Market Day

After a prolonged period of inactivity, our mini guild also finally unlocked the market for its stronghold.

It's really nice to finally have vendors in there, though also a bit frustrating to see that they won't sell gear to us until we've upgraded the market to level two, and who knows when that will happen.


Winter Festival

I decided to check out the currently running Winter Festival event, since - like the Summer Festival - I had never really looked at it before. Like the Summer Festival, it has its own map with dailies and contests that include several non-combat activities which are pretty fun.

My favourite is the race down the icy mountain. I always thought that sliding across that slippery patch of ice in Icewind Pass was funny and that they should do something else with the physics involved in that - turns out that they did! The ice fishing is pretty enjoyable too.


Chugging Along

I've been in "passive" mode again, only logging in to invoke and run professions. SWTOR is super appealing again and I've been feeling a bit burnt out on campaign grinding. The new module, Underdark, launches today, but since it just adds yet another campaign, I'm not really too keen on that at the moment either. I expect to check it out later.

Cryptic also posted an update on the State of Astral Diamonds last night. You have to hand it to them, even if I'm not too keen on their business model and feel that they are quite good at putting their foot in their mouth, they do try to communicate with their playerbase. Bioware keep their cards much closer to their chest when it comes to things like design decisions.

Another thing I found interesting about that post was the statement that in October, the average player earned 60,000 AD. I initially read that as the average earned per day and was baffled by how it could be so high. (I'm currently on 12,000 a day purely from invoking on four different max-level characters. Not to mention that the daily refinement cap per character is 24,000.) But if they meant "during the whole month", an average of 60,000 would be staggeringly low, as even my own monthly income purely from invoking adds up to 360,000 AD. So I remain confused.


My 4th Level 70!

I finally hit 70 on my control wizard. She has exactly one round of Spinward Rise vigilance tasks left to do in order to get her artifact main hand (which requires level 70 to equip), so that was well timed.

Now my only problem is: What do I do with her after that? A big part of why I've been spending a lot of time playing her recently was that she was the one character of mine who wasn't already max-level and who therefore had slightly different things to do than the rest. I don't really want to start running campaign dailies on a fourth character.



I've spent a fair amount of time hating on Elemental Evil's vigilance tasks here, but I have to confess that lately I've actually been doing them again, and even without my pet tank. My control wizard is level 69, has completed the first three zones, and just got started on Spinward Rise. Basically, there are three factors that have made me change my mind, or at least made this way of levelling more bearable to me:

1) Stronghold quests: I like that during your sixties, you get two daily quests from your guild stronghold, one to complete four vigilance tasks and one to kill fifty mobs on the way. This adds some pacing, as four a day feels much more manageable than looking at the total number of quests required to get to the end and watching them reset every hour. Also, the extra quests for doing the same thing make each round of four tasks feel more rewarding.

2) Nerfs: After admitting that they messed up, Cryptic actually went through with nerfing level 60+ mobs, as well as cutting the requirement to progress at each vigilance quest hub in half. Eight missions per hub means that you never have to stay anywhere for long and that you have less time to get sick of an area.

3) Ruthless efficiency: Using past experience, I only pick the easy quests now. (For my wizard in particular this means, anything that requires me to AoE packs of relatively weak mobs is good, while tough single mobs are a bit of a pain.) If a bad bunch is up, I'll just log off and try again later. It makes the difference between a fun half hour romp and spending lots of time dying and running back to where I got defeated.


Valindra's Tower

While I've been avoiding epic dungeons and skirmishes after some bad experiences, my pet tank keeps trying them. Last night he was in Valindra's Tower with a guildie, wiping once again. Looking over his shoulder, I noticed that their group was one player short, so I thought I'd surprise them by jumping into the queue on my rogue. If they were that desperate for a fifth, even my poor dps would be an improvement! But I got no pop.

"Try your cleric," my pet tank advised after I had told him what I was trying to do. Aha! On my cleric I got a pop instantly, for a group of four people trying to fill that last spot. So I joined - and landed in a completely different party about to engage the first boss. Oh. Since I hate dropping from groups for no good reason, I thought I'd see what this dungeon was all about.

Having never been to Valindra's Tower before, I ran in circles while the rest of the group killed the first boss. Eventually I managed to catch up though. Everything died really quickly, apparently because we had an amazing great weapon fighter in the group who did twice as much damage as the entire rest of the group combined (something like seventy million over the course of the run). Soon we were done. Meanwhile, my pet tank's group was still wiping and still one person short.

I tried my rogue again. After a few minutes, I got a pop - this time for a completely fresh run. This one, too, contained a seventy-million-damage great weapon fighter who made the whole thing a breeze.

My pet tank's group eventually had to give up. The queue system seemed to have bugged out and was refusing to give them a fifth party member, and they just kept wiping on the last boss (Valindra herself). He then told me that this had been his fifth attempt at this dungeon and that he had yet to complete it even once. While I had just bumbled in like a clueless idiot and got carried to completion twice within an hour. Oops?

Hey, at least both of my characters got silly hats out of it. Behold the horned cleric!


Life After the AD Changes

Cryptic implemented the announced changes to the leadership profession and to astral diamond gains a little less than two weeks ago.

The leadership changes were a typical Cryptic hack job - they literally just removed astral diamonds from all the missions that gave them as a reward and didn't replace them with anything worthwhile. (I think some of the missions had their XP output increased, but who does leadership for the XP?) The result is that there are a lot of high-level missions now that are very much not worth doing as they simply offer no worthwhile reward whatsoever, while often taking twice as long as comparable low-level missions. There's also at least one rare mission that does still reward AD, which might have been an oversight.

On the plus side, this has inspired me to start levelling some other professions which I never paid much attention to previously. I'm not sure if anything good will come of any of it, but if nothing else it might allow me to unlock another profession slot.

The demand for astral diamonds on the ZAX has remained high, so that one Zen is down to being worth less than four hundred AD by now - never thought I'd see the day.

At least Cryptic took the effect on the economy into account fairly quickly and drastically slashed the prices of marks of potency, which are one of the main astral diamond sinks in the game (they are an expensive reagent required to upgrade high-level enchantments and gear).

I haven't done any dungeons or skirmishes in a while, so my max-level characters are down to an astral diamond income of 3000 per day, which is exactly what they get from invoking six times a day. For the moment that's enough for me since I don't have any major outgoings, but I don't know what I will do when/if the day comes where I find myself running out of in-game currency.


Meanwhile, A Farm

Last time I posted about my guild's stronghold, we still seemed to have some ways to go to unlocking our second building. However, my pet tank decided to plunder his old main's campaign currencies (since he switched to playing his paladin as his main) and apparently that was enough to push us over the edge. (I still suspect that there were some real money purchases involved somewhere...)

So now we have a farm, which produces food, which in turn serves no other purpose than to power the creation of even more stronghold buildings.

The next building however is the one that really interests us: the market. I don't think the NPCs there will sell us anything interesting at level one, however just having a vendor inside the stronghold would be nice, as a lack of somewhere to sell things has been the one major drawback of using the stronghold as a hub so far.


Action Combat

I don't like action combat. How come I'm playing Neverwinter? Well, I like a lot of other things about it, and I spend a lot of time pretending that it doesn't have action combat. Which is to say that about 90 percent of my play time is spent grouped up with my pet tank. He holds things (more or less) in place, and I do some damage from behind the mobs or from a bit of a distance, so I don't have to move too much.

Soloing however tends to leave me frustrated after a while. Today I finished Drowned Shore on my control wizard alt and while things had generally been going OK until then, the final boss of the zone killed me five or six times before I got him down. It was always the same thing: one of his red circles one-shotting me. I didn't have a problem dodging out of them as long as it was one on one, but whenever he summoned adds I would inevitably end up getting distracted by them at a crucial moment and boom! Back to the campfire, time to start over again.

Even a lot of the harder content in a game like SWTOR feels positively forgiving when compared to such one-shot abilities in what's supposed to be regular old solo content. But where other people enjoy this challenge, I've never been good at twitchy combat and just find it exhausting.


Panic Buying

The Zen and astral diamond exchange (ZAX for short) has been in a weird place for a long time. Cryptic put a hard cap of 500 on how many astral diamonds you could buy for one Zen, but this hasn't matched up with supply and demand in a long time. The end result was that any Zen that was being sold was snatched up pretty much instantly, while there was always a backlog of millions of astral diamonds waiting for buyers (because they could only be sold at a rate that most buyers would have considered unfavourable).

The leadership changes announced on the forums aren't even live yet and already panic buying has set in. People ask themselves where all their astral diamonds are supposed to come from in the future. Within two days the entire backlog has more or less disappeared as people are trying to buy up AD while they are still available.


No More AD From Leadership

General chat caught my eye today because people were arguing about a change that had been announced on the forums but nowhere else so far: the removal of astral diamond rewards from the leadership profession (and the foundry).

The driving force behind this is an unbalanced economy caused by "AFK-playing" and botting. Leadership rewards astral diamonds just for logging in and pressing some buttons, and Cryptic wants to stop that. In fairness, some players have taken this to pretty insane levels, farming leadership on fifty alts or even multiple accounts. Cryptic wants people to gain AD by actually playing the game, and I can't blame them for that.

However, I still think that the proposed changes are terrible, because after this the only ways of gaining astral diamonds will be dungeons, skirmishes and PvP (plus the pittance you get from invoking these days). But that's only a small part of the content! In practice this means that a lot of players will effectively have no source of AD anymore.

Take me as an example. I've found dungeons and skirmishes at max level to either be extremely dull or unforgivingly hard to the point that they are a pain to do in pugs. And PvP in this game is terrible in my opinion. Nonetheless I rack up a considerable amount of hours playing each week: I do dailies in the campaign areas and work on my guild's stronghold. None of this awards astral diamonds. If anything, things like unlocking campaign boons and upgrading your stronghold cost AD. Where is that currency supposed to come from in the future?

This seems like another one of those changes that hasn't really been thought through at all, or is simply driven by blind greed. ("If we minimise the ways of gaining currency in game, people will spend more money, right?")


Stronghold Life

Even though my mini-guild's stronghold still only has one building, we've grown strangely attached to it. It may be decrepit and low level, but it's ours. The heroic encounters are easy compared to the stuff in Icewind Dale and even many of the larger ones can actually be completed by a group consisting of as few as two or three people. They are fun and sometimes even quite rewarding.

It's also given us a new goal to work towards, erecting that second building (the farm). On weekends we group up and run dailies en masse to fill the guild coffer. Surprisingly it has turned out that it's not the unique stronghold currency that's holding us back (though it does take time to accumulate enough of it) but rather the amount of different campaign currencies that you have to pay in. We just don't run that many dailies, and more importantly, on some characters we actually still need the currency to advance the campaign itself and can't really donate it to the guild instead.



I find it kind of interesting how aggro works in Neverwinter. Basically, when you pass a group of mobs at some distance, there are two stages of aggro. Stage one is the mobs turning to stare at you, which is pretty much a warning that you've come too close and that they've noticed you. If you stay in the same place, they will advance to stage two after a couple of seconds, which means actually going into combat.

When you travel around in a group this can be tricky, as the first person that runs past will make the mobs turn, and then the second person immediately gets aggro because the mobs are already alert. Yet of course it's the second person who gets the full blame for aggroing "unnecessary" mobs. It's been fun to observe this when my guildies, who are newer to the game than me and my pet tank, fall behind and end up pulling. (Usually it's me who does that.)


Artifact Gear Scares Me

A couple of weeks ago I finally got artifact weapons for my max-level alts.

Artifact gear was apparently introduced during Tyranny of Dragons (when I wasn't actively playing). It's a simple concept: Instead of continuously replacing your gear, you keep the same item but upgrade it by pouring resources of some kind into it. Many other MMOs have similar systems, and even Blizzard is planning to introduce its own version in the upcoming Legion expansion for WoW.

It sounds cool in theory, but I've not been particularly enamoured with Neverwinter's implementation. The problem is that it's just another grind in an already very grindy game. Now you don't just have to upgrade your artifacts and enchantments, but also your weapon, your off-hand, your cloak, your belt... or you can pay your way to better gear by buying lots of refinement points of course!

People like to rail against the RNG of getting upgrades from boss or chest drops, but a predictable but endless grind is not really my cup of tea either.


You've Got Mail

My pet tank signed up for the new VIP status, and one of its perks is that you can summon a mailbox any time you need it, anywhere you want. Nothing revolutionary there... however, said mailbox has a unique look and is damned cute! It looks like a mini-stronghold and the opening is a little drawbridge. D'awww!



In the Well of Dragons there is an area called the cult prison camp. There are two dailies that require you to go to this area, one to kill hostile NPCs and one to free prisoners. However as far as I can tell, these are never given on the same day.

On a day like today, where the only available daily quest is to kill enemies in the camp, this means that one arrives to the bizarre sight of the area being pretty much devoid of cultists, while sad prisoners are standing around all over the place, still shackled and with their heads bowed, looking lost. Nobody's got a quest to save them!

A guildie and I started running around and releasing them anyway. (You do not have to be on the associated quest to be able to do this.) My pet tank yelled at us for wasting time when we should have helped him hunt down the few remaining cultists instead.


Lazy Peons

As far as I can tell this doesn't serve any gameplay purpose, but I like that I can poke the guards when they are lazy.


So... Strongholds

My pet tank has been excited about this module for months, since he loves building up bases. I warned him that it probably wouldn't be all that, especially for a mini guild like ours, with only 2-4 active players.

Now it's out, and it seems that I was right. Similar to a fleet starbase in STO, a guild stronghold requires the guild members to submit various currencies and resources to upgrade it. While the basic stronghold is free and the first building can be put up pretty much immediately, the second one already looks like it would take us about a hundred days or more to build, based on the limited amount of currency you can earn per character per day.

On the plus side, it's a new and pretty sizeable adventure map, and the smaller heroic encounters on it can be completed even by our tiny group. It does make me wonder how busy this map could potentially get in a large guild.


Happy Patch Day

The new Strongholds module officially launched yesterday. Cryptic has a very old-school approach to patch days, which is to say that the game never comes back up in time or actually works when it's supposed to. First they had to keep extending the scheduled maintenance, and then when the servers finally came back up, they immediately crashed again.

The game also has this weird thing going on where the launcher doesn't actually seem to do nearly as much patching as it should. Which is to say that the game told me it was fully patched up and ready to play, I logged in, and the first loading screen took ten minutes while the game was telling me that it was patching another 1100 files... better not be in a hurry to invoke!


Levelling Leadership by Recruiting

If you don't buy any green or better quality profession assets from the auction house or random packs, levelling up the people to actually run your profession missions is pretty time consuming. My characters generally have six of the nine available profession slots unlocked, so if I want to run six high-level leadership missions, I need six rank three minions. Since each of them requires four guards to be trained, and each guard requires four mercenaries, that adds up to a whopping 96 mercenaries that need to be recruited.

With my control wizard, I decided to plan ahead for once and initially dedicated all her time and resources to recruiting. It's not like the low level missions give great rewards anyway. By the time I'd recruited all 96 of my mercenaries and converted them into 24 guards, she was up to leadership level ten from doing that alone. Sadly that's not high enough yet to actually train rank threes, but at least there are already some decent missions at level ten that give astral diamonds and which I can keep re-running to level up further.


Neverwinter gets a Subscription

It was already rumoured a couple of months ago, but now it's official: Neverwinter gets a subscription option. It's not officially called a sub (instead they call it the "VIP Program"), and you can buy it from the Zen store, so you don't necessarily have to shell out real money yourself if someone else is willing to trade you the Zen.

It offers the kind of perks you would expect from a good subscription option, such as XP bonuses, faster travel, discounts at vendors and a small Zen store perk in the form of a free enchanted lockbox key every day. It's pretty good value for money actually.

Usually I'd be all over that kind of thing, but something has been holding me back in this case and I finally figured out what it is. When a game offers me the option to play for free and be nagged about microtransactions or to pay a subscription, I expect the sub to make the microtransactions go away or make them irrelevant, to let me "play in peace". However, with Neverwinter's highly pay-to-win nature that doesn't work - you still have to grind astral diamonds until you're blue in the face or pay real money to get ahead. So this sub isn't really an alternative to playing for free... it's just one more service that the already paying players can shell out money for (even if it's not a bad service).


Class and Race Quests

One of Neverwinter's lesser advertised features is that it has distinct quest lines for different classes and races. They are nothing amazing and you only get one about once every ten levels, but they still add some nice flavour and provide you with some new content every time you roll an alt of a different class or race. That's why I made my control wizard a drow, so I would get both a new class and a new race in one go.

When you're high enough level for a new one of these quests, you get a letter from the quest giver in the mail and have to go find them. Since this isn't an actual quest by itself, it's kind of refreshing to have to go and look for the right NPC without having a sparkly path to follow. Even though my control wizard has mostly been levelling through invoking (once again), I've made an effort to at least go out and do each new race and class quest as I get it.

Sadly Cryptic doesn't seem to have much interest in adding to or even maintaining this feature. My pet tank explained to me that there was neither a race nor a class quest waiting for his dragonborn paladin (the newest class and race in the game). And on my wizard I ran into a dead end in Rothé Valley, where my race quest told me to go into a farmhouse, but the entrance is currently bugged so you can't enter. Apparently this was reported on the forums two months ago already, but nothing has been done to fix it.


Dearth of XP

Since my pet tank has several weeks of holiday right now, he decided to binge on Neverwinter a bit by speed-levelling a paladin alt. I was kind of surprised to hear that he hit a massive wall at level sixty.

All of my own characters have levelled slowly, over a longer period of time and with a lot of experience from invoking and professions contributing to the process. While I was aware that the amount of XP required ramped up considerably from sixty to seventy, I never had difficulties acquiring it.

Apparently things are very different if you are trying to push through that level bracket quickly. My pet tank's pally was only level 63 by the time he finished Reclamation Rock (the second of the four new zones). Even though he tried to pad his experience gains from pretty much every possible source (dailies, dungeons, skirmishes, PvP etc.), he quickly ran out of things to do. Right now he's still only 68, has finished all the new zones and has done about two hundred vigilance tasks in Fiery Pit alone (since he found that one the least painful to keep grinding in). That's a pretty harsh levelling curve.


Free Bags

My new(ish) control wizard alt forced me to remind myself of where I could get some free bags for her. You can get three for each character, and I was surprised that I didn't find a clear guide on how to get them.

The first is the Adventurer's Satchel you start with, which has thirty bag slots.

The second is the Adventurer's Knapsack with eighteen slots, which you get from completing the quest "Close to the Crown" in Blacklake District. I think you also have to complete the quest you get from Sergeant Knox immediately after coming from the tutorial on Sleeping Dragon Bridge first, the one to check on the Crown of Neverwinter. That story then continues via Private Hathidon at the entrance to Blacklake District: "Seeking a Suspect" leads to "Hot on the Trail", which then leads to "Close to the Crown".

The third bag is the Adventurer's Pack with twelve slots, and requires you to complete most - though not all - of the quests in Neverwinter Graveyard. The key quest is called "Wheels Within Wheels" and is given by Harper Windle. To unlock it, you first have to do a bunch of others from the other NPCs. I believe that all of these are required, but it's possible that I did one or two that weren't because many of them were close together and I didn't want to have to run back every time just to test if that one quest alone would unlock more.

From Doomguide Volahk: "The Missing Doomguides" and "The Dead and the Dying". "A Doomguide's Duty" is not required, however it comes immediately after one of the required quests, doesn't take long and rewards a profession back, so it's also worth doing.

From Doomguide Orran: "Rest in Peace", "Thinning the Horde" and "Red Rituals".

From Christopher Chettlebell: "Correcting History", "Dragon Attack", "History Lessons", "Opening the Way" and "Clockwork Guild Tomb".

From Captain Zemmer: "Mercenary Nature"

From Harper Windle: "Enter the Dragons", "Artifact Snatch" and finally "Wheels Within Wheels".


Artifacts From Alts

"Where the hell do I get more artifacts?" is a question that has been on my mind ever since they added all those secondary artifact slots. I've never seen one drop in the world, and I certainly didn't want to start opening lockboxes in hopes of getting one. Eventually I gave in and bought a couple of green ones from another player, because having multiple empty gear slots felt embarrassing.

As it turns out, apparently there's been a quest in the game for a while, given by the rugged drow at the back of the inn in Caer-Konig, which rewards you with an artifact for your class. Unlocking this quest just requires you to get a second alt to Icewind Dale, which I'd never bothered to do despite of having multiple max-level alts. The artifact you get from this quest can then be claimed from a vendor on all of your alts! So if you do it with three alts of different classes, they can all have three different artifacts.

Cryptic added a quest to direct you towards this source of gear only in a recent patch, but I'm really glad they did. Now I just have to get my pet tank to run my alts through it - while my cleric was able to solo it, it took forever and was a serious pain in the arse. (Beating that beholder at the end took me half an hour.)


Well of Dragons

Since my pet tank and I finally managed to unlock the Well of Dragons dailies, we've been doing them whenever we can, in order to work on our campaign progression. I haven't been impressed.

Up until Tyranny of Dragons, I felt that every new campaign was an improvement or at least a fresh new take on the way the game does dailies. But the Well of Dragons... meh.

Scenery-wise it feels like a rehashed Dread Ring with dragons instead of zombies, coloured brown instead of grey. The dailies can take freaking forever if you happen to get a bad set, about three or four times as long as a round of Dread Ring, and the heroic encounters don't seem to draw much interest.

I wonder though how much of this is the fault of Elemental Evil's level scaling and increase in difficulty. After all, I used to love Icewind Dale, but since the level increase questing there has been pretty damn tedious as well.


Summer Festival

I was never really playing when the Summer Festival came around before, so I came back from a week-long holiday to be confronted with the start of this (to me) new event. Unlike most events in Neverwinter, it actually has a whole map dedicated to it (even if it's not very large).

The activities on offer there consist of silly fun like throwing water balloons at people, herding chickens or picking flowers. It's quite nice to enjoy more non-violent tasks in an MMO for a change, though there is also the option to kill trolls and kobolds for those who are so inclined.

The only downside in my opinion is that most of the events are tied to one of those 15-minute long "contests", which means that doing the daily quest to participate in three different activities can take up to three quarters of an hour. And while throwing water balloons at people is somewhat fun, it's not necessarily fun for that long.

As I'm not interested in any of the rewards, I don't think that I'll be coming back repeatedly, but it's nice to have seen the thing at least.


Survived the Vigilance Tasks!

Nearly three months after I first complained about the annoying design of Elemental Evil's "Vigilance Tasks", my pet tank and I finally completed the last of the four new zones that feature them. It's not that they take so long that it would really require three months to get through them all, but we found them so tedious that we kept having trouble finding the will to continue.

I still think that the way they intentionally keep sending you back to the same areas to kill the same mobs for a slightly different reason is an example of absolutely terrible design. It's easy to imagine the whole thing feeling very different if it had followed a daily structure similar to the previous campaign updates instead. Also, the rehashed maps were more of a downer than I expected. I'm planning to write a little "mini review" of each zone later.

Many thanks to Joseph Skyrim's Neverwinter Online Vigilance Quest Guide, which we found very helpful. When you're in a group, some of his recommendations don't apply the same way, but for the most part we found it easy to work out the differences. (E.g. a "simple" drop quest could become tedious in a group because the way drops work in groups can make things quite awkward. On the other hand something that was marked as difficult for soloers because of particularly tough mobs was usually comparatively quick and easy for a duo.)


Gameplay Problems with Elemental Evil

I've mostly been complaining about the awkwardness of the level scaling and the tediousness of the quests that came with the Elemental Evil level increase, but this post on Neverwinter Unblogged offers insight into why the community has many more reasons to be displeased with this module. Basically, character power has been decreased, reasons to grind have been increased - all in all it's a very obvious attempt to push people towards the cash shop more forcefully. I'm very much in favour of financially supporting a game I enjoy, but expecting people to spend literally hundreds of dollars if they want to gear up even a single character is not a monetisation model I want to support.


Buying from the Auction House

In any previous MMO I've played, I've generally avoided buying things from the auction house. It tends to be cheaper and more fun to acquire whatever it is I want through gameplay myself. It's also a piece of advice that's frequently given to new MMO players: avoid the auction house, it will just drain you of money.

Recently, I'm starting to think that this piece of advice might not actually apply to Neverwinter. My painful quest for an item required to unlock the next boon from the Tyranny of Dragons campaign ended with me realising that it didn't bind on pick-up and that I could actually find it for a very reasonable price on the auction house.

Likewise, my latest alt is once again gaining levels way too quickly purely from invoking, which means that her gear has fallen far behind every time I want to take her out to quest again. Yet on the auction house you can buy levelling blues for pretty much any class and gear slot for two-digit amounts! (Astral diamonds are precious, but even a low level character will gain three-digit amounts of them purely from invoking every day, so this is incredibly cheap.) It's really a much better use of your time to spend that minuscule amount than to struggle with every combat while you wait for an appropriate drop or quest reward.


Unicorn Butthole

I'm not usually one for crude humour, but let's just say that being stuck in a massive lagspike that lets you inspect your mount mid-leap in ways you usually wouldn't be able to (because the action combat limits your camera options) reveals a surprising amount of detail on the unicorn mount...


Death of Dungeons

When Elemental Evil launched, I vaguely recall reading something about Cryptic using it as an opportunity to re-tune low level dungeons so that they'd only require three players of no particular class composition and could be queued for by a wider range of levels. It sounded like an understandable move for a game that was having issues with queue times and I didn't even give it a second thought.

This past week, my pet tank has been roping some guildies from SWTOR into giving Neverwinter (another) try. I, too, rolled up another alt in hopes of being able to play with them. We were shocked to find that traditional group gameplay has been almost completely eradicated from the levelling game. Sure, Cragmire Crypts, the Grey Wolf Den and Temple of the Spider have been revamped in the fashion mentioned above and now allow level scaling all the way up to seventy. However, all the other levelling dungeons have been removed from the game, plus a couple of former max level ones as well. The wiki has the official list of victims:

The Cloak Tower
Lair of the Mad Dragon
Throne of Idris
Lair of the Pirate King
The Frozen Heart
Spellplague Caverns
Caverns of Karrundax
The Dread Vault
Castle Never
Fardelver's Crypt
Dwarf King Crypt

I'm pretty shocked, as I associate some pretty memorable experiences with some of those names. One would think that Cryptic probably did this with the intent of eventually bringing them back in revamped form as well, but with everything else they've got going on one has to wonder when they were hoping to find the time. I just can't help but think that a Dungeons and Dragons game with most of the dungeons taken out is severely diminished.


Sacrificial Victims

... is the name of a lair quest in the Well of Dragons which you have to complete in order to unlock the dailies in that zone. It's also been a huge road block for my pet tank and me, which is pretty scary considering that this is supposed to be simple solo progression.

The first time we attempted it we were still in our sixties and hadn't realised yet just how inadequate Cryptic's level scaling is. We wiped repeatedly on the trash and the boss was blatantly impossible as any hit would one-shot either of us.

We came back once we'd hit level seventy. The trash became more manageable, but the boss still felt impossible. My pet tank couldn't dodge every single attack by both the boss himself and his two drake adds, yet getting hit would kill him. And whenever the boss summoned his first set of additional adds, they would all aggro on me and I'd die in the blink of an eye. We had to give up - again.

Today we came back yet again, after having acquired some considerably better gear via the updated rewards from the Sharandar and Dread Ring campaigns. This time we finally got him down. During the first add summon things still got a little hairy since his drakes weren't dead yet, but we made it.

We were very excited to have finally unlocked the dailies and immediately picked up our three for the day. It took us a full hour to complete them.


Shores of Tuern

My pet tank and I have slowly been working our way through the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. We've reached a point where, in order to unlock the next character boon, we both need an item that, according to the campaign window, comes from the Shores of Tuern skirmish.

Our first problem was that we couldn't figure out how to get there. According to the wiki it's unlocked through the campaign window, which is blatantly not true anymore, and our skirmish queue only displayed the epic version. Since we were supposedly sufficiently geared for epic anyway, we decided to give that a go, though not without trepidation.

We got into a group relatively quickly, and seemed to do okay on the trash, even though people were getting downed on almost every pull. Then we got to the boss, a fire-breathing dragonborn with two rage drake adds. There was a lore entry that suggested that killing the adds first would cause him to enrage. It didn't seem to matter either way, as we were wiped out within seconds.

We tried again, with the same result, and people started dropping group, with replacements getting rotated in almost instantly. What was bewildering to me was that everybody else appeared to be massively overgeared for the place, yet they quickly died all the same, and nobody seemed to want to offer up any advice on what was going wrong.

Eventually a rogue spoke up that he had "an idea", which turned out to be what you could call an exploit. Apparently it's possible to wall-jump up to where the entrance to the area with the boss is located, and if one person is willing to sacrifice themselves, the two rage drakes can be pulled up to that door where the boss won't follow. People who die can then respawn outside and even though they are separated from the rest of the group by a blue "magic wall", it is apparently possible to attack through it so that you can help with killing the drakes from outside.

After a couple of failed attempts we managed to kill the drakes, with three people stuck outside and only the rogue and a scourge warlock left inside the area. I believe that the plan had been to get the boss to evade so that he could then be fought without the adds, however the scourge warlock's companion pet had a different idea and decided to face the boss on its own. Funnily enough, for all the one-shotting he had done to the players, he seemed to be incapable of killing the pet, so after a couple of minutes of everyone waiting for it to die, the rogue and warlock decided to join in instead (as the pet was holding aggro very effectively by that point) and slowly took the boss down.

I'm very much against exploiting but had a hard time feeling too bad about this one as the fight just seemed so impossibly hard and was still a handful even while using the rogue's "trick". That aside, I told myself that we were only doing it this one time to get our campaign item anyway.

As it turns out, it's actually a rare drop, and neither my pet tank nor I actually got one. On the plus side, we also found out that it's possible to purchase it from a vendor instead if you grind out lots and lots of campaign currency via dailies. I can't help but feel that epic skirmishes and dungeons are simply too tough for us.


More Invocation Changes

When they changed the invocation system a couple of months ago, one of the new perks of the multiple invokes per day was that one of them would grant you a refinement stone of some kind. What was funny about this was that it was initially randomised which kind of stone you would get, but then you would get the same stone every day, forever.

The result of this was that if you were lucky and got a useful stone the first time, you would continue to get something useful every day. This was true for my cleric and my rogue for example. If you were unlucky, you might end up like my great weapon fighter, who has a pile of over fifty stability stones (bound to character of course) and no stability artifact to use them on. This system seemed rather odd and like it was probably bugged.

This seems to have been confirmed with the latest patch, since they "fixed" it now so that invoking grants a goodie bag instead, which will then contain a random stone. This is good news for my great weapon fighter, but bad news for my other characters, who now suddenly have a chance of getting something useless. Worse, since you can now get something different out of a whole selection of useless items, it's going to hurt your inventory space, and much worse than those 50+ stability stones ever did.

Also, never one to leave out an opportunity to monetise, Cryptic seems to have programmed the system in such a way that you also get a coupon for the Zen store from every single one of those goodie bags, which I find quite annoying. I don't mind finding them out in the world on occasion, but having multiples of them dumped in my inventory every day seems kind of... pushy.

I know it won't happen, but I kind of want that bug back.


The Protector's Speech

I wrote about the Protector's Speech skirmish last year. I've been running it on all of my alts again this year, not because I particularly care about any of the rewards, but because it's fun.

Most runs are smooth and very quick. I don't know if Cryptic's matchmaking is actually that good or whether it's just luck, but almost every run I get into has at least one guy in amazing gear who smashes everything in seconds while everyone else can more or less tag along. It's even more pronounced this year since they didn't level the skirmish up to 70 but are instead scaling max-level players down to 60, which makes them seriously overpowered compared to the mobs.

I only had one run that didn't go so well, where my great weapon fighter in her paltry greens had to slowly solo most enemies because the rest of the group seemed to spend most of its time milling about it confusion on the other end of the map. We missed all the bonuses by a mile. When we left the instance, I noticed that two of the other group members were level 11 and 13 respectively, which explained a lot.

For fun, I recorded one of my runs with all sounds turned off except for the NPC voices, so you can actually listen and pay attention to Lord Neverember's speech. Enjoy!


Free-to-Play Maths

I thought that the game's second birthday might be a good time to take stock of how much money I've spent on it. After all, free-to-play games claim to be free or at least cheap, yet among experienced gamers they also have a reputation for tricking you into spending much more than you would have paid under a different payment model.

According to my records, I've spent a total of €153.94 on the game since its launch. (Incidentally, I don't know why they charge me in euros when I live in the UK, but that's neither here nor there.) €49.99 of that was spent on buying the Knight of the Feywild pack straight from Perfect World's website, and the rest of it was spent on Zen.

To put things into perspective, of the 24 months that the game has been live, I spent about

- 7 actively playing the game,
- 10 not playing the game at all,
- 7 logging in to invoke and work on professions but not spending any time with what I would consider active play.

So if you only consider the months of active play, they came in at about €22 each, making the whole deal almost twice as expensive as your average sub.  This seems fair if we're working under the assumption that I wouldn't pay a sub for a game just to log in and do "chores". If you do include the months of minimal activity in the count however, I spent about €11 per month, making it almost equal to a subscription. What I can take away from this is that I'm certainly not a freeloader, but that I seem to be able to manage my spending reasonably well and refuse to get suckered into shelling out huge amounts of money for cash shop items.

I still prefer the subcription model though (even if the game also has a way of playing for free), because my sub in SWTOR makes me feel like I've got everything covered. In Neverwinter, despite of having spent just as much or even more money per month played, I always feel like I'm behind and would have to spend lots more to be able to fully enjoy some aspects of the game.


Happy 2nd Birthday, Neverwinter!

Protector's Jubilee has come around again, and I can hardly believe that this game has been out for two years already. Time flies.

One thing you can't accuse Cryptic of is being stingy when they have something to celebrate, as they are quite generous with freebies. The only "catch" is that you have to pay attention to the Zen store - I know for a fact that I missed out on some celebratory gifts before simply because I didn't bother to check the store front every day.

Having learned that lesson however, I paid attention when the store icon lit up yesterday and made sure to check the "free" tab. I found a free set of Courtesan's Wear waiting there, which I claimed for my rogue. Today's gift got me really excited though, because it's a blue quality companion: the Neverember Guard. (I claimed him for my Great Weapon Fighter.) Thanks, Cryptic!

Don't forget to claim all your free goodies yourself!



Shortly after Elemental Evil's launch, I had major rubberbanding issues for a while. They were kind of bizarre because sometimes the game wouldn't just yank me backwards, but also sideways (which was pretty random) until I got stuck in a corner somewhere.

This seems to have resolved itself in recent weeks, however instead Cryptic's servers are now slow and unresponsive in general. At certain times of the day the loading screens seem to rival SWTOR's, and when you've finally loaded in you immediately get hit by a "server not responding" message and logged out again.

According to my pet tank, he has similar issues in STO. Not helpful when you only have limited time to play, Cryptic!


Things to Love about Neverwinter

I feel like I've been ragging on the game a bit lately, what with the pay-to-win talk and the issues I've had with the Elemental Evil module. Obviously I wouldn't still be playing if I didn't enjoy it though. So, here are three things that I like about Neverwinter:

1) For all the pay-to-win problems it has with gear and competitive gameplay, the game is very generous to the casual player. All the actual content is completely free, and if you don't care that other people are having an easier time with it because they paid for advantages, you can do pretty much everything in the game without ever paying for anything.

2) You don't have to be a D&D nut (I'm not, really) to appreciate the depth of the setting and a story that takes itself seriously (even if some of the store mounts are very silly). I kind of feel like it's not considered "cool" anymore for an MMO to take itself seriously; it's supposed to be all about the pop culture references and in-jokes, but personally I appreciate a slightly more serious approach (without falling into the trap of having everything be dark and edgy instead). Neverwinter gets this just right in my opinion.

3) While the game's graphics style is fairly generic (a layman might easily confuse a screenshot from Neverwinter with one from a number of other fantasy MMOs), I do really like its art and animations. When I rolled up my first character, a rogue, I instantly fell in love with the way she was wildly slashing at the shadows with every move, and I was jealous of the sleek beauty of my pet tank's panther companion. I like that my cleric's gear actually looks useful and that there are no chainmail bikinis to be found. Even something as simple as just watching my character ride around on her mount still fills me with happiness.


Ninja Grouping

My pet tank and I were about halfway through the Phantasmal Fortress lair quest from Dread Ring when suddenly, a scourge warlock ran past us. "Where did that guy come from?" I wondered - after all, it's an instanced quest. Then I saw that according to the UI he was actually part of our group.

I tend to forget that Neverwinter actually allows open grouping by default since I so rarely see it happen. You can manually "lock" your group to prevent others from joining without permission, however you have to re-apply this setting every time you form a party. As far as I can see there is no way of making it so that your groups are locked by default whenever you create one.

My pet tank was happy that the extra damage dealer made things go faster, but I felt slightly "invaded". It's one thing to co-operate with random strangers out in the world, but having one suddenly join what was meant to be a private party feels uncomfortable to me. I wonder if that's something I could get used to with more practice.


New Mounts with New Powers

On the launcher today: The next lockbox will drop a rare mount that gives you a permanent run speed increase whenever you have it on your bar. There's also an extra special version that is faster than all other mounts in the game and which you can summon in combat to assist you with dps.

There are no possible downsides to this, right? Right?!



Pack Sale

This week Cryptic had a 25% sale on all its "packs" for Neverwinter, combined with the news that they are now available in the Zen store. (Up until now you could only buy them through the Perfect World website.)

I previously bought the Knight of the Feywild Pack and allowed this sale to tempt me into adding the Guardian of Neverwinter Pack to my collection. I'd already been thinking about getting additional companions and mounts for some of my alts (I love my sparkly unicorn, but it doesn't seem quite right for my great weapon fighter for example...) and this seemed like a good opportunity. The packs aren't cheap, but nothing in this game is cheap - things are pretty much either free or expensive. Getting another rank three mount and purple quality wolf companion for all characters on my account (including future ones) just can't be beaten when mounts and companions of equal quality and which are limited to a single character can come in at 30-40 euros a pop.

Note that the "Medium Adventurer's Horse" from the Guardian pack is a rank 3 mount despite of its blue quality level. (Thanks to Telwyn for pointing this out to me ages ago.)


Neverwinter Unblogged & Gear

Via Joseph Skyrim I found the site Neverwinter Uncensored/Unblogged. It's nice to read a bit about the views of players who are more dedicated to the game.

This article by "j0Shi" really drove home the point of how big a gap there is in this game between hardcore (in terms of investment) and casual players. He mentions going into a skirmish with his 4.5k item level control wizard and having to solo the final boss as the rest of the group was unable to kill anything or even survive, apparently because none of them had more than 75k hitpoints or any purple quality gear.

For comparison, my devoted cleric who's been max level for about a month has an item level of just above 1600 (her gear mostly consists of greens, as I have yet to see a level 70 blue drop out in the world) and just over 40k health. I feel like I'm playing on another planet!


Meta Humour

This past weekend I made it to the Fiery Pit for the first time. This zone actually has a short introductory quest for which you're asked to read some reports to get caught up on the current situation in the area... so of course like any good adventurer, you run around to click on all the sparkly pieces of paper on the tables without actually reading them. Then this happens (click to enlarge):

Made me laugh. I actually do read quest text most of the time, but here I certainly felt caught in the act and had to go back to re-read what I had just skimmed.


Too Hard

One of the complaints that frequently gets levelled against Elemental Evil is that while Cryptic levelled everything up to 70, mobs and content at endgame became too hard for the average player. While I've been struggling horrendously on my own and even had some issues while playing with my pet tank, I didn't want to jump to conclusions. I'm not very good at this game, and while I think that the level scaling mechanic is very wonky, that by itself is not the same as the game being too hard overall.

Now that I've been 70 for a while though, I can't help but feel that the critics are probably right. I find it pretty impossible to complete the (supposed) solo dungeons on my own, and I used to be able to do that at 60. Duoing dailies is doable, but gets tiring fairly quickly because everything has so much health. (Who thought that it was a good idea that it should take ten minutes to kill two simple frost giants?!)

It's obvious that other people are feeling the same. The big heroic encounters in Icewind Dale used to attract people like flies. Nowadays when a Beholder or giant Remorhaz come up, they stay there until the timer runs out. People just ride around them and ignore them, because who wants to attempt an epic heroic encounter when even simple mob groups out in the world are already tough enough to kill you?


More on Strongholds

On Thursday Cryptic posted an update on Strongholds to say that it's "coming summer 2015", plus some incredibly vague PR speak that seems to indicate that it will have both a PvE and a PvP side to it. ("Once the keep has been secured, guilds will have to battle against the environment as well as other players to ensure they maintain control of their lands.") It doesn't seem to feature anything like traditional MMO housing.

They also posted a video which shows people running around and fighting, apparently to save some villagers, and which makes you wonder how exactly the stronghold comes into it except as a background prop.

I like that the currently most upvoted YouTube comment on the video is: "Really? A guy on a 50% mount keeping up with the other guys? Make it realistic!"



- insert your favourite angel-themed song title here -

I can't believe I missed the fact that my rogue (who was my first character) had finally accumulated the 360 ardent coins (the ones you get on your first daily invoke and that stack indefinitely) needed to buy the purple quality angel healer companion! She was already four days past that milestone before I noticed.

Maybe having a powerful healer by her side will actually make her more interesting to play - at the moment she's definitely my weakest and least played character.


Underdark and Strongholds

A bit over a week ago, Cryptic announced that they are already working on Neverwinter's next module, called Underdark. All those Drizzt clones will finally be able to meet their long lost twin brother!

I can't blame Cryptic for wanting to look forward after how badly Elemental Evil seems to have fallen on its face (though they also emphasised that they are still working on fixing that). What I found funny was that they added - almost as a footnote! - that before Underdark, they were also going to release a module called Strongholds, which is supposed to introduce guild housing.

I mean: housing, pfft... who cares about that? Also, the name "Strongholds" amuses me greatly. Who would have thought that SWTOR would become a trendsetter?


Welcome to the New Endgame, Same as the Old Endgame

With Elemental Evil's level cap increase, Cryptic decided to boost all the old level sixty endgame areas up to seventy. I had to think about this for a while, because I'm not against repurposing old content in principle. I do however think that in Neverwinter's case this has not worked out very well for a couple of reasons:

1) Considering that the quests for places like Sharandar still pop up at level sixty and that the game offers (somewhat ineffective) level scaling, casual and returning players get suckered into thinking that they can level up in those old zones and get trounced as a result, which causes them to leave in frustration. (I actually had this problem myself to a degree.)

2) With effectively no old content left at sixty, the only way to level up by questing is by doing the new Elemental Evil zones. This means that players are funnelled into what's currently probably the worst content in the game, and may - again - cause them to leave in frustation.

3) Even for those who can cope with the new level 70 versions of the old campaigns, playing through nothing but the exact same content that they've done before just to get a couple of new rewards is bound to get boring quickly.

Also, it simply feels tedious when mobs that you used to be able to beat quite easily are now so much stronger - especially when your character is the one who's supposed to have gained power. My pet tank and I did two rounds of Icewind Dale this weekend and what used to be a fun little romp left me feeling tired and exhausted. While we never died, it took ages to kill anything, and since the mobs were so deadly, complete focus and constant dodging were required at all times.


Fighting Dragons

I've been enjoying the heroic encounters with dragons that were originally added in the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. Unlike the ones in Icewind Dale and the new Elemental Evil zones, they are not random, but on a steady, visible timer. While this could theoretically make them less interesting, it makes sense from a practical point of view since there is only one dragon per zone, and since these are not endgame areas, nobody has any reason to hang out there for long periods of time just to wait for random encounters to spawn. The dragon fights also require a healthy number of participants to go down smoothly, and the timers help to get everyone in place at the right time.

Since I'm terrible at action combat, I've been dying a lot, but it's no big deal as people are generally pretty helpful and try to revive fallen allies. And even if I get downed for good, the nearest respawn point usually isn't too far away.

The thing that fascinates me is how different the synergies of each dragon zerg are. As a very casual player I have little to no idea of what other classes and specs can do, but at times I've been on the receiving end of some absolutely incredible buffs. There was one encounter where instead of my usual frequent deaths, nothing seemed to be able to move my hitpoints at all, and another where my action points kept refilling so rapidly that I could spam my daily power pretty much non-stop. That was pretty crazy. I just wish I knew which class caused what so that I can follow them around in the future!


How to Get Your Artifact Off-Hand

I had read that you get an artifact off-hand for free when you hit level 70, but by the time I actually hit level 70 I had kind of forgotten about it again. Tonight I hit 70 on my great weapon fighter and suddenly remembered.

Several sources said that you simply get it from a quest from Sergeant Knox. Very straightforward, right? It really should be... unfortunately my great weapon fighter had hardly done any quests on her journey to 60, so talking to Sergeant Knox presented me with a list of about a dozen quests, most of them telling me to go to different low-level zones. Which one's the right one?

The answer is: the one called "Protector's Emissary". You're welcome.


Minsc and Boo

Minsc and Boo are probably the best part of this module, and that's coming from someone who hasn't even played Baldur's Gate. I've done the repeatable "Seed" quests a few times now and some of Minsc's comments in them still take me by surprise and make me chuckle. It's just a shame that three quests seem to be all these two feature in (unless there's one last hurrah after you've completed the roughly 200 hourly "tasks", which I may or may not find out one day.)


Loading In

The characters on Neverwinter's character selection screen have a curious way of loading in: their bodies always load before their armour, which means that your characters always appear in their underwear at first. I find this mildly disconcerting.

The other night was even worse though - my connection was severely throttled as I was trying to download the latest patch for SWTOR at the same time, so the character selection screen's loading was slowed down the point of characters appearing only limb by limb... now that was just disturbing.


Level 70

Shintar the cleric hit level 70 from invoking today. In terms of quests, she's only completed one and a half of the crazy new grinding zones, and the prospect of going back to do the remaining two and a half for the sake of completionism is daunting.

At least XP gains clearly aren't a problem (though there has been a double XP event going on). My great weapon fighter, who hasn't even set foot into any of the new zones and has only been repeating the two instanced quests with Minsc and some dragon dailies, is also already up to 67. And my rogue, whom I haven't played at all other than to invoke and queue up professions, is already level 64 as well.


One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The latest patch introduced a small quality of life change to the refinement process. It used to be that if you selected a type of enchantment or stone to use for refining, it would put all of them into the refinement window (up to a maximum of five) and if you didn't want to refine the whole lot, you had to click some more to get the rest of them back out. Now you can select an amount to put into the window, and the items also stack so that e.g. ten radiant enchantments only take up one of the five available slots.

In the same patch, a bug was introduced that when you get a crit during refinement, instead of receiving additional points, you instead receive none at all and the used-up ingredient just vanishes.



Cryptic Apologises for Elemental Evil

Or at least Neverwinter's new lead developer says that he's heard people's feedback and is taking a hard look at what's gone wrong with the latest module.

You know it's bad when you can find people on the forums who recommend that you skip the new quest content to level up, because simply finding a good place to grind mobs is faster and more fun.


Regressive Repeatable Quests

All the previous modules followed more or less the same pattern when it came to adding new content: a set of new dailies that progressively unlocked access to more content. You may not like dailies, but it was well done for what it was.

The new Elemental Evil content however, aside from the intro quests, makes me wonder how anyone could have ever thought that this was a good idea.

There are several new zones, and in each zone there are multiple quest hubs. At each quest hub, you get one regular quest which tells you to complete 16 hourly "tasks" before you're allowed to progress. There are only ever 9 tasks available at a time and they reset at the start of the hour, so you have to spend at least one hour at each hub to complete the required amount of quests, usually more.

The really annoying thing however is that you can never pick up more than four of these tasks at a time, and they all require you go to the same area. They are all of the "kill ten rats" variety (more or less), so you spend all your time running back and forth, killing the same mobs over and over again because the associated quests are only drip-fed to you: first you kill lizardmen because they are inside the mine you have to go to, then you kill lizardmen because they hang out near the sea hags you have to kill, and finally you kill lizardmen because you actually have a quest to kill lizardmen.

It took my pet tank and me over four hours to complete just the first map, during which we killed about a thousand mobs (there was also a helpful "kill any hundred mobs" repeatable quest that helped us keep track). I can't recall the last time I did anything that ridiculously and artificially grindy in an MMO, and I'm not even sure I want to continue to the next zone - which is more of the same.



I know that new content releases always come with bugs, but I was still surprised to run into what I would consider a pretty game-breaking bug today. My pet tank and I went back to do the level 70 solo instance in Neverdeath Graveyard that my great weapon fighter struggled with (the quest is called "Ghost Stories"), and as a duo we did alright, even if the scaling didn't work too great. However, just as we entered the last room of the instance, the level scaling simply fell off - leaving our level 60s to face off against level 73 mobs with no bolstering whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, we couldn't even scratch them. This made it impossible to finish the associated meta quest - not until we're level 70 anyway. I found a forum thread about the problem, but there is no known workaround.

In less game-breaking but still annoying news, one of the quests at the Drowned Shore refused to update properly for us after we had already fulfilled its requirements. Fortunately the forums came to the rescue again, this time with the advice that the quest only bugs out in a group and can be fixed by leaving the party. Still annoying though.


More on Level Scaling and Content Order

I realised only yesterday that my approach to the new module has been all wrong. I thought that since I haven't played properly since Icewind Dale, it would make sense to go through everything that has been added since then in order of its release (Tyranny of Dragons - Rise of Tiamat - Elemental Evil).

The problem is that all the old level 60 content seems to have been levelled up to 70, and the level scaling doesn't work very well. I was willing to chalk up my great weapon fighter's bad first experience to my lack of gear and skill, however when my pet tank and I went into the (now also level 70) Well of Dragons area from Rise of Tiamat with our reasonably well-geared guardian fighter / cleric duo, we still got trounced by the mobs there, even as a team. If my cleric got hit by anything, she would die in 1-2 hits, and some things even one-shot my pet tank. We tried the instanced solo quest to rescue some prisoners and eventually had to give up on it as the boss at the end just seemed impossible to overcome with the constant risk of one-shots.

After that experience my pet tank suggested that we should have a look at the new Elemental Evil content, and lo and behold: that was actually level 60 and allowed us to progress. So if, like me, you have come back to the game for ten more levels and some fun with Minsc and Boo, forget about all the previous campaigns for now - fighting level 70+ mobs is just too much of a pain in the arse at level 60, with or without level scaling. Just stick to the Elemental Evil content to level up - and maybe the early dailies from Tyranny of Dragons (which are in low-level zones).



I finally convinced my pet tank to get back into the game as well.

Since he's not averse to buying things from the cash shop, he bought a lockbox key after some questing and opened one of the boxes in his inventory.

It got him a drake mount.

He immediately bound it to himself, but I looked it up on the auction house and there was only one for sale, for the price of five million astral diamonds. Lucky bugger!

(This was also the first time I saw someone I know trigger one of those admin announcements about people winning rare lockbox prizes. Initially it didn't even register with either of us since we're so used to ignoring them, but then I just had to scroll back up to take a screenshot.)


Level Scaling

I think that Neverwinter has had level scaling of some sort pretty much since launch, seeing how event skirmishes always threw you into groups of characters of a very wide level range, but it was a complete mystery to me how it worked because the UI gave no indication of what was happening. (Everything appeared to be level "skull" but somehow I wasn't being one-shotted.)

While trying to slowly catch up with the new content, I took my great weapon fighter to Neverdeath Graveyard tonight to fight some dragon cultists from the Tyranny of Dragons module. I was surprised by how poorly I fared as a level 60 facing off against level 28 mobs... until I noticed a new UI indicator that told me that I was being down-levelled to 30 in this area.

It works upwards as well. Later I tried to do an instanced solo quest which told me that I was being up-levelled to 70 as soon as I entered. Sadly it didn't seem to be very effective as the first single level 71 mob I encountered took me several minutes (!) to kill and I nearly died several times. On death it then birthed three smaller mobs which killed me before I could even blink. Let's just say that I decided not to proceed with that particular quest for now.


I Hate Respeccing

The biggest obstacle to getting me back into the game right now has been the fact that all my characters had some of their powers and feats reset in the last couple of months. From reading other MMO blogs I've gathered that there are a fair number of people who enjoy trying out different builds and who love games that encourage them to do so frequently. For me it's the exact opposite though.

In my main game I can just about deal with having my talents reset, but in one I play more casually, like Neverwinter, having to re-assign points to abilities I can barely even remember becomes a huge obstacle to getting me back into the game. Fortunately I managed to sit down today and "get on with it" on all three of my characters. Even if my new builds are terrible (which they probably are), at least I can get back to playing.


Invocation Changes

Today was the launch day of the new "Elemental Evil" module. I haven't looked at any of the new content yet, but I logged all three of my characters to invoke, as I usually do. There I learned that invocations have been changed: it used to be that you received the biggest benefit from invoking once per day, after which you could repeat the ritual once an hour while experiencing high diminishing returns. By the third hour it was nearly useless.

Under the new system you can invoke once every fifteen minutes, but you only receive a much smaller reward the first time. To maximise your Astral Diamond gains from invoking you basically have to do so once every fifteen minutes for one and a half hours. (EDIT: I initially misread the timers, actually the time increases after each invoke, making for a total of four hours.)

That kind of sucks for those of us who have been "playing without actually playing" for prolonged periods of time, but it rewards people who spend time in game every day beyond a five minute login. Can't say I can blame Perfect World for this change.


Leadership Level 20

I was starting to doubt that it was ever going to happen, but this morning I hit level 20 in the leadership profession on my cleric. Based on the amount of Ardent Coins I've accumulated, this took me 239 days. On most of these I just logged in once in the morning to invoke and re-queue my professions. Admittedly I probably could have halved that time by doing this twice a day. Speeding things up any more than that would have been difficult however - at least without real money entering the equation - considering that most of the good missions take 8-12 hours. All I can say is: that's one hell of a time gate.


Sixty Again

The other day my third character, a great weapon fighter, hit level sixty. I haven't actually played her properly since her early thirties, which was, um... about five months ago? However, since I kept logging in daily to invoke and work on my professions, her progress has been unstoppable.

But hey, news has it that there'll soon be another ten levels to pass by invoking!