Nov 12 2014

Neverwinter: Being Reliably As Good As It Needs to Be (But No Better)

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It’s hardly a secret that I’m bearish on MMOs generally. I like the concept of them, but I don’t like the execution of the MMO genre as it’s come down through the years. The one MMO that I really got deeply into for a long time was Lord of the Rings Online, and that was mainly because I am such a Tolkien nerd, and for many years they really did a good job of embodying the lore. Also, for a brief shining moment, there was a really strong social aspect between the Turbine forums, the player blogs, and a group of folks within the in-game kinship that I really clicked with, which led to the whole “Life of a Bounder” series. And LotRO has a really, really awesome “cosmetic” system, which I have never seen matched in any other game. Assuming you can find an outfit you like (and there are babillions to choose from), you simply put that into your character’s cosmetic tab and you’re done forever.

But that was literally years ago now, which somehow seems strange to say. The group fell apart, the gameplay got scrambled and scrambled again by rules changes, the quality of the storyline faltered, and eventually I just had enough. My highest level character is mired in Rohan, needing to get through “epic battle” story quests in order to progress, and I just can’t bring myself to continue. As for the alts… I don’t think they’ll ever see the light of day again. Not if it means having to go through Rohan… again.

So it was that I started casting around for something else to play in my off-hours. I remembered that I’d flirted with Neverwinter a bit, basically getting as far as “making a character and getting out of the tutorial,” and inspired by the fun I’d been having with D&D 5E decided what the heck, give it a shot. In the intervening weeks I’ve managed to get Akikki, my tiny little half-elf Great Weapon Fighter, up to 52nd? 53rd? level, out of 60. (Yes, Akikki is basically Elsa from my 5E game; what can I say, it’s a character I’ve been wanting to play for a while.)

My thoughts? Well to put it bluntly, Neverwinter is just exactly as good as it needs to be… but unfortunately, no better than that. Gameplay-wise, it’s barely distinguishable from Everquest 2, Age of Conan, or a gajillion others. The quests are always incredibly linear and straightforward: “Follow an S-shaped path through the cave/swamp/forest/castle, fight three monsters, fight four monsters, fight three monsters, fight three monsters with a ringer, fight three monsters, fight the boss who keeps generating adds unless you can lure the boss out of his room.” Every once in a while you might find a little jumping puzzle, or an extra non-plot encounter tucked into a corner… once in a rare blue moon you’ll even find a way to approach the boss from an unexpected direction, but that usually seems to be an oversight on the map-designers’ part.

I will say about Neverwinter that it is a very good representation of the 4E Forgotten Realms setting… for better or worse. If you think the spellplague was cool, think floating islands everywhere is what D&D always needed, and you like tieflings and dragonborn all over the place, you’ll feel right at home. For myself I have no real attachment to FR, being more of a Greyhawk fan, but I wasn’t keen on 4E generally and so that aspect of the game took some getting over. It’s not really accurate to say that it’s not D&D, so much as it feels like there’s a lot of junk between me and the D&D that I have to get through. Everyone who said that 4E felt like a MMO was absolutely right: specifically, it felt like this MMO, for better or worse.

There are nuggets of joy to be found in the game, for all that. At the player auction house, one of the random bits of NPC dialogue is the auctioneer expressing doubt that an item being put up for auction really is “the Head of Vecna,” for example. There are bits of deep D&D geekery and that occasional touch of trippy dorkiness scattered across the landscape, and those are worth their weight in gold.

Speaking of gold, currency is a strange beast in this game. Although you’re constantly collecting gold pieces, there’s almost nothing to spend them on, particularly once you’ve bought a horse and hired a companion. Anything and everything worth buying (including stuff at the auction house) is bought with “astral diamonds,” an in-game currency that you collect by doing daily quests. And the prices are nuts. I have, now that I’m 52nd level, something like 16,000 astral diamonds. A single piece of cosmetic clothing often sells for something like 300,000. To alter the appearance of your current armor to look like that favorite piece sitting in your vault (the closest thing the game has to a proper cosmetic system) usually costs 20,000+.

What the heck.

I’d think this was a FTP-grab for cash, except that you can’t buy astral diamonds for real world cash. Really more than anything it feels like devs saying “We don’t want you to have nice things.” It may be that I’m missing something somewhere– this game has tons and tons of subsystems and no meaningful help dialog anywhere– but if so I have no idea what it might be.

Still, after all that, Neverwinter does have one really neat thing, and that’s the Foundry.

Intended to be a spiritual successor to Neverwinter Nights, with its DM’s Toolkit and tons of readily-downloadable user-generated content, Neverwinter‘s Foundry enables you to create your own dungeons, including quest goals, dialogue trees, and all sorts of game assets for locations and foes. Foundry-created quests are shared within the game at “Adventurers’ Job Boards” and the like, and since these are the quests that provide astral diamonds, there is plenty of incentive to go on them. They scale automatically with level, so if you wanted, you could go all the way from the game start to the level cap playing just Foundry quests and skip the solo campaign all together.

Given the linear nature of the solo campaign, that might not be such a bad choice, either. Being user-generated content, the Foundry quests are very hit-and-miss, often amateurish or filled with a junior-high aesthetic of what would be a cool dungeon (I can’t tell you the number of times Akikki has been hit on by other women because the quest designer just assumed that all player characters were male). On the other hand, many of them are very creative and entertaining, such as the quest in which my character sat down for a game of Call of Cthulhu with a gnome, an elf, and an ogre as the other players. If you play a lot of Forge quests (as I have), you’ll find yourself out-leveling the solo campaign pretty quickly. That’s not really a problem, as the Forge quests scale to your level on-the-fly, so you can always find a challenge. It just means that when you go back to the solo campaign, you might find yourself yawning as you wade through the requisite four-monsters-then-three-monsters-then-four dungeons.

I have not really done much group stuff in Neverwinter yet, so I can’t really say how well that works. There is an easy-to-use dungeon queue, and there are “open tap” landscape events (such as the current massive dragon encounters all over the map) where you can just jump in and go to town if you happen to be there at the right time, and those have been fun. Each zone of the game also has a capstone dungeon, of which I’ve done exactly none, but might like to go back and do once I’ve finished the current solo campaign. I don’t know if those scale or not, but they recommend 4-6 players for all of them, regardless of level. I’ll have to see what they have to offer.

-The Gneech

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May 20 2013

Despite What the Song Says, It Turns Out Killmo Dwaggins is Actually the Bravest Little Hobbit of Them All

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In the middle of the Earth in the land of the Shire
lives a brave little hobbit whom we all admire
but there’s an even braver one who lives just up the road
but he kept his adventures secret so his family wouldn’t know, oh!

Killmo, Killmo Dwaggins
with a lowbrow country drawl
Killmo, Killmo Dwaggins
the actual bravest hobbit of them all

Now hobbits are peaceloving folks y’know
“Keep your adventures in the closet and on the down low!”
But Killmo had some dwarf friends traveling to and fro
and dragons kept eating up his buddies so they had to go

So Killmo strapped on his sword and mail
He couldn’t find a helmet so he used an old pail
He had to keep it secret so he found a way to ‘morph:
Killmo put on some false whiskers and became a dwarf, oh!

Killmo, Killmo Dwaggins
with a lowbrow country drawl
Killmo, Killmo Dwaggins
the actual bravest hobbit of them all

Killmo was a better fighter than you might think
He killed so many dragons that they’re all but extinct
He was toasted and rewarded by all his dwarf pals
And found out that it’s true what they say about dwarf gals, oh!

Killmo, Killmo Dwaggins
with a lowbrow country drawl
Killmo, Killmo Dwaggins
the actual bravest hobbit of them all

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Aug 30 2011

Lachwen Learns a Little Something About Dwarves

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I haven’t posted much about Lachwen lately, mostly because she’s been busy grinding her way up in levels and I haven’t had time to come up with much storywise for her. I will try to fix that soon — I’d like to post a bit about her roughly once a month starting in September, now that I’ve built up a fair collection of screenshots with her. I do know how her story starts — but I have no idea where it will go from there.

But she did have one entertaining thing happen recently. 🙂 You see, Lachwen is from northern Mirkwood originally, i.e., the kingdom of Thranduil (Legolas’ father), and the elves of Mirkwood are some pretty hearty partiers. (See also Bilbo’s adventure riding the wine-barrels out of Thranduil’s halls.) Lachwen is no exception to this.

So when some dwarves invited her to toast their comrade Nykr, fallen in the depths of Moria, naturally she was happy to join in!

Lachwen toasts to Nykr! And then toasts to Nykr again! And then toasts to Nykr AGAIN...

What she was not expecting, was that just how many friends Nykr had — and that they would all want to drink with her, one at a time. In rapid succession.

You seem to have misplaced your pants. This makes you sad.

Even a hardened veteran of the Drinking Wars of Mirkwood can only take so much. The lesson learned here: be wary when offered a drink by a dwarf, or you might wake up in the crazy cat-lady of Bree’s house, mysteriously missing your pants.

-The Gneech

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Jul 28 2011

Pumyra’s RP Prompts – “Beholder”

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Originally posted to my LotRO blog.

Warning: Bad fic ahead. 🙂

Describe your character from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know them.

Toby and I were on the road from Ost Guruth to Bree; it was a risky trip, we knew, but we had a wagon full of pristine hides and we knew the Bree auction house would get us the best price. We were almost to the Forsaken Inn, when the howling of wargs chilled our blood. Over the hill a pack came swarming, some being ridden by goblins, and we ran for our lives, abandoning the cart in our panic.

We scrambled our way up a rocky cleft, goblin spears striking the cliff walls to either side of us; Toby’s short hobbit legs made it a lot harder for him, so I practically lifted him into the air and shoved him over the precipice. “Wait!” he shouted. “There’s–” but I couldn’t stop to listen, there was a warg right on top of me! I just barely had time to heave myself over the top and into the canyon beyond, kicking the hairy beast in the face to give myself the last push over.

I turned back and glanced over the edge: the wargs were not following, even though they could easily make the leap. Instead, they were circling below. I said as much to Toby, but he didn’t seem impressed.

“Uh … I don’t think our situation has improved,” he said, pointing into the ruddy brown, dusty valley. In the shadows, gleaming green eyes — in nauseating sets of eight — glistened at us. Chittering and making what almost sounded like vicious chuckling sounds, a half-dozen obscenely huge spiders were slowly but visibly closing in on us. We couldn’t go back, we couldn’t go forward.

“You and your pristine hides!” I said.

I wanted to sell them in Ost Guruth!” Toby shot back.

The nearest spider was dangerously close, now; I could smell its disgusting venom and hear the click-clicking of its feet on the rock. I pulled out my dagger, a futile gesture of defiance, determined to slay at least one of the monstrous things before they overwhelmed us — when suddenly and as if out of nowhere, the horrid thing burst into flames before my eyes, squealing and thrashing in agony!

“Hey, you two need a hand?” called a feminine voice. Off to our right, seeming to shine with her own internal light, an elf-maid stood with her hands on her hips and her head cocked to the side, as if amused by the whole thing. She wasn’t like any elf I’d seen before … instead of regal and elegant, she was rough-edged and almost arrogant, with a bright motley of clothes and a shining winged circlet on her head. But for the leaf shape of her ears, I would have assumed her to be of the race of men.

The spiders, enraged by the interference, turned from us and converged on the elf, whose expression turned into a predatory grin as she crouched for battle. Reciting something in elvish that I couldn’t catch, she held a stone between herself and the closest spider — a flash of lightning arced from the stone into the beast’s body, causing it to jerk and smoke. Then she turned to another, pulling a small vial of something out of the satchel at her side and hurling it at the beast, which like the one at the beginning burst into flames.

lachwen_doublerainbow_alltheway_web

Within moments, it was over, and the elf-maiden was stepping over the charred spider corpses to come over to us. “You two okay?” she said. “I’ve got some medicine here if you need it.”

“That was amazing!” cheered Toby. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“Eh, it’s no big deal,” said the elf-maid, with a shrug. “I’m from Mirkwood … if there’s one thing we know, it’s how to kill spiders.”

“We owe you our lives,” I said.

“Oh, heh, don’t worry about it,” said the elf. “I’m sure you’d have done the same for me. But we oughta get out of here before more show up. We’re not far from the Forsaken Inn, I’ll go with you that far.”

“But what about our wagon?” said Toby. “This whole trip will be for nothing.”

“Was that your wagon in the road?” said the elf. “I guess it’s a good thing I blasted those wargs and goblins, too, then! C’mon, we’ll go pick it up. It’s a bit of a mess, though, sorry!”

Toby looked like he was about to pass out. “You saved our wagon, too? Please! Tell me your name, so I can write a song about your great deeds!”

“You write songs?” I said to Toby.

The elf-maid laughed. “Wow, a song about me? That’d be great! My name’s Lachwen. C’mon, let’s go!”

-The Gneech

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Apr 14 2011

Awesomeness: “The Hobbit” Production Video Blog, Part One

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http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150223186041807&oid=141884481557&comments#!/video/video.php?v=10150223186041807&oid=141884481557&comments … ugly URL is ugly. 😛

-The Gneech

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Mar 02 2011

Maedhroc Thornhollow, World Renowned!

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Maedhroc_WorldRenowned

Okay, the idea of a world-famous hobbit seems a little strange, and it was a grindy, grindy deed. But he did it! As a bonus, I now have lots of extra rep items I can send along to my alts to make the rep grind a little less burdensome for them.

Maedhroc has been gradually collecting more stories to tell the folks back home, so fans of my “Life of a Bounder” series take heart: there will be more, hopefully soon! Right now I’ve been trying to rescue all the original entries from the RSS feed and repost them to gneech.com, so I probably won’t actually make new posts to the series until that’s done.

Maedhroc_vs_GwathnorI have to get back in the habit of taking screenies! Maedhroc took on an elite Shadow Wolf named Burgul in Enedwaith solo and slapped him down quick — so quick that the body had de-rezzed before I even thought to take the screenshot. And with all the instance runs he’s been doing lately, it’s been getting harder to have a few seconds to catch a good shot. But I’ll keep trying! I did get manage to get this one, if you can make it out: it’s Maedhroc fighting the gigantic boss at the bottom of “New Devilry” and picking up his Shield Line capstone.

So it’s not like he hasn’t been busy! He just hasn’t been writing home to tell everyone about it like he should. But we’ll fix that, shan’t we! 🙂

-The Gneech

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