Extreme Generosity

I've mentioned before that Neverwinter has become a lot more generous with its freebies recently, but they keep topping themselves!

Since the last week of July an event called "20 Weeks of Gifts" has been active, which lets you claim a reward from the promo vendor every week. To get this, hit L after logging in, click "claim valuables" and then go to the "promo" tab. Alternatively, you can get to the same window by visiting the Rewards Claim Agent NPC in Prospector's Enclave, who is marked as the third most northern point of interest on the map there.

I didn't previously feel the need to shout about these because while things like a free stone of health are nice, they're not exactly game-changers. These last two weeks they really ramped things up though! Last week we got a choice pack for a legendary account-wide companion, and this week we're getting the same but for a mount. I chose the Black Ice Warhorse, a classic that I've had an eye on for a looong time, but I just never felt like spending the money. I never thought I'd just get it for free eventually!

So even if you haven't been playing lately, I think this is the kind of freebie that's worth logging in for. I'd also keep an eye out for the remaining weeks of the event, because so far the rewards have only gotten better and there's still a lot of weeks to go that could hold nice surprises...


Echoes of Prophecy

So Neverwinter released a new "battlepass campaign" in the spirit of the Redeemed Citadel. Only this time, the "server event" aspect of it appears to have been removed, there is no leaderboard, and the "premium pass" doesn't grant a permanent unlock for the campaign either; it just gives you extra rewards and four additional months to do the content.

Instead of endlessly grinding devils and demons, this campaign mainly asks you to focus on re-running existing legacy campaign content and dungeon queues.

My first thought upon reading this was that it didn't sound great. I don't entirely mind the idea of a fresh incentive to repeat old content, as that could actually make for an interesting addition for alts that "need" to do these campaigns at some point anyway... but the time-limited nature of it and the paid pass not giving you permanent access anymore were somewhat off-putting to me.

However, then I found out that this time around, progress is also account-wide, and at least for this milestone, a lot less grindy than Redeemed Citadel ever was. Having just done the intro quests on four characters, I'm already halfway through the milestone.

I guess I'll do it then, though progress being this fast actually makes it a bit of a non-event again, as I might well end up completing the entire milestone by the end of today. Cryptic's new ideas about what kind of "content" is supposed to keep players busy for months on end remain somewhat disappointing.


Jewel of the North Cinematic

The other day I was surprised on logging in to find that Cryptic had added a cinematic trailer for Jewel of the North, which plays the first time you log in after the most recent patch.

The only other module I remember having a cinematic trailer was Ravenloft, and that's one of D&D's most well-known IPs. I'm not sure what exactly qualified this mod for the extra marketing budget.

The trailer isn't the greatest thing ever, but I do kind of like it. It's just sad that the way it wants to evoke the connection to the tabletop game and going on badass adventures with a party of friends doesn't really map to anything you can actually do in the game.



Not only did Cryptic remove a bunch of zones with Jewel of the North, but there are other ways in which it feels like the game has oddly regressed.

For example the Ebon Downs storyline is back to concluding with the Throne of Idris dungeon - an instance that was in the game at launch, got removed with Elemental Evil, and then just became accessible again occasionally during the Tales of Old event. It feels pretty retro to just get sent back in there at the end of the zone for a quest... with the main difference that it can now be soloed.

Also, I remember I used to think it was pretty neat how Tyranny of Dragons expanded various levelling zones, added dragon heroics to them, and introduced players to the concept of progressing a campaign while levelling. This first half of the campaign has now been removed, and the zones that remain and that used to have dragon encounters in them have been shrunk back to their previous size.

This is such a strange module.


Things to Do in Mod 21

I was wondering what there was going to be to do for existing players in Jewel of the North if it was all focused on revamping the way levelling works. The answer is: not much. As mentioned in my previous post, if you never completed the levelling zones that remain in the game, now is a good time to go back and do them. Even if you already did them, there are a couple of new tutorial quests that you'll have to go through to earn the new rewards, but that's it.

That said, I reckon this is a great time to give the game another shot if you haven't played in a while. Just do whatever new quests Sergeant Knox has for you and the rewards will start rolling in in no time. The new catch-up gear will bring you close to on par with what used to be top level gear only a module or two ago. It's kind of impressive how far the game has come in terms of generosity there, because I still remember how stingy it used to be with simple quality-of-life things like mounts and bags. Now you have a blue quality mount and companion before hitting level ten and get a 42-slot bag just for completing Vellosk.


Campaigns and Adventures

A few years ago I gently poked fun at Cryptic for wanting to fit all the game's zone quests into their "campaign" endgame model. Considering what an awkward fit that was, I like how they've split content into campaigns and "adventures" with mod 21. A campaign is still what it always was: a grind to repeat content like dailies or heroic encounters in order to fill a bar and earn things like boons and access to higher-level group content.

An adventure on the other hand is simply a series of story quests - whether inside a single zone or delivered via loosely connected solo instances - that you're only expected to complete once, and at the end you get some more mundane (but in the new system also quite high-level) rewards such as increasing amounts of AD, gear, plus conveniences like mounts or bags.

All the old levelling zones that were kept are now adventures, as is Acquisitions Incorporated, which was always terrible as a campaign, seeing how it was basically a collection of story quests that the campaign framework required you to grind over and over again. The Underdark story (which was always completely disconnected from the campaign with the same name) has also been reclassified as an adventure, and the associated campaign to grind heroic encounters has been completely removed. This does make things more consistent.

The only downside from my point of view is that since they upped the rewards for adventures so drastically, they kind of feel mandatory to do on all characters now. I used to skip a lot of the old zones while levelling up my alts just to keep things varied, meaning that I'm now looking at potentially re-running zones like Neverdeath Graveyard, Vellosk etc. on half a dozen max-level alts just because the new rewards are too good to pass up.


Housekeeping Required

It's commonly agreed that one of the biggest challenges for players returning to an MMO they haven't visited in a while is remembering how to play their character, figuring out what to do next, and what all the stuff in their bags is. A big patch that makes major systems changes can be similarly confusing for existing players. But seriously, no game I've played is as bad at this as Neverwinter.

I'm still trying to sort out all my characters post-mod 21 launch. Quests reset, stats reset, new stuff to claim and use or stow away (unless you want those flashing notifications to bother you forever), old stuff made redundant and requiring trading in somewhere (why can't they just auto-convert obsolete currencies like most other games?)... just the amount of housekeeping required to keep playing the characters I was happy and comfortable with the day before the patch is insane. And it feels like they do this about once a year. Just why, Cryptic?


New Levelling Experience

Seeing how mod 21 is all about changing the levelling experience, I thought it made sense to create a new alt to check out how that's worked out. Thus Barb the Aasimar bard was born (more on bards another time). It's kind of strange to me to be investigating the tutorial again after I wrote about it being revamped only a little over a year ago.

I only played through that version of the intro once so my memories of it aren't very detailed, but based on what I wrote back then the first part outside the city doesn't seem to have changed much, except maybe that the combat felt a bit less faceroll than I remember. However, the part inside Protector's Enclave is completely different: We're once again back to no signs of fighting inside the city gates, and there's nothing about the Nashers wanting to steal the crown anymore. Instead you get sent to Sergeant Knox in the newly invented "Adventurer's Guild", where you're given a brief combat tutorial in a special training room before being sent straight to Neverdeath Graveyard.

I don't know whether I like or dislike this change, I just know that as a long-time player it feels extremely bizarre. With whole low-level zones and story arcs wiped out, it feels extremely rushed compared to the old experience... yet at the same time I'm not sure that's really a bad thing, considering I've said in the past that - in somewhat of an inversion of most games in the genre - Neverwinter's early levels used to be among the worst, largely because of how samey and front-loaded with system tutorials they were (which was alright the first time but extremely tedious on alts).

I could see it being appealing for new players to "jump into the action" more quickly, but my general experience with MMOs has been that propelling the player forward more quickly isn't necessarily more engaging either.

The lack of any sort of visible character progression with the removal of XP is also extremely strange to me. The new milestone system means that you only gain levels for completing certain quests, but until you are on one of those quests, there's no visual indicator of how close you are to the next milestone/level, so your only real motivation to keep going is sheer momentum or interest in the story, and let's be honest, with the exception of a few clever storylines, narrative has never been Neverwinter's strong suit.

I guess this also means that you will no longer have a choice of alternative levelling paths, which I can see getting rather repetitive on alts, even if the overall length of the journey has been shortened by a lot.


Barren, yet Overloaded

 ... is my briefest of day one impressions of mod 21. Barren, because that's how the Sword Coast map looks to me with seven zones removed - see below for which ones got the axe:

Overloaded, because every character has dozens of new rewards to claim for content they've already completed, and just claiming all the boxes without even opening most of them was enough to give me a slight case of inventory panic. I'll have to take all my alts through this process slowly.

Oh, and I gained a new max-level alt because my previously level 65 cleric alt that I created after Undermountain is now also at the new cap of 20.


Mod 21 Has a Name

I was starting to wonder whether the tradition to give each module a name was simply another thing Cryptic was getting rid of. But no, it's going to be called "Jewel of the North" (which is a "nickname" for the city of Neverwinter) and they uploaded a "features trailer" for it today:

Release is going to be in two weeks. Let's see how that NGE and bard class play out.