Neverwinter’s Elemental Evil was a wipe in many areas of the game. Gear was made obsolete, builds were made obsolete, power-gaming has somewhat been further nerfed and the whole dungeon model has received a significant rework as well. The devs stated in a livestream that their goal is to streamline all old dungeons, because they felt players are looking for a quick 30-minute run rather than having to grind through for hours. If you are a fan of the original Castle Never experience like myself, that’s bad news.
For those that might not be historically versed or simply haven’t been around that long, here’s a quick recap: Castle Never was the only true raid content this game ever had. Sure, they call Tiamat a raid as well, but that’s just a five-headed excuse of what the Dracolich has provided over nearly three Modules as capstone and story-concluding content (although the Epic Dread Vault might actually have been harder after all).
The obvious stuff that indicated an increased difficulty was four mandatory bosses instead of the standard three and the queue window specifying twice as much time to complete the dungeon (1h30m instead of 45m). But what made it special was the unique combination of skill-cap and best in slot loot, that could be sold at the auction house.
Sure, Castle Never had lots of issues as well. Like in other areas of PVE the Control Wizard was dominating the content and you simply couldn’t run without one. It didn’t help that the original Dracolich design included punting the adds over the side of the boss arena, which only the CW could do efficiently. But even after the devs changed that, the combination of crowd control, damage and debuff (good old High Vizier) was a perfect fit. The most common group setup was a DC, TR (got replaced later by GWFs and their T1 feat Deep Gash, which was overpowered for quite some time) and three CWs. When you could stack sufficient Life Steal in Module 2: Shadowmantle, even five CW runs became popular. I actually started a Control Wizard because I couldn’t reliably get into Castle Never with my Guardian Fighter.
Because it was highly rewarding and hard, people also used every single exploit and shortcut possible. Between attacking bosses from safe spots over skipping certain areas or even most of the dungeon to bugging out adds in the Dracolich fight, I can’t remember many legit runs until more and more groups started to outgear the dungeon at the 15k GS plateau in Module 3: Icewind Dale.
But the difficulty was indeed legit. In the punting era, not only did parties repel in the Dracolich fight, they also rushed through, pulled and punted trash along the way. It wasn’t automatic though. CWs had to use Repel or their Shield Pulse at the high point of the Arcane Singularity, otherwise adds would just bounce off an invisible wall. Guys actually created foundry maps with the sole purpose of training this particular skill. Even later with increasing gear scores it was one error and bust, so the feel was pretty much like the current reworked T2s. The friends list was relevant, guides and specialized builds were written, videos were posted and people competed for the fastest Draco kill.
Sometimes it was a pain and you needed one or two tries, but the rewards were worth it. All bosses of Castle Never dropped sellable BiS loot. No RNG. One drop per kill. Without Artifact Gear these Ancient Jewelry and Weapon Sets were the best you could get back then. Even when slightly better weapons got introduced with the Weaponsmithing and Artificing professions in Fury of the Feywild and Shadowmantle, CN remained very viable raid content, because the materials for the new weapons were expensive or very hard to get (happy RNG!) and quite frankly, not worth the minor upgrade most of the time. Looking at NWO:UN’s Auction House tracker, the first data is from January 2014, in the midst of Module 2. The popular Ancient Slavemaster’s Ring of Control resided at 200k ADs while the most Weapons and Off-Hands were worth well around 500k. I remember doing split-runs (the party leader collects and sells the loot and distributes the earned AD) at that point and the average income was roughly 100k for a 30-minute run. I know for a fact that some folks were doing eight and more runs per day and considering that the tool started a tad late to capture the peak of the prices, you could get rich by just running CN all day any day. And the more time you invested and the better geared you were, the more ADs were waiting.
If you were unable to complete Dracolich, you could still participate in part runs and make an amount of ADs that is unmatched by any activity today. A frequent demand nowadays was reality: You could actually earn enough (probably even a bit too much) ingame currency by simply playing the game. Those were the days.
Castle Never of course lost relevance over time. Already in Module 3 with the gear score influx, power creep and more players being able to beat the dungeon comfortably. And finally after Artifact Weapons fully replaced the old weapon sets as best in slot in Module 4: Tyranny of Dragons. Ever since, we’re waiting for another true raid content, but cause the devs pretty much completely distanced from BoE and gate the only pieces left behind ridiculous RNG, Castle Never might even stay the only one of its kind.
I most certainly hope we’ll see another CN at some point, maybe even in the form of a reworked CN? On the preview server prior to Mod 6 there were actually level 70 profession weapons that looked like a true alternative to Artifact gear, but were scratched at some point, and a true (raidable) alternative to Refining Points would most certainly be welcomed by the community with open arms. They did one step and introduced challenging content in Mod 6: Elemental Evil, now we also need rewarding dungeons again as well.
Until then, google some videos of Castle Never runs. Fun times.