Neverwinter Developers Working to Be True to Stories
Dungeons & Dragons’ world of Neverwinter has a storied history, explored in novels and fiction as well as video games. So when Cryptic Studios started work on its Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter free-to-play MMO for Perfect World, respecting the huge fictional world of Neverwinter was a key concern.
“We have a weekly call with Wizards of the Coast,” said Cryptic Lead Producer Andy Velasquez. “We’ve been sending out our Neverwinter art to them to show them what we’re thinking, and they’ve actually started using our stuff because they like it so much.”
Velasquez also said that the respect for the fiction of Neverwinter expands beyond just aesthetic considerations: even characters that have appeared in Neverwinter are represented. Speaking at E3 2012 during a hands-on demo of the game, Velasquez guided me and a few other players through a dungeon in which we were pursuing and destroying werewolves. The zone, a scaled-back five-man dungeon dumbed down to accommodate the three of us, was a snowy mountain dominated by a huge monolithic werewolf head in the distance.
One such character was Ethraniev Marrowslake. The hybrid leader of the Grey Wolf Pack waited for us at the top of the mountain beneath the wolf’s head monolith, and when we finally reached her, she battled us in both her human form and in werewolf form. Bringing her down was the purpose of the dungeon, and Velasquez said Neverwinter is tied into the Dungeons & Dragons canon, so players familiar with the larger stories will have a lot to enjoy and a lot of references they’ll recognize.
In terms of gameplay, Neverwinter is a highly active game. I chose the “trickster rogue” class, a character that depends on backstabs and quick moves to avoid damage and make some devastating hit-and-run attacks. Cryptic has purposely scaled back the number of abilities players have available to them, instead focusing on making them more useful, and that means players have a smaller user interface than what might be seen in World of Warcraft of Star Wars: The Old Republic. It works surprisingly well, however — there are enough abilities with a variety of applications that only having access to four or five of them doesn’t get stale. Fighting is much more about combining classes effectively, keeping on the move and using your skills to their fullest in battle.
Playing as the rogue was, notably, a whole lot of fun. For someone who doesn’t often get into MMOs, Neverwinter impressed by keeping me very active in the battle, rather than just spamming a specific ability or waiting for things to recharge.
The game is also impressively detailed and seems to offer a lot under its free-to-play banner. Velasquez said that’s a feeling for which Cryptic is aiming with Neverwinter.
“We want people to say, ‘I can’t believe they’re gonna offer this for free,’” he said.
Our excursion through the Grey Wolf dungeon didn’t feature one of Neverwinter’s coolest features, but it bears mentioning: The Foundry. Cryptic is including this feature, which is essentially a big set of modding tools, to help keep Neverwinter tied to its tabletop roots. In it, players can create new zones, dungeons and quests, and share them with friends. It sounds like a great way for players excited about the Neverwinter world to carve out their own part of it in true D&D form.
Velasquez wasn’t able to give a definitive release date for Neverwinter, but said the game would definitely be launching in 2012. There’s also a closed beta for which players can sign up on the Neverwinter website, located here.