Monday, February 24, 2020

Neverwinter Redux

So I'm playing Neverwinter now. How did that happen?

A couple of reasons.  Firstly, it's a game that keeps cropping up in blog posts and comments. It never seems to be anyone's main MMORPG but everyone who mentions it seems to be having a reasonably good time. And it looks quite nice in screenshots.

I've played a little Neverwinter over the years. I tried it when it launched. I took a look at Tipa's re-creations  of classic EverQuest dungeons back when The Foundry was still a thing and I've dipped in and out a few times to check this and that.

I was aware the whole game had undergone something of a revamp not so long ago, particularly the new player experience. Two or three people wrote something about it with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I'd been curious for a while to take a look at what might have changed.

The second reason was that I'd been playing a lot of EverQuest II but almost none of my gameplay involved anything you'd call adventuring. Mostly what I do is send minions on missions, catch familiars, engage in asynchronous economic warfare via the Broker and gather crafting materials. I think I've done more gathering in the last two months than the last five years.

Then, in Guild Wars 2, although I log in every day, all I do is dailies and a bit of desultory World vs World. Again, nothing remotely close to adventuring other than that session or two every three months when the latest Living World instalment drops.

Sometimes it's hard to remember the reason I got into this thing in the first place was so I could have thrilling, vicarious adventures in richly-imagined worlds. I didn't imagine, two decades later, it would have turned into several hours a day, every day, spent filling virtual shopping lists.

I was ripe for something a bit more adventurous but the options seemed limited. I thought a return to Dark Age of Camelot might be compelling in the way going back to the good old days on EverQuest progression servers or World of Warcraft Classic had been but no such luck.

Low level gameplay in DAOC seems very old indeed. The game looks better than EQ but it plays much, much more ponderously. It always did. I remember now that we all commented back around launch on how slow combat was compared to EQ. I'd forgotten that.

More offputtingly, the zones don't seem to be very similar to how I remember them. Things aren't in the same place. Distances are different, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller. I find the disparity between my memories and reality disorienting. I don't know if the game has changed or my memories are muddled or both.

I thought about trying something new but there aren't a lot of MMORPGs left that I both haven't tried and would like to. I considered Astellia, current holder of the allcomers "Eh, it's okay, I guess" title. Did I really want to pay £23.79 for competent mediocrity, though? Maybe if I'd known it was produced by the same people who gave us Bong Joon Ho's Parasite...

Astellia may still get a run. I don't usually wait on sales but I might make an exception. Nothing else really caught my eye (suggestions welcome) so I looked at the welter of icons idling on my desktop and out of the pack rose Neverwinter.

I just kind of fancied it. I remember it being a knockabout romp let down by a lot of very tedious running about in confusing zones and one of the most cluttered inventory systems outside of Lord of the Rings Online. It ought to be good for an hour or two until the ennui set in again.

Only it turned out to be a lot better than that. I understand that the big revamp hasn't pleased every regular player (when do they ever?) but if the intended result was a sharper, cleaner, clearer introduction to the game for the new player then Cryptic have hit the target square on.

My old log on details worked first time. Free players get just two character slots but you can tell my enthusiasm for the game until now by the fact that I still had one free. The other was filled by a Level 13 Cleric (formerly Devoted Cleric, now, like all the weirdly named classes, thankfully simplified to the traditional single word title).

I decided to take a leaf out of Syp's book and start over from scratch. That way I could assess the changes to the starter zones, the tutorial and the general introduction to the new gameplay. Looking at the races and classes available to a free player I went with Halfling Warlock.

Generally, I try to avoid Halflings. They're usually ugly to look at and involve a bunch of quasi-Tolkeinian tropes that I find the exact wrong kind of twee. Neverwinter halflings look quite dashing and their lore appears to be refreshingly free of the usual pie and pipe cliches. Not to mention that being a warlock seems to be about the least halfling thing imagineable, even before I discovered that my halfling gets her eldritch abilities by way of a pact with Belial, Lord of the Fourth Plane of the Nine Hells.

From the moment she stepped out into the tumultuous hub city of Everdeep, my new Warlock found herself having a much better time than her clerical predecessor ever did. For one thing she always knew exactly where to go. A sparkling trail led her from questgiver to instance to hand-in. It felt a little on rails, to be sure, but compared to the miserable hours I recall from previous visits, running round and round trying to find NPCs and doors and getting really quite cross, I'll take a bit of over-enthusaistic handholding any day.

I vaguely remembered the questline involving the peculiarly named "Nasher" gang. The story beats seemed much the same but the whole thing, which I remember as ponderous and fiddly, postively zipped along. Combat was fast and fun. About all I did was spam left mouse with occasional taps on right. Everything fell over and my warlock stayed upright so that was good. I seem to remember having a lot more trouble as a Cleric but whether that's due to the class or the revamp I can't say.

Even on named quest targets and bosses I could barely hit 1 to spawn my combat pet before it was all over. There were special attacks on other keys but I never needed to use them.

There was a nice flow of new gear but absolutely none of the annoying bag clutter I remembered. In fact, other than coin and a few orc tokens, not much dropped off anything other than bosses. Normally I like drops but this felt about right, given the pace.

My first session lasted under an hour and my warlock was Level 10 when I stopped. She could have been higher but there's a lot of reading to do in Neverwinter. Reading and listening. 

Most of the questgivers are very fond of the sound of their own voices. They all seem to feel they have to make a speech every time they ask you to do something. The voice acting, about which I was highly critical back in  2013, is competent, no better than that. I'm not sure if it's been redone or whether my standards have slipped. It still sounds very much like professional voice actors not being paricularly engaged with the work but I didn't hear any of the dodgy accents I was complaining about back then.

Speaking to Sergeant Knox, one of the prime questgivers in the early levels, it's very apparent that at least some new dialog has been added. It's very clearly a different voice actor and the effect is quite jarring. I wondered if that had happened during the recent revamp, when maybe new quests had been added to improve the flow.

There is also a library of lore to find. I clicked on every sparkle I spotted in the instances and most of them added entries to my journal, all of which I read. The writing seems more than decent for the genre. I'm not sure why I was down on it before, when I said "I've seen more leaden prose although fortunately not often". Reading it does slow things down in the middle of an instance run, though. It would probably be better to scoop the entries up and read everything at the end of the session.

I've played two more sessions since, an hour or two each time. My Warlock is now Level 17, flying past the old Cleric, who probably took twice as long to get to four levels below. She has a horse and supposedly a Companion, although after I'd bought my pocket healer I couldn't find her, so that might need some research.

And I'm enjoying myself. I'm not doing much more than following the main storyline but it feels enough like adventuring to scratch that itch. I don't think I'm likely to get drawn in much beyond the surface and no doubt I'll wander off again to some other game soon enough, but as far as a revamp goes I'd have to say this one looks pretty successful from where I'm standing.


  1. Damn it, first Telwyn and now you - you really make me want to log into Neverwinter again, as the memory of my frustrations caused by the last few patches that I played fades into the distance and only the fond recollections remain.

    I was one of the people very much not happy with Cryptic's recent revamps, but more than being grumpy about any specific feature, I just had a hard time with how different everything was, after I had previously played eight characters to the level cap... it's one of those cases where being a veteran is just indefinitely worse than being a new player seeing it all for the first time. :(

    Sergeant Knox having a new voice really intrigues me now though... also, I forgot that they redid the newbie experience after I made my last cleric. Just another reason to check things out again.

    1. It sounds like whoever's doing the alternate Sgt. Knox is trying to sound like the original guy as much as possible. Maybe it IS the original guy but they recorded it in a different studio or something. The difference is pretty obvious though.

      Since the highest I ever got before was level 13 I really didn't have a dog in the "better or worse after the revamp" race but I agree that in most games where this has been done where I was playing fairly regularly it seemed worse to me afterwards. GW2 redid the newbie experience a couple of times and it was significantly worse from my perspective each time - and they're about to do it again, which should give me something to moan about here at least!

  2. It's a fun game, especially for shorter play sessions. I think the action combat would be too much for me to ever play it as my main game. There is so much text to read / dialogue to hear, but that includes a lot of good setting lore, so I'm happy enough to read it all.

    I can't remember the last time I had a reason to chat with Sergeant Knox, so I didn't know either about a voice actor change. When we finally get around to levelling a Paladin/Warlock duo I imagine I'll get to see the new experience and hear the voice change.

    1. I'm no fan of action combat but Neverwinter is certainly at the more manageable end along with DCUO. I can't help thinking it would be more fun (and a lot more like D&D) with a bank of hot keys, though.

  3. If I ever get a gap in my dance card, that's definitely on my list. However I have still never seen ESO, GW2, and FFIV, or EVE and have barely set foot in STO. Those are all a little higher on my list whenever I get done with my current obsession. Of course I say that, and six months from now I'll probably be playing Endless Forest or something else weird that not really on my radar at all right now.

    1. I really should try Age of Conan before Funcom decide to get out of the MMO business altogether. I've owned a copy for years and never even installed it. I was thinking of giving STO another go, too. I liked the ground combat part when I played (briefly).

  4. If you are a TOS fan, then you can start in that era when playing STO, if you like. It is a major fan service. STO has been revamped several times in the last decade and the tutorials are solid and quickly get your orientated. Plus once you hit level 10 you can now equip a Tier 6 ship which scales with you. The ground combat is fun, although some don't like it, as it is a curious hybrid. You can play in a semi FPS mode if you like or not as the case may be. But I do like the away teams. Their AI is questionable but they do help the stories feel more "Trek" like, simply by accompanying you.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide