... 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.