It was during a small lull recently that I decided to pop back into Neverwinter, a game that garnered my full attention between the turn of 2018 and 2019. I still followed the game’s happenings somewhat regularly and was aware that it had received a handful of updates since I had last played it. So it seemed like as good a time as any to load back in to see for myself how things had changed. Going back in, I knew that several of its key features involving character powers, companions, and mounts had been completed overhauled. Its character classes were also renamed to match more closely those found in Dungeons & Dragons lore. Some abilities were capped or removed entirely. Enchantments were given new ranks. Classes were re-balanced (or “balanced” depending on your point of view), and enemies were re-scaled (or “re-scaled.”). Not to mention that the game now had several new zones for players to explore.
I can’t say I went back into Neverwinter with any motives in mind other than checking out its changes. So when the game loaded and I was greeted with my character list, I was a tad surprised to see that I had already tried to do that before. At the end of all my Level 70s (oh, the game’s level cap was raised to 80, too) was a Level 5 Cleric (once “Devoted Cleric”) that I had completely forgotten about. Based on the date associated with it, I started to remember his circumstances – he was my first new character after the full introduction the Undermountain module, which with came many of the major gameplay changes I mentioned. But, I obviously didn’t get him very far, so why did I quit? Did I dislike the changes that much? (I don’t think so?) Was I too absorbed in other games? (That’s likely *side-eyes Fallout 76*) Was I not ready to make the commitment to leveling a brand-new character? (Hmmm…it is a bit of work.) Whatever the case, with my character all in front of me, I had a choice to make: should I pick up where I had left off, either with my “new” cleric or by re-working one of my old characters; or should I start totally fresh, from scratch, with someone new?
It was an interesting question, one that I thought about in some respects before. But had my thoughts changed any since I had ventured more fully into live-service, online games? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really depended on the game.
Speaking strictly about online games, I could never see myself wanting to start over with a new character in the like of The Elder Scrolls Online or Grand Theft Auto Online. I like the set of characters I have in each, and going back through the initial grind in either isn’t that compelling. However, in Neverwinter, I actually really like the initial grind of obtaining the level cap. It’s the reason I have a bunch of level 70 characters in the first place, only a couple of which have seen the game’s content that opens upon reaching level cap. For whatever reason, I like the process of building my character from nothing to something, and making new discoveries along the way. Once that process is done, I lose interest.
The same is somewhat true for Fallout 76, as well. I leveled one solo character through the game’s general content to the point where the only thing left to do was drop a nuke on everything. Eh. No thanks. So then I started another character, specifically to try out a different build and to take different sides in the new(ish) Wastelanders and Brotherhood of Steel content. Once that was done, I didn’t feel much like moving on. The game now has a few new systems in place, which I’ll probably check out at some point, but what will I do when new content arrives? Chances are good that I’ll start a new character, one that I can take back through the ranks, building, growing, learning. All that helps me to connect with the avatar I’m controlling. With all my Neverwinter folks, I don’t quite feel as connected to any of them as I once did, or at least thought I did. To me, they represent past versions the game, past visions of myself. Re-working one of them to fit the game’s current needs feel off, like trying to make a square peg fit a round hole.
Speaking of connecting, the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series are two of the best examples whereby if I intend to sit down to play through either, I have to start with new characters, otherwise I don’t feel as invested in them. I think I’ve explained before that sometimes I like to play around only with the character creator in the Mass Effect games, and the same goes for Dragon Age, occasionally. Well, none of those one-off Shepards or Wardens/Champions/Inquisitors has ever made it beyond any opening scenes. That’s not their purpose. There have been instances where I’d start up either series with the intention of doing a full playthough only to be stopped in my tracks at some point. Upon picking up the game(s) again, I have to delete those stunted attempts and start fresh. The process of character building in these games is paramount, because that’s the game. Sure, there’s saving the world/universe and all that, but shaping my character’s personality, for better or worse, aligning with triumphs or missteps, the real reason I play. There are no such constructs in Neverwinter. My character there has no choice, and the game cares none for the backstory I made up for my lawful good barbarian. The choice to build upon an existing character is completely on me. The fact that it makes no difference if I defeat all the monsters with good or evil intentions weighs on that.
Then again, let’s take Fallout 4. There’s a game that I started and then halted for a good long while because the desire to play just fell by the waist side. My character didn’t matter in that game, too. Some of the choices she made did, sort of, but I hadn’t actually made it that far into the game when I stopped playing. So, would starting over had made that big a deal? After finally completing the game and ultimately feeling let down by it, in hindsight, I think it might actually have. Again, there’s something magical in that progression from becoming something from nothing. Through it, that important player-character bond is formed. In going back to Fallout 4, I had no connection left to my character. I had forgotten her self-made backstory and purpose. On one hand, starting over made sense. On the other, as I re-examined my map, quest list, and settlements situation, that compulsion faded over thoughts of re-doing all that I had already done. With that, I picked right up with the next thing on my character’s to-do list, and I didn’t look back. But because of that, I didn’t really care how her story turned out; my only goal was to reach the credits. In Neverwinter, starting where I left off with my Level 5 Cleric doesn’t ring as harshly, though my goal would remain reaching level cap, at least. But would be the right character to do that with right now?
In the end, if you hadn’t guessed it already, I opted to start Neverwinter anew. I deleted my cleric and created a rogue, which, considering the game’s re-workings, has so far provided quite the challenge. Indeed, playing the game now, this is not the Neverwinter on which I cut my teeth. It’s more challenging, more deadly even in the beginning throes, and a bit more rewarding in some ways as a result. I don’t have any grand plans for my new rogue other than potentially reaching at least level 30 in order to explore the game’s new take on its classic “paragon paths,” which, upon choosing one, opens up new powers for each character. After that, maybe I’ll put the level cap in my sights and see what happens. I’m happy to keep my old characters in place, as historical links to the game that was, and perhaps the time will come when one of them gets to shine again. But until then, and as long as Neverwinter keeps evolving, I have a feeling that fresh starts will be more likely than not.
Now it’s your turn! When you return to a game you once dropped, are you more like to pick up where you left off or start over?
Lede image captured by author during PS4 gameplay of Neverwinter (© Cryptic Studios, Perfect World Entertainment).