In the latter half of 2018, I became obsessed with the MMO Neverwinter. Actually, it may be more accurate to say that I became obsessed with its characters, classes, and leveling; because once I max-leveled a character in each of its available classes, my general interest fizzled. Oh, I tried my hand at a few of its expansive, post-adventure campaigns, and while I really like the stories they offered, their repetitive and/or time-gated content wore thin before too long. I put the game “away” just before the release of its 16th module (Undermountain) in early 2019. I popped into the game every now and then after that to check out new content, making even more new characters, but none of them stuck around, and neither did I. About a year ago, my husband and I logged into to our original wizard/paladin duo on the PlayStation and managed to finish ye olde Undermountain campaign. Only then we got stuck not knowing how to progress, as the game, then in its 22nd module (Dragonborn Vale), had changed considerably. I made another solo attempt at the game to gain a better understanding of all the changes, and I wanted to try out its new bard class, too, but it was all in vain. My new bard didn’t make it past level five.
My recent bout of soul searching in sandbox games is what made me turn back to Neverwinter. It sounds funny to say, but I needed a break from mindful decision-making, and if I could think of but one game that offered the exact opposite of that (mindless direction?), it was Neverwinter. So, I fired up the game on my Xbox, away from my merry band of PlayStation misfits, and committed to a new barbarian – a fairly powerful melee class that could fill either a DPS or tank role. The fresh start helped make things feel new, and I didn’t go in with any grand designs. My main goal was to experience Neverwinter as a new player, leveling to the game’s new max of 20.
Having tried all this before, I knew what to expect, at least partially. One of the most significant changes was that number of the game’s initial adventures, now called Leveling Adventures, had been cut, bringing this portion of the game down to about a dozen hours to complete from at least forty, if not more. The game’s gearing system had been reworked to focus fully on one’s total item level rather than one’s experience level. As well, the companion and enhancement systems were simplified, as was looting. (No more bags overflowing with useless things!) I mentioned that the games adventures had been streamlined; its campaigns were, too, and everything was tied to item levels. With all this in my head, indeed, a short time later, I had my level 20 barbarian all decked out and ready for whatever was next.
How was the jaunt to level 20, you wonder? For one, it was quick! I’ll admit that when I was playing heavily to level multiple characters to 70 (later upped to 80), making my way through thirteen initial adventure zones eventually felt like a slog. Now, there are only six leveling adventures, and within them, the focus lies on one (or maybe one-and-a half) main questline with nearly all sidequests removed. (Though, “hidden” might be more correct.) Gone too, I mentioned, is the too-plentiful loot that was once doled out en masse by enemies. Instead, they drop mostly gold, potions, and gems for various uses. Some enemies and bosses, however, will randomly drop pieces of uncommon or epic gear. Even so, one need no longer worry about having the “best” gear while leveling, as class-appropriate weapons and armor are given out per quest within each zone. This means that players have a full set of new gear upon completing each adventure, and most importantly, it’s all of the right item level needed to progress.
While there are fewer leveling adventures in total, completing each zone and the quests within them comes with better rewards. With individual quests, I mentioned that new gear is bestowed, so too are ones levels and powers, so there’s no more need to grind to get to specific levels. Two different paragon (role) paths unlock at level 11; and by the end of the six initial zones, a player is level 20 no matter what. Fully completing a zone gives new rewards, too, like companions, mounts, and astral diamonds, a special in-game currency that had previously only been available by completing dungeons and PVP content. In between the adventures, the game introduces its general systems, which had been formerly unlocked upon reaching certain levels – companions, mounts, enhancements, artifacts, seals, PVP, and crafting. Everything was the same, just a little different at points, and much, much simpler.
The run to 20 was quick, but was it fun? Yes and no. I like the game’s new streamlined approach to onboarding, as it were. The simplified power and ability trees are great. They contain fewer choices overall, but the ones that are available are more impactful, and they remain interchangeable. So you can try out new powers but always go back to old ones at any time. I also liked not being over-encumbered with junk, worrying if I had the right or wrong gear, not having to grind to get to the next level, or being confused over what to do next. I wanted mindless, and boy, did I get it! Am I being sarcastic? A little, yes. On the downside, it did feel odd that I didn’t have to do much if any work to progress. The truncation of quests within each leveling adventure made each zone feel, I don’t know…bland? Without sidequests, there was no need to explore beyond the given to-do list. Further, without the need to work for XP or gear, unmarked enemy mobs became nothing but annoying obstacles – they were just in the way and mostly to be avoided.
All in all, I didn’t mind Neverwinter’s new low-effort approach to get folks into the game. The developers have made it much easier for new players to get in on the “good stuff” early, which makes for a more attractive package out the gate. When I initially picked up the game years ago, I can imagine that plenty of new players may have gotten stuck in the old grind to 70/80. Now, obtaining max level requires little thought. Just follow your quest trails, and you’ll be ready for campaigning in no time! Speaking of which, that is what would be next for my barbarian – starting the Undermountain campaign from what item level I see. I think, instead, I’ll level a second character – a bard, for real. With a less daunting path ahead, maybe I can make sweet music past level five this time!
Lede image captured by author during Xbox gameplay of Neverwinter (© Cryptic Studios).
Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:
Recently, and for reasons, I decided to hop back into Neverwinter after being away for several years (and expansions). The game to which I returned was nothing and everything like I remembered. In this Virtual Bastion post, I described how it all went down back in Faerûn.
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