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.

Why Chartilifax is so Hard

I forgot to mention my theory for why Lair of the Mad Dragon is so difficult. I think it’s to get people to buy resurrection scrolls, plain and simple. When you’re sitting there dead on the floor, there’s a button that says "spend X zen to get life scrolls!" I expect that if everyone could rez after every death, the dragon would be a lot easier to defeat.

That being said, I do expect them to nerf Chortlefax at some point. The difficulty increase from even the previous boss in the Lair to Chortlefax is just ridiculous.

Chortlefax Fail Number 6

Failed again in Lair of the Mad Dragon with a PUG. (I think that was the 6th failure in total.) Group composition was a guardian, cleric, GWF (me), and 2 rogues. No control wizard, but it seemed like a balanced group that should have had the tools to tackle Chortlefax. Unfortunately we struggled through most of the dungeon.

I’ve noticed that the only people who queue for Chortlefax are people who seem like they haven’t done it before. The guardian was only 30, and the rogues were 32ish. Me and the cleric were 35, but the cleric acted like he had never experienced that level of madness and was still under the illusion that he could throw out heals like candy.

I suppose that’s the only kind of MD group you can get through the queue: Rookies who have some hope that they will be that one person who gets through Chortlefax in their first PUG.

I still don’t understand why it takes so long to put together a group from the queue, even if they are all DPS groups. I wonder if it’s only pulling in people from your particular server instance (which typically only has 20 or so people in it). But half the time it seems the people in your group don’t speak English, so surely they must be pulled in from everywhere? Probably a bug somewhere. It takes seconds to queue for the first dungeon, minutes for the second dungeon, and forever to get into MD.

(Incidentally, when I play my guardian, the queues pop almost instantaneously every time, skirmish or dungeon. That’s wasn’t the case for my cleric, though.)

I read on the forums that they are planning to nerf Chortlefax in the next major update so I suppose it will be possible to finish soon. I wanted to get through it before the nerf, though. Oh well. I’ll try again tonight. I can still queue maybe one or two more times before I hit 36.

Lair of the Mad Dragon

I’ve read and heard a lot about how difficult the Lair of the Mad Dragon is (a level 34 5-man dungeon in Neverwinter). I’ve attempted MD five times in PUGs now, twice as a cleric and three times as a GWF (Great Weapon Fighter), so I have some thoughts of my own.

For comparison, MD is the third dungeon as you’re leveling. The first is the level 16 Cloak Tower, which is simple enough that anyone can do anything and still get through it. The second is the level 24 Cragmire Crypts, which is noticeably harder but still requires little strategy.

MD is substantially more difficult than Cragmire Crypts, that’s for sure. The imps – the accursed, maddening imps – are everywhere. The very first encounter will let you know that you’re in for a big challenge. However, even average PUGs can brute force it through the first two bosses to the end. Unfortunately, the final boss – Chartilifax, or as I call her, Chortlefax, the mad green dragon herself – is a nightmare for PUGs.

It starts out fine. Dodge the dragon’s breath and don’t stand in her giant red AoEs. The first wave of adds? No problem. The second wave of adds? Troublesome, but can be overcome. The third wave? Orders of magnitude more difficult, usually wipes the party because they can’t be killed fast enough.

Fail #1. I first entered MD with my cleric right after I dinged 30. I queued for the dungeon literally within 30 seconds of leveling thinking it would be hours before I got in, and then to my shock, I was in a party inside a few minutes. So here’s my first tip: Don’t do that. Do not enter MD right after you hit 30. I didn’t even have the right Injury Kits (because you can’t use your existing supply after you level from 29 to 30). And of course there is no vendor at the start of MD, like there is in the previous two dungeons. Basically, I spent a lot of time running from aggro’d mobs and got killed like 5 times and by the end I was massively injured. It was a good group, though. Everyone was cool about it – the tank was very realistic about our chances at the end. We tried twice and only got Chortlefax to about 75% – as it turns out, that was a pretty solid effort.

Fail #2. I tried again with my DC at level 34. The general dungeon experience and the first two bosses went much smoother – I didn’t die until Chortlefax. I’m pretty sure there was no tank on that run. One guy had the nerve to say, “well if the cleric would heal us instead of running from all the adds maybe we could do better.” (After I ignored him, someone else stuck up for me, so thanks to whoever that guy was). We tried again with similar results. That was the best I’ve done in a PUG, though – in two attempts I think we got Chortlefax close to 50%.

After that, I vowed not to attempt MD again as a DC without a more focused party or guild. I’m sure I’m not the only DC to say that. My cleric now sits at level 35 waiting. Which is a shame, because the cleric is kind of fun to play.

So I broke out my GWF (great weapon fighter) and started leveling in earnest. I decided that I would take on the responsibility of protecting the cleric in MD, and that would ensure success. Easy, peasy, right?

Fail #3. I didn’t bother trying MD with my GWF until I hit level 32. I did an awesome job protecting the cleric all the way through until we got to Chortlefax, at which point I was able to off-tank a lot of adds, but without focused DPS to kill the adds, it was kind of pointless. I was one of the last people standing, but I don’t think we even got to 75% that time.

Fail #4. I actually thought we might have a shot in this all DPS, 4 TR + 1 GWF run. At first I thought no way, I might as well drop out before we take two steps, but we burned down the first two bosses surprisingly fast. But alas, Chortlefax ate us up in the end because we lost one party member along the way, and we weren’t able to focus the adds. We got to around 75% again.

Fail #5. At this point my GWF was 35, and in this party we had a tank but no cleric. (Not a problem, clerics are nice-to-have, but not always essential as most of your direct healing comes from drinking potions.) Unfortunately this party struggled the whole time, even through the first two bosses. We ended up having to focus the bosses down and ignore the adds to get through them, a strategy that I’ve come to believe is a winner for most PUGs as it’s easy to coordinate. I had little hope that we’d beat Chortlefax, though, and we didn’t. Even focusing on the dragon, I don’t even think we made it to 75%. You just can’t ignore that third wave of adds.

Side note: Why isn’t there any way to mark targets in Neverwinter? That would be super helpful for these PUGs. (Not “mark” in the GF threat-building sense, I mean marking as in putting a big “1” or “2” over monsters’ heads like in other MMOs. Anything to say, “focus on this target.”)

I’ve only witnessed one successful clearing of MD, which was in a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSl1QIj59as). In that video, the tank essentially shadowed the cleric to gather all of the adds, and the cleric did a lot of soothing light heals on the tank so I’m sure he got tons of aggro. I’m not sure who actually killed the adds and the dragon, because the tank barely ever swung his sword for all the guarding and taunting he did – he did like zero DPS. Even that seemingly coordinated party struggled toward the end.

So now my cleric and GWF are both 35 and will soon out-level the queue for MD, so I only have a few more chances to get that silly Chortlefax. It’s not important for my cleric except just to say I’ve done it, but supposedly Chortlefax drops a nice GWF sword. Probably everyone will Need on it, though, so I doubt I’d get it anyway.

Anticlimatic Nevewinter Feats

About those Neverwinter Feats. Is it just me, or is it really hard to get excited about spending points that only increase your damage/whatever by 1%/2%/3%? I mean, statistically speaking, there isn’t much difference between a 3% increase and a 0% increase, right? It seems very … anticlimatic. Two clerics side-by-side, one with 3% increase, and one without – you won’t be able to tell the difference. "Woohoo, I leveled up after all that work, now I get to increase my damage from 500 to 505 points! That’ll make all the difference in future combat!"

Just sayin’ I wish there were more Feats with 10%/20%/30% benefits, or better yet, 20%/40%/60% benefits. Maybe that’s too much. But still, it’s not like you’ll be one-shotting things. Maybe it should be 15%/30%/50%. Anyway, it just feels like you should get a bigger measurable effect from a Feat when you level up instead of a largely psychological benefit.

Neverwinter Forums

When I read the Neverwinter forums, I get the feeling that the only people posting have either a) never played anything but PnP D&D, or b) never played any other MMO, or c) have never played in PUGs before. I can understand some people fitting those criteria, but *everyone*? It’s like nobody has ever seen a "need or greed" loot system before, and they think they are the first people to notice it’s not a very good system. Yeah, no kidding. It’s been terrible ever since it was invented. But it sure beats the first come, first served loot system. And people have survived all the other MMOs that have implemented it. I ran dungeons a lot in Rift and got all the loot I needed without any fuss. Doing the same in NW. It’s easier in NW actually, because each boss only drops like 2 possible things.