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 ( 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.

On the Devoted Cleric

I’d been hearing a lot about how threat is "broken" in NW (Neverwinter) and that cleric healing generates too much aggro. I’d also been hearing that DCs (Devoted Clerics) need to be more versatile than simply healing. I’d also heard that DCs get into dungeons a lot faster, since nobody plays them (because of the first two items). Well, I wanted to see all of that for myself, so I started a Devoted Cleric.

I think DCs are kind of fun. They are kind of badasses in fact, initially doing quite a lot of damage. Unlike with my CW (Control Wizard), with whom I gave up on dungeons after two because the queues didn’t work at the time, I’m spending a lot of time in dungeons with my DC and not leveling very fast. (You don’t get much experience from dungeons, only loot and seals.) As of this writing, my DC is 30.

I’ll work backwards through the points above. Do clerics get into queues really fast? In my experience, not hardly. It takes just as long to get into a party as any other class. I’ve only done the first three dungeons though. Each successive dungeon takes longer to get into for some reason. (Probably because each one is markedly more difficult than the last, so casual players probably give up on them, so there are less people queueing. Also more people are probably in guilds which don’t go into the queues.)

About the lack of the traditional healing role, I find this to be pretty true. As a cleric, you won’t be standing around healing people. Basically you top people off, give people a little boost now and then, occasionally help a player in trouble, rez people who fall (I just assume that’s a cleric’s job, but anyone can do it), and the rest of the time, you’re contributing to DPS (damage-per-second). In a traditional MMO sense, you’re more of an off-healer or support, to be honest. Nobody should ever expect the cleric to heal them so much they don’t need to use potions.

Personally, I like it. It’s challenging. But people who are used to the traditional healer role, where you stand in the back and pull the puppet health strings that determine whether the party succeeds or fails, tend to hate it. If people get in real trouble, they have to use potions, plain and simple. You can drink a potion every 10 seconds in NW, so everyone can be responsible for their own healing. It has to be that way, because my DC is only level 30, but so far I don’t have anything resembling an emergency heal. Honestly you don’t even need a cleric to do dungeons. They are just nice to have.

Now let’s move on to threat. I’m not prepared to say threat is "broken" in NW, but let’s just say that if you’re used to WoW (World of Warcraft), I can understand why you would *think* it’s broken. It’s very different. As of now, healing people generates a *lot* of threat. That is another reason why you can’t be a traditional healer. If you stand around healing people all the time, you’re going to have every mob chasing you and that will be the end of helping anyone else because you’ll be spending the rest of the encounter running around trying to stay alive. Especially with adds and minions. (I mentioned in a previous post about the minions right? There’s a lot of them in NW. A constant stream of minions popping up all over the place. It’s hardly ever a plain single target fight.) So you have to be very judicious with your heals. If anyone but the tank is dropping rapidly, you have to count on them to use a potion to save themself. Even if the tank is dropping rapidly, there isn’t much you can do about it. There aren’t many direct heals; your powers are mainly indirect heals (meaning players receive heals when they damage a monster) or HoT (heal-over-time) skills. Possibly you can keep someone from dying in the next 2 seconds, but that’s about it. Sometimes the best thing you can do for people is draw the mobs away until they get themselves healed. Usually unintentionally.

The bottom line is that a cleric won’t be able to "carry" a bad group through a dungeon. You know how sometimes a healer can heal everyone through all the damage they’re taking so the group succeeds anyway? You won’t be doing that in NW.

One thing I’ve been struggling with is targeting as a DC. NW doesn’t do traditional MMO tab-style targeting, it’s pretty much all mouselook-style FPS targeting. You can’t click on someone’s portrait and heal them, for instance. You have to locate that person on the screen, point at them, then press the heal power key. You’ll find it very difficult to target people you want to heal, especially melee players that are constantly on the move. They bunch up together with monsters and all those health bars sit on top of each other. The best HUD settings I’ve found is to set it so that player damage meters always display, and enemy damage meters never display. Then all you ever see are the players. It’s great for healing, but it has a major drawback because you won’t be able to see most monsters. I’m not sure if the benefit outweights the drawbacks yet. I’m still working on it.

On the Control Wizard

I got my Control Wizard to 60. It’s really easy to level in Neverwinter, by far the easiest game to level in I’ve seen (after WoW, of course). I think it literally took two weeks (maybe it was three). Admittedly I played a lot in that time, but still, pretty fast.

Side note: What is the deal with the class names? Why is it "Control Wizard" instead of just "Wizard?" Why "Trickster Rogue" instead of "Rogue?" What other kind of rogues are there? None, that’s what. At least not yet.

I picked the CW to run with first mainly because of one feature: It’s the only class with any AOE damage, and NW has tons and tons of AOE encounters. I mean tons. Did I mention there are tons of AOE encounters? Pretty much every encounter from start to finish in the game has minions to deal with. There’s a ton. Don’t even get me started on dungeons.

Overall I like the CW, and their CC skills are pretty invaluable in group situations, but toward the very end of leveling, I found it inadequate for soloing. The last two zones, Mount Hotenow and Whispering Caverns, were difficult. Especially the ones where you had to go into a solo dungeon and defeat a boss – a lot of times it took multiple tries to kill that last boss. You have to drink like 50 potions to get through them. In fact I haven’t been able to finish off the quests in Whispering Caverns. I just got hammered, so I basically gave up on the class in disgust and started again with a Devoted Cleric. (Not a Regular Cleric, mind you, a Devoted Cleric.)

Now admittedly, a lot of it could be because I don’t have a proper tanking companion. I haven’t bought a blue or purple tank, so I had to make do with the Rank 15 guardian, who tends to die in roughly 2 seconds toward the end of the game. I’ve already spent too much on this game for horses and bags so I decided to skip the companion. In retrospect, I should have bought a companion instead of a bag. You really are going to need a tank greater than Rank 15 in the last 10 levels.

P.S. I tried to do the Tailoring profession and in the entire time of leveling from 1-60, I never once was able to craft anything useful for my character. (Not counting a shirt and pants.) Admittedly I only got to Rank 10, though, since I didn’t spending any AD. My conclusion: Professions are worthless time sinks in this game.

Defiance Beta Results

defiance-quad1-fullFrom the unpublished archives: I tried out the Defiance beta. It was “kind of” fun but it’s not really my kind of game. MMO shooters never seem that great to me. Lag plays a significant factor in being able to hit anything. Also, maybe my expectations are wack, but I thought all TPS (Third Person Shooter) games were supposed to have cover mechanics. This one didn’t.

One thing that drove me crazy was the complete inability to see enemies and players in the environment until you’re standing on top of them. I hate that. The landscape, NPCs, and players are all shades of brown.

It also had a lot of cut scene action. Sometimes I wish game developers would spend more time on gameplay and user interface and less time on trying to make a movie.

P.S. I have not seen the show.

Neverwinter Open Beta

screenshot_2013-05-22-18-11-15I discovered that Neverwinter is available in what they’re calling an “open beta.” Rabid fans will tell you that you should only play if you are willing to test the game and that you should expect bugs, but in truth, this is not a beta in the software development sense. It’s beta in the Google sense. It’s live, and there will be no character wipe at the end of it.

When I first loaded up Neverwinter I was like: This is a joke, right? It’s a kid’s game! It looks like a cartoon in comparison to most of the recent MMOs I’ve played. It’s bright and colorful and cell-shaded.

But I pressed onward because the folks on the Gamers With Jobs podcast said it was worth checking out. They were unusually positive about it, actually.

Neverwinter is very action-oriented and uncomplicated to play. It defaults to mouselook behavior, and the left and right buttons perform your most-used actions (like Tera, if you’ve played that). It’s almost Diabo-like in its action, except that it’s in third-person instead of an isometric view.

Overall it’s a fun, no-stress, but it’s nowhere near the quality or complexity of games like Rift, GW2, and The Secret World, in my opinion. It’s also still missing features. Classes and races and skill trees are still “coming soon.”

Now for the bad part. Unfortunately, NW has two very large drawbacks which are going to hinder its long-term playability.

The first is that the class selection and replayability is rather limited. You get five class choices: 2 types of fighters, 1 wizard, 1 cleric, and 1 rogue. Basically that breaks down to 1 tank, 1 healer, 1 cc support, and 2 dps. There’s a “coming soon” class, so I assume more are forthcoming, but right now this is not a very alt-friendly game. Also, most of the classes play basically the same way: Hold down the left button, occasionally dodge, occasionally hold down the right button, occasionally hit another key. In fact, the traditional roles of tank and healer are fairly worthless in this game because tanks can’t hold aggro and healers draw too much aggro, so basically everyone needs to be able to tank, heal, and DPS all the time. In fact, the LFG tool makes no attempt to put a tank and healer in each group, it just makes groups willy-nilly, so you can have a 5 DPS going into a dungeon. (Personally I think it’s cool, but traditional MMO trinity players are going insane.)

The second problem is the blatant attempts to get you to spend cash. NW is a free-to-play game, but it’s one of the first mainstream games to *start* as f2p. Most other MMOs started with a subscription model and switched to f2p, with a cash shop for generally cosmetic items. NW, on the other hand, basically charges you to make the game less annoying while you play. It’s like it’s dangling carrots in front of your nose all the time, particularly for things that take time. It’s saying: “Your character needs to do this upgrade and it will take a long time, but if you spend 10,000 Astral Diamonds it will finish immediately.” It reminds one a lot of Facebook and iOS social games.

Technically, you *can* earn Astral Diamonds in the game by regular playing, but it’s a LOT easier to just buy them. You have to do “special” events to get a lot of AD, like dungeons and skirmishes, and there’s a limit on how much you can accumulate per day (I think it’s 24k). Unless, of course, you pay cash for Zen Currency, which you can exchange for Astral Diamonds at a (variable, user-controlled) exchange rate of about 1:400. Ie. you get 400 AD for 1 Zen. And you can buy 1000 Zen for $10, so if my math is right that basically means it costs $10 to get 400,000 AD, making cash payments *vastly* more efficient than gameplay.

Most of the haters on the forums will tell you Neverwinter is a “cash grab,” but I just see it as “the same free-to-play business model that’s been wildly successful since Zynga invented it.”

The bottom line is that you will likely want to buy one or more bags, and possibly a horse and companions. The founder’s pack will take care of the horse for all your characters, but not the bags. If you spend wisely, it will end up being about the same cost as a subscription game.

I’m generally okay with the “cash grab” concept, but there are several cases that annoy me.

The mildest annoyance is your inventory space. You start with one bag that’ll work through about level 10. Somewhere along the way you get another, smaller, bag as a quest reward. But as you pass level 20, you discover you don’t have nearly enough space, because you start getting tons and tons and tons of these “enchantment” and “rune” drops, which fill up your bags really quick. You get another small bag in another quest in the 30s, but again, it’s not nearly enough, and you’ll be wanting to buy a big ol’ Bag of Holding. Unfortunately, the only place to buy bags is in the Zen Marketplace, for which you have to pay real money. Technically, you *can* convert Astral Diamonds into Zen, but you would have to accumulate so many that it’s not worth the effort.

Another annoyance is companion training. Periodically you have to send your companions off for training to level them up, and each time it takes longer and longer (eg. up to 30 minutes or more). If you don’t want to be down that long, you can, of course, spend AD to complete the process instantaneously. It’s outrageously expensive, however, so you’ll have to go out of your way to earn that much AD from gameplay without getting out your credit card. Fortunately, you can survive without a companion. In fact, the companions I’ve had don’t really do that much. I’d say they are about 80% cosmetic.

I can deal with the bags and companions, but this next example is very annoying. You can attach enchantments to your gear to improve them, but if you make a mistake or want to upgrade one, you have to pay AD to remove them. Unlike identification scrolls, these removals cost quite a lot, and it gets more and more expensive the higher the level of gear. I blew half of my starting AD trying to upgrade enchantments. After that, I decided I would either not use enchantments at all or just overlay them without saving the old ones. The content is generally pretty easy anyway, so there’s no compelling need for the modest boosts you get from enchantments. And you get enchantments like candy falling from the sky, so it’s not hard to replace ones you lose.

But even *more* annoying than that is that you have to spend AD to re-spec your feats and powers. A lot of AD. I think you get one free re-spec if you buy the founder’s pack, but other than that, you’ll want to save up your AD for when you get to level 60.

I haven’t made up my mind about crafting yet. It’s an interesting system, but so far it seems kind of pointless. I’m level 48 with around rank 9 tailoring and I have yet to be able to craft a more useful item than regular drops. The main purpose of my crafting so far is to … level up my crafting.

So far the fun gameplay in Neverwinter still outweighs the obnoxious business model, but not by much. If I get a month of entertainment out of it, I suppose it will be worth it.


I pulled out Tera again for a bit. Tera is a really a great game for playing a melee character. My main right now is a berserker, and I just love that class. The combat is so visceral and engaging when you can block attacks. Also, each encounter is an epic battle. It’s not like most MMOs where it takes less than a second to kill most things. Fights in Tera go on and on, even against regular mobs.

Unfortunately it also means that Tera gets pretty grindy after a while.