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Neverwinter Previews: An Exclusive Look at The Curse of Icewind Dale

By William Murphy on March 31, 2014

The Curse of Icewind Dale is set to be Neverwinter’s third free expansion (or module), and it’s due out this Spring. Packed to the gills with new content, gear, quests, and loads of PVP, we spoke with Development Producer Rob Overmeyer of Cryptic about all things Icewind Dale. He drove us around the two massive new zones coming in this update, showed off all of the new PVE content, but more importantly for some… how the brand new world PVP works in Icewind Dale. If you’ve been waiting for a reason to come back to Neverwinter, The Curse of Icewind Dale just might be enough to entice you.

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Let’s quickly mention that the Hunter Ranger is also getting its 2nd paragon path in this update, but we’ll have to wait until later to learn more about that one.  The big daddy of Module 3 is Icewind Dale itself and the focus on giving Neverwinter a much needed boost in the area of open world public group-oriented combat. This update focuses less on private instances, and far more on driving players together across massive zones both for PVE and for PVP.

You start off your adventures at level 60 in Caer-Konig. This harbor town happens to be the place that was first able to make use of the mysterious Black Ice resource that starting showing up after the Black Tower exploded in the game’s main narrative. All around Icewind Dale this stuff just started cropping up… but it’s filled with vile and evil properties and therefore dangerous to work with.  But the Caer-Konig dwarves figured it out, how to shape it, mine it, and make it into armor and weapons. However, Black Ice still isn’t good for the land, and two factions have sprouted in the area to try and use/wield Black Ice to their own ends.

The Ten Towners are after profit. They want to mind Black Ice, sell it, and become rich enough to buy and sell the whole of IWD.  The Arcane Brotherhood on the other hand are hoping to live down a rather dark legacy, and seek Black Ice to learn from it… so, basically, they want it to become all powerful with the powers it holds. You come in as a mercenary. You’ll pick one of the two factions to work for, but the choice is in no way permanent. Like any gun for hire, you can pick up and drop contracts at will. However, due to the PVP nature of the two rival factions (more on that soon), there’s an auto-balancing measure that turns off contracts for one side if too many people are going in that direction.  The NPC who hands them out will shrug and tell you he’s all out of contracts for now, and to check back later.  They also are dropped from a character as soon as they’ve been logged out for two hours, so the same people can’t hold onto one faction forever either.

For PVE, the contracts have a light lore-based meaning that’s reflected in the rewards and types of daily quests you get.  But you can get contracted with one side, get all the PVE quests, and contract with the other and get all of their daily PVE quests too.  The only quests that don’t persist across sides, and rightfully so, are the PVP missions. 

By doing the daily PVE quests, you’ll progress the campaign, much like previous campaigns.  The reputation with Caer-Konig is the main path for PVE, and you gain access to more things in the main hub as you progress along the Campaign.  Mainly, you get access to Barrick’s Iceforge: the place that will show you how to learn the Black Ice Refining profession to make the best gear the game’s ever seen for PVE or PVP. That’s right, crafted gear is about to become the absolute best in Neverwinter, and Rob’s confident that it’ll be hard to get, but not so hard that only 1% of the playerbase ever does. Do your dailies and take part in the zones’ content and you’ll get your set pieces soon enough. You also unlock Boons, or buffs, via the Campaign to get more Black Ice from looting and so forth.

For the first time ever, this module brings in the brand new PVP campaign. Cryptic’s long wanted to give players more meaning and achievement with PVP, and the Campaign will track every single form of PVP you partake in from instanced Domination matches to Gauntlgrym, and of course the World PVP in Icewind Dale. You get boons that help you in each type of PVP too, not stats so much as making it take less time to capture a point in Domination, and so forth. On top of progression trees for all forms of PVP, there will also be full leaderboards across all level brackets for Neverwinter’s PVP in Module 3, too. Rob said they’re open to giving out more rewards, having seasons, and ladders in the future, but for now the Leaderboards will be all about bragging rights.

The first big zone of the two that are coming in with Curse of Icewind Dale is Icewind Pass. We spent a little time with the southern cousin Dwarven Valley where things are lusher and green, but Rob and I spent most of tour in the very snowy climes of Icewind Pass. Each zone has its own daily quests, storyline, and PVP areas, so there's plenty to do in either and the daily quests will make sure they're filled with people.  

But daily missions to progress the campaign aren't the only thing Cryptic wants players to worry about. There are dozens of small group and large group PVE encounters littered across the map, spawning randomly for players to take on. Rob expects roving bands of 10-15 people to be a common thing with what they're calling Heroic Encounters. You can drop in on them right in the middle, or the end, and still get some rewards.  You don't even formally have to group up, as the game has an open tagging system. Show up, do damage, heal people, and fight? You'll get rewarded.

From fending off invasions of ice trolls to defending roving merchants, or taking out specif epic bosses these encounters will spawn everywhere and rarely in the same place twice. And since you can both take out your dailies and reap plenty of Black Ice to spend on rewards and crafting... they're going to be a hot commodity.  It'll just be nice to be out in a huge wide-open area with players in Neverwinter as it's typically gone down more of a confined and tight spaces path. Icewind Pass and Dwarven Valley are both very much open and explorable locales, a trend Cryptic hopes to continue with all future zones.  

The Black Ice itself is the big driving force behind all of the content in Module 3. It's used for crafting, but also buying items to help in combat and so forth. And it can only be earned by playing, it's not trade-able. At 2nd tier and up of the new Black Ice Shaping profession, you'll begin to make your own Corrupted Black Ice set of armor and weapons.  All of it has some of the highest tenacity stats you'll find (PVP stat), so even PVE players that earn their Black Ice gear from all PVE will still be prepared stat-wise for PVP. 

Each item is empowered too, and that gives them even higher stats.  There's even a very powerful black ice enchantment that has very powerful procs, but needs to be re-made when it runs out of its limited charges.  That's a theme with the Corrupted Black Ice set, too. It's all very strong, but to keep it in top fighting shape you need to keep feeding it Black Ice. Think of it as a clever gold sink, for Black Ice. You get tons of the stuff by partaking in the content so they made the new gear basically need black ice as fuel to keep it strong. It won't break, but if you don't keep it empowered, its big stats will wear off and the armor will be far more ordinary.  Rob assured me that getting the armor won't be a nightmare, and keeping it charged won't be either.  It'll take about 10 days of daily quests to unlock the 2nd tier of Black Ice Shaping, and since you'll have been saving up Black Ice all that time, chances are you'll have enough to make at least your first piece. But Rob insists: this is the best gear the game has to offer, and it should take some adventuring to make it your own.

But what about the big world PVP stuff we mentioned? Rob's a huge fan of ol' RVR designs from MMOs of yesteryear, and with that in mind there are large red PVP areas smack in the middle of the two new zones that automatically flag you as soon as you enter.  You'll know you're crossing it, even getting near it, but once you step over: you're fair game. Think Warhammer's RVR lakes, really. There are PVP daily missions to destroy the enemy's bases, or defend your own. Kill this many enemies, take this from them, and so forth.  But there are also huge public Heroic Encounters that spawn in the PVP zone, basically PVEVP boss fights and domination matches that pop up as events every so often.  In the Icewind Pass zone, the winning faction (Ten-Towners or Arcane Brotherhood) gets access to a super-rich Black Ice motherlode. Can anyone say Darkness Falls?  Dwarven Valley has a similar design, but we'll leave that for a surprise.

Once you're flagged for PVP too, you're flagged for good until you die or leave the zone. So you can't just leave the designated PVP area and hope to be safe. Rob's pretty excited for the potential zone-wide PVP this can create, and again stresses that this update encourages grouping not just for PVE success, but also for PVP safety. Companions can come with you in the open world, so you can always bring your healer, but chances are they're not going to be as helpful as an army of heals and DPS at your back.

The Curse of Icewind Dale is shaping up to be a momentous step forward for Neverwinter. Away from the confines of the city and into the greater wilds of the Forgotten Realms, Cryptic's clearly not done tweaking and improving the Neverwinter experience. Will you be diving in when Module 3 launches later this spring? We certainly will.

Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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