Neverwinter: A ravenous frosty treasure chest to call my own

astoriaYesterday marked the final day of my Neverwinter holding pattern.  Ever since the winter festival began, I effectively hit the pause button on the game, first to get the fawn companion for my cleric, and then to just have my two characters stay in the zone so that I could log in once a day and get may daily star of fortune.  18 days and 18 stars later, and I was able to buy the frosty mimic pet for each of my characters.  With that, I’m able to say goodbye to the festival and continue with my adventures.

I named the mimic Astoria (I’ve decided to start reusing City of Heroes zone names for pet names, just because) and it is quite welcome to join my Rogue on her journeys.  I really need a tanky pet to run defense from time to time, and from the skill descriptions I’m seeing, the mimic is quite tanky and taunty indeed.  Of course, it’s just a baby pet right now, barely level 4, and I’m dragging it through level 52 areas, so every fight is him gamely going up to a bad guy, taunting it with a lid slam, and then getting whacked to death in one blow.  But he’s learning and he’s leveling, and I have high hopes that one day he’ll be more useful than a mascot.

Currently I’m going through the Chasm zone, which is one of the more visually stunning areas I’ve seen in an MMO.  Parts of it reminded me of Inception, with the world rolled up partially.  It’s a place I dearly wish I could fly around and explore properly.

It’s also causing me to be really on my toes.  Oh Mylanta, I can die super-duper-quick these days.  I have my tricks and I know how to use them well, but in the wrong spot or against too many enemies, I will find myself losing the DPS vs. my health race.  At least it’s a flashy and fun death.

And so Neverwinter remains a strange anomaly for me in my gameplay.  I have pretty much no emotional investment in it.  I’m not connected to a good guild or any friends that play.  I don’t really crave it.  Yet it’s kind of a comfort food, an easy choice on any given night to log in and go a little further.  I’m already level 57 and will probably hit 60 without trying before the month is out.  When I get to the end of the zone chain, I don’t really know what I’ll do, because I’m not going to go on the dungeon gear treadmill.  I might just stop, as with Star Trek Online, and consider that an effective “game over.”

Knowing that, it doesn’t deter me from playing like I would elsewhere.  It’s a good filler for now, a substitute for the time and action-RPG feel that I used to have with Guild Wars 2.

Neverwinter: Choosing companions

Companions are simultaneously one of the most intriguing and one of the most frustrating aspects of Neverwinter, not to mention a subject that I’ve been pondering for a few days now.

They’re a cool idea, if not utterly unique to this game.  Every player can equip a companion to help round out his or her combat style.  Some companions tank, some heal, some DPS, some crowd control, and some merely buff stats.  Every companion levels up, can be equipped with gear, changes appearance at certain level milestones, and gives players a specific buff when equipped.  You can build up a stable of companions to rotate through, which is a good idea since the time spent training them can get lengthy.

Cryptic knows that companions are a big money maker for the game, which is why you can only buy basic (white) companions for in-game gold.  These only level up to 15, versus level 20 for green, level 25 for blue, and level 30 for purple.  Getting up to level 30 is attractive because it opens up a third companion skill that’s often quite helpful.

So the way Cryptic makes money on these is multi-fold.  First, to upgrade a companion’s quality to the next level takes a huge chunk of astral diamonds, which can either be graaaaadually ground out or paid for via Zen.  Then, there are companions that cost both astral diamonds and Zen, and naturally these are pretty darn good (although a purple companion on the Zen store is around $30-$35, so yeouch).  Some companions only come with Finally, special companions are a major attractor for the lockboxes, since you can’t get those any other way.

Now I’m pretty much a cheapskate when it comes to this, which means I’m the type of player that Cryptic probably hates: Invested in the game but very unwilling to drop money unless it’s a special occasion.  I did purchase a ghost companion for my rogue, but now that I’m working on a cleric, I’m not as inclined to do the same.

Fortunately, I have options.  I’m fortunate to have my account flagged as the hero of Neverwinter thingy, so every character I make gets a purple-quality panther from the get-go.  It’s a pretty straight-forward attack pet, but I am not complaining about getting a free purple.  Then I get the free white companion at level 15, which I chose a tanky guard.  I don’t think he’ll be useful in the high levels unless I can upgrade him, but it might be nice to have when I’m facing certain bosses.

I’m looking forward to the holiday event starting Thursday, since two of the rewards you can earn are companions (including a frosty mimic chest which looks awesome).  That’ll be my goal, since I missed out on getting the skeleton fighter from the Halloween festival.

For upgrading purposes, I’m being very diligent with both praying twice a day at altars (since you get two chunks of ADs that way) and working on my leadership profession on two characters.  I’m up to 69,000 ADs, which isn’t a ton, but at 300K I can take a white to a green.

While the animations and attacks by companions are cool, I do wish that they’d banter a bit with you a la SWTOR.  Maybe that’s too much to ask for this game, I don’t know.  More than that, I hope that some of their AI would get fixed.  Sometimes my companions just take too long to get into a fight, showing up right as I deliver a death blow or completely ignoring other enemies.  That’s less good.

Anyway, while companions might be a money pit — or a money web — a little patience in this area pays off.  At least there are options instead of a hard wall that only money can climb.

Neverwinter: Game of knives

RogueI decided that I couldn’t quite abandon my Trickster Rogue in Neverwinter just because a billion upstart Hunter Rangers were crowding into the DPS scene.  I do have a Cleric on deck at level 10, but I’ll leave her alone right now because I have more than enough to do with my TR.

I hit level 49, and while levels will soon be a worry of the past, there’s still a great amount of content ahead of me.  There’s at least four or five zones I’ve yet to clear, including the brand-new one.  Plus, there’s gear to collect, runes to equip, my artifact to level up, my companions to max out, astral diamonds to collect so that I can upgrade my companions even further, and so on.

The challenge curve of the game definitely is taking an uptick in these later zones, I must say.  For a good 30 levels, I was just breezing through content without pause, relying on lightning-fast DPS to cut through the enemies.  However, as of late the mobs started to hit really, really hard, sometimes taking a quarter or more of my health off with a swipe — and I have picked as many survival feats as possible.  The TR is definitely squishy and lacks the durability of the fighters or the healing potential of the cleric or the control aspect of the wizard.  So, as the name implies, all I have are a bag of tricks.

I’ve experimented with a lot of them, but what works for me are laying down decoys, doing AoE damage from stealth, and being able to quickly teleport behind an enemy when it’s launching a big frontal attack.  I have to rely a lot more on my companions, potions, and artifacts for health regeneration, but even then it’s not as potent as I’d like.

I had a really tough fight this past weekend against a sky pirate boss who not only had a lot of health but would constantly summon adds.  So there was a lot of breaking off from the main fight to tackle the adds while desperately trying not to get hit by any of them.  I won’t lie, it was a really sucky fight that took me about six tries to complete — and each failure was met with a three-minute jog through the instance back to the boss.

In the end, I had to use my level 15 cleric companion (who is still the only one offering direct heals even though those heals are less potent due to her current level cap) while rationing out my artifact (a heal-over-time) and the two remaining health potions in my inventory.  It was a real nail-biter, but I pulled it off and felt enormously proud of having done so.  It was a good balance of challenge and success, and I like feeling as though I’m starting to master this class.

I should do some research into builds sooner or later, because right now I’m just going on whatever I think is best, and I have a sinking suspicion that I’m overlooking a good combo or two.  Some of the skills seem pretty useless to me and I’m not entirely sure how to maximize the stealth/combat advantage mechanics.  Meeting the bad guys head-on is no longer an option, so I’ve got to adapt or die (many times).

Neverwinter: Shadowmantle arrives

“Hey, there must be a Ranger convention in town!”

~ Every Unoriginal Wise Guy in Zone Chat

Yesterday was a pretty big day for Neverwinter, as its second major content update, Shadowmantle, released.  The promise of module two is what got me playing the game again, and now that I’ve seen it, I have to say that this right here is an example of a really great update.

There is something for just about everyone here: the new Hunter Ranger class, alternate paragon paths for the other classes, the artifact system, the collections page, the Dread Ring zone, a high-level dungeon, a new UI for rune enhancements, and a lot of smaller quality-of-life improvements, such as allowing you to de-socket runes for gold instead of astral diamonds.

The Hunter Ranger is a big draw by virtue of the popularity of bow-using classes in MMOs and Neverwinter’s absence of one at launch.  I can understand why Cryptic would want it included, but I have to say that at this juncture, giving the game an insanely popular DPS class is not helping groups out at all.  Right now there are five classes that can devote themselves to DPS, two classes that can do tanking, and just one that can heal.  Neverwinter needs another healing class, stat, but I guess that’s not going to bring in the crowds like Legolas’ extended family.

I’m pretty impressed that Cryptic pushed this update out without monetizing the heck out of it.  Pretty much all of Shadowmantle is free, with Cryptic making money on new lockboxes and an optional Hunter Ranger pack.  Cryptic and Trion both have my respect as the most generous free-to-play operators out there right now.

I’m personally most excited about the artifacts, which are basically items that grant skills when equipped.  You can level them up and they each do impressive abilities, such as giving a nice heal-over-time and summoning a shopkeeper (which you can use as a vendor out of combat, or will do a brief attack if you’re in combat).  The artifact instance was pretty challenging for my level 47, so I’m thinking it scales.  It looked pretty dang cool, with floating skulls and platforms and the like.

I also like the collections page, just because it’s a nice index of where you can find gear, companions, etc., in the game.  More MMOs need in-game utilities like this that keep us from having to search out-of-game wikis.

What I’m a little bummed about is my poor Trickster Rogue.  I was all excited about her new Whisperknife paragon path, but once I used my free respec to check it out, I’m having a hard time seeing how it can be a viable ranged damage dealer.  There are plenty of skills that have to do with throwing daggers, but you can’t really do so with impunity — and in testing, those mobs close range with you quick, making combat a lot of excessive kiting and piddly damage dealing.  That’s disappointing; I was really hoping for a ranged knife thrower, but I may have to go back to my old build.  Which will now cost me.

On top of that, I’m keenly aware of just how much more crowded the DPS contingent in the game got, with everyone and their sibling rolling Rangers.  Part of me just wants to abandon my Rogue and start over with a Cleric so that I’ll have more options to get into groups when I want to.  What I do know is that I don’t have the time to keep bouncing back and forth between classes — I need to stick to one and be content.

Neverwinter: Gaming with my mind set to “idle”

thiefAs I’ve said, I’ve been spending more time than expected in Neverwinter as of late, racking up 36 levels in a couple of weeks with my (blind) Trickster Rogue.

I think that a great deal of my enjoyment is that the leveling track is pretty mindless.  Activities in MMOs can easily be divided into those that require active thinking (such as map navigation, puzzle solving, tricky fights, jiggering stats) and reflexive play.  Even my physical reactions change depending — leaning forward while I game for active thinking, leaning back when I can put my mind on idle.  Neverwinter, for the most part, is the latter for me.  Follow the sparkly trail.  Loot treasure chests.  Use a half-dozen or so skills to beat up the next group.  Loot some more.  Yeah, it’s pretty much a hack-n-slasher.

The pace of progression through areas goes at a rapid clip, battles have a visceral oomph to them, and the shinies are all pretty attractive.  It’s fun gearing out my character, but especially fun to juggle my companions as I train them and use them for different situations.

What I haven’t done, really, is engage in any group activities.  I’ve been playing Neverwinter in short bursts, usually like 15 minutes here and there, and that doesn’t lend itself well to group dungeon runs.  I would like to do so in the future if Neverwinter proves to be sticky, but for now I’m pretty content just doing my bite-sized adventures.

This reminds me a lot of how I used to turn to Tetris and Asteroids as a kid when I just wanted to get in a zen trance while I game.  It may not be the most intellectually stimulating activity, but it’s so darn relaxing to do.  Each fight becomes its own little challenge to see how quickly and efficiently I can dispatch the bad guys.

Different cars on the MMO train

occupiedShort thoughts on several MMOs this morning!

The Secret World

First of all, hilarious detail in the Mansion scenario that I noticed last night.  In the upstairs survivor room, there’s a little section that they’ve walled off with the sign “Occupied.”  If you look behind there, you’ll see a homemade chamber pot.

Poop jokes!  You’re never too old for them!

We had another good group scenario night running solo and duo elites with full groups.  That feels like a good difficulty balance, especially since we were able to walk away from them with most survivors still standing.  Lots of augment drops too.

I was particularly happy because I got enough oreos to put me over the top for my Tokyo certification.  I guess now I can start saving up for that purple shotgun!

Lord of the Rings Online

As probably everyone knows, Turbine delayed the Helm’s Deep launch until tomorrow.  That sucks a little bit, but oh well, it’s just two days and I know a lot of people still needed to get a pre-order or use their Bounder’s tokens.  It’s not all about me, so if it’s helping others, I’m happy.

I logged in to make a new outfit for my Captain.  Man, I should’ve taken a picture of it.  Oh, coulda woulda shoulda.  It’s awesome.  You’re going to have to imagine it: Think of stuff all over my body except I’m a female and it’s all blue and swirly and there’s a cool cape and some metal.  Got it?

Neverwinter

Why is Neverwinter so dang compelling these days?  Maybe it’s just what I needed right now, a stress-free romp through unspoiled content.  I’m cooking up an article about things I’m finding attractive here, but suffice to say that it’s kind of the Cryptic formula: fast leveling, easy entry, and fun little systems.