With “Tomb of Annihilation” about to hit on consoles next Tuesday and the next mid-module update already on the preview for the PC version of the game, it’s time to conclude Neverwinter’s 11th expansion “The Cloaked Ascendancy”. So let’s rate and discuss the added content and systems and also see how the module compares to previous additions.
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River District, Campaign and Storyline (A-)
A key focus of Cloaked Ascendancy’s solo content was reworking the campaign to give players more choices. The traditional design was to let players run a set amount of dailies to progress. In the River District however pretty much everything players do contributes towards the daily to some degree. While that in theory is a great concept, it didn’t really materialize in my opinion. I personally never had the feeling that the daily completed just by doing the tasks you would have done anyway. Instead it still felt like working through certain stuff to advance. Most players nowadays are just running Heroic Encounters, because it is the most efficient way to deal with the progression. I guess that’s not really the variety the devs envisioned.
The River District mechanics suffer from the same problem. Set up as dynamic environment where players have to react to constant threats and counterattacks, instances, once claimed by players, are largely stale. Guard posts are rarely recaptured by mobs even if they overrun the area. I think this might actually be a bug. But even if, the devs never made an effort to change or fix anything. The River District is still one of the more interesting and unique adventure areas the game has, especially since its map design is beautiful.
Story is Still Going Strong
Additionally story telling has been a strong suit of the game since a few modules, and Cloaked Ascendancy adds to that. It’s especially worth mentioning because Cryptic came up with the ideas themselves. They didn’t follow WotC’s lead, like in Storm Kings Thunder for example. Even though I’m not a great lore guy or whatever, I appreciate those little stories, hidden achievements and funny elements. It just adds to the atmosphere and doesn’t make you feel like you’re only doing it to progress.
The campaign setup was ok in my opinion. I would have liked a more direct route to the dungeon, but that’s about it. Also some store tasks do not make too much sense because doing them you actually pay more than you safe unless you really want to buy all weapons, which is highly unlikely.
The campaign surely has its flaws, but overall solo content in the Cloaked Ascendancy is in a very good place.
Group Content (C+)
Which brings us to the group content, which is truly a mixed bag. Illusionist’s Gambit after the most recent changes to drop rates at least hands out companion +4 gear consistently, but the wide range of different gear type and stats makes farming for a specific piece still a major pain. Plus despite the continued effort of offering different environment and challenges in each run, the skirmish gets boring pretty fast.
It’s even worse for the new guild event inside strongholds, which was supposed to help progressing by offering a flurry of vouchers in areas of need. Unfortunately the drops are crap, which effectively renders Marauders useless. Guilds only do the first five waves for the 600 weekly Influence and then bolt. Going deep into the waves simply makes no sense.
On the contrary the Spellplague Caverns is a dungeon well made. I like the boss fights and their mechanics although it’s weird that Nostura as end boss probably is the easiest of them all. The big thing with Spellplague is a worse time vs. reward ratio compared to other content. It’s substantially longer than Fangbreaker Island and doesn’t come with too many additional incentives. Those that need Fartouched Residuum can tell. The resource is a pain to get, which makes stronghold weapon sets for certain classes way more expensive than others.
With Marauders being a fail, Illusionist’s Gambit’s grind boring and the Caverns suffering from loot issues, I cannot go over an average rating here although the main group addition is actually very well done.
Overall I like the lockboxes that came with The Cloaked Ascendancy. The Many-Starred Lockbox had a big fail in the Fashion Pack and the Stags in the Lockbox of the Nine feature Regeneration, which is a useless stat to most at this point. Key however in this cycle was that several drop rates got adjusted in favor of the players. Legendaries now drop at a rate of 1:600, up from 1:2000 for example. Several blue drops offer better rewards as well.
Ascended Weapon Sets
There’s also not much to complain about in terms of the Ascended Weapon Sets. Yes, there’s a bit of a grind attached to them, but they align perfectly within the current progression. Relic sets are best-in-slot, but gated behind difficult group content. Ascended ones are slightly inferior, but still very viable and can be fully acquired solo. Introducing different tiers for different needs is something I really like as a concept.
Buffed Weapon Enhancements
This could probably also have been put below under the “QoL” category. But either way, it won’t alter any of the grades. The weapon enhancements changes made sense on many levels, but for the endgame purposes it just shuffled the whole meta and spit out the Lightning Enchantment. I know that’s not a correct assessment, yet the balance between all the enhancement is still not there. The variety for builds simply hasn’t majorly increased. I mean buffers in most cases have the choice between Plague Fire and Frost, but is any serious DPS still using Vorpal in PVE for example?
Loadouts and New Item Levels (A)
This section is easy. Both major quality of life additions are absolutely superb and I wouldn’t want to miss them. The only reason this is not getting a perfect store is because loadouts do not include all areas that make sense.
The Great Hall addition is something that’s hard to judge for me as it’s nothing I personally find too important. But I absolutely agree these cosmetic and housing features are a welcomed if not necessary addition to a lot of players. That being said, I do not like the ADs attached to some of the accessories. You would think that those thriving in such a feature are more of a casual crowd that can’t afford to spend millions.
Speaking about casuals and being able to afford stuff, we quickly turn to Masterwork Professions. This is also hard to judge, although for an entirely different reason. Knowing how Module 12 and Module 12b will look, it’s hard to give the system a good grade. It simply will be obsolete way too fast based on the necessary investment. On the other hand it definitely helped to revitalize the economy and Explorer’s Chart farming, and gave high-end players more options to choose from. Plus the temporary vendors in strongholds are not only a great help with older recipes, but also make it very easy to get the normal resources you might need for other stuff.
The stronghold weapon sets are technically best-in-slot for support builds. If you’re running the wrong class however it can get pretty expensive thanks to Fartouched Residuum. Not only because of that I’m not a huge fan of the balancing. Some stuff just seems harder to get for no apparent reason.
I do like the concept of the Mysterious Merchant gear, but not the way to acquire it. The Merchant added to the stronghold grind, and has been bugged for a long time. Combined with the fact that really only a few items are actually useful, most players are probably happy once they are able to move on. I think after all it wasn’t really the worst thing to do. I however would much rather see this kind of gear dropping from dungeons.
Adding up all the grades, the module scores a good rating, which I find fitting. I think it’s one of the stronger expansions although it definitely has a few flaws. I liked that you didn’t have to go all-in with all characters, but could pick your spots. There’s a lot you could do, but little you really had to do.
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