Neverwinter: Portals to hell make the best selfie moments

After flipping between new characters and alts in my return to Neverwinter, I finally settled on leveling up a new Dwarf Chaos Warlock. I don’t think I really gave this class much of a shot before, because if I had, I would have realized how great it handles. I’ve really come to love it, a nice mix of durability, AOE spells, and ranged casting. With pets.

And now that I’m level 37 (as I write this), I can say with some degree of confidence that I want to see this character through the game. I’m doing stuff I haven’t ever done in Neverwinter before — specifically campaigns — now that I’ve done research into how to play the game and best use my time in it.

The first campaign that you can access in Neverwinter is Acquisitions Incorporated, a relatively new campaign that was done in collaboration with the Penny Arcade folk. You can see their stamp all over the series, including their art, voices, and humor. I like humor in my MMOs, to be honest. Sometimes they take themselves too seriously.

This one? Not so serious. The orientation quest for AI included riding a cart through a theme park dark ride experience, although it doesn’t quite go to plan. As a huge fan of dark rides, I was all about this quest — and a little sad that it aborts the ride early on.

At least it kept me chuckling and looking at the various details in these quests. Neverwinter sometimes surprises me with its environmental storytelling, although it can be easy to miss it when you focus on following the sparkle trail with tunnel vision.

Also, I learned the difference between real gold and fake gold. They’re both worth something? Fake gold is surprisingly expensive, or so I’m told.

As far as I can figure, campaigns are basically a whole bunch of dailies that you grind out to get currency that can power up a reward track on the UI. Since the rewards — gear and stat boons — are pretty desirable, it’s worth doing. Just a lot of time gating and patience involved.

No story behind this picture — I just liked how my character looked in the red light and shadows.

So yeah, it’s going pretty great in Neverwinter. I don’t think it quite has the “meat” that I look for in MMOs, but it’s a really great game to sit back and relax while playing at the end of a busy day.

Neverwinter: Catching up with an old friend

You all know me fairly well by now, and so you’ll know that I have this sort-of tradition of completely starting over in an MMO if I return to it after a long time away. There’s something comforting in beginning anew and learning everything from the ground-up, especially if a lot has changed. Naturally, that’s exactly what I did in Neverwinter.

But after a play session or two as a novice Trickster Rogue, I turned to a tactic that I’ve used even more infrequently, which is to use that new character to get reacclimated to an MMO — and then switch back over to my old high-level toon. I kept looking at my TR from 2016 and thinking, why let all that go to waste? She’s level 58, collected some really nice companions that I worked hard to get, and it’s not as though she’s going to be lacking fresh content to explore.

So I did just that — switched over and spent an hour or so sorting out inventory, remaking her build, and getting caught up on what she was doing and where I should go. I had left her in the middle of the Chasm (level 50ish content) back in 2016, and so it was time to get that wrapped up. At first, it was a bit rough until I figured out a good build and rotation, and then I started wiping the floor with groups of mobs as fast as I could. With this class, it’s all about doing unto them before they have a chance to retaliate.

As the lone copyright holder on “Syp” and all Syp-related naming conventions, I had to sic my lawyers on this player who I saw wandering by. I’m anticipating at least $350,000 in damages and mental anguish alone.

Yeah, it was pretty good to be back in the saddle in Neverwinter, so to speak. I still have no idea about half of the stuff I should be upgrading and doing to improve my character, but for now… I’ll follow the sparkly trail, do the quests, and see what comes back to my memory.

What really cheered me up was reuniting with my old ghost companion. I had forgotten about her! I know she took a whole lot of effort to earn from a festival back in the day, but that was time well spent, because I still get a kick out of seeing her possess bad guys and using them to clobber their friends.

Neverwinter: Many knives make light work

Neverwinter may be one of the few MMORPGs that tells you, right there on the character selection screen, when the last time you played any given character. Because of this, I know without looking it up on this blog that my last *serious* character of merit was retired back in 2016 at level 58. It seems high time to come back, especially as I’ve been feeling the call of Cryptic lately with its upcoming Torchlight Frontiers and Magic Legends.

Plus, wouldn’t it be neat to actually get through the whole game? I’ve never done that. I should do that.

After a bit of class deliberation and experimentation, I went with the character that I previously had as my main — a Trickster Rogue named Myfanwy. It was a fun slice-and-dice class, and I liked the AOE fields it could throw down. Neverwinter loves to throw crowds of mobs at you, so taking them all down at once instead of one at a time is preferable.

Of course, things have changed mightily since 2016. My old feats were… gone. The tutorial intro was redone. What is this crazy world?

But really, it was the same old Neverwinter in its core, a kind of mindless experience of following the sparkly trail, slaughtering tons of mobs, getting loot, and generally enjoying the sights along the way. It’s kind of the MMO experience that I crave right now.

And it helps to get a boost at the start with several account unlocks that I’ve accrued over the years. This giant armored spider may be my most favorite starter mount ever. I also have three companions from the get-go. I kinda feel spoiled here, guys.

The only downside here is that while I haven’t pushed far into the mid-to-end game more than once in my entire gaming career, I’ve done the first 30 levels so many times in the past. A lot of this feels like retreading very worn ground, and I tried to push quickly through it so that I wouldn’t get bogged down in the familiar before getting to the relatively fresh. It helped that there was a double experience booster running on the server at the time.

This sight in a solo dungeon made me chuckle the more I looked at it. So they hung three guys — as the nooses testify — right alongside the smoked meats? I don’t know if it’s suggesting that the orcs were taking spare limbs as snacks, but the fact that they managed to do this without dislodging most of the bones is impressive.

I also appreciated the voiced quest bestowals, many of which continue past clicking “accept” so that you can catch up on the flavor text while starting to head your way to the quest objective. This graveyard quest, about a grumpy lich who is looking for a new home, prompted another laugh.

Cryptic calls it quits on the Foundry, and that is a shame

Man I am getting sick of promising features (and games that contain them) being shuttered. If MMORPG developers are ever going to crack the problem of ravenous gamers consuming content at a blazing pace, then chances are player creativity is going to be the tool to solve it.

We’ve seen this in plenty of places, from the successful (Minecraft, Roblox, Trove) to the sunsetted (Landmark, City of Heroes). Players like to create and many would leap at a chance to expand their favorite game worlds via their handmade quests, so why not facilitate that?

To its credit, Cryptic’s long been in the player created content business. City of Heroes did spawn Mission Architect to let supers make their own maps, and while that was a problematic system, it was popular enough to make it into both Neverwinter and Star Trek Online as The Foundry. I’d only briefly engaged in both ends of this system (creation and consumption), but I liked that it was there and felt that so much more could be done to sift the really good created quests from the cruddy ones that littered up the place.

But after the first year or so of these games’ operation, you could tell that Cryptic didn’t really have the heart to keep The Foundry in the forefront. It did make some half-hearted attempts to promote it, but after a while it was demoted to one of those systems that you know will never get an update or a revision. It was a withering appendage.

And now that appendage is gone, as the studio is ending both games’ Foundries. The official excuse is that the people who helped to create and maintain this system are no longer with the company and it’s a pain to update. There’s a ring of truth to that, but it also sounds like a convenient excuse to do what Cryptic always does — which is to get frustrated with a system that isn’t working out as well or is as popular as it hoped and then just can it with vague promises of maybe doing a better version in the future. STO players are still waiting on that exploration system, by the way.

I’m not crying buckets over this, but I have to say that it is a real shame that both of these games are losing this. For starters, plenty of players — such as the MMO blogosphere’s Tipa! — put in countless hours crafting their own narrative experiences to share with others. This sunset wipes all of that work out while the games endure.

Also, this isn’t an idea that should be given up on. I think Daybreak had it right when it saw that player-created content was a rich resource to be harvested, and even though the Landmark/EverQuest Next experiment didn’t pan out, that doesn’t mean the studio was wrong about this. The Foundry needed help, maybe even a total rewrite. But you look at Star Trek Online, which might get one new mission every two or three months, and you can see that there’s a real need for more content to fill the gaps.

How these player-created content systems can be wielded, promoted, and utilized in MMOs is a speculation essay for another day, but suffice to say that some serious thinking and planning would need to be done to avoid gross exploits while promoting quality.

In the meanwhile, these games have one less item to put on their feature list. And while Cryptic may deny it, it’s a pretty significant loss for the potential of both titles.

Neverwinter: Ironclad

So with the initial rush and excitement of Battle for Azeroth settling down — and my own efforts to settle into a new house and area — I felt that this was a great time to shake myself out of what had become a one-game routine for a good month there and diversify again once more. While I’ll continue my adventures in WoW and LOTRO (so much more to do in both) as well as group, I feel the need for new characters and horizons.

As such, I’m going to be rolling up brand-new characters in a few other MMOs this fall, starting with Neverwinter. Yes, Neverwinter, the popcorn game that might be as non-nutritious as it is weirdly flavorful. I keep getting reminded that there’s so very much content in this game that I’ve never seen. I blame MOP’s Larry for this recent foray, because he was talking up this game after spending time in the latest module at PAX.

I still can’t believe how few classes Cryptic has added to this MMO over the years, but I figured that I would try something different and go with a buff-happy Oathbound Paladin this time around. Race? Boring human this time (those racial bonuses are nice!), although I made her a little stocky on purpose to emphasize her power and muscles.

While I waited for the game to update, I amused myself by taking advantage of several free giveaways for in-game goodies. I mean, why not? Free is free if you’re using a disposable email address.

Between those and several promotional items that Cryptic winged (wung? wanged chun?) my way over the years, a new character is set up from the get-go with some nice items. I just really appreciate a purple companion and my ginormous spider mount, which might just be one of my all-time favorite MMO mounts.

High-five, zombie lich queen! Looking sharp and pointy there!

So while there is a ton of material that I’ve never encountered in this game to date, the problem is that I *have* gone through the opening 20 levels or so numerous times (and then keep drifting away and deleting characters so as to start over next time). I know I have to push through the ultra-familiar before I get to the new stuff and possibly arrive at a point where I can consume the fresh releases when they come off the line. Probably a pipe dream, but it’s a nice thought.

Anyway, after doing a little research on a capable soloing character, I went with the self-healing, self-buffing Paladin to give me the best prospect for adventuring in high levels without as much frustration as I was getting from my former squishy Rogue.

How does one put this much armor on a giant spider? Does it sit still for it every day? Feels a little redundant, since there’s an exoskeleton and all that, but oh well.

Over the course of a good night’s play session, I raced through the introduction quests and deep into the Blacklake District parts. Having the sparkle trail to follow, as I’ve said many times, is actually really relaxing, like following a GPS and not worrying about getting turned around. I can wander away as much as I like and not have to fret that I’ll get lost. That creates a pretty optimized and yet flexible play experience, which I appreciate.

Got to say that this guy’s pavilion was a little immersion breaking. And by “little” I mean “seriously, there’s the logo of the game right up there and everything, that’s not subtle, guys.” Kind of hard to peg the tone of Neverwinter, but I think that there is this underappreciated subversive humor that runs through the game. I’ll have to keep my eye out for that.

Steamy sorcery in Neverwinter

People do rash things when frustrated. They also take action when frustrated. It’s better than just sitting and wallowing.

I was getting a little steamed at the whole DDO scene last week, as I found it just about impossible to find a guild. I always had memories of DDO being a pretty solid community, maybe not LOTRO levels but active and friendly. That was, of course, a half-decade ago, and a lot can change, especially as a game slides down into obscurity and bleeds off all but the most faithful and devoted. Sometimes those smaller MMOs have just the best people, and sometimes they cultivate elitism that becomes daunting to newbies and returners.

I won’t go into the whole saga, but I kept putting out feelers to interesting-looking guilds and kept getting ignored or shut down because I wasn’t high level enough or hadn’t raided or what have you. Nobody was advertising in general chat. I applied to two guilds, never heard back from them. At that point frustration was brewing and I had to take a break… and Neverwinter popped into mind. Because a lateral jump to another Dungeons & Dragons game? Minds work in weird ways, but at the moment it felt right. Cryptic games are like popcorn experiences — mindless, enjoyable, soothing, and not necessarily the deepest.

For this 2017 experiment, I rolled up a new class to me: a Tiefling Scourge Warlock. I think I tried it for about two seconds a year ago but nothing past the tutorial. I’m glad I stuck with it this time, because I’m really grooving on it so far. I don’t have a firm grasp on its mechanics — there’s a lot to do with curses — but she gets glowy healing spheres, the occasional soul puppet pet, and some hard-hitting spells.

And wouldn’t you know, within the first ten minutes of hanging out in the opening area, I had at least three guilds reach out and talk with me. I ended up with the friendliest-seeming one of the bunch and felt mildly vindicated about the switch (I’m not writing off DDO, mind you, but I’m allowed my moments of being a little bit petty).

I’m very glad for some previous package bonuses that roll over to any new character, granting me some premium bonuses, like a giant spider mount, purple-quality panther pet, and other odds and ends. It helps to forestall the desire or need to spend money in the game store, that’s for sure. Plus, my wife won’t come within 20 feet of my computer when the spider mount is out, so now I can duck housework with a video game.

I like how this guy’s collection of art has not one, but two pictures of the same guy holding the same skull, just in different-colored clothes. In-game art always amuses and interests me, for some reason.

Anyway, no great tales of derring-do in Neverwinter quite yet, mostly because I’m going back through the opening zones that I’m quite familiar with. There has been a lot added to the game over the years, so I’m sure there’s plenty to see, but I’ll have to get up to level 50 before that starts to happen.

You know what’s one little thing about this game I like? All quests and NPCs are voiced — and you can keep listening to them even as you run away. Even if the voice acting isn’t always the best, it gets me to pay attention and gives me something to listen to as I dash off to the next objective.

7 MMO cosmetic wardrobe systems, ranked

Here’s a little thought exercise I’ve been going through lately after having a discussion about cosmetic systems on the MOP podcast. We had been asked which was the best MMO wardrobe system, which I initially thought was an easy answer… and then, long after the podcast was done, started to revise my response. Ultimately, I asked myself how I would rank the systems present in the MMOs I’ve played the most in the last, oh, five years or so, and this is what I came up with going from best to worst.

WildStar

There’s a lot of factors that go into a truly great cosmetic wardrobe system, and believe it or not, WildStar checks off most of those boxes. It’s got great armor design, plenty of cosmetic pieces, a system that remembers loot you’ve collected, multiple outfit slots, two dye channels, fun dyes, and an accessible system (which is a change from launch, which required you to talk to a specific NPC). I adored being able to create and wear different outfits based on my mood, and I was often torn on which one I liked the best because they were all pretty awesome. WildStar usually get a lot of props for its housing, but I think its wardrobe deserves praise too.

Guild Wars 2

Initially I had put Guild Wars 2 at the top, but upon further reflection, I had to acknowledge that there are two big flaws with its wardrobe system: It makes you pay to change individual slots (via transmutation charges) and it doesn’t allow for multiple saved outfits. Apart from that, it’s pretty brilliant, with several dye channels, loads of colors, expressive pieces, and all the buttflaps you can stomach. Finding and obtaining skins is an enjoyable metagame for GW2, that’s for sure.

RIFT

On paper, RIFT has almost the full package. It remembers skins, has multiple outfit slots, is ridiculously easy to use, involves weird cosmetics, and so on. Other than the dye cash shop and the smaller color range, I’d say it was almost perfect… except that I just don’t like about 90% of RIFT’s armor designs. They’re not bad, per se, just not what I want to be trouncing around in, and there are strangely few store outfits that even slightly tempt me to purchase. Probably shouldn’t complain; better armor art and I might have gone broke.

The Secret World

TSW’s strength in cosmetics is that it’s a rare MMO that uses modern outfits rather than fantasy/sci-fi ones (for the most part) and is thus a fashion that is more identifiable to players. People in TSW just adore dressing up their characters, sometimes the more outrageous, the better. Wonderful array of choices are offset only by a lack of dyeable outfits (although some pieces come in multiple colors) and no multiple outfit saves. It’s nice that there is a convoluted fashion to even equip cosmetic weapons, but it really should’ve been more like the regular outfits in accessibility.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO sits squat in the middle of this list with plenty of strengths but plenty of weaknesses as well. On the plus side, it’s another MMO with a community that does a lot of dressing up, and the game has done a lot to make this as robust as possible. Dyes, multiple outfits, varied designs, cosmetic weapons, etc. But on the minus side, the wardrobe itself is a little creaky and unfriendly, especially when compared to how many MMOs these days are saving EVERY new design whereas LOTRO has a hard limit. And you have to manage it by hand. Plus, the dyes aren’t that great, with only one color channel for (most) pieces and the dyeable area often being small.

World of Warcraft

For a major MMORPG, World of Warcraft suffers from a kind of lackluster system. Admittedly, the fact that it has one and it’s gradually improved is far better than launch, but seriously, transmog is pretty sad when you compare it to the field. No dyes, no multiple outfits (I’m not really that keen on just changing gear’s appearance rather than having a separate and toggleable cosmetic outfit), no way to do it on the fly, new gear overriding older transmog looks and requiring more money for new transmogs, and no quick check boxes to turn off helms and capes is all in dire need of addressing. To its credit, WoW has fabulous and fun armor design, which goes a long way to smoothing over the issues presented here.

Star Trek Online

Let’s throw in a couple of Cryptic efforts to be well-rounded. STO never really impressed me with its outfits. Sure, you could mix-and-match uniform elements, there were some (but not many) colors, and you had a small handful of outfit slots. But generally you aren’t collecting new looks while you play (most uniforms are simply bought through the store), and the interface is a little unwieldy. Sometimes it’s just more interesting to let your gear do the visuals for you, since they can be more detailed and futuristic.

Neverwinter

At the bottom of the barrel, Neverwinter does the absolute bare minimum to qualify as an MMO with a cosmetic system while making it as unfun as possible. Two cosmetic-only slots for specific items, no thank you. It’s a system that you learn about in the tutorial and then promptly forget going forward.

Now I know that there are plenty of other MMOs out there with great wardrobe systems, like EverQuest II, but I wanted to rank ones from games that I was most familiar.