The Stronghold Chasm

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Last night I fell down an unexpected rabbit hole.  For a few weeks I have known that my good friend PizzaMaid has been dabbling in Neverwinter, but I did not actually know that we were apparently all playing on the same server until last night.  When I got upstairs to nom my noms and check into the world, I saw that she was streaming neverwinter.  Joining her were my friends and fellow Pom’s Wolfy, Jaedia and Starspun all logging in to run a dungeon in game.  We had some confusion earlier in the week as to which server we were all on, and I thought I remembered the name Dragon at some point.  Apparently yes we are all in fact on Dragon which allows us to do interesting things together.

I had my own renaissance of Neverwinter back in January as I installed and booted up the game on a whim.  For years I had been getting press releases about the game to my blogging/podcasting email and I guess over time it built up a desire to log in and see how things were going.  What I found when I got there was an extremely fun and also insanely intricate game…  that I struggled to grasp.  I already thought there was a wide chasm of features and functionalities that I did not quite understand…  but I was apparently only on the rim of said chasm.  Last night we full well opened the maelstrom and hopped right in.

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One of the activities were partook of was forming a guild, so as of last night the Owlbear Preservation Society lives in Neverwinter with the aforementioned members as the inaugural group.  This unlocked the ability to start messing around with our Stromhold which is essentially the equivalent of the Guild Hall in Guild Wars 2.  Now I had been carrying around items that assisted in the function of a guild hall for ages, likely since the game originally launched.  The problem is I never actually had a guild to spend them on… so I spent the first few minutes of my time in our stronghold trying to figure out what to do with them.

It turns out you feed them to the mimic friend that we are all taking a screenshot with, and he then applies them to the various costs associated with building things back to their grand status.  I thought Guild Wars 2 had a pretty deep rabbit hole when it came to a guild hall… but this one might be deeper.  The problem is at this moment we have only barely scratched the surface and unlike Guild Wars 2… there are no really easy gains that can be applied and instead everything seems to be pretty slow to acquire.  Right now we are being directed to build a lumberyard, which seems to be capable of producing at least some of the materials we need to start crafting things.

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Everything that is flagged with a green icon has a placard in front of it allowing us to build it.  I am guessing everything marked with a grey X is something that will eventually unlock… once we have built up a certain number of things in our Stromhold.  This is a really deep well we have fallen into and I am not entirely certain we will really make much headway.  The collection of items seems to be through “daily quests” of a sort that reset every 9 hours in the Stronghold.  I will not be playing actively enough to do these on cool down, however considering most of the activities are pretty chill I am likely to do a set of them each time I log in.

The biggest problem we have currently is the fact that there are only five of us and this seems to be a design feature that is intended to be sped through by mass amounts of players doing these and funding the building coffers.  I have no clue how wide this madness will spread, but I somehow doubt we will have a mass influx of players like we have had when a new game launches.  I might be wrong, but I am guessing this is going to be a pretty low key grind that takes place over several months.

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As far as the rest of my play session, I managed to ding 41 and now that we have our stronghold… I can see that the level cap is 70.  The Stronghold itself is populated with tons of heroic encounters designed for a balanced group of players to go out and tackle which is fairly slick.  We downed a few of them and failed one major event largely because we didn’t really know what the purpose was until it was a bit too late.  It was a really fun night of nonsense and it has sparked my desire to poke my head into Neverwinter more often now that I am actually part of a guild.

Sword Coast Chronicles

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Do you know how hard it is for me to say Neverwinter… and not follow it up with Nights?  Like that is hands down the hardest thing about playing the Cryptic made MMO…  is just stopping with the first word.  Like part of me feels like it would have simply felt better to call it Neverwinter Nights Online, but I am guessing that Bioware probably still has the licensing rights to “Neverwinter Nights”.  Regardless of this personal struggle I find myself suddenly unable to stop playing this game.  I am not really sure what is going on there but I am having a lot of fun and the content just seems to be flowing smoothly in a way it never did the few other times I tried to play it.  Everquest II had this concept of the golden path where a sparkly line of particle effects would attempt to lead you from objective to objective.  The problem is it never really worked right and was prone to completely abandon you if the effects clipped through the terrain, or simply route you in a truly bizarre manner.  As a result I think when I first saw that Neverwinter had a similar construct… I largely tried to ignore it after all of the bad experience attempting to make it work in EQ2.  The main difference is that here it actually works remarkably well, and while it might not be the most optimal path for questing purposes…  it does end up giving you a nice path to follow that eventually ends in you getting all of the objectives you need to knock out those quests.

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I had so many quests that were either partially completed or not even started scattered throughout a bunch of zones.  I am guessing I mostly ran around and killed stuff without really focusing on completing anything.  The problem with returning to a game after a significant amount of content has been added is you are never quite certain if something was in the game when you last played… or if you had just been completely oblivious to it.  One of these for me is  the introduction of the Sword Coast Chronicles tab which shows your general progress through the game, or at least what you should be working on content wise at a given level.  The only problem with this is that I am progressing way faster level wise than the content would in theory suggest.  I’ve been working on Neverdeath Cemetery still within the confines of Neverwinter proper.  If I had to guess I am now entering the second half of the content in that zone and should begin to start ticking off some of the boxes needed for the completion rewards.  So far the thing that is making this game stand out for me is just how interesting the locations are and how relatively densely packed they are with interesting vistas.  The one gotcha here is that the zones are not really as open as they might seem at first glance but instead in truth are more corridors to move through in a similar fashion to the zone design in something like Destiny 2.  So long as you treat the zone as a conduit to do the quests it feels really good…  when you start trying to break out off the beaten path and just traverse the zone without a purpose however it begins to feel frustrating and confining.

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Another thing I remember about this game is that it seemed really scarce with loot drops and at some point they went in completely the opposite direction.  I am getting more than enough gear from just running about to stay constantly upgraded and in the short time I have played I have gotten three different mounts as world drops and two companions.  There are entire subsections of this game that I have no clue what is even going on… like I vaguely remember there being some sort of web based component to this game.  I keep getting crafters and such from quests but I have no clue how to access it.  I attempted to do a little research yesterday but was constantly confronted with several year old information, so I am guessing the game just does not have much of a informational community presence.  Reading back through my original reviews of the game…  I seem to have thought it was an enjoyable experience each time I have attempted to play it.  The problem is I never really stick to it for one reason or another.  It already feels like I have gained way more traction in the game than any of my other efforts given that I logged in at level 16 Monday and now am just shy of level 30.  There are still a lot of ways that I feel like I don’t really know what the hell is going on, but I am slowly getting acclimatized to the game and feeling like I at least know my way round a bit.  The Dungeons I have run have been a mess… but the sort of mess where one person who is grossly overpowered just speed burns through the content and we sorta follow along haplessly looting shit.  At some point I want to check out the user created content that I know at some point went into the game.  I know my friend Tipa was super into that for awhile, so I am interested to see what playing that is like.  All in all I am still having a lot of fun, and probably just as shocked as you are to be seeing more Neverwinter posts.

NBI Talkback 3 – What Made You A Gamer?

Early Beginnings

searstelegames I had an extremely strange couple of days, so instead of talking about that I thought I would tackle the third talkback challenge.  For this one my good friend Jaedia posted a prompt on the Newbie Blogger Initiative website asking “What Made You A Gamer?”.  This is one of those topics that I have thought long about for years, and I am not really sure what the answer is.  I am not sure if there is any one thing that makes someone a gamer.  I think you are either born with the natural proclivities in that direction or you are not.  My earliest memories of gaming are pretty clear however.  My parents had a Sears and Roebuck version of the Atari Tele-Games console system…  aka Pong.  I remember being completely enamored with being able to move the bar on screen to intercept the square bouncing around the screen.  I don’t necessarily remember playing this all that often because well… it was my parents toy and not mine, but I remember the desire being real.

A few years later thought my parents purchased an Atari 2600, and that is the system I remember being “mine”.  My mom was a teacher and I guess one of her students was selling theirs used.  This is important because it sets up a long tradition of me buying console systems second hand that I continue today with my Craigslist finds.  The console came with the base system, several well worn controllers and a dozen or so games for the big price of $50… which actually was quite a bit of money back then.  I was enthralled by the games and while they really had no story to tell on their own, it didn’t stop me from making up stories.  Even the most generic game could be a vehicle for me to tell tales of valor and bravery.  I remember for whatever reason that Sea Quest was one of my favorite games at the time, which was this simple game about going down in a sub marine to save divers.  In my head I was this crack submarine pilot fighting off sharks to rescue my troops.

Discovering Role-playing Games

DaveTrampierPlayersHandbook At this point we are going to take a bit of a detour, because I was happily an Atari kid for years making up stories to fill in the gaps that the games were not providing for me.  Then an event happened that literally changed my trajectory permanently.  As I have said before I grew up the child of a teacher, and that means a bunch of things.  Not the least of which is that you end up spending a lot of time up at school waiting for your teacher parent to “wrap things up”.  I knew all of the janitorial staff by name and they were a kind of family that I hung out with as they did their things, and I waited on my mother.  At the end of the school year there was a tradition, the great locker cleanout.  On the last day of school, anything that was left in the student lockers at 4 pm was going to get dumped in the ground and thrown out, to clear the lockers to be cleaned for the next school year.  I learned my scavenging instincts at a young age, and this was pretty much a magical time for me as I wandered around through the piles of debris picking up gems.

Most of the treasures I found were in the realm of nifty “stationary” items like binders or notebooks, but I remember during second grade I stumbled upon a book that quite literally changed my life from that point onwards.  That seems like a fairly bold statement but finding a dusty well worn copy of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook was like opening a whole other world to me.  To say I was obsessed with this was a bit of an understatement.  I poured over the pages of the tome soaking in everything I could from it.  While I didn’t understand anything about the game itself, it provided for me a structure of types of heroes, types of weapons, types of magic that imprinted upon me.  I loved the artwork and the next year at school it dominated the recess games I played with my friends.  We were a band of warriors, and the fact that the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon started around this same time only served to fuel the fire.  The only problem being that we lived in the bible belt, and “Dungeons and Dragons” was an evil thing.  So instead I got wrapped up in the Marvel Super Heroes game also by TSR.  For some reason my friends parents could stomach them playing a game based on comic book heroes, so long as we never referred to or referenced it as being “like” D&D.  We had to go so far as to hide the dice needed to play it, so as a result I became the game master because my parents were cool with all of this.

The Nintendo Christmas

nintendo-nes-mario-console-boxed The next major event in my game development came with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Up until this point I had been doing everything I could to squeeze the joy out of a combination of the Atari and my scattered pen and paper role playing games.  Then my cousins came to town with their Super Mario Bros and completely destroyed my world.  Everything about the NES was just better.  There were stories being told through the games, and with characters that you could actually recognize as characters.  I grew up in a pretty small town and the arcade was a less than savory place.  So my exposure to Arcade games to that point was pretty much limited to the occasional lobby of a department store.  While I craved playing them, and begged my parents for a quarter anytime we were near one… it was not something I really got to do all that often.  When the NES came on the scene I was completely blown away by the graphical fidelity and my entire existence became about getting one.  This was the Christmas that the Nintendo was universally sold out around the country.

I had to be the most annoying kid because I kept tabs on which stores had them, which stores were rumored to have them… and which stores were sold out.  I kept my parents up to date on my findings, in hopes that they would rush out and get one.  So as Christmas rushed towards us and there was no Nintendo shaped box under the tree…  I was completely devastated.  Then Christmas morning happened… and I had put on a good face and was prepared to swallow down the disappointment.  There under the tree was sitting a gleaming Control Deck box just like the one above.  This was probably the most joy I had experienced to that moment, and if my parents had a video camera it probably would have looked a lot like the N64 kids.  This was the single best and worst Christmas I had ever experienced.  About two hours after getting my Nintendo…  we lost power due to an Ice Storm that was raging… and we did not get power back for three days.  So while I had the object of my desire…  I had no power with which to actually enjoy it.  The rest is pretty much history, games like Final Fantasy were able to merge my love of RPGs and my love of games, and now I spent most of my time playing MMOs.  I still think however that people either are inherently game lovers or they are not, and there isn’t really much that can “make” a gamer.