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?!