Back to Rift For A Bit

I think I’m going to lay off of Neverwinter until the big upcoming patch. I find that I have little interest in doing anything in that game except running dungeons, but since it is nearly impossible to get through a queue after level 50, I just stand there doing nothing most of the time. I’m rather hoping that the next patch will make the dungeon queue work a lot better. If not, then I doubt I’ll play it much more until they make some changes.

So I’ve switched back to Rift "full time" just in time for the F2P conversion. I was one of the lucky ones to get my full loyalty rewards right away (some didn’t) and got a bunch of free stuff just for logging in. The store is one of the best implementations I’ve seen in a game. Like when it’s showing you a cool costume you can buy, it shows you what it looks like _on your character_, which is pretty brilliant.

I hate to admit it but the journey from 50 to 60 is kind of tedious (I’m about halfway through 56 at this writing). I’m only doing standard questlines, though, so I’m not really maximizing my experience. I’ll go slow on my first character, but if I ever level my other three alts, I’ll probably do more rifts and instant adventures and dungeons and such to speed up the process. The Storm Legion zones are very large and the mobs are very far apart so you spend a lot of time just running from mob to mob.

I’ve not yet done anything to optimize my build, and have barely even looked at the new abilities that came with Storm Legion. I’m just running the stock Harbinger/Chloro build which is super easy and fun to play (as long as you remember to re-cast your buffs every hour) and works fine for solo play. I’ll have to find something else for dungeons though because I’m sure I can do better DPS.

Spellplague Caverns Death March

So I hit level 52 on my GWF and decided to try Spellplague Caverns again for a Dungeon Delve event. That turned out to be a huge mistake. Do not ever go into this dungeon. Ever. It is just not worth it. There’s no way the loot justifies the time spent.

We had a GWF (me), cleric, wizard, and two rogues. At first. Somewhere before the first boss, one of the rogues disconnected and someone had the brilliant idea to kick him and get another from the queue. Except that once you go beyond a certain point in a dungeon, it bugs out and doesn’t pull in new people from the queue anymore. It would have been much better to wait for the disconnected person to come back, because they usually do. So we only had four for about 98% of the dungeon. And no tank.

This dungeon is really long. I mean holy crap long. It must have taken us two hours to get through it all. Even if we’d had five, I still think it would have taken an hour and a half. Just when you think you can’t take the constantly spawning plague monsters anymore, you get to the first boss, and you think to yourself, “omg there are *two more* bosses after this??”

I think we probably would have given up on it except for the fact that we were in a DD event, which means you get some gauranteed loot if you make it to the end. And we were making steady progress – slow, tedious progress, but steady.

At least the spawn pits went away after the first boss. That’s something. But good lord those plague thingys that knock you back are super annoying. Especially because you only get about 50ms to react because of lag. So many times I ran out of the effect only to get knocked back anyway because the server didn’t register my movements in time. And they kind of hurt, too.

So we finally slogged through to the final boss, which was actually the most interesting boss I’ve seen to date. Unfortunately by then you’re so tired of the dungeon that you just don’t care anymore. Not only do you have to dodge all the AoEs but four times during that fight the floor disappears from under you. If you’re standing on it at the time, you die. We wiped the first time because it was a surprise to all of us. The second time, the mouthy “top DPS” rogue didn’t move in time and we lost him (typical deeps!). So we had to finish off that final boss with three people.

Basically I pounded on the boss while the CW and DC dealt with the adds on the platform behind. They had the harder job by far. I really just had to stand there and swing, occasionally dodging an AoE, and moving when the floor was about to disappear. I hardly ever took any damage, so I could have done that all day. And it felt like it took the better part of a day to wear down that boss. But we finally did, and in a touching moment of gamer solidarity, we all rolled Greed on the last boss loot. Then we got our DD loot. I didn’t even look at what it was. There was just no way it could be worth the effort.

I don’t think I’ll be returning to Spellplague Caverns anytime soon.

Grey Wolf, Pirate King, Frozen Heart, Spellplague

I have to say that the dungeons are my favorite part of Neverwinter. Everyone on the forums whines constantly about how poorly designed the bosses are but I find them rather fun. You don’t have to memorize any strategies beforehand – you just jump in and play your class and your role well, and chances are you’ll do fine. If you don’t play your class well, chances are you’ll get schooled and then have to go to the forums and whine about it.

Grey Wolf Den. Don’t bother until after the June 20 patch. It’s all good until the final boss which is OP just like Lair of the Mad Dragon. They must have accidentally put the epic encounter in the normal dungeon again. I tried it once and got absolutely hammered at the end – like, died within seconds, multiple times. You absolutely cannot stand in any AoE or you’re dead, no second chances – and there are a LOT of AoEs to avoid. It’s way worse than Chortlefax.

Lair of the Pirate King. This one is fun and PUGable. I did it two or three times before outleveling it, unfortunately I don’t remember much about it except the last boss is on a big pirate ship and there are a lot of chests that you have to jump to get to, and if you miss the jump, you fall to your death and it’s super embarassing. Oh, and there’s a surgeon boss that runs around surrounded by an AoE that’s kind of irritating if you’re a melee person like me. Otherwise it was pretty straightforward.

The Frozen Heart. Another one that is fun and PUGable. The first boss is kind of tedious though because you have to beat him down three different times to get his loot. The last boss can be hard too because it’s difficult to see the red AoE circles in the ice you stand on, but I think that’s being addressed in the patch.

Spellplague Caverns. Man. I tried this with a PUG of level 50-51 people (without a cleric) and wow was it hard to fight through those spawn points – I died several times and must have used 50 potions. Then the boss at the bottom of the jump bugged out and disappeared so we had to quit. I won’t try this one again until I gain several more levels, if ever. Which is a shame because I want that new kind of seal. But since I’m almost 51 now maybe I should just power through to 60 so I can hit the epic dungeons.

Every MMO Forum Thread

I just love how every single MMO forum thread goes something like this:

A. I don’t like this aspect of the game.

B. No, I think you’re complaining about nothing.

A. What are you retarded? Learn to read! I didn’t say I was complaining! You’re a total moron! You’re a scrub loser with a pathetic gear score, and you’re stupid! Can’t you even read? Rage rage rage.

B. Did you even bother to read my post? God you’re stupid and your post count is pathetic. You’re pathetic. Your mom thinks you’re pathetic. Rage rage rage rage rage.

A. Rage rage rage rage rage.

B. Rage rage rage.

A. Rage rage rage rage.

B. Rage rage-rage rage-rage rage!

Someday I really want to write an MMO forum post generator program, and an MMO forum comment generator program.

Neverwinter's First Major Update aka. Launch Day Coming

Word has come down that Neverwinter’s "launch day" (June 20) will bring major balance and gameplay changes. This coincides with the 1-month-after-launch massive patch that every MMO always does to address issues that arise after launch. To me, this also seems to be the time when the developer actually implements a lot of the feedback they got from their beta period. They hardly ever change anything but major breaking bugs between beta and launch.

A lot of people are giving them grief for holding back these changes instead of rolling them out in hot fixes as soon as they are addressed. Chill out, guys. They are doing this thing that grownups do called a "controlled software development process." The hot fixes we see throughout the month are only going to be super critical issues, and/or very limited in scope. Possibly even server-only changes, with no effect on the client. They aren’t going to release major gameplay changes in a hot fix, and nobody should expect them to.

In reviewing the patch notes (http://nw.perfectworld.com/news/?p=907501), I don’t see anything but improvements. The community, however, went crazy about every little detail of it. "Why this? Why not that? What are you thinking? Nerf! Flames! Hate! Rabble!"

If you take anything from the forums as real, all healers are basically quitting the game, because they expected the DC to turn into something it was never intended to be: A dedicated healer. The DC is not a dedicated healer. At best, the DC "assists" a party with indirect heals and buffs, and there is nothing in these notes to change that. People who want direct heals are still going to have to drink potions. Personally, I never, ever rely on the cleric in the party to keep me alive if I’m in trouble. If you die, it’s always your fault. Even the DC.

My take on class changes is as follows. CW: Tweaked. DC: Tweaked. GWF: Buffed. GF: Buffed. TR: Tweaked, with the possibility of Nerfed. All sensible changes. Threat issues seem to have been addressed, though I don’t think the changes will be as dramatic as everyone wants.

"Companions now deal much greater damage to enemies with significantly higher level than their Rank, but a close level to their owner." Rank 15 companions will actually be useful after level 30, if I’m reading that right. Not for tanking, though. Just damage.

"Neverwinter Fields: Private Wilfred’s voice has changed." I like how that’s marked as a major change. I guess the community was in an uproar about it. Now I’m going to have to redo the tutorial to hear the new voice of poor Private Wilfred. He did sound a little … um … cartooney before.

"Storming the Keep: Malus Blackdagger now has the appropriate amount of health." Oh thank god. That guy took *forever* to kill. I just hated that skirmish.

"Lair of the Mad Dragon: The boss now spawns fewer adds in Normal Mode. Lair of the Mad Dragon: The boss no longer spawns a Shocktroop Devil. It now summons an Erinyes." Thank ya jesus. I think there’s also another note somewhere about dragons having fewer hit points, too. I suspected they had accidentally put the epic stuff into the normal dungeon. :)

"The caldera of Mount Hotenow is no longer blocked by a giant rock. Questing in this area is now much, much more possible." Glad to hear that. I sure hope that will improve the sparkly trails.

"The best asset for a given task is now automatically slotted into the Required Asset slot. It can still be switched out manually." They read my mind! Still doesn’t make professions terribly worthwhile, though.

"When some party members accept and some party members decline a queue offer, the whole party is properly removed from the queue." I have a feeling that this, along with being able to fill empty slots again, will improve the queue times for everyone. At least I hope so. (So far, the best way I’ve found to get into a queue quickly is to play a guardian – it pops instantly every time.)

"If a player has seven Celestial Coins, a confirmation dialog pops up when the player tries to Invoke." This will definitely help me. I’ve wasted tons of celestial coins by invoking when I already had seven of them. Not a big deal though, since those rewards are mainly directed toward hardcore players.

"The ESC menu now has a Change Character button." Yes! That should be bolded and underlined as one of the most important new features.

"The Character and Professions buttons now glow more strongly when players have Power Points / Feats / Attribute Points to spend or completed Professions tasks." That’s handy. I often had no clue when profession tasks ended (back when I thought professions did something useful). I assumed they did that on purpose to steer you toward spending AD to finish tasks quickly.

"The "Need" button is now disabled for items your class cannot use." A lot of people are going to rejoice about that, but personally I only rarely found it to be a problem before.

"The "Notes" column has been removed from the "Ignored" tab." That was my bug report! I kind of wish they would make the Notes work, though, instead of getting rid of it. I would have liked to put in why I ignored someone.

On The Throne of Idris

My GWF dinged 36, so I can’t queue for Lair of the Mad Dragon anymore with him. Instead, I queued for the Throne of Idris, which I think is a level 38 dungeon.

Idris is a bit easier than MD, in that it is actually finishable. I’ve done it twice, and finished both times (though it took two tries on the last boss both times, too). And it’s very short, which is awesome. (I hate long dungeons. No gaming event should ever take an hour. 20 minutes tops, I say.) However some parts, including the final boss, have something that no previous dungeon encounter has: It matters how you pull the monsters. There are places where you should tackle a few monsters at a time instead of charging into the middle of the room – mainly, the final boss, which is a dude surrounded by 500 smaller monsters.

It also punishes you for running off by yourself to open a chest. Because half the time, that chest is a mimic. In my second run, some guy brought a mimic into the final boss fight. That sure was fun.

Also in that second run, I ran across something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in an MMO: A mouthy cleric. Invariably, it’s the pimped out "top DPS" guys that are all like, "go here, do that, you’re doing it wrong, don’t do it that way, don’t pull that monster, heal better, tank better, I’m in a top tier epic server first raiding guild," etc. After the DPS, it’s usually the tank that gets all bossy. The healer in the group is usually pretty laid back or businesslike. But not this one. It was kind of amusing.

Which Difficulty is Artificial and Which Is Real

I see a lot of people on Neverwinter forums complain about the "artificial difficulty" added to boss encounters. The argument they use is that bosses aren’t difficult to kill, but the adds that spawn make it difficult to focus on the boss, so this was a cheap and lazy way for Cryptic to "artificially" make boss encounters hard.

This logic makes no sense to me.

Most of my instance experience comes from Rift, but I’m led to believe it is typical of what you might find in other raids and dungeons like from, say, WoW. Usually there is a boss which has some "mechanic" that makes it more difficult than just standing there pouring DPS into it. For example, it has a big cleave that will kill anything in the way, or it will drop a bomb that must be focused or the group will wipe, or there are lasers on the ground that you have to avoid, or sometimes you have to stop DPS so it doesn’t reflect back on you, or something like that.

Now I’m sure those things are difficult when you first run into them, but for the most part, once you’ve seen it, it’s basically the same every time. And then 50 people will write how-to guides that you can Google, and then 50 people will record YouTube videos, and then 50 people will write Boss Mods which basically tell you on the screen when you need to move out of the way. So apparently "real difficulty" is something that you need to memorize once and then repeat ad nauseum. And by the way if it weren’t for that mechanic, everyone would simply stand in a circle and pew-pew at the boss until it died.

Whereas with Neverwinter, you can hit any encounter cold and know how to succeed. There’s no "mechanic" you need to memorize beforehand. Stay out of big red circles unless you’re a tank, and focus down targets. That’s pretty much it. The thing is, it’s not easy to *do* that in practice. You have to keep moving around. You have to keep re-acquiring your targets. You have to watch your health. You have to constantly re-evaluate the situation and decide where to attack, or who needs your help. The only way to improve in a Neverwinter boss fight is to practice the fight. Whereas the best way to improve in a traditional MMO boss fight is to – read and memorize the "dance steps" beforehand.

Lair of the Mad Dragon is a great example. I’ve attempted the final boss about thirteen times now. If it were any other MMO, I would expect to be able to Google something that tells me how to beat it. What I find instead are many different stories and videos from people who did it many different ways with different group compositions. There’s nothing that says, "Oh, you just stand here and you’ll beat Chortlefax every time."

So it seems to me that, if anything, the traditional boss mechanic is more artificial than what Neverwinter does.

On the Great Weapon Fighter

My current favorite class in Neverwinter is the Great Weapon Fighter (GWF). This came as a huge surprise to me, because when I sampled the five classes, the GWF was absolutely godawful in the first four newbie levels, and for a supposedly DPS class, it had terrible, horrible damage output. Even the Guardian Fighter did better, and tank classes are traditionally pretty terrible at damage.

Perhaps partially because of the challenge of it, I went back to the GWF to see what it could do. I wanted a pure DPS character for dungeon delves and honestly the Trickster Rogue (TR) gets on my nerves. For one thing, everyone plays it, and for another, it is so ridiculously overpowered at first that I found it insulting to my intelligence. Because it does such ridiculously high damage early on, it has to get worse as you level, right? Whereas the GWF does terrible damage at first, so it has to get better toward the endgame. Such was my thinking anyway. Also, the GWF seemed to have more skills for hitting more than one target at once.

The more I play GWF, the more fun it becomes. It’s a great no-brainer kind of class to play when you just want to unwind on weekdays after work. The animations are pretty cool. I like the big jumping-in-the-air "daily" skill even though it’s a terrible waste of DPS. I like how, contrary to typical MMO traditions, you actually *want* to take damage as a GWF, because it builds up your Determination meter, so you can then go into super-charged-damage mode. (Healers take note – it’s probably more useful to heal GWFs than tanks.)

So as it turns out, the GWF is not so much a DPS class as it is a cleric protecting, off-tanking class. At least that is how I’m building mine, and that suits me pretty well. I consider my role in any party to be protecting the cleric, particularly in Lair of the Mad Dragon. It’s apparent that this is a *vitally* important role for party success, and those are the kind of roles I like.

It’s really awesome to feel smug and superior to the trickster rogues, too, because I can stand in the middle of a pack of monsters and swing away without fear of dying. And at the end of the day, it’s all about making top deeps pew-pew scrubs feel inferior.