The Curse of Strahd is and has always been one of the most iconic Dungeons and Dragons tabletop campaigns. A thick, rich, immersive story with endless possibilities, good for those who enjoy heavy roleplaying, and also good for those who enjoy heavy amounts of intricate combat.
Strangely, the popular MMORPG Neverwinter didn’t have anything Barovian in their game… Until recently. Module 14 was built around the DnD titan finally bringing Strahd Von Zarovich’s realm to gaming consoles and PCs. For PCs, they had a while to enjoy it until it was released to console systems on August 28th.
I’ve been playing Neverwinter for a very long time and have the fortune of having five “end game” characters. I have also been a big fan of the tabletop world of DnD since I was quite young. The prospect of the Curse of Strahd campaign coming to the gaming consoles was quite promising for me, and I eagerly awaited the opportunity to playout my first ever tabletop campaign on my beautiful TV and PlayStation 4 console.
Which is why I was quite disappointed when I later learned how Cryptic Studios handled the additional of Barovia onto the game. Part of my disappointment with the newest module stems from how Mod 13 ended. The entirety of Mods 12, 12B and 13, were dedicated to the Jungles of Chult campaign. A lot happens, namely Makos coming back from the dead, Celeste and him having their relationship sour over him becoming a lich, and the whole conflict with Acererak the archlich and his Atropal monster.
In the Cradle of the Death God, you ultimately stop Acererak from raising the Atropal, while also driving him off directly as well. At that point, that’s it. The Atropal is done for, and Acererak is gone. So what happens with the Death Curse? I guess it just goes away with the Soulmonger destroyed, but the video game relies too much on the player’s theater of the mind for this to be effective, and this is especially ineffective if you aren’t me or didn’t understand the context of the game as it was transferred over from the Tabletop version. There had to be SOMETHING coming after this conflict, a way to end the story. In the Cloaked Ascendancy campaign, this existed; you slew Nostura and Kabal and effectively ended the Cloaked Ascendancy. There’s no doubting this, because the game found a way to satisfactorily end the story. But they didn’t do this in Chult, which made me think the ending could leak into Mod 14 before we begin to explore Barovia.
Except we never do. You enter Barovia when you speak to Lord Neverember. Neverember gives you about the most generic, awful monologue about a “wealthy merchant in need of aid” and sends you on your way.
Remember Xuna from the Storm King’s Thunder campaign, and how upset she was that Makos died? Remember how Makos came back from the dead in Mod 12? I guess we decided we’d just leave that storyline alone, and just go straight for the cash grabbing, generic “grind until you die” setup that the game has been so well known for?
At least Chult had something of a story. Barovia is just sloppily thrown onto the game, with little context as to why. If you didn’t care for the storyline (somehow) then this might have been okay, until you learned what else Mod 14 brought to the table.
For anyone with three or more characters, Mod 14 remodeled the maximum you can earn in Astral Diamonds, a common form of game currency used to purchase new equipment, consumables, and other important items, in a negative way. Before, you could max out at 36,000 Astral Diamonds for every character you had every day. But now, that number is set to an account wide cap of 100,000. If you had 1 or 2 characters only, you’re fine. But if you’re like 95% of the people who actually play the game and have 3 or more, you were likely quite upset by this. Stuff costs enough as is. For example, the new Swarm legendary mount, thought to be the best in the game, costs roughly eight million Astral Diamonds. When you consider that $25 of real life money could get about 1 million, this was clearly a cash grab on the developer’s part, in a way that was unnecessary and will continue to drive players away.
The campaign structure is quite predictable, only allowing players to earn a certain amount of campaign currencies every week, but not punishing them if they miss a day or two of action. This follows the same model employed from the Jungles of Chult campaign, and relatively speaking, suffices given the type of game Neverwinter is.
The story, however, is overtly monotonous as a result; there are the “repeatable” quests which a player will need to do many, many times to make significant progress in the campaign. There’s no real creativity, nothing like the tabletop version, and the quality of iconic characters such as Ezmeralda D’avenir is pretty much ruined as a result.
Finally, the most egregiously bad part of the Mod would have to be how the new end game dungeon, Castle Ravenloft, was created. After finally attaining the three artifacts needed to confront the wicked Strahd Von Zarovich, the party ventures into his Castle and tries to slay the evil Vampire leader, and release the hold he has on the citizens of Barovia, as a part of his horrible curse.
Except the novelty of this dungeon is completely overshadowed by how awfully it was actually put together. For such a grind-y game, where players will be expected to run end game content repeatedly, Castle Ravenloft offers little beyond a one-time milestone for players to run, and then immediately return to the Tomb of the Nine Gods, the former hardest dungeon in the game, as their farming grounds. Ravenloft takes longer for the average party to complete, yields less in the way of rewards, and is ultimately harder, stricter, and difficult to find competent parties to run with compared to the Tomb of the Nine Gods. It should come as no surprise that those who play the PC version of the game, and have had access to Ravenloft for months, have largely returned to the Tomb of the Nine Gods and the Cradle of the Death God for their fix in farming dungeons for good loot.
Given what we know about the game itself, little of this seriously surprises me. The game itself is pretty good, but it does such an iconic campaign virtually no justice given how the game around the campaign is structured. One can only hope that, perhaps in the future, Cryptic decides to, even for just a little while, craft a bit of fan service, and actually care about the STORY and CHARACTERS, rather than just slapping some stuff into the game and profiting off of it.