While my Neverwinter-playing remains somewhat low-key right now, I did make a point of doing a round of the summer festival every day of its duration on both of my clerics. I wasn't after any specific rewards, I just enjoyed the rhythm of the daily event activities.

For some reason I'm a real sucker for herding chickens and pigs in particular. I even became a proper pro at quickly finding Henrietta the Golden whenever she spawned after a while.

What's funny to me is that I then couldn't really be bothered to spend time on actually using my rewards, which means that I've now got several dozen ticket balls saved up for next year I guess. The only thing I did make a point of spending were my fireblossom petals, since those are a temporary currency and disappear after a few days if not used.

There's a definitive pattern here, as I recently also failed to actually buy any of the Nightlife rewards in SWTOR for the second year in a row. I'm clearly doing this whole MMO thing all wrong, just having fun in the moment and not even remembering to collect my rewards.


Cleric Gameplay Kinda Sucks Now

While researching player opinions on mod 16, I came across someone complaining that clerics were now just a class that stands in a corner somewhere. This sounded like an odd complaint, but I'm starting to see where it came from.

The problem is that divinity has turned into a simple resource pool for encounter powers, and one that drains extremely quickly at that. It takes less than half a dozen attacks for me to run out, and then I'm basically down to at-wills.

This wouldn't be so bad if using at-wills helped to regenerate divinity, as you could then weave back and forth between using them and encounters. But no, you're supposed to stand still and pray in combat to regenerate divinity, and it takes a while to boot.

The idea of a cleric pausing in combat to pray may have made sense in Everquest back in 1999, but in an MMO with action combat in 2019 it's absolute madness and makes you feel like a right muppet, especially when you have to keep interrupting your prayers to dodge out of telegraphs, all the while contributing nothing to the fight.



I don't know why low-level skirmishes are still limited to such a small level range. Cryptic clearly has the tech to make everything scale (even if the results are questionable) and definitely did the right thing by applying this tech to all the levelling dungeons. Why not skirmishes too?

Trying to run all the levelling skirmishes on my baby cleric has been hard work simply because you out-level them quite quickly and the "dead zone" I observed three years ago is still a thing. I did miss one skirmish entirely simply because despite of hours of queuing I just couldn't get it to pop, and the alternative to skipping it would have been to stop doing things that give XP and just stay logged in, waiting in the queue for who knows how many more hours.


Early Levelling Impressions

My little cleric is in her forties now, and so far I like the new levelling experience less than the old one.

- As I already mentioned, you rarely get anything when you level up. This is boring and reminds me of current World of Warcraft in a bad way.

- Acquisitions Incorporated feels like more of a stain on the game than I expected. I was not thrilled by the humour when it came out but thought that maybe it was less jarring if you actually ran into the chain "organically" as a lowbie... but nope, it's just as bad. There's a huge tonal dissonance between that campaign and everything else, and the quest givers just come off as jerks. I don't want to work for them. I did the intro and then didn't go back, despite of them sending me letters in the mail.

- Gear is oddly hard to come by. Rewards from dungeons are random to a ridiculous degree, to the point that most are either for a different class or a character thirty levels higher. Out in the world they are strangely scarce now. I remember back when we used to have to identify all our drops (another thing that they got rid of) it seemed to be raining unidentified items left and right. Now I hardly see any gear drop from mobs at all.

- Where are my heals? They completely removed life steal, which I can kind of understand because of how OP it was, but they also seem to have taken away the cleric's various healing effects that used to be attached to attacks. At the moment I feel like just another random dps. And the one heal my baby cleric does have feels ridiculously weak, barely even moving anyone's health bar. It feels like something that was tuned for max-level characters in epic gear, leaving lowbies in random levelling gear feeling disproportionally weak.


A Lich's Lament

Playing through Neverdeath Graveyard again I got to re-do what's probably my favourite quest in the game (see title).

It starts from a phylactery which is a random drop from the undead in the area. The lich contained within tells you that he just wants to be left in peace already and asks you to find a quiet final resting place for him in the area. You check out various locations but he finds something (hilariously) wrong with each and every suggestion, from uppity necromancers to destructive adventurers.

Exasperated, he eventually tells you that he's fed up with un-life and asks you to just hand his phylactery over to the doomguards so that they may destroy him. You do so, but Doomguard Volahk immediately states that the lich is likely too powerful to be destroyed so that the phylactery will have to be contained in a special secure vault instead, possibly for centuries - much to the lich's delight.

The voice acting for this quest is great and the lich's monologues are consistently hilarious - which just goes to show again that it's quite possible to have content be both lore-appropriate and funny.



While I'm only just trying to come to grips with the havoc wrought by Undermountain, Cryptic already announced the next module coming in August, called Uprising.

It will introduce the first new race in a while, the Gith. I have to admit that I'd never heard of them before this, and my first impression is that they look like the love children of orcs and elves. Also, apparently we'll be going to space?! I'm not familiar with that part of D&D lore at all, but it sounds wacky.

To me though, the most intriguing change mentioned in the announcement post was "recrafted early game zones and stories". I've never found Neverwinter's levelling particularly engaging, but it's serviceable, and to be honest I'm not sure what they could do to make it better, the game being what it is. Makes me glad to be levelling a new character right now though - that means that the current content will still be fresh on my mind when it comes to comparing old and new.


Scaling Strangeness

I knew that Cryptic was going to change the way scaling works in Undermountain, and I actually welcomed the idea as I thought that the existing system was pretty poor. After running a couple of Cloak Towers though, things didn't seem much different from before: Downscaled max-level characters were still rushing through, pulling and killing everything on their own while lowbies lagged behind - I guess things just went marginally more slowly, as it took more than one hit to kill an enemy now.

But then I ran into the strangeness in Illusionist's Gambit, and I soon got another taste of it in the Storming the Keep skirmish. Three years ago, I ridiculed this one for scaling players up to 60 while leaving the mobs in their twenties, making the whole thing a complete joke. Well, when I ran it this time, this was still happening... but our group of 60ies really struggled to kill those twenties! We barely made it through to the end, with me desperately spamming my one heal as much as it would let me and people still ended up getting downed repeatedly.

I found several reports of the new scaling being utterly broken (e.g. people being one-shot while doing normal Demogorgon) but that was more than two months ago, and supposedly there's been a patch to fix things since then? All I can say is that I'm very confused.


Truly Mad Wizard's Lair

I've now gotten the Illusionist's Gambit skirmish from the random queue twice on my baby cleric, and both times we wiped on the very first wave of mobs. I have no idea what's going on there, is it an issue with the new level scaling?

On the plus side, while failing like that causes the skirmish to end prematurely, it still counts towards random completion, so it's probably the fastest way to earn 8k rough astral diamonds currently in the game.

And to think people used to argue about the voting system at the end of each round of that skirmish, and how players rarely wanted to stay past gaining a bronze medal to earn silver or gold rewards... I'd like to even get that far again!


Vote to Kick

Today I learned:

Three out of five people voting to kick someone for being AFK is not enough, the fourth party member can prevent the kick indefinitely.

Once you've initiated a vote kick once, you can't try again for another four(!) hours.

Basically what happened was that the pug I was in ended up with a guy in the group who was AFK throughout the entire thing. When we reached the last boss and couldn't proceed without him, we tried to vote kick him, but one guy always rejected it.

By the time we had figured this out, all three of us had used up our vote kicking rights. Then the one guy who had quietly objected left the group, leaving us with the AFK-er (who had by then fully disconnected) and no way to remove him from the group in order to complete the dungeon, forcing us to disband.



Getting Reacquainted

Luckily for me, Cryptic managed to fix the bug with the anniversary quests two days into the event after all. After spending a little time fiddling about with the character panel on my cleric, I jumped into a quick Protector's Speech skirmish to try out some of my new abilities.

I didn't know it was possible to feel this lost in a game that you've played for more than five years and have only been away from for six months. Is this Neverwinter's NGE? I think at this point it doesn't even matter whether the changes are good or bad, there are just too many of them. With my cleric's base functionality completely changed and numerous abilities removed or revamped, it feels like I'm playing a completely different game, one in which I just happen to have characters that look like the ones I used to play.

There has been a token effort to explain the class changes in game, but frankly, a few paragraphs of text can't make up for years of muscle memory. It breaks my heart to think back to a year ago, when I was proud to have hit 70 (then max level) on all eight classes and foresaw myself playing the game for years to come.

As it pains me to just abandon all that even in the face of my current frustration, I resorted to that last bastion of hope for confused returning players: rolling up a new character. I didn't really want a second cleric, but at the moment going down that path seems to be my only chance of figuring out WTF is going on with the class. Let's not even think of alts for now.

At least redoing the newbie experience felt less irksome than usual as it's actually been a while now since I last went through it. One interesting change I noticed is that they got rid of all the level-up prompts telling you what you just earned, I guess at least partially because there is less to earn (e.g. no more power points, you just get certain powers at fixed levels).


Confused Birthday

It's Protector's Jubilee again, and this year I'm not even on holiday. Surely there's no better time to check the game out again than during its sixth birthday celebrations!

Unfortunately Cryptic has delivered a double-whammy in terms of making it hard to get back into the game: Now that I'm finally getting over my disappointment with mod 15, it's hard to pick things up again because they've literally changed everything: classes, powers, companions, boons etc.

After claiming my first freebie today, I thought I'd try to get back into the swing of things by doing something simple on my cleric: the anniversary quests. Turns out that Elminster wouldn't give me any though. I tried logging another character and for her they showed. Bug? I tried to check the forums but they wouldn't even load.

Still business as usual then.

(I'm genuinely sad though; I was really in the mood for those anniversary quests. Knowing how slow Cryptic is with fixing bugs, I don't expect to actually be able to participate in the event on my main now.)


Taking the Temperature

Hm, Undermountain has been live for almost two weeks now; I wonder how people are liking it?

Ah, business as usual then.

(Seriously, I am starting to feel the itch again though...)


Foundry Farewell

It was via The Ancient Gaming Noob of all places that I found out that Cryptic is finally closing down the Foundry for good in both Neverwinter and STO. I say "finally" because it's been down so often by now, I wasn't even sure whether it was still functional to begin with. The official subreddit received the news with a resounding "meh", and few people even considered the announcement worthy of an upvote. I'm clearly not the only one who never really cared about this particular feature.

I only ever made two posts on this blog that carry the Foundry tag. The first one was a brief explanation of what it is, while also mentioning that I didn't use it much, and the second one just mentioned as a brief aside that astral diamond rewards were being removed from Foundry missions.

While I give kudos to players who used it in creative ways and also to Cryptic for how hard they initially tried to integrate it into the game (what with the harpers advertising it in pretty much every zone), I just never developed much of an interest in it. Even back when there were some rewards for running Foundry missions, they seemed like a very time-consuming way of earning them, and the quality of the missions could be hit and miss. Both Telwyn and Roger also talk about just how this sort of player-created content has frequently ended up being abused, which resulted in Cryptic having to add more and more restrictions over time.

I do have some fond memories of a few missions I played. There was the one that Telwyn's partner created, the one with the NPCs that were wannabe Power Rangers (or something?!), or the one where the creator had had a lot of fun with the editor and made the player go through a whole section where everything was upside down. I also remember Wilhelm writing about doing some missions that were basically recreations of popular WoW dungeons.

Ultimately though, even when they were decent, Foundry missions always seemed like a distraction from the "real" game to me. So it's a sad day for those who actually used the Foundry, but I suspect I'm part of the majority when I say that these news don't elicit much more than a shrug for me.


Coming Up

The undisputed meh-ness of Heart of Fire has caused my pet tank and me to give Neverwinter the cold shoulder for the past month, especially as we had much more entertaining alternatives to play, but that doesn't mean that I stopped caring about what Cryptic will bring out next. So I was pleased to find out that they just announced the next module, which will be called Undermountain.

Unfortunately, based on what else they announced, it sounds like this will be another module heavily focused on systems changes, including but not limited to changing the very names of classes, changing how tanking and healing works, removing feats and power points, changing item and level scaling, changing the way stats work - which includes the removal of recovery and lifesteal, which is huge - and the raising of the level cap to 80.

The reason I started the above sentence with "unfortunately" is that while all the explanations given for these in the linked dev blogs sound reasonable enough (Healing is currently pointless? You don't say!), Cryptic has a history of being very bad at getting balancing right, so I expect the launch of an expansion with this many gameplay changes to be an utter disaster. Plus the level cap increase, something that would be a normal and happy event in many other MMOs, brings up memories of Elemental Evil, Neverwinter's worst module ever. (There were many things wrong with Elemental Evil and not all of those had something to do with the level cap increase, but it was certainly a contributing factor.)

So I'll be keeping an eye on what else they announce for Undermountain - I'll definitely want to check it out at some point, but based on past experience probably not at launch.

(As an aside, while reading up on this piece of news I learned that Neverwinter Unblogged is shutting down - that is a great shame and a huge loss, as this site was a big part in keeping me up-to-date with what was going on in the game and often provided very helpful info for a more casual player like me.)