Charge Rewards Resolved

I got an e-mail from Cryptic last night that they resolved the Black Friday charge rewards issue. They did what I suspected would be the easiest way of dealing with the matter, which was to give everyone affected free extra "reward points" so that they'd be able to actually buy all the rewards they had been promised (shock, horror).

In fact, I suddenly had enough points to hit "claim" on the owlbear a second time! Not that this actually resulted in a second owlbear in game, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try. I can't really complain about not getting a second owlbear as that certainly wasn't what had been promised.

I am mollified for now, but I'll certainly approach any future promotions like this with a lot more scepticism.


Battling Bots

I don't really like Neverwinter's PvP, mostly for balance reasons, but after having a fairly good time in the 10-19 bracket with Traitine the other day, I decided to give it another try on my level 62 pally tonight. Imagine my surprise when I was joined by nothing but bots on both teams...

I had some silly fun with that for a couple of matches, as shown above. (I didn't intend to record my voice actually, but I used it for the video in the end because both the confusion and the insane cackling seem naturally appropriate.) Then I got into a match where there was an actual player on the enemy team, a trickster rogue who kept perma-dazing and two-shotting me. That reminded me of why I don't like Neverwinter's PvP to begin with and I quit.


The One Time I Decide to Give Cryptic Money...

... they have to go and fuck things up.

Lured in by their Black Friday sale for Neverwinter, I decided to buy their biggest Zen bundle for $200/£160. I hadn't given them any money in nearly half a year while having a fair bit of fun with the game, so it seemed only fair that I should buy some Zen again - I had just been holding out for some good charge rewards. Then I saw this page, which included the all-important line: "If you charge in any tier, you’ll receive all items in the tiers below, so charging $20, will grant you both the Zhentarim Warlock and the Neverwintan Noble Title." So I would get $200 worth of Zen, a bunch of bonus Zen, three mounts, a companion and a title? Sweet!

Except, once they had my money I was redirected to a page where I was prompted to spend my "reward points" and lo and behold, there were nowhere near enough of them to buy all the rewards I had supposedly earned. I was relieved to find on the forums that I wasn't the only one who had noticed this.

However, Cryptic's response so far has been less than impressive, as it basically comes down to "oops, we'll look into it after the weekend" while also quickly removing the "you'll receive all the items in the tier below" line from the promotion page. Apparently the promotion was never meant to work as advertised. Can you say "bait and switch"? I really would have expected more professionalism from a company that is happy to take these amounts of money from their customers.


Sea of Moving Ice Impressions

While the transition between water and land is a bit laggy and awkward, I do like that it's seamless and doesn't require any additional action from you (e.g. activating the boat or anything). Also, the khyek's sails are really pretty; I love the way they shimmer. I hate having to spell "khyek" though; I always just want to write kayak.

I do like the fishing mini game. It's nice and relaxing. And I love the idea of having fishing heroic encounters! That giant sea turtle coming out of nowhere to kill you is bullshit though. Also, ultimately I'm not sure what the point of having all these fish is, as there only seem to be a few rare ones that are used for crafting and everything else can only be turned in for elk tribe reputation? I'm kind of missing a reason to keep at it, other than the daily quest.

Not sure what I think of treasure maps. Asking people to identify the correct spot based on an environmental drawing in a zone that consists entirely of samey-looking ice and rocks is a bit of a pain, not to mention that everyone will just look up a guide on the internet anyway. That said, the treasures often seem to be hidden away in such a manner that even if you know the rough coordinates on the map, it's still a challenge to figure out how to get there.



In most MMOs the release of new content is a time to celebrate and to get back into the game if you've been away from it for a while. In Neverwinter, last week's release of Sea of Moving Ice has just made the game (temporarily) completely unplayable for me. I get disconnected almost as soon as I log in, and if I somehow manage to stay on for a little while, I suffer thirty second lag spikes and rubberbanding up the wazoo, making it unpleasant to impossible to even do something as simple as a couple of dailies.

Maybe I'll actually get to check out the new content in a month or so.


Demonic Encounters

Even though I enjoyed module eight's story arc, I didn't actually do the associated campaign on any of my characters, not even my main. Why? Because it was tied to farming heroic encounters which I thought were absolutely horrible.

The problem was that Underdark introduced demonic encounters to existing maps which came in three different flavours, two of which required actual tactics to be completed successfully instead of just blindly zerging the mobs. In one scenario you had to prevent demons that spawned around the edge of the area from running towards the shiny circle in the middle... but people would frequently confuse the fact that the demons disappeared when they hit the circle for a sign of success and actively pull or knock them into it, causing the encounter to fail. The other problematic scenario required you to protect an NPC while they channelled a protective spell, and if they were hit more than once or twice, you were pretty much guaranteed to fail... but you'd try to finish it anyway, just to run out of time with a smidgeon of the progress bar not completed. After repeatedly wasting half an hour or more rotating among events that just kept failing like this I got fed up with it and refused to let my pet tank drag me along to any more of them, boons be damned.

It was only last week that I finally decided to give them another go, and things seem to have improved in so far as more people know what to do now and the NPCs that need protecting appear to have received a significant buff, as I've seen that particular encounter complete with ease even after the Harper got smacked out of his or her trance every other spawn. The circle scenario still fails quite a bit, probably because it's the most sensitive to movement and precision, but people just don't bother with it anymore or even start and fail it intentionally just to get another one to spawn more quickly.



I've been meaning to mention for a long time how I think that Neverwinter's biggest technical problem is the horrific lag and rubberbanding that besets the game at times. It's almost always present to a minor extent, and at its worst it leaves the game completely unplayable, even if the way you get teleported into unexpected places is kind of hilarious. One of the reasons I haven't actually made this post before is that it's something that's best seen for yourself and hard to capture in a screenshot (even if you're lagging enough to have time to inspect your unicorn's butthole).

Well, tonight I was finally able to capture some nice rubberbanding while doing dailies on my hunter ranger in Sharandar. Enjoy this little demonstration:


Hunter Ranger

My hunter ranger hit 70 this past week, and while that gave me reason to celebrate, I've also been somewhat disappointed by the class.

Initially I was really pleased with the way hunter rangers switch between ranged and melee combat, especially as it features some very cool animations. It reminded me of the days when my hunter in WoW could also dual wield and would hamstring opponents that came in too close, despite of being a predominantly ranged class.

However, while levelling up I quickly found that trying to fight at range became more and more tedious, with poor kiting options that just result in every solo fight being a slow and tiring dodge-fest. Somewhat bizarrely, my characters' abilities' power levels and fun factor also seem to be inverse to their cooldown, which is to say that my dailies are boring and useless, while spamming my at-wills seems to be the way to go most of the time. Alas, I guess me and the HR weren't meant to be.



... is still a very tedious level range, and as observed previously, the update to the Elemental Evil campaign hasn't actually made it more fun (in my opinion). I was however pleased to find that there are more alternative XP sources in that level bracket now than ever before.

For example you can start the Underdark story as early as 60 and it actually scales the content to your level instead of scaling your character - though my pet tank and I had issues with that in at least one chapter where we walked in and found that all the mobs were level 70, so I'm guessing that tech still has some kinks that need working out.

Also, Sharandar is genuine levelling content now! I was wary of going there since I still remembered the early Elemental Evil days, where the game would prompt you to go there at 60 even though everything was level 70 and you'd just get trounced because the scaling was pretty ineffective. The in-game map also still told me not to go there at level 69, warning me that the enemies were too high level. However, while looking over my pet tank's shoulder I noticed that the first area in Sharandar is now genuinely level 64, the second one 66 and the third one 68. So you can get a head start on those boons now and the dailies give great XP to boot.


Masquerade of Liars

... is the name of Neverwinter's Halloween event, which I somehow always managed to miss until now. As it turns out I didn't actually miss very much, as it's just another token grind for a couple of costume items and companions. However, I do sort of like the flavour of the masquerade illusionists strolling around Protector's Enclave while magically disguised as anything from giants to trolls to Valindra herself.


Grind Shander

My initial positive reaction to the Storm King's Thunder adventure zones has been tempered by harsh reality. Now that I've unlocked all three of them I can confidently say that they are very beautiful and that their story is enjoyable, but the dailies and associated boons are the grindiest that I've seen in a long time.

At first I thought it was just the big numbers... e.g. in Dread Ring I can get one Thayan Cipher per day, of which I need one per day to advance the campaign, which I have to repeat thirty-one times. That's very straightforward. However, when I look at a campaign where unlocking all boons requires more than 55,000 Voninblood, it's natural that this seems overwhelming, even if the dailies earn me several hundred a day. However, even if you do dailies for 500 Voninblood a day, that still leaves you with a full hundred days of grinding unless you manage to consistently supplement your currency income through relics and heroic encounters.

Also, we discovered that while doing them in a group, some of the dailies have the annoying habit of giving people different objectives even if they are in the same group and pick up the quest at the same time (e.g. one person gets "kill mobs west of the camp" and one gets "kill mobs east of the camp"), which is just annoying and makes things take even longer.

My enthusiasm is already waning.


Endgame Drama

Via Neverwinter Unblogged I found out that there's been drama about an upcoming change to endgame gearing. Basically players require keys, which (among other things) can be bought from the Zen store, to unlock the reward chests at the end of a dungeon run. The rewards in these are random, and currently you have the option to decline the reward and retain your key for the next chest in hopes of a better roll. This will be changed so that the random reward is instead forced on you as soon as you decide to open the chest.

I honestly have no feelings about this because I'm too casual about endgame in Neverwinter to ever have worried about this kind of thing. (When I get to a dungeon chest, I open it and take the rewards no matter what because who knows when I'll see the next one? I always have way more keys than I'll ever need.) But it reminded me of the current SWTOR outrage about the planned changes to endgame loot in Knights of the Eternal Throne, which will also suddenly leave people at the mercy of RNG.

It's strange to see to see a similar situation from the point of view of an uncaring casual player, and makes me once again wonder about the respective sizes of the more outspoken (and often angry) parts of the player base.


Cold Run

But what about Makos...?


(This post might not make sense to you. But if it does, nothing more needs to be said.)


Slow Down

One of my guildies got temporarily locked out of buying any more Zen; apparently he bought too much of it in too short a period of time.

And here people say that companies like Cryptic only care about extracting as much money from their players as possible!

I'm not sure whether I'm more surprised by my guildie's spending or by the existence of such a barrier to spending too much at once.


Elemental Evil Revisited

Having finished her tour of the original set of adventure zones, my hunter ranger is now doing Drowned Shore. I loathed the original implementation of Elemental Evil's vigilance tasks, but after several rounds of nerfs and with some experience under my belt, they weren't so bad. Nonetheless, Cryptic recently decided to scrap the whole concept altogether and turned the vigilance tasks in the four EE zones into regular one-time quest lines. This is my first time checking out that content since the change.

Sadly, it's not really an improvement! They did scrap a good chunk of the quests, but you still get sent back and forth between the same couple of locations a lot, only with two quests at a time instead of four, making each run feel less productive. Also, you can't "choose your poison" anymore and sadly Cryptic didn't decide to just keep the easy quests, meaning that you now have to do annoying stuff like run each lair twice to complete the zone. Worse, I can't believe someone thought it a good idea to keep that guard memento quest with the stupidly low drop rate in. As an extra "bonus" I've found that some of the revamped quests don't seem to count for the "do four quests in an Elemental Evil zone" daily from the stronghold.

It's just a pain all around still. And that's without even getting into the annoying difficulty curve in that level range, where it's sometimes easier to die and respawn at a campfire than to try and make your way back through groups of mobs that respawn so quickly that you don't even have time to pick up the loot. Why, Cryptic, why...?


Epic Temple of the Spider

This past weekend I ran my first epic dungeon, Temple of the Spider, with a bunch of guildies. Things went well enough until we got to the last boss, where I died within less than a minute. I wasn't alone however, and two of my guildies soon shared my fate. The two remaining players, my pet tank on his paladin and a guildie on a great weapon fighter, managed to get the boss down... eventually. I know that it took more than twenty minutes because I was marked as idle twice while hugging the floor and watching YouTube videos on my second monitor. In the end I was rewarded for my prolonged inactivity by the chest at the end spitting out a new and better version of my horned hat. There really is no justice in this world - good thing that in Neverwinter that often seems to work out to my advantage...


Siege of Neverwinter

This is another event that I've repeatedly managed to miss - until last time, when I was at least aware that it was happening but decided to ignore it at the time, just to kick myself later for missing out on a cool mount.

I thought that it was set to recur a week or two before the Protector's Jubilee (Neverwinter's birthday), as the original Neverwinter intro cinematic also starts with the city under siege. However, for some reason the event is live again now, so clearly I was wrong about that.

Either way I've been appreciative of another opportunity to try and get that armoured horse. The event neither asks nor offers much, consisting of a small combat area with a couple of cycling heroic encounters. Since it's all scaled to level 60, the mobs pretty much explode in the presence of level 70 characters - I often can't even figure out where an event end boss has spawned before he's already fallen over dead. You can do as much or as little as you like, as the daily only requires you to complete two encounters. It's easy XP for levellers and a great farming ground for stronghold vouchers though.


Fishing in Lonelywood

The Winter Festival features an ice fishing activity which is pretty fun. Apparently this inspired Cryptic to do more with fishing in this module, first evidenced by a daily fishing quest in Lonelywood, the second zone. Unfortunately it's been bugged since launch, with areas lighting up as eligible for fishing but not giving you anything (and no, this is definitely not intentional). As a result, you end up running up and down the beach, desperately looking for a spot that works, all while being harassed by quickly respawning hostile crabs.

The next major patch is supposed to introduce yet another zone with a whole new dedicated fishing mini game. I want it to be good, but the bugginess of even this simple quest doesn't give me much hope. At least my pet tank and I were finally able to catch more than one fish per spot for the first time the other day. I guess Cryptic might get there eventually, one just mustn't expect too much of them at release.


Lowbie Changes

As well as picking up my hunter ranger again, I also bought more character slots and rolled up another new alt, a sun elf paladin. I was surprised to find that they changed the Theft of the Crown quest to shoehorn Sybella from the Benign Order of the Third Eye into it in the middle.

Speaking of that, I still don't know how to complete her mini-campaign - on the one character I've done it on, I'm sat at 86% after completing everything. Then again, maybe that's just another one of those display bugs - just like some of my characters have 150 or even 200% Sharandar completion.

My new alt also still got an in-game mail to advertise use of the Gateway - might want to remove that, Cryptic.


Show Me Those Quests!

You may or may not remember that I made it my hunter ranger's goal to re-do all the quests in the original adventuring zones. After the whole project lay dormant for a couple of months, I picked it up again the other day and was most annoyed by how difficult it was to stay on track. During the Protector's Jubilee XP bonanza I outlevelled the zone I was working on at the time, causing all the quests to "go grey", which - following the example set by WoW - caused all the exclamation marks above nearby quest givers' heads to disappear, forcing me to repeatedly click on every NPC in the area to see if a new quest had unlocked. I repeatedly ran into dead ends when I lost track of the main chain and suspect that I missed more than one side quest this way.

I'm glad that SWTOR never had a system like that, even before they had level sync and when low-level quests gave virtually no rewards. Some of us actually care about seeing the whole story, even if we're overlevelled for it! The disappearance of those quest markers is even weirder in Neverwinter, where grey quests actually continue to give pretty decent XP. I suppose there is the potential for confusion if later quests recycle an old area and players could get old lowbie and new high-level quests mixed up, but that could be solved by at least having a "show grey quests" on/off toggle like they introduced in WoW later on.


Bryn Shander

More than a month after its release, I've finally started the new Storm King's Thunder campaign. So far I'm liking what I see. Both the maps and the overall style seem to be quite similar to the original Icewind Dale, which is a good thing in my eyes.

The music and overall theme are just a bit sadder, what with all those flash-frozen citizens everywhere. It would be nice if they could all be thawed out at the end of it all, though I consider that highly unlikely.

I was also somewhat reminded of the Thunderfall area in WoW's Storm Peaks, which is also filled with NPCs that were frozen mid-combat.


Goodbye, Gateway

The final news post that caught my eye this weekend was about the Neverwinter Gateway having been shut down for good. (Gotta remember to remove that link on the side bar...) For those who didn't know, this was basically Neverwinter's "companion app", letting you access your professions from out of game, enabling you to prevent your celestial coins from disappearing if you couldn't log in (back when that was a thing), and offering the Sword Coast Adventures mini game, where you rolled dice to let your companions explore some small dungeons for loot.

I can't say that I'm personally very saddened by this, as I only ever used it a couple of times, such as to get the little white quality dog pet. But I find it interesting that during a time when people talk about mobile add-ons to MMOs clearly being the future (when even Blizzard does it, it must be so), companies that have had this sort of feature for a while are actually shutting it down again. Cryptic's reasoning was pretty much that it was too much effort for all the abuse it attracted, and RIFT already stopped work on its mobile companion app three years ago.


Fun With Numbers

Also in the news, Cryptic released an info graphic celebrating 2 million players on the PlayStation 4 and 12 million players in total. This is one of those numbers that sound amazing when you first hear it, but of course it's not quite all that once you realise that the game is free to play and they counted everyone who's ever created an account over the past three and a half years.

The part of the info graphic I personally found the most interesting was that (on the PS4) "over 30,000 players have reached the max level cap" because... that's really not that much. It means that the conversion from "I guess I'll try this free game" to "I'll level at least to the level cap" (which really doesn't take very long at all) is only 1.5 percent. If we extrapolate from that to the total number of players, there are only about 180,000 players with max level characters in Neverwinter, and presumably only a small percentage of those actually play regularly. So the overall active population is presumably "only" in the tens of thousands.

I also liked their note that 18 million mounts have already been attained on the PS4. With 3.2 million characters created, that makes for an average of more than five mounts per character - and in reality that number is probably even higher, as I'm sure many lowbies don't even get far enough to acquire more than their first mount.


Level Up

It's been quiet on here because in the past month my attention has been elsewhere once again, which is why I only found out today that ten days ago, Cryptic introduced the option to buy max-level characters from the Zen store. It's actually kind of surprising that it took them this long, considering how many other MMOs already do this and Crytpic's general tendency to let you buy advantages for real money in every possible area of the game.

I'm never really tempted by these offers because I actually enjoy levelling, but this one comes with an extra perk: Every boosted character gets to choose one of five painted owlbear mounts for themselves (picture from the official news post):


Seriously, who wouldn't love to own one of these? I especially like the purple one.

Of course, then I checked the actual price of a boosted character on the Zen market, and it's 5,000 Zen. Even if you buy the biggest bundle to get the most bang for your buck, that's still about thirty quid. No owlbear is worth that to me.


End of an Era

With the new module, invoking was changed once again, this time so that it doesn't reward astral diamonds anymore. Instead you get "bonus diamonds", which means that the next time you do a "real" activity that rewards AD, such as a dungeon run, you get more than usual - if I understand the new system correctly anyway. As I do those activities so rarely, this bonus isn't worth the repeated daily logins for me, so I'll be back down to only logging in only once a day for the first invoke (I still like getting those coins) and to queue up professions.

When they originally introduced the now scrapped system that required logging in six times a day, staggered over the course of at least four hours, I wasn't thrilled, but somehow I got caught up in it anyway and ended up pursuing its rewards pretty obsessively. I actually feel kind of relieved that the incentive to continue doing so is gone and I won't be staring at the clock as much anymore. I do think it might also reduce my involvement with the game though. While logging in to press ctrl+i repeatedly wasn't engaging per se, each time was an opportunity for others to grab me and drag me into group content while I was online. And the time between the first couple of invokes was so short that I often didn't find it worth logging out and ran around taking care of a couple of small bits and pieces instead.

Also, I do wonder where my AD are going to come from now. I was pretty cross when they removed them from leadership, but things ended up being okay for me because my regular outgoings are small enough that my income from invoking was sufficient to keep me afloat. I'm not sure what's going to happen now. I shouldn't run out of AD too quickly, but I would expect to run out eventually. Also, any new characters will have a really hard time earning their first bits of currency now.


New Look

What's this? A new character selection screen? But they didn't do that for any of the previous expansions!

Now my characters will look even colder every time they load in in their underwear...


Summer's End

I really spent a lot of time at the Summer Festival this year, despite of still not caring that much about any of the rewards. It was just fun. Nonetheless I ended up getting myself the full Sunite outfit as well as the water horse, simply because I could.

My only gripe was that they gave the festival an unexpected extension... why did this annoy me? Because one of its main currencies, Fireblossom Petals, are only temporary, and I had spent all my leftovers on what I thought was going to be the last day. If I had known that the festival was going to continue for another couple of days, I would have saved them and would have ultimately been able to afford another one of the nicer items.



The Summer Festival has come around again and since I remember quite enjoying it last time, I wanted to have another look at it... however SWTOR's Dark vs. Light event has its hooks in me pretty firmly right now. I kept telling myself that I probably wasn't missing anything as the festival would just offer the same activities that I've already done before, however it turned out that I was actually wrong about that!

There is a new ball game called Sahha, which is played in an instance in teams of 5v5, and while it's a bit slow, I did find it decent fun to play with my guildies. Once again Cryptic gets credit for trying to come up with some fun non-combat gameplay as an alternative to all the fighting.


For the Alliance!

A recent patch introduced a feature called guild alliances. The system remains opaque to me, even though our guild has joined one such alliance. One thing I've learned is that not all guilds in an alliance are created equal; instead one gets to be the "boss", who has several subordinates, each of whom has another bunch of subordinates of their own. We hold the lowest rank of these while being beholden to a "boss" guild called "GOD", which has led to all kinds of opportunities for punny humour (comments about "seeing god", "being with god" etc.).

One clear benefit is that all the alliance strongholds get linked up for easy visitation rights, and members of all participating guilds can team up to tackle the heroic dragon encounters on the stronghold map, which seem to require 20+ people if you want to kill more than one of the four dragons.

Annoyingly, part of the rewards from these encounters are contained in special kinds of lockboxes for which you need a new kind of key from the cash shop, and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I did shell out some zen to be able to unlock the few I got. And to think the rewards weren't even that great...

It's been fun to be part of the loosely directed zerg to kill the dragons a few times now (they need to die close to simultaneously, so there's a lot of "everyone except two people switch from red to black" kind of shouting going on), but I could see those fights getting boring quickly as there isn't much else to pay attention to. The fun is additionally reduced by the fact that one or two of the dragons have glitchy/hard or impossible to see mechanics that one-shot people, so depending on which dragon you are on, you can end up in an ongoing cycle of dying, resurrecting at the nearest campfire, using an injury kit, running back, landing a couple of attacks and immediately dying again.


Bear Cub

I'm a sucker for cute things. The New Life Lockbox was what pushed me over the edge into buying a month of VIP time, because I figured that I'd quite like using one of my daily lockbox keys on one and ending up with an adorable little baby pet. Of course I didn't actually get one, because you never get what you want out of these boxes - that's pretty much the business model.

I didn't really think much about it afterwards, but my pet tank remembered my desire for a cute little companion and when he saw that you could buy a bear cub directly from the trade bar store, he decided to get me a little gift.

The little fella is so cute that the whole guild gathered round just to look at how adorably he rocks back and forth while wiggling his toes. You just can't beat the cute.



Protector's Jubilee is over and I actually achieved all my goals!

Getting the horse for my control wizard was actually very easy as renown was available in spades. I had enough for the mount after only a couple of days, bought the associated outfit for good measure and still had plenty left over.

Getting the Protector's Garden key was trickier. A commenter actually asked me how one could get the required 15 figurines in only 8 days, and the advice I gave was at least partially wrong since I hadn't fully figured out the new system yet. Figurines didn't used to be rare because you'd get them for doing the event daily quests. This year this was changed however so that the quests only rewarded purple boxes... which would grant you a figurine the first time you opened one on any given day, but that appeared to be it.

The only reliable way we found to get extras was to have other people give you gifts through the protector's hospitality, since that had a random chance of dropping a figurine, and actually more than once per day. Fortunately my pet tank was grinding the event like crazy and showered my hunter ranger with all his gifts, plus a few guildies were nice enough to chip in as well. Thanks to their generosity I managed to hit 15 figurines on the last day and got my key.

Also, my hunter ranger - the character on whom I really wanted to take things slowly again - gained about 15 levels throughout the week. There's just no way not to level fast in this game.


Foreign Merchants

The new escort quest for the jubilee event is an excellent way of grinding both renown and the protector's bounty boxes. You only need one person to have the scroll with the quest to get him moving (which is a fairly common drop), everyone else can then tag along without having it and still get the rewards. After every combat the merchant and his horses will drop either a box or some renown for everyone present... which adds up to quite a number as he gets ambushed several times, walks through a bunch of existing mob groups and you can even pull some more on top of him to make him drop extras.

There are a couple of these merchants in different zones - I escorted one in Blacklake District today and there was a huge crowd following the merchant's every step, with the low-level mobs getting one-shotted before they'd even fully spawned. With my guildies I've mostly been farming the stronghold version though - it might have been luck of the draw, but that one seemed to drop a much higher number of bounty boxes for me.

It was probably the most bizarre kind of social content I've participated in so far, constantly running up and down the road as a group to escort more merchants. It was pretty fun and relaxing though.

Foreign merchants showering us with gifts... I think Cryptic is sending a clear pro-immigration message here!


Happy 3rd Birthday, Neverwinter!

Has this on-and-off relationship really been going on for three years already? Congratulations on holding my attention for that long, game!

We found our stronghold decked out in celebratory banners, with confetti raining from the sky absolutely everywhere. There's also a new repeatable escort quest in the stronghold just for the jubilee event, which follows all the bad tropes of an escort quest to a T... well, except for the one where your escortee attacks everything, cause the foreign merchant actually just cowers.

My favourite skirmish, the Protector's Speech, is also back! I just wish they'd actually give him a new speech every year. I have to be careful not to fall down the rabbit hole of grinding it over and over again just because it's easy, fun and rewarding, simply because I do need to get sleep at some point. I do think I would like to get the horse for my control wizard though.

I'm a bit torn on how much to involve my lowbie hunter ranger. On the one hand I want to get her a key to the Protector's Garden because all my other alts have it, on the other hand this risks throwing her levelling journey seriously off course, considering that a single run of the skirmish was enough to net me nearly two levels. I'll probably go ahead with it anyway.

Also, don't forget to claim your free goodie from the Zen store every day for the next week! If nothing else, Cryptic sure knows how to celebrate.


Everything is a Campaign

The latest patch introduced a funny change to the campaign window: All the levelling zones are now counted as quasi-campaigns and reward items of varying value for completion. Some of the low-level ones are pretty amazing for poor players: For example completing the Tower District now rewards a full set of green quality profession workers, one for each profession! Kind of makes me want to bang my head against the wall for all the hours and days I spent levelling up white quality ones... but it's a nice change for new players for sure.

I might even be tempted to go back and finish off the zone on my max-level alts that never completed it. I'm just not sure the campaign window was the right place for this addition, as it looks pretty cluttered now and makes it harder to keep track of your progress in the "real" campaigns.


Guild Run

My pet tank incessantly pestering our guildies to play Neverwinter and level up is starting to pay off: Last night we finally had enough sufficiently geared max-level characters online to run an epic dungeon as a guild group! We took our time to find all the treasure chests and the bonus boss in the side rooms that pugs usually run past, and much fun was had by all. The only downside was that the game's overzealous queuing system swiftly removed one of our guildies from the group when he suffered a disconnect near the end and instantly replaced him with a random pug. Still, a pivotal milestone for our guild's Neverwinter chapter! You can watch the full run and listen to us banter in the video below:



One of the peculiarities of Neverwinter's questing system is that when you are in a group, you will get quest items dropping for you for quests that you don't actually have but your group mates do. This has been driving my pet tank to distraction whenever I take one of my alts to Icewind Dale, as I keep hoovering up all the enchanted weapons (which I don't need) while he hardly seems to get any (the loot is still bound to the individual, so I couldn't trade them). On my rogue I had a proud collection of more than fifty of the things.

This week I finally hit the reputation point where I could pick up the quest myself. It was so exciting to be able to hand it in right away! Only downside? Jubal Oakstaff took my entire collection in one go, even though the quest only requires ten or something. Greedy bugger.


Dead Zone

My goal for my little hunter ranger is to slowly take her through all the original zones and redo all the quests there to remind myself of their storylines. I only actually did them all once, as all three of my current max-level alts went into "levelling without really playing" mode at one point or another.

In an interesting contrast to most other MMOs I've played, which usually offer a variety of starting experiences for different races or classes, Neverwinter's first couple of levels are the exact same every time. This actually made them the hardest for me to replay yet again, as they all featured content that I had already done multiple times before. I usually do most of the quests up to Neverdeath Graveyard if nothing else, simply because that's where you get your last free bag.

I was pretty relieved once I pushed past that and got into the content I actually wanted to replay, however I was also kind of surprised just how much overall player activity dropped off at that point (around level thirty). Zones suddenly had less than half the number of active instances compared to before, and queue times for skirmishes jumped up from near instant to upwards of ten minutes.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, considering that this is the point where I also usually stop questing on my alts, not to mention the point where my interest originally floundered for a while when I first tried the game at launch. It's still interesting to see that this seems to affect so many people though.



I realised that I never actually gave my opinion on the Underdark module, even though my pet tank and I actually played through its story shortly after it was released, so here goes:

Cryptic made a big deal out of the fact that they had managed to get R. A. Salvatore to write a storyline for them, and even though I've never read any of his books, I thought it was immediately obvious that the Underdark story was very different from their usual fare. Aspects of D&D were referenced that had never been mentioned in Neverwinter before, and there were some interesting twists and turns. Even the voice acting seemed a bit better than usual, though dwarf accents seem to be doomed to be terrible no matter what.

I also liked the small hidden achievements in the various chapters, such as waking up a passed out, drunken orc by poking him. My favourite character was probably Captain Belgold, the guy that hands out all the different chapter quests, simply because his dry sense of humour cracked me up. The decision that one playthrough would also unlock the campaign for any alts also seemed very generous.

My only issue was that it was way too easy to burn through the whole thing in one night and then be left with nothing but a stupid grind for the rest of the campaign.


Rich Spiders

While doing heroic encounters in the guild stronghold, someone made the interesting observation that wealth seems to be distributed surprisingly unevenly among the denizens of the stronghold. Not that anyone kills them for their loot (yay, another rank five enchantment), but it's still funny once you actually start to take notice.

Spiders appear to be the richest creatures by far (three Frozen Treasures from a single spider attack encounter!), followed by beasts and devils. The marauding orcs on the other hand appear to have almost no possessions. No wonder they are kicking up a stink - clearly a case of social unrest caused by extreme poverty.



I talked about the somewhat awkward time-gating of the Maze Engine campaign, however now that I've finished it, I've also been meaning to say that the story was pretty neat and the final showdown with Baphomet quite cool. It was also one of the few pieces of content that made even my pet tank appreciate having someone to group up with. That you can re-do it as a weekly (under the guise of the story being told by a bard, which results in slight variations) is nice as well.



My pet tank's enthusiasm for working on our guild stronghold has been invigorated lately, and as the only thing that we're missing to progress to the next stage right now is a bunch of influence, he's been pulling people from our SWTOR raid team into Neverwinter to make them farm for us (as it has a limit of 400 per character per day). Talk about peer pressure when it's your raid leader who asks you to do something like that!

They don't even have to do much though, just log in, go to the stronghold and join the group; credit can largely be "mooched", even from quite a distance. It's been kind of nice because I've never seen our guild stronghold this full before; we were actually running heroic encounters with a full five-man group sometimes. Everything is more fun with friends.


Still Playing

I should really post here more often, considering that I've actually been playing a fair amount again as of late. Funny how even short posts can sometimes take effort to write.

My newest project is a halfling hunter ranger, since I still had an empty character slot lying around from one of the packs I bought back in the day and I missed the feeling of levelling a character from scratch.

I was actually a bit afraid of making another alt because I'm somewhat addicted to invoking and didn't want to add yet another character that would add to my compulsion of "having to" log in seven times a day to collect free astral diamonds. So I've set myself the rule that I'll only log this particular alt if I'm actually going to play her "properly" that day in some way - I don't need yet another character levelled the AFK way anyway.


Buggy Skirmish

Today I did a lowbie skirmish for the first time in ages.

First thing that happened: the queue bugged. It displayed that 5 out of 5 players had accepted and then timed out! On my next pop I found out why: a single player can count more than once for some reason. I clicked accept, talked to a vendor, and when I exited the vendor screen I was prompted to accept again! The skirmish eventually popped when the counter had reached 7 out of 5, heh.

Then I found out that the skirmish scaled everyone in the group to level 60 even though the mobs inside were only in their low twenties, which turned the whole thing into a ridiculous faceroll.

Never change, Cryptic. Never change.


Annoying Time-Gating

I've been working my way through the Maze Engine story/campaign and it's getting slower and slower. After the first three "chapters" you are asked to complete a daily quest for five days before the next chapter is unlocked. Then, after the next two chapters, you are asked to do ten days of the campaign daily quest to unlock the next bit of the story... and so on and so forth.

It's an obvious, annoying ploy to stretch out the amount of time for which the module will keep people busy, and yet I can't entirely blame Cryptic for choosing this route. In Underdark, they allowed us to play through the whole story in one go - and we did. Then I at least saw that the rest of the campaign consisted of grinding annoying heroic encounters and decided not to bother.

Inserting the grind in slightly smaller chunks between story chapters seems more palpable, but at the same time I can't help but think that there must be a better way...


Day of the Dungeon Master

This former April Fools' Day event was so popular that they decided to extend it to a whole month this time around. I never actually participated myself before, so this was my first time doing more than reading about it.

The whole set-up of everyone being turned into little mini figures that are being roleplayed by the NPCs is fun and has obviously been crafted with lots of love - from little jokes like dice standing in for orcs and kobolds to the fact that every NPC has a fully filled out character sheet in front of them. (Who'd have thought that Drizzt would want to play a paladin?)

Sadly the actual activities aren't really anything to write home about and the associated new campaign seems pointlessly grindy. Still, I'm happy to have seen it at least.


1 Month of VIP

When Neverwinter's VIP programme came out, I figured right away that it wasn't really for me. However, since my pet tank has been very fond of VIP status and I had some Zen as well as a coupon lying around, I decided to buy one month just to see what it was like. The results were as follows:

1) The daily character reward of ten Scrolls of Identification was useful. Even while playing casually, I should be finding a use for all of them eventually.

2) The daily character reward of one Epic Dungeon Chest Key feels highly silly as a casual player, because after a single month all of my alts have more keys than I'm likely to need for the rest of my life.

3) The daily account reward of one lockbox key per day was interesting in so far as I had never bothered with Neverwinter's lockboxes before. I got a pair of boots out of one of them that was actually an upgrade, which was a nice surprise as I didn't even know that high-level gear was something that you could get from these. I also got a couple of marginally useful profession assets, but everything else was pretty useless. So many cheap enchantments and runestones! That's as if SWTOR's crates gave you nothing but a couple of blue companion gifts ninety percent of the time. If I had paid for keys specifically to open these I would have felt ripped off.



Neverwinter's ninth module, The Maze Engine, launched yesterday, and while I have no opinion on the new content yet there was one gameplay feature that immediately caught my attention: the revamped mount system.

Cryptic had got caught in a weird spot with mounts. They are one of the most expensive and coveted items in the game, yet there was little incentive to own more than one. Mounts came in multiple different speeds, and only the fastest one was really interesting for everyday use. While it was theoretically possible to upgrade any mount to the highest speed, it was ridiculously expensive and usually not worth the bother. Also, since they took up bag space, you really didn't want to have too many of the things.

They tried to encourage players to buy more mounts by making them bestow stat increases and combat powers, but I think even that particular pay-to-win model was only a mixed success as people didn't want to keep chasing the newest, most powerful mount all the time, especially if they already liked the look of what they had.

Under the new system, mounts can finally be "stabled" so you can have more than one without them taking up any bag space, and mount skins and abilities can be mixed and matched as you please. This kills several birds with one stone:

1) Freed up bag slots mean that people will be more willing to own more than one mount.

2) Since you can give any mount max speed once you've unlocked it, previously under-appreciated, slower mounts can become attractive for their looks.

3) They can keep adding mounts with new powers and people can keep buying them without losing the look of their old favourites.

I'm still not sold on the pay-to-win aspect of mount powers and will likely ignore them for the most part, but otherwise I really have to say: well done, Cryptic. I already had both the unicorn and the armoured horse unlocked account-wide, so all my alts could travel fast, but now they can also do so in a variety of styles.


State of the Game

A few days ago, Neverwinter's Executive Producer Rob Overmeyer released a developer letter about the State of the Game. A lot of it was PR talk about all the amazing things they feel they achieved in the past year, but there was also an honest admission that they screwed up with Elemental Evil.

More than anything though, it's over 4000 (!) words about what they've been doing, what they are planning on doing, and why. This is one area where I wish Bioware would take a page out of Cryptic's book and be a bit more open about their thoughts and plans. It's often frustratingly opaque what's going on behind the scenes in SWTOR.


Happy Valentine's Day!

I have to admit this ad made me laugh. If you think that Valentine's Day is just a capitalist ploy as it is, you haven't seen Cryptic wanting you to love their virtual currency.

And yeah, it did make me buy some Zen - it was about time I gave them at least a little bit of money again anyway.


Winter Warrior

The Winter Festival gave me a reason to grind towards a specific goal for once: the icy weapon skin for great weapon fighters (called Sparkling Long Sword of Winter). I tend to not care about cosmetics that much unless I'm trying to get rid of a particular look that I don't like, and this was the case here as well - I hated that axe. It's not that it's hideous by itself, but I just couldn't stand fighting - flourishing, stabbing - with a great-axe all the time. It looked silly.

So this was a great opportunity to get something more stabby and yet still sparkly. Plus, you know... scarves. Finally I can show my "cape" without it getting in the way all the time.