For some time, people have heard from a guy who heard from a guy who knows someone that Star Trek Online developer Cryptic Studios was maybe, possibly working on an online Dungeons & Dragons game that might be related to the PC Neverwinter Nights series, somehow. The rumors were only partially right. Kind of. Yes, Cryptic is working on a new fantasy-themed multiplayer game, and yes, it takes place in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting…but while it won't officially be a Neverwinter Nights 3 to follow the previous two games from BioWare and Obsidian, it also won't be a traditional massively multiplayer online game, either. The game will instead focus on cooperative play, requiring players to log into a server to start a session and encouraging players to tackle the adventure together. Neverwinter will give you the option to go solo if you prefer, but this will be a much harder way to play. The game will also feature editing tools that will let you create your own custom content and adventures, and it will offer an all-new story that ties into a new series of novels penned by author R.A. Salvatore. Considering that the game will offer a full storyline, cooperative online play, and a set of editing tools, it'd be fair to say that Neverwinter will be a far cry from Cryptic's usual projects…and that it will also be something of a spiritual successor to the previous Neverwinter Nights games. Cryptic's chief operating officer, Jack Emmert, explains.
GameSpot: Give us an overview of Neverwinter. What is the game and how will people play it? Will it be a full-on massively multiplayer online role-playing game, like City of Heroes or Champions Online?
Jack Emmert: I wouldn't say MMORPG at all--Neverwinter is a cooperative RPG. You can play with a bunch of friends and experience Neverwinter and D&D in a brand-new way. We're trying to create new sorts of games that we call "OMGs" (online multiplayer games).
In terms of Neverwinter itself, players will find it's a brand-new Forgotten Realms. Years and years have passed, and Neverwinter has fallen into ruins. A brave few are trying to eke out their lives and to rebuild the once great metropolis, but many threats stand in the way. And this is where the players come in…
GS: Since this is an official Dungeons & Dragons product, can you explain how the tabletop game's systems will come into play in the game? Will it use a modified version of D&D rules, or will it use rules from the most recent edition of the tabletop game (4th Edition), and if so, in what aspects of the game: combat, saving throws/difficulty classes…?
JE: We're working hand in hand with Wizards of the Coast to translate 4th Edition into our game.
As far as translating the mechanics, there are, of course, the time-honored D&D attributes (strength, dexterity, etc.). One of the best things about 4th Edition is that poor little charisma is useful (that's a shout-out to any old gamers like me). You'll also find D&D's character classes, at least the fundamental ones, in the game.
In terms of class abilities, we're using the same concept of "recharge," which breaks a player's abilities into three categories: at will, once per encounter, and daily. General abilities like a basic sword attack are at will. Slightly more-powerful abilities can only be used once per encounter, and even-more-powerful abilities can be used only once per day.
Instead of that hard-and-fast division, we're using actual time increments, where at will means usable at all times, a once per encounter is a power designed to be used once every encounter, and dailies are used once every few hours.
I think there are two very unique gameplay elements in 4th Edition that we've done something interesting with: action points and healing surges. In the tabletop game, an action point lets a player perform a reroll or add an additional die to a roll. In our game, action points are earned through combat and spent to power special abilities called "boons." These boons give players special boosts, but only in certain circumstances. Healing surges represent the amount of times a player can heal himself before resting. In D&D and Neverwinter, various abilities let players use a surge immediately or perhaps replenish the number of surges available. It's a precious resource that players will need to husband as they adventure in the brave new world.
Positioning, flanking, tactics, and using powers with your teammates are also all things that come from the 4th Edition that are interesting.
Of course, we're using power names and trying to keep power behavior consistent with the pen-and-paper counterparts. Neverwinter will definitely feel familiar to anyone who has played the 4th Edition.
GS: And along those lines, we understand that the game will let players choose to play as one of five character professions. Can you share which professions these will be? How closely will they approximate the 4th Edition rules? Will we see heroic feats, paragon paths/epic destinies…?
JE: Fighter. Wizard. Rogue. Ranger. Cleric. You'll see the powers, abilities, and spells from the latest Players' Handbook spring to life on the computer screen. Neverwinter is all about the heroic levels; the paragon paths and epic destinies will be something we add.
GS: Cryptic has made a name for itself by making online games with powerful, flexible character customization tools that let players make very distinctive-looking characters. Can you talk about how this will come into play in Neverwinter? For instance, can you share which fantasy races will be playable in the game and to what extent you can customize each?
JE: We'll be using the same Cryptic technology and philosophy with our Neverwinter characters that we have in all our games. Namely, players can create just about any look they imagine. In our first release, we'll be doing the classic humans, elves, and dwarves--as well as a few special ones that I won't mention just now.
GS: While previous games from Cryptic have taken place in playfields that were, according to the game fiction, huge (such as the many comic-book-themed zones of Champions Online and the deep reaches of space in Star Trek Online), Neverwinter itself is, according to D&D fiction, a city. It's a big city, but it's just one city. Can you discuss the scope of the game and how big the game's overall play area is planned to be?
JE: Right now, players will be adventuring in and around Neverwinter. Not just in the city, but also the environs. But that's just the release; we'll be planning additional content as we move forward that takes players to new places. Just read R.A. Salvatore's upcoming Neverwinter trilogy to get a taste! It begins with Gauntlgrym.
GS: And on a similar note, Cryptic's previous games have made frequent use of instanced playfields to let solo players or small groups have their own private adventure. Can you speak to how instances will be used in Neverwinter? Do you have a rough estimate of how much of the game's content will be instanced versus being open-world/shared space?
JE: This is a tough question, if only because it presupposes an organization along traditional MMORPG lines (that is, a large persistent zone with many instances connected to it). This is a co-op RPG, so comparing it to other RPGs such as the original Neverwinter Nights or Oblivion would be more appropriate. Some locations are public; some are just for teammates. But it isn't quite the setup of a big zone with side instances.
GS: We understand that Neverwinter will use a system codenamed "Forge" that will let players build their own content. Can you explain how this will work in practice? Also, what kind of content will players be able to make?
JE: Forge (tentative name) will enable players to write adventures, to create maps, and to attach their quests to in-game entrances and NPCs. Our key philosophy is that Forge needs to be accessible (i.e. usable to many people) and that user-generated content is an optional form of content. In other words, a player knows that he's playing UGC and not the game.
GS: We also understand that the game is being launched in tandem with Gauntlgrym, the first book in an all-new Neverwinter novel trilogy by author R.A. Salvatore. Tell us about the game's story and how it will evolve alongside the new books.
JE: The game is set a little over 100 years into the future, and Forgotten Realms is recovering from an epic catastrophe: the death of the god of magic triggered a massive "spellplague" that swept across Faerun and changed everything it touched.
The Salvatore trilogy touches on all the events leading up to the game and, most importantly, how Neverwinter fell. Through these great novels, readers will get a taste of the Neverwinter world, characters, and enemies.
At some point, Neverwinter was laid waste. Why? No one really remembers at this point. The players will need to find out what happened and whether it'll reoccur…
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Neverwinter?
JE: The biggest part of Neverwinter is really our approach to development. It's not a standard, hundreds-of-hours-grinding MMORPG. Mind you, we've done those in the past. This represents a huge departure from our previous efforts; we're focusing a lot on the quality of each thing we do. We've got constant playtests as well as outside, independent mock reviews. We know that Atari gave us a terrific intellectual property, and we want to do it justice.
GS: Thanks, Jack.