Neverwinter – That Was Different

In the previous post is a picture of my character.  The purple items are tier 1/2.  As you can see, there are a few slots that I need to fill out.  The cool thing about the Queue system (very similar to LFG) is that it tells you up front what to expect as loot in a given dungeon.  Seeing as how I need a belt and a rings, I queued up for Cragmire Crypts.  I also queued up for a few more dungeons (you can queue as many as you’d like) but CC prompted me before I had a chance to add too many more.

A side note here, the game has ongoing events during the day that add extra rewards.  Sometimes it’s extra PvP currency, sometimes extra XP from the Foundry and a few more.  One in particular is called Dungeon Delves.  This one guarantees a personal chest at the end of a dungeon, if you ENTER the dungeon during the event.  Could take you 4 hours to finish but the chest will be there.  I’ve only done one, but it gave me a decent ring.  The ring was bind on pickup though, hopefully this isn’t always the case.  Would hate to trash repeats when I could put them on the auction house.  (gamer says do this, the design freak says this is a bad idea).  Without the event, there are only 2 drops a dungeon.

I had mentioned a few times in the past that grouping in Neverwinter was tough in that a few items were quite different than the standard WoW seems to have put up.  Threat is extremely hard to manage on multiple enemies.  During boss fights, Cleric will take nearly all the attacks because of this.  The days of just AE blasting enemies are gone since boss trash are practically mini-bosses in themselves.  Also, the group finder tool is incapable of balancing groups outside of a healer and a tank.  I had one with 3 rogues, two of whom dropped right away.  The queue system is also unable to add more people to an on-going run and since you can’t teleport people to the group, it effectively kills any run as soon as someone drops.

So, grouping is harder since people have to pay attention.  Healing is tougher since you’re going to get hit a lot (I healed nearly 3 million the last run and average HP is ~20-25K per player).  Chaos is higher and you need to better use your skills or things will go bad and go very very bad.  The thing about today is that the players at 60 are not casual.  To be at 60 today means you put in a fair amount of time and that raises the skill bar a tad.  I am certain this will change with time, as it has with every other game.  Bell curve and whatnot.

This run went well.  Very well in fact.  Enemies died quickly.  We only had 3 people die to bad luck.  The last boss was a mess mind you but he died and none of us did.  The entire run at max level took about 40 minutes.  I remember doing it while leveling and it took well over an hour.  Made some new contacts, had a blast.  Would do it again in a heartbeat.

And here’s the real kicker.  The Queue system works instantly during a dungeon delve.  If that event is not active, you could wait 30 minutes.  It’s crazy what incentives will do.

Neverwinter – Max Level

I hit 60 today and in the last zone no less.  I cannot remember the last time I leveled to max and required to do all the content.  I should mention I did a lot of skirmishes in the lower levels and some foundry missions from time to time.

Neverwinter Cleric at 60

Purplez

The picture is from the web portal to the game.  Once you hit 60, the “end game” opens up and it’s gated with a GearScore (yes, that’s the name).  It’s a score that adds your defense and offense together.  When I hit 60, I didn’t have anywhere near enough GS to enter any top tier dungeon.  So I did what anyone would do, I went shopping!

Every purple item you see on my character was bought from the auction house.  Total cost was a bit under 100K Astral Diamonds.  Prices are all over the place too.  I got a helm for 9K but there were some for 200K up as well, with marginally better stats.  Now my gear score is ~7700 and I can access all but 5 dungeons.  A few more dungeon delves and I hope to gear up further.

Leveling a Cleric is odd.  You are not good at dealing damage and healing can be confusing since it’s mostly over time.  The 40s were tough in that I couldn’t damage or heal really well, so I was just running around avoiding attacks.  At level 50, I got Astral Shield.  This is an AE shield that reduces damage by what seems 50% AND gives you regeneration.  I won’t say it’s impossible to die, since I managed a few times, but it makes a whole lot of content trivial.

I did like the latter zones as more and more enemies have AE attacks and more of them group together.  One “pack” had a giant and 4 elementals.  Each has a massive AE attack, some with knockback.  Bad timing and you could get hit in the air for a few shots, land then get smacked with lava death.  It was like being stun-locked in PvP.  Tons of fun though!

For those that are wondering about the F2P portion, I can say that I leveled to 60 without spending a dime.  I could have mind you, for mounts and respecs and all that stuff.  The world is so instanced though, that a 110% mount makes all of 30 seconds of difference on any given map.  They look pretty, granted.

Will I spend money?  Yes.  A respec is coming and once the new content comes out I’ll drop some for that as well.

Neverwinter – Better Cleric Fight

As I mentioned in the previous video post, I’ve swapped a few skills out. The most noticeable one is Astral Shield – the blue stuff on the ground.  Sweet bells this skill is overpowered.  It has a 90%+ uptime, reduces damage by what seems 50% and provides a massive regeneration rate to health.  I spent nearly the entire fight solo fighting the boss and never had to heal once because of this skill (and a bit of Forgemaster’s Flame).

Neverwinter – Yet Another Video

I think I figured it out.  Companions can’t “dodge” attacks like regular players can.  If there’s a giant red spot on the ground, companions act like cats chasing laser beams.  Smoosh.  This big boy killed me twice before this video.  He came close a few more times as you can see.  Pretty sure I’ll be changing my skill lineup for the next boss.

I’m 52 now (linear levels, about 4 per night), so only a few more levels to go.  2 zones methinks.

Neverwinter – Cleric Fight

Another video of my travels as a Cleric.  It’s getting much harder to keep the companion alive.  The boss after this one, a giant wolf, pretty much 1 shot my companion.  Sure made it fun!

Neverwinter – Cleric Fight Video

I did a bit of questing last night and the final solo boss of the zone was this guy.  The video gives you an idea of what mid-level Cleric combat looks like.  It’s much, much more active than any other MMO you’ve likely played.

Group combat is very similar, if not more active due to threat issues.

Neverwinter Pit Fight

Astral Diamonds come into the system through Daily Quests and events.  Since the AD are used to buy everything on the AH and do a wide majority of character customization, you need lots of em.  Heck, the best pet in the game costs 980K AD and at level 38 I’m sitting on 50K.

The skirmish event was on, meaning that completing one gave me a chest with 1,000 AD.  When this event is NOT active, even as a Cleric, I can wait 20 minutes to get into a queue.  When the event is active, it’s under 5 minutes.  My tank, level 18, seems to insta-queue no matter the time.  The daily quest for skirmishes gives you 2,000AD but past level 30 you need to complete 2 of them.  This is hard to do when there isn’t an event. Plus, if you’re on a quests and get into a queue, you lose all non-overworld progress.  Overworld meaning the 15 or so locations you see on the big map, which is only about 10% of the content.  Last night my queue came up when I was on the last boss on a hard quest.  Hard to restart :/

Anyways, here’s a quick video of the current skirmish someone else took since I didn’t get FRAPS installed until after I was done.

The entire event is in a room that my AE spell covers 25% of the space.  As usual, the last boss has what seems to be infinite timed add spawns – in this case 1 caster and 2 wolves.  The run I had last had such poor coordination that there were always 2 casters up aiming directly for me and 2-3 wolves chasing me around.  And no tank on either run, in fact one had 2 wizards and the second had 3.  Fun times!

Since I hit level 35, I’ve gained a new AE heal spell and my gameplay has changed dramatically because of it.  Group content is harder, I have more powerful skills that dramatically affect the gameplay and it’s like a new game is opening up.  What a massive difference from every other MMO out there.

The downside is that nearly every group I’ve run with has had at least one person just quit the group and due to the in-game mechanic change and they are listed as disconnected and the spot stays blank.  I could use that extra body.  Neverwinter seriously needs a vote kick option or some way to manage this.  Grouping tools should be a priority.

I should mention that gear drops in the game are a strange affair.  I think WoW has brainwashed people to think that Green << Blue <<<< Purple.  Here are comparative items, at my level.  I mean there’s a difference, sure but it isn’t massive.

Neverwinter - Blue Item

Neverwinter - Green Item

The fun part here is that since people don’t understand that gear is replaced in a day and that there is a massive price difference (800 vs 50K), you can make a pretty penny if you play the cards right.  The downside is that people roll /need on gear that they can’t use.  Greedy buggers.

The Trinity’s Crutch

Last night I ran a dungeon in Neverwinter as a Cleric.  Throne of Idris.  We had 1 Wizard, 2 Great Weapon Fighters and 1 Rogue.  That’s right, no tank.  I died a fair bit and the last boss was a 10 minute+ fight (well, on the 3rd attempt) of running around after the Wizard left and the GWF died, leaving us with 3 to kill a 5 man boss.  I danced and jived and sucked back healing potions and screamed when the boss finally dropped dead.  It was a ton of fun.  It was also a level 40 dungeon that took over 90 minutes.

I’ve been gaming for quite a long time and 99% of it deals with combat.  Sometimes this is a war of words but often with someone taking a blunt instrument to the head.  In both cases, combat is a combination of taking an attack, recovering from the attack and giving your own attack.  Hence the Holy Trinity concept of Tank, Healer and DPS.  Other than Guild Wars 2, I can’t think of any class-based game that didn’t explicitly focus on this trinity.  Sandboxes (EvE, UO, DF, etc…) are not included since most players will build a character with all 3 facets.

In older versions of D&D (pre v4), you had the concept of trinity but a lack of good tools.  You needed a great GM and a decent ruleset to make it work.  Or really good players.  A bad GM would send everyone after the Cleric or Wizard, then slowly choke down the rest of the group.  MMOs brought the concept of Threat as a mechanic to the table, where players were ranked, based on actions, and the monsters attacked the player at the top of the list.  At lower skill levels, this works rather well since DPS and Tanks and Healers are somewhat even in terms of output, since the scale is small.  At higher levels, as is evident in WoW, DPS will outpace a tank’s threat by exponential factors.  Inversely, as tanks get better, healers have less threat since they have less to heal.  Until that point, Healers are wearing “kick me” signs.

Developers try to address these issues with 3 tools.  The first is a threat modifier, where you do more/less threat per action based on your skills or class.  Tanks typically want more, healers a whole lot less and DPS can be used as the middle ground.  Using WoW again as an example, Vengeance provides a DPS boost to a tank based on the damage they take.  This gives tanks the ability to hold threat against tons of enemies while DPS is going wild.

The second is with a taunt.  A taunt does one of two things.  Either it gives you a massive boost of threat or it puts you at the top of the threat list.  The former only seems like the latter when you’re close to the top.  I’m still trying to figure out if Neverwinter uses the 2nd type or not.

The third method is called a threat wipe, and it’s usually seen as dirty pool by players.  This is where a boss is going smooth and all of a sudden he forgets everything that’s happened and you need to restart the whole threat dance.

I play a Cleric and a Tank in Nevewinter.  Again, Open Beta disclaimer.  Threat in the game is currently broken and it’s enough to reduce my enjoyment of the multiplayer aspect of the game.  As a Cleric, one bug fix is that I need to remove all my gear then re-equip it to have a chance to survive any group encounter.  The way the Cleric works is through mostly Heal over Time spells.  Given that there are continual spawns on a boss, any boss encounter I’m going to get swamped with enemies, so I tend to gather them up and run to the middle pile, hoping the tank can get them.  Which isn’t often.  As a Tank, I have a 15 second taunt that seems to make the enemies turn to me, then turn away after 1 hit.  My threat building skills work in a small cone in front of me and for them to really work, I need to block all attacks (due to the mechanics of the Mark skill).  Since blocking means not moving, I can’t really pick up the adds and keep the boss on me.  I’ve worked a few things out so far but jeebus is it ever hard to keep threat active.

As much as I enjoyed the dungeon run last night, there were 3 or 4 times where I just wanted to quit the run from sheer frustration.  The thing that kept me going were the other players and the attitude of “damn this game, we’re going to beat it”.  I ended the run with no drops, next to no experience gain, 90 minutes out of pocket but 3 new names added to the friends list.  Something to cheer about after all.

Also, I need to get FRAPS re-installed…

Neverwinter – Story and Lore

I know I said I’d get to the Foundry but Tipa’s impression post got me thinking more about the odd feeling I get in Neverwinter.

If you’ve played any recent game, then you’re familiar with the typical storyline.  Batman needs to stop the Joker, Jim needs to stop the Zerg, players need to defeat Crucia.  From start to end, there’s a cohesive story that you’re a part of, either as the main protagonist or as a side-kick.  Games where you’re a side-kick are usually stinkers, since you’re lacking the power to change the game.

MMOs are really similar to this in that they need to provide a Hero’s Journey – from small beginnings come great things.  You start off as a plucky hero (willing or not), fight your way through hordes of minions and eventually lay waste to some big bad wolf at the end.  Expansion comes out, new story, new path.  Somehow my badge of honor that shows I killed Deathwing doesn’t impress the monkeys who are 1 level higher for some reason.  I digress.

The thing about this main story is that there are plenty of smaller stories along the path.  Each “zone” has a particular flavor and point.  Save the trees, keep the boars away and whatnot.  Individually they are fine but the stories combined create lore.  This is used not only to drive you forward in a game but to frame the world ahead of you.  If in one zone I need to skins bears and the next I’m hunting zombies, there’s a distinct lack of cohesiveness and the lore becomes hard to follow.  WoW has amazing success because the lore is so consistent.  EvE has success since the lore is player created.  At any point, you can look back and see “this is what’s happened so far”.

Back to Neverwinter.  The game has no lore, it only has a setting.  I’m in Faerun, got it.  Why am I attacking these skeletons again?  Who are they working for?  Each zone has an underlying story but with 20+ zones, none of them seem to link to each other at all.  This is where I think the D&D license wasn’t truly understood.  When I sit down at a tabletop, I am playing my character across multiple sessions and multiple adventures.  Sure I might be in the North killing Giants one day and on a boat in the South chasing pirates the next but the cohesion between the settings is player based.  I explicitly know this because I chose to go on that boat (or lost a bet).  Neverwinter has no such choice.  I am going through multiple campaigns with the same player but zero other linkages between them.  It also doesn’t help that the writing is atrocious.

neverwinter demon

Cool. Who are you?

It’s too late now to ret-con the story from start to finish but I am hoping that the first module released addresses this issue.  Right now, my best bet for a consistent and coherent story is the Foundry.  A few of them are series with promise.  If you’re playing Neverwinter, give Old Jerry’s Saga a shot to see how the absurd can be a valid critique of the common.

Neverwinter – Character Progression

Just to re-iterate on all previous Neverwinter posts, the game is in Open Beta/soft launch. While the details might change, the systems are pretty much set in stone.

The basic game gives you two character slots.  I have a Devoted Cleric (healer) and a Guardian Fighter (tank).  The former is level 30, the latter level 11.  I am thinking about buying more, to give the Rogue a shot but time will tell how that works out.  Leveling (after the Foundry nerf) is done primarily through single player core quests.  Skirmishes give next to no experience and I only run them during the events to get the extra 1000 Astral Diamonds at the end.  Dungeons give decent experience but take 45 minutes and the loot system is pretty broken right now (as per my last post).  Some Foundry missions give some decent experience and loot, plus are easily repeatable.  It’s entirely possible to level solely in the Foundry but I am playing a themepark and want to enjoy the ride.

To character progression now.  After the tutorial you’re level 4 with a power in each slot.  Each level gained from that point gives you a Power Point to spend in a given skill.  Additional powers are unlocked after you’ve spent enough points (5, 10, 15, 20, etc…)  Every 10 levels you get extra stat points (STR, INT, etc..) for your character, though they have a somewhat negligible impact on the game.  Level 10 gives you access to professions and the start of the Feat system.  Similar to Power Points, you get 1 every level  and can spend them on passive boosts in a tiered structure.  At 30 you get access to a specialization (currently only 1 exists per class) and you get to spend your Feat Points on Paragon abilities.  These unlock more passive skills, in a tiered format but only along a single path (of 3).  At level 16, you get a companion that either heals, tanks or damages.  Tank is a really good bet for everyone, though if you are a tank, get the healer.  Max level for a character is currently 60.

Each class has a particular Paragon path focus to choose.   My cleric can either go for DPS, healing or buffs.  Powers have 3 ranks each, and you can only equip a small subset at any given time.  So my Cleric has 2 passives, 2 dailies, 3 encounters and 2 at-will powers selected for solo play and a different set for group play – so a minimum of 14 points and a maximum of 28 to get everything you might need for both roles.  You can reset these choices for a Zen fee (the F2P currency).  You have enough points to spent in the Powers without really worrying about “mistakes” but the Feat/Paragon portion is lot less forgiving since they are all passive abilities and can have a dramatic impact on gameplay.  The forums are a great place to read up on the choices.

Abilities are broken down into quite a few categories.  Stats, the core numbers D&D uses for Strength, Dexterity and so on, are rather fixed along your path.  It’s unlikely you’ll exceed 26 points in your core stat by level 60.  The other abilities are a different matter and they work with a “ratings” system, where you don’t gain 1% crit, you gain 50 critical rating, which depending on your level, gives you specific % increase.

  • Power – Increases damage and healing
  • Critical – Increases the odds of dealing a critical strike
  • Armor Penetration – A % increase in damage to enemies with armor
  • Recovery – Increases the speed of Encounter power recovery
  • Movement – Increases movement speed
  • Defense – Decreases the damage you take
  • Deflect – Increase odds of blocking damage entirely
  • Regeneration – Increased life regeneration
  • Life Steal – A % of damage you deal is converted to healing
  • Maximum Health – Increases health

Gear can come with 3 of these abilities on it and up to two enchantment slots.  The slots use gems with the same stats but come in three flavors – offense, defense and utility.  For example, my Cleric would aim for gear with Power, Critical and Recovery and slot Power/Recovery for Offense, Defense for Defensive and Movement for Utility.  My Tank is likely to go for Defense, Recovery and Life Steal.

I personally think that the gear point spread is too high right now and that makes gear way more valuable than it should be when it comes to upgrades.  From one item to the next might have a 10% increase in power.  The game also “recommends” gear upgrades but this is based on adding all the stats together to give you a GearScore (yes, that’s the name).

In the end, the question remains “does my character progress?”.  The answer is a yes and even though it uses an old “talent” system, the fact that you get something at level up is a great carrot on the stick for progress.  I’ll get a new skill and try it out.  I’ll get a new piece of gear pretty frequently too.  There’s always a feeling of there being more and that keeps people playing.  I know I’m still having a blast.