clumsy and awkward, as if I don't really know how to talk to people in this game.

On the plus side, nobody bothers to berate other players either. I've seen a lot of wipes and poor performances in group content already, but not once has anyone bothered to complain about any of it in chat, which makes the community feel strangely welcoming even in its complete and utter silence.

21/06/2014

Protector's Jubilee

Neverwinter currently celebrates its one-year anniversary with the Protector's Jubilee event. There is a skirmish associated with the event called "The Protector's Speech". Before running it for the first time with my pet tank, I joked that it was going to consist of us standing around for fifteen minutes just to listen to Lord Neverember talk. Of course this didn't turn out to be true; you actually have to repel a series of random attacks on Protector's Enclave. (It can't be very well protected with all these random baddies showing up at once...)

However, Lord Neverember does hold a speech throughout the whole thing, unperturbed by all the fighting behind him. It takes over ten minutes and is therefore probably the longest single piece of voice-acting I've encountered in an MMO yet. If you do the associated daily quest for the wizard Elminster, he quips that Lord Neverember tends to be quite long-winded. Too bad nobody is actually going to have much of a chance to listen...

20/06/2014

Better Screenshots

Sometimes it pays off to read the loading screen tips. I was continually annoyed by the game's limited camera movement and how that made it really hard to take good screenshots of your own character - but as it turns out, hitting "B" will allow you to rotate and zoom the camera freely to finally get a better view after all. Not viable in combat obviously, but still useful for those show-off shots taken in town.

01/06/2014

About Me

I'm a 34-year old Austrian who lives in the UK, and while I've played other MMOs in a pretty "hardcore" fashion, I approach Neverwinter fairly casually and spend little money on it. My in-game activities mainly consist of levelling alts, participating in recurring events, running campaign dailies (whenever I feel like it) and hanging out in our tiny guild's stronghold. My partner and "pet tank" is a lot more into the game than I am and sometimes tries to drag me along to difficult dungeons, where I'm generally either carried by the rest of the group or die (or both). This blog contains random observations from the point of view of a player who cares enough to think and even write about what she's doing, but not enough to buy her way to the top or to research the best builds or gear.