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.