26/08/2021

Jewel of the North Cinematic

The other day I was surprised on logging in to find that Cryptic had added a cinematic trailer for Jewel of the North, which plays the first time you log in after the most recent patch.

The only other module I remember having a cinematic trailer was Ravenloft, and that's one of D&D's most well-known IPs. I'm not sure what exactly qualified this mod for the extra marketing budget.

The trailer isn't the greatest thing ever, but I do kind of like it. It's just sad that the way it wants to evoke the connection to the tabletop game and going on badass adventures with a party of friends doesn't really map to anything you can actually do in the game.

23/08/2021

Backwards

Not only did Cryptic remove a bunch of zones with Jewel of the North, but there are other ways in which it feels like the game has oddly regressed.

For example the Ebon Downs storyline is back to concluding with the Throne of Idris dungeon - an instance that was in the game at launch, got removed with Elemental Evil, and then just became accessible again occasionally during the Tales of Old event. It feels pretty retro to just get sent back in there at the end of the zone for a quest... with the main difference that it can now be soloed.

Also, I remember I used to think it was pretty neat how Tyranny of Dragons expanded various levelling zones, added dragon heroics to them, and introduced players to the concept of progressing a campaign while levelling. This first half of the campaign has now been removed, and the zones that remain and that used to have dragon encounters in them have been shrunk back to their previous size.

This is such a strange module.

17/08/2021

Things to Do in Mod 21

I was wondering what there was going to be to do for existing players in Jewel of the North if it was all focused on revamping the way levelling works. The answer is: not much. As mentioned in my previous post, if you never completed the levelling zones that remain in the game, now is a good time to go back and do them. Even if you already did them, there are a couple of new tutorial quests that you'll have to go through to earn the new rewards, but that's it.

That said, I reckon this is a great time to give the game another shot if you haven't played in a while. Just do whatever new quests Sergeant Knox has for you and the rewards will start rolling in in no time. The new catch-up gear will bring you close to on par with what used to be top level gear only a module or two ago. It's kind of impressive how far the game has come in terms of generosity there, because I still remember how stingy it used to be with simple quality-of-life things like mounts and bags. Now you have a blue quality mount and companion before hitting level ten and get a 42-slot bag just for completing Vellosk.

13/08/2021

Campaigns and Adventures

A few years ago I gently poked fun at Cryptic for wanting to fit all the game's zone quests into their "campaign" endgame model. Considering what an awkward fit that was, I like how they've split content into campaigns and "adventures" with mod 21. A campaign is still what it always was: a grind to repeat content like dailies or heroic encounters in order to fill a bar and earn things like boons and access to higher-level group content.

An adventure on the other hand is simply a series of story quests - whether inside a single zone or delivered via loosely connected solo instances - that you're only expected to complete once, and at the end you get some more mundane (but in the new system also quite high-level) rewards such as increasing amounts of AD, gear, plus conveniences like mounts or bags.

All the old levelling zones that were kept are now adventures, as is Acquisitions Incorporated, which was always terrible as a campaign, seeing how it was basically a collection of story quests that the campaign framework required you to grind over and over again. The Underdark story (which was always completely disconnected from the campaign with the same name) has also been reclassified as an adventure, and the associated campaign to grind heroic encounters has been completely removed. This does make things more consistent.

The only downside from my point of view is that since they upped the rewards for adventures so drastically, they kind of feel mandatory to do on all characters now. I used to skip a lot of the old zones while levelling up my alts just to keep things varied, meaning that I'm now looking at potentially re-running zones like Neverdeath Graveyard, Vellosk etc. on half a dozen max-level alts just because the new rewards are too good to pass up.

11/08/2021

Housekeeping Required

It's commonly agreed that one of the biggest challenges for players returning to an MMO they haven't visited in a while is remembering how to play their character, figuring out what to do next, and what all the stuff in their bags is. A big patch that makes major systems changes can be similarly confusing for existing players. But seriously, no game I've played is as bad at this as Neverwinter.

I'm still trying to sort out all my characters post-mod 21 launch. Quests reset, stats reset, new stuff to claim and use or stow away (unless you want those flashing notifications to bother you forever), old stuff made redundant and requiring trading in somewhere (why can't they just auto-convert obsolete currencies like most other games?)... just the amount of housekeeping required to keep playing the characters I was happy and comfortable with the day before the patch is insane. And it feels like they do this about once a year. Just why, Cryptic?

29/07/2021

New Levelling Experience

Seeing how mod 21 is all about changing the levelling experience, I thought it made sense to create a new alt to check out how that's worked out. Thus Barb the Aasimar bard was born (more on bards another time). It's kind of strange to me to be investigating the tutorial again after I wrote about it being revamped only a little over a year ago.

I only played through that version of the intro once so my memories of it aren't very detailed, but based on what I wrote back then the first part outside the city doesn't seem to have changed much, except maybe that the combat felt a bit less faceroll than I remember. However, the part inside Protector's Enclave is completely different: We're once again back to no signs of fighting inside the city gates, and there's nothing about the Nashers wanting to steal the crown anymore. Instead you get sent to Sergeant Knox in the newly invented "Adventurer's Guild", where you're given a brief combat tutorial in a special training room before being sent straight to Neverdeath Graveyard.

I don't know whether I like or dislike this change, I just know that as a long-time player it feels extremely bizarre. With whole low-level zones and story arcs wiped out, it feels extremely rushed compared to the old experience... yet at the same time I'm not sure that's really a bad thing, considering I've said in the past that - in somewhat of an inversion of most games in the genre - Neverwinter's early levels used to be among the worst, largely because of how samey and front-loaded with system tutorials they were (which was alright the first time but extremely tedious on alts).

I could see it being appealing for new players to "jump into the action" more quickly, but my general experience with MMOs has been that propelling the player forward more quickly isn't necessarily more engaging either.

The lack of any sort of visible character progression with the removal of XP is also extremely strange to me. The new milestone system means that you only gain levels for completing certain quests, but until you are on one of those quests, there's no visual indicator of how close you are to the next milestone/level, so your only real motivation to keep going is sheer momentum or interest in the story, and let's be honest, with the exception of a few clever storylines, narrative has never been Neverwinter's strong suit.

I guess this also means that you will no longer have a choice of alternative levelling paths, which I can see getting rather repetitive on alts, even if the overall length of the journey has been shortened by a lot.

27/07/2021

Barren, yet Overloaded

 ... is my briefest of day one impressions of mod 21. Barren, because that's how the Sword Coast map looks to me with seven zones removed - see below for which ones got the axe:


Overloaded, because every character has dozens of new rewards to claim for content they've already completed, and just claiming all the boxes without even opening most of them was enough to give me a slight case of inventory panic. I'll have to take all my alts through this process slowly.

Oh, and I gained a new max-level alt because my previously level 65 cleric alt that I created after Undermountain is now also at the new cap of 20.

13/07/2021

Mod 21 Has a Name

I was starting to wonder whether the tradition to give each module a name was simply another thing Cryptic was getting rid of. But no, it's going to be called "Jewel of the North" (which is a "nickname" for the city of Neverwinter) and they uploaded a "features trailer" for it today:

Release is going to be in two weeks. Let's see how that NGE and bard class play out.

22/06/2021

Neverwinter Turns Eight

You wouldn't be able to tell from the below image because nobody bothered to update the decorations in the stronghold, so they still have the number seven on them.


Also, the random text on this screenshot is there because for some reason my in-game screenshot functionality stopped working, so I had to use an external programme which doesn't automatically hide certain pieces of text. Such is life with Cryptic - they mean well and some of their content is very fun, but everything's always a bit of a mess.

In the Protector's Garden they took away the number on the floor and just replaced it with a lion logo. I also didn't see any numbered banners there - I guess that should future-proof the celebrations against forgetful developers at least.

I had misunderstood part of the post about the levelling revamp by the way and it's not live yet. In fact we don't have a date yet, but it's probably going to be in a few weeks.

05/06/2021

New Class + Surprise NGE!

Apparently Neverwinter is going to go live with some huge changes next week, and they announced them... only two days ago.

The addition of bard as a new class is the least surprising bit of news, as this was already hinted at some time ago, and is very welcome (though I'm surprised they are dropping it on such short notice and with no real hype). Everything else, however...

  • To be more in line with tabletop D&D, the level cap will be squished from 80 to 20.
  • XP in the classic sense will go away; instead you will gain a level every time you complete a set piece of content called an "adventure".
  • Some existing content will be re-tooled for this, but other zones will simply be removed. Officially they might come back later, but Cryptic has a bad track record on that front, so I'd advise anyone not to hold their breaths.

And those are only the most major of the changes.

I have no idea what to think of any of this; it just feels completely out of the blue. I only know that I struggle with it when a game that I've been playing for years decides to make major systems changes like that, and it's only been two years since Undermountain turned my Neverwinter world upside down and actively turned me away from the game for the better part of a year.

18/04/2021

New Sharandar Episode 2

This week saw the release of the second sub-zone of New Sharandar. Mostly it's more of the same slightly awkward questing, but they changed the tuning now so that things are actually somewhat hard to kill again.

Also, for some reason it's apparently crash-tastic right now. On our first attempt at the new large heroic encounter as a guild group, the game crashed for four out of five people simultaneously, and we went on to suffer more crashes throughout our play session.

11/04/2021

Sewers Most Fowl

I quite enjoyed the new April Fool's event that Cryptic added last year and was happy to see it return, but as my focus is currently on other MMOs I didn't really plan to grind the dailies again, plus at first glance it didn't look like anything had changed about the event. That was until I learned that this year, they also added an event dungeon called Sewers Most Fowl, in which you get to play as chickens in a group PvE context.

I did it with my guildies and it was great fun. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I can only recommend going in blind with friends and allowing yourself to be surprised - the event is on for another three days or so. Otherwise you can just watch me and my guildies bumble through it in this video:

14/03/2021

TheLazyPeon Stumped by Neverwinter

TheLazyPeon is a well-known MMO YouTuber. The other day he released a video compilation of snippets from "failed" MMO reviews, as in games he wanted to review but gave up on for one reason or another. Most of them turned out to be indie or early access titles of some kind, so I was very surprised to see Neverwinter in there as well.

Basically Peon got bored during the starter experience on two different characters (which I can't entirely blame him for - I've said before that in an inverse of most MMORPGs, the early levels are some of the worst in Neverwinter) and then decided to try and jump straight into endgame group content by buying a level 70 character boost.

This caused him to run into an interesting problem however: 70 isn't actually the level cap anymore, there's no PvP before the cap, and most of the higher-level dungeons require some kind of unlock through completing quest content, so he still didn't have access to any queues other than the levelling ones, and those didn't seem to want to pop (I'm guessing at least in part because he was queued as dps). He eventually gave up in disgust. I always find it interesting how players manage to navigate themselves into "dead ends" in an MMO, and that was new one to me.

25/02/2021

New Sharandar Impressions

Not a huge fan of the new campaign progression UI looking like the Redeemed Citadel one.

While the graphical fidelity in New Sharandar seems to be improved, it actually looks somewhat duller to me visually, as the increased "realism" has resulted in more muted colours for example. I liked how the older, brighter palette gave the forest a more magical feel.

More randomised quests of which you can only pick up and do two at a time = slightly meh for group play as you rarely end up with the same ones.

I guess it's intentional that this content is a bit easier again after Avernus, but at least the heroic encounters feel slightly ridiculous at the moment. The small ones finish so quickly that it's almost impossible to participate if you aren't already on top of one when it spawns, and even the zone's BHE gets obliterated in less than five minutes.

21/02/2021

Farewell to Old Sharandar

One thing I didn't immediately realise when the new Sharandar module was announced was that this also meant that the old Sharandar was going away: currency obsolete, zones and quests gone, campaign removed. I still don't know why Cryptic felt the need to do this to be honest, as there are precedents for having more than one version of the same zone in the game, e.g. Helm's Hold the levelling zone and Reclamation Rock the Elemental Evil zone, which are both the same place but at different points in time.

I'm not too torn up about it right now, seeing how I completed the old Sharandar campaign on eight different characters and have plenty of memories of the place. But I'm not generally a fan of removing content from MMOs, and occasionally I do get all sentimental and experience cravings to revisit.

For example one of the new Sharandar quests mentions that Kehl Skywatcher now has a plaza named after her and is missed by everyone or something like that. This then made me go "oh no, did she die" and suddenly I wanted to do nothing more than be back in the Witch Fen and be asked to disperse magical fog or torch giant toadstools.

25/01/2021

Combat Change Mayhem

As mentioned previously, mod 20 was supposed to bring about some major gameplay changes (once again), but in a somewhat surprising move, Cryptic decided to just drop those on us early last week and without warning, with the actual new content being scheduled to come out later.

As is definitely a pattern whenever Cryptic changes the combat and/or stats, everything's kind of screwed up for the moment. My guildies and I did a Castle Never for the weekly challenge and suffered so many deaths, it was funny. You could argue that it's not a bad thing to tune the content up so that people can't just ignore or skip mechanics quite so easily anymore, but our group was between 30 and 40k item level, while the recommended minimum for that dungeon is 20k. No idea how a party with that would get through any of those fights.

Also, while my dps as a healer was never the greatest it's even worse now. I'll concede that healing itself felt better though, as damage was taken more consistently so that I could get into more of a rhythm healing it up.

On the plus side, Avernus appears to have been nerfed into the ground and we had a good time doing some hunts there. Just gotta sit tight and wait for Cryptic to rebalance things within the next couple of weeks/months - as usual.

11/01/2021

Aasimar Unlocked

This week I finally unlocked the last of the Redeemed Citadel rewards on my main, which means that I now have access to the Aasimar race. Too bad I like all my existing characters as they are and see little incentive to roll yet another alt until they release another class.

Some of the gear rewards from the milestones were also pretty good - for example I hadn't upgraded my neck and belt since Ravenloft. Sadly the main and off-hand remain un-upgradeable for me though as doing so requires drops from the higher-level Avernus hunts, something I just can't be bothered with at this point.

07/01/2021

Return to Sharandar

Only a few days after I complained about the lack of information about the upcoming module 20, I logged in after maintenance to find it being advertised on the launcher.

"Sharandar" continues the theme of naming confusion started with Avernus, as it's the name of the zone where Neverwinter's very first mod, Fury of the Feywild, took place.

My first reaction was actually to chuckle and think to myself that they must be running out of ideas to start revisiting older zones like that, but then I realised: Who cares? Fury of the Feywild was one of my favourite modules and I'll be quite happy to revisit the elves, so bring it on.

03/01/2021

Content Drought?

Today it hit me that it's now been more than six months since the release of the Avernus module. This is unprecedented, as until now Cryptic has always been very good about releasing new content every four months or so. I always considered the sheer amount of free content one of the game's strengths, even if there are other parts of its business model I don't like.

Looking back at their 2020 road map posted last year, we should have heard more about module 20 by now. Instead, the Redeemed Citadel event appears to have been extended indefinitely and as far as mod 20 goes, all the talk has only been about upcoming gameplay changes, with nothing about actual new content. Wonder what's going on there?