So as that headline suggests, I made it to level 20 in Neverwinter. That’s not really too surprising to regular players, I imagine – the leveling curve in this game has been smoothed to the point of being a pinball – but it did mean that I got to see just how well my favorite class in this MMORPG performed at what I presume to be a higher level. Or at least a mid-tier level.
I’m not going to be spending too much time and digital ink talking about the trip towards max level, though I was facing off with some of my favorite illithid foes from D&D along the way. All told, once again, the story to the top was throwaway, and I was eager to reach my goal.
There have been more than a few guides I’ve read prior to this that suggested that the tutorial ended at level 20 and I was curious if that suggestion was correct. And for the most part? Yes, it certainly seemed that way.
My first order of business was to spend all of the adventurer’s seals I had accumulated up to this point on better gear. I had already spent some on a better sword and lute a little while earlier, but everything else was below par, especially the shirt and pants my character was wearing. Who knew that there were stats pants and a stats blouse?
After kitting myself up for the next phase of my adventure, I decided to burn some of my astral diamonds on improving my fighter companion, Dudeman McCool, just to see if perhaps there was any way doing so would improve his tanking abilities. I regret to relay that wasn’t totally the case, though he also was managing to keep at least one or two enemies from surrounding me, so maybe there is some merit to the idea. I just am not keen on hunting down whatever materials and currencies I need to get him to higher tiers, and something told me the astral diamonds were more important for later anyway.
When I hit max level, a bunch of fresh options arrived in front of me for things to do, which is not what I was expecting, given that everything else I was doing before then was very regimented and guided. Of course, looking ahead in the journal did point out that some of the adventures at max level were gated behind item level, so there’s still some tunnel running there, but at least I had a few different options for which tunnels to run down.
I first started off with one quest that was offering the reward of a new class-specific artifact. That seemed to be pretty important, so I went ahead and took that on and found myself face to face with a beholder. I’m actually surprised I didn’t see one of these things sooner; they’re a classic D&D monster, and I had half expected Neverwinter to throw one of these in front of me sooner. Happily, the fight with this iconic beast didn’t totally disappoint – it even killed me a few times – but overall I managed to handle it without too much issue.
The next quest I took was directing me back to the adventurer’s guild, where I was suddenly plucked out of thin air by Valindra and forced into a fight with her. This… was less than ideal to me. This was the main villain that kicked off the troubles my character was facing. The BBEG who was the cause for a lot of woes in the Sword Coast. And then she just decides to fling me to her big spooky room and say “fight me now.” Worse yet, it was barely a fight, and once I understood the telegraphs and mechanics, she went down with ease.
Talk about a letdown. A lazy, shoddy, awful letdown. It really felt like everything about what I was doing before was truly throwaway. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve been skipping through the narrative because clearly Neverwinter also didn’t seem to give a damn.
I was shaken out of complacency at Undermountain, however. The second I arrived at this place to follow the next step in whatever story I was smashing past, I was getting completely torn apart. Enemies were numerous, I was constantly being surrounded once again, and the respawn rate of foes was just a bit too insane, all of which saw my poor Tiefling get turned into paste over and over and over again. Frustrated, I logged off and assumed that was all she wrote.
The next day, though, I decided to try again, only this time I had a brain wave: I needed more enchantments. A lot more. All I had was three, along with the two artifacts that I was just generally granted through regular questing, so I guessed that filling those slots up would perhaps improve things, and so I spent the last of my astral diamonds on a bunch of garnets.
Turns out, I was pretty much correct, as the effect of these trinkets was pretty much immediate. They didn’t really raise my item level too much, but my critical severity stat is at its maximum now (I think), and I was able to stand up to most of what Undermountain was throwing at me. At the same time, having other people running through the zones that I was certainly helped, and I have to say it was really nice to play this game with others. Combining that with some better use of my skills and some generally better play, I seemed to have figured out the problems I was having.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been super surprised by this ramp-up in difficulty. I’ve experienced the same problem in Star Trek Online. At least this time around, I felt like I had a handle on how to address the issue; I still don’t know what the hell is happening with me or what I’m doing in STO.
Questing continued, the randomly generated Undermountain expedition was conquered, goodies were earned, and slowly I got more acclimated to how the endgame activities available to me worked. I still have no idea how to get enhancement materials (and the costs seem absolutely ridiculous, frankly), and I’m probably not quite getting the right gear, but I generally think I’ve gotten adjusted to all of Neverwinter, or at least the Bard class.
Still, I’m not sure that I want to keep playing.
As I suggested in last week’s column, Neverwinter feels a lot less like a D&D adventure and more like a routine by-the-numbers themepark MMORPG that uses D&D assets as if it’s pulling them from the Unreal Engine store. It doesn’t seem to capture the spirit of D&D so much as use that as a template, and it feels like it’s missing a lot of the love and attention for the IP that I’ve felt while playing STO. I know that Cryptic can create a good IP-linked MMO, so the fact that this seems to fall short is a bit of a letdown.
That segues rather neatly into next month’s project: Dungeons and Dragons Online, which won the overwhelming majority of voting, so it’s nice to see the idea of finding out whether this niggling feeling of D&D-appropriate love has some legs. That said, I do have to decide whether to pick back up with my existing character that I haven’t played in a very, very long time or start afresh and hit the reset button.
Yes, that means it’s poll time:
Polling wraps up at the usual 1:00 p.m. EDT time on Friday, April 28th. Until then, I’ll probably keep the game installed a bit longer. I like the Bard, I really think I’m coming into my own with the class, and maybe I can find myself among the usual Neverwinter crew to experience more of what it’s like to play with others. Even if I am way, way behind.