Uprising Letdown

Having just completed Uprising at the time of writing this post, I have to say that it has to be the laziest campaign that Cryptic has ever released, and lazy is not a word I use lightly in a context like this. It literally adds nothing but a tiny new quest hub where an NPC gives you a mission to fetch four whatsits.

To get a whatsit, you first need to gather thingamabobs. To get thingamabobs, you need to run more of the same expeditions that you've been running for all of Undermountain, only without the relics and with some different boss mobs at the end.

To get access to those ever so slightly different expeditions, you first have to get doodads. To get a doodad, you have to do a daily quest to kill mobs in the exact same zones that you used to level through Undermountain, only now they have some different mobs in them.

So basically, aside from the quest hub and a couple of new boss mobs, there were no new zones, story or content in Uprising. Worse, what I explained above isn't even properly conveyed in game either - you're just given the quest for the four whatsits and then two daily quests to get doodads, with no indication of how the two are connected. For some reason Cryptic couldn't even be bothered to create an actual campaign screen for this one to track your progress. You'll just have to google it to figure it out.

It's not that I hated the content (mob grinding is a big part of Neverwinter and doesn't need to be particularly inspired as far as I'm concerned), but I'm stunned that they officially labelled this as module 17 considering that there've been sub-modules in the past that had more than this to offer.


Neverwinter vs. STO

There is a little chart called "weekly top games" on the Arc launcher, and for as long as I can remember, Neverwinter has held the number one spot on it, followed by Star Trek Online in second. Ever since I came back though, I've noticed that STO has been in first place some weeks. Has Neverwinter really decreased in popularity that much?

I consulted the Steam Charts once again, just to get a gauge on the relative popularity of the two games, and they do indeed show more people having played STO than Neverwinter for most of 2020. The last time that happened was back in 2016! Then I realised that STO recently celebrated its 10th anniversary though, which I'm sure helped it garner some extra attention, and activity does appear to have been dropping off again since that event ended on PC.

That said, the Neverwinter chart has definitely seen better days too. The game's last major peak appears to have been in July 2018 with the release of Ravenloft (understandably), and after the release of Undermountain in particular you can see a noticeable decline in interest (also understandably if you ask me - people don't like having to relearn the entire game!). We'll see if the current climate encourages more players to give the game another chance, like I have.


Keeping Up Appearances

At launch, Neverwinter had no real cosmetic system at all, only the option to display a "fashion set" instead of your regular gear, which was extremely limited. Later on they added dyes and the ability to "overwrite" an item's appearance with that of another item, but doing so destroyed the latter, which was annoying e.g. when you got a new weapon and had to choose between either salvaging the old one for currency or destroying it to preserve the appearance. It could also get quite expensive if you replaced your gear frequently but wanted to keep the same look.

I was pleased to see that with Uprising the devs decided to make an attempt at getting Neverwinter caught up with more modern MMOs in regards to cosmetics. There is now a dedicated appearance tab where you can set a look you want and it stays on even if you swap gear around. You still need to destroy gear that you want to "add to your appearance library" once, but after that you can re-use the look forever. Likewise dyes only need to be unlocked once and are re-usable after that.

I felt vindicated for actually having kept some old gear pieces that I liked the look of in the bank for a rainy day - now I just needed to convert them to appearance library items and they were ready to be worn again!

The system's still far from perfect, mind you - for example there is currently no way to save multiple outfits for easy swapping. Also, the old fashion system still exists and now just feels weird and confusing in the way these things tend to go in older MMOs when a newer system effectively replaces an older one but the old one doesn't get removed. Still, it's a step in the right direction.


Life Steal

The life steal stat in Neverwinter has long been my go-to example of why allowing too much self-healing is bad, at least in a game that's supposed to have a trinity system. People were healing themselves so much that dedicated healers quickly became redundant, and since it scaled with damage output, characters also became increasingly unkillable the more damage they did.

It received a big nerf at least once (possibly more often than that) but it was only with Undermountain that Cryptic decided to remove the stat altogether, while also all but eliminating abilities that used to do both damage and healing simultaneously.

And I've got to say, even though I agree that it was bad... suddenly being without it after years of playing a certain way sucks too, as my characters now have to consume potions/health stones like nobody's business. Considering that regular potions barely heal you at all and the actually useful health stones are sold in the cash shop, it's also hard not to suspect Cryptic of having made this move to encourage cash shop purchases rather than out of any actual gameplay concerns.



One thing I like about Neverwinter is that it rarely tries to reinvent the wheel in terms of gameplay, usually "just" reiterating from one module to the next to make certain pieces of content more fun or at least fun in a different way.

In Undermountain they did this in the form of expeditions, which appear to be that module's solo to small group endgame content. At its core they are lairs (soloable mini dungeons), with the fiction being that you venture forth into the depths of Undermoutain to explore and discover treasure.

Each lair consists of three sections randomly drawn from a limited selection of caves and populated with random sets of mobs to create variety.

A mechanic ported over from Ravenloft's hunts is that you can add a handicap to increase your rewards, though the effects aren't as interesting as they were in Barovia: mobs merely get stronger and some traps appear that can debuff you.

The (to me) most interesting twist is that you are encouraged to find three relics in each section to boost your rewards, which tend to be hidden away in corners and nooks. I would expect this to somewhat discourage speed-running, as rushing through makes it easier to miss them. Rather on the contrary, this particular content feels quite well-tailored towards people like me who prefer to amble along at a more stately pace while taking in the sights. (Typically though, I then found out that the other expedition "types" that Cryptic added later contain no such relics, presumably because the mechanic wasn't popular.)

Unfortunately the lack of variety in terms of the dungeon building blocks and mob mechanics causes the whole thing to get old pretty quickly.


Class Confusion, Part 2

I made an effort to at least log into all my characters of the other four classes and have a bit of a play around.

Wizard: This one probably felt the least changed so far, with all of my favourite abilities seemingly still present, but similar to the rogue it still didn't feel quite right. The control aspect just wasn't entirely there and using the same rotation I used to use, instead of enemies getting locked down I just got punted around a lot and my damage output generally felt weak. It's possible that I missed something when setting up the feats; will have to investigate.

Ranger: Similar to the wizard, this one doesn't feel like it's changed a lot; it was just so much weaker in terms of damage output. Maybe it's a gear scaling thing and they'll all feel stronger again once at the new level cap.

Paladin: No more healing and doing damage (even a little) at the same time, bah! And they gave them a similar divinity mechanic to the cleric's, which I'm not a huge fan of. I may have to play a bit more to be able to make a definitive judgement, but my first impression is that like with the barbarian, they ruined another of my favourite classes.

Fighter: Like with the warlock, I don't actually have very detailed memories of playing this one, but I certainly wasn't a fan of the class's gameplay in the past. That said, the new seethe mechanic for the dps spec actually feels like it could be fun, setting up combos of first blocking damage and then hitting all the harder for it.

So far, it seems that the classes that I liked have mostly been made less fun, while a couple of the ones I didn't like have been improved a little. Homogenisation achieved?


Unscaled Stronghold

Ever since their introduction, guild strongholds have featured level scaling. Since level scaling in Neverwinter isn't very good, this was of limited usefulness - you couldn't realistically go around as an upscaled level 15 and do content in the stronghold on your own - but if you found a guildie or friend to team up with, you did actually stand a chance at killing things together.

For some reason Cryptic opted to remove level scaling when they levelled everything in the stronghold up to 80 with Undermountain. This has the annoying consequence that you are completely useless as a lower-level character now. When I used a level 70 alt to tag along with my husband's paladin as he did some heroic encounters, I was nothing but a squishy liability, with some of my attacks hitting for only 1 damage.

It's an odd choice to make and I hope Cryptic still rethinks it. Levelling in Neverwinter may not be hard, but I don't really see any benefit in making the stronghold content less inclusive.


Class Confusion

I'm slowly getting used to the new cleric mechanics. I still haven't figured out divinity management in my healing spec, but hopefully I'll get there.

The real problem is that I have seven more characters that I don't have a clue how to play now. Levelling them over the course of several years, I had plenty of time to get acquainted with how each one worked at least on a casual level. Now they've all had their mechanics changed, powers and boons reset, and I'm basically lost.

I have tentatively started logging into a few of them to get an idea of where things stand with other classes, and my first impressions can mostly be summed up as "uncomfortable":

Rogue: The basic mechanics (stealth etc.) of this one don't seem to have changed - thank god - however unfortunately the build I used to run with no longer exists. I used to rely on certain abilities having synergies (use A to trigger B and reset the cooldown on C) that are no longer in the game, so I did a lot of flailing about wondering why things weren't coming off cooldown as expected. Will need to look up a new build at some point.

Barbarian: I was crushed to find that Battlerage (formerly Unstoppable) no longer grants temporary hitpoints. It was a key part of the ability that it combined an incentive to not bother with dodging out of the red circles (the control immunity) with the ability to survive standing in them for a few seconds. The new version grants a slight damage reduction instead but that's not nearly as good. Not sure where to go with this one.

Warlock: This was the class I knew the least about since it was the last one I levelled, which has the advantage that I'm feeling less pain from my previous knowledge being made redundant now. I never really "got" warlocks, and the new and improved version is even more confusing to me. They have a new resource bar that doesn't seem all that great and depletes so rapidly that I feel like I should constantly hurry from combat to combat to avoid "wasting" the resource, which I don't like at all. But hey, I never liked the class much to begin with, so I guess this one's no big loss.


Talking Swords

(Minor Undermountain quest spoiler to follow.)

I don't remember where and when I first heard or read it, but I distinctly remember someone once telling me that talking magical weapons in a D&D setting were pretty much always bad news. This memory keeps coming back to me every time I encounter one, but Neverwinter seems to be set on defying my expectations.

First there was the Sunsword in Ravenloft, whose pride and OP-ness made for - in its own words - "a superlative experience".

Now, in Undermountain you find another talking sword in a green dragon's lair. After you beat the dragon, it urges you to use its blade for the finishing blow. So you stick it into the dragon's head... and the creature rises again, with the magical sword now effectively controlling the dragon's mind and body.

Then you spend the rest of the zone with a dragon buddy helping you fight the baddies.

Not what I expected.

(Also, obligatory Bloglovin link so I can add the blog to my list there!)


Delving Into Undermountain

Remembering that most of my best times in Neverwinter involved playing the game with my husband, I convinced him to reinstall it as well and dust off his oathbound paladin. At first he was very reluctant, but already a few hours in he didn't want to stop playing again because he was really enjoying himself and wanted to see how the storyline we were playing through was going to end.

In fact, his enthusiasm was so overwhelming that we ended up playing through almost the entirety of the Undermountain campaign in a single Sunday afternoon session. This was made possible by it being the first campaign that didn't feature any time gating for story progression or boon acquisition. I don't know if it was like that at launch or if this is something Cryptic implemented later, but it made for a pleasant discovery either way.

The gameplay was a mix of the usual "kill x things over there and click y things while you're at it", but that's what we we're here for, isn't it? I did notice that some missions involved the use of some newfangled temporary abilities, but they were integrated into the UI in an unobtrusive way and not annoying.

The story was also enjoyable, in usual D&D fashion involving a mix of the slightly tragic but often silly. We were curious to see where plot developments would go throughout the whole thing and kept chatting about it while doing the quests. "I really want to know who that mysterious woman is!" Or: "I wonder what we're going to do with this guy; I mean we're working with him right now but he's evil, right?"

I may have been very annoyed with his module for all its system changes, but in terms of story they certainly did a very good job.


New Tutorial

One of the things that intrigued me enough to get back into Neverwinter was mention of a revamped early levelling experience. In hindsight I had already read about plans for that back in July last year; I'd just forgotten about it again after more or less moving on from the game.

So I went ahead and created a new great weapon fighter barbarian of the one free-to-play race I didn't have yet - wood elf, apparently (this game has too many sub-species of elves) - and levelled her from one to ten.

And... I quite liked it! In terms of functionality and major plot points, the tutorial is largely unchanged, but it now makes for a much smoother continuation from the intro cinematic. I always thought it was a bit odd that after you witness the city under attack, the game then introduced your character as a shipwreck survivor (?!), with the only vague connection to the cinematic being a flash of memory indicating that your ship was sunk by the same dracolich that's also attacking the city. Then you fight your way into Neverwinter itself and... everything is peachy keen inside.

In the new version, you willingly join the battle to defend the city and even assist Makos with bringing down the dracolich. You also meet Celeste early on. When you get into the city, there is still fighting going on, with the Nashers having used the distraction to steal the crown, and only after you re-emerge from the vaults do you see that things have calmed down.

What does intrigue me is the fate of Private Wilfred though, who used to be the friendly NPC guiding you through the tutorial instead of Makos, just to die by Valindra's hand five minutes later. In the new version he's inside the city and lends you a horse at Sergeant Knox' command but doesn't speak. Has the timeline been altered to result in his survival? Or is he just doomed to die at a later point now, like the protagonist's fiancée in the 2002 version of The Time Machine? I kind of want to find out.