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.


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.


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.



(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.



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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.