Neverwinter has been percolating under the radar for a while now; it’s been probably close to two years since I first heard that Cryptic Studios were developing an MMORPG in the Neverwinter D&D setting. Initially, it was supposed to be an RPG featuring co-operative play and a robust toolkit allowing for the (apparently rapid) creation of user-generated content. The game now appears to have evolved — after being delayed, no less — into a full-on MMORPG…but the toolkit still seems to be a strong feature that Cryptic is actively working on.
User-Generated Content is the driving force behind survivability and longevity in modern gaming; thousands of games inundate the market with each passing year and the shelf-life of games has been truncated to an easily-counted period of anywhere from days, to weeks, to months. Very rarely do we see a game’s playability extend into the span of years — that’s where custom content and mods come in, like the complete Skyrim Overhaul, the Baldur’s Gate 2 Dragon Age remake, and Neverwinter Online’s user [content] generation tool, the “Foundry.”
So, I’m curious: is this something? And by that, I mean: is this something that the Ultima fandom might want to take a look at for spinning new stories set in Britannia, Sosaria, or wherever else?
Here’s some of the features that Gamers Nexus lists for Neverwinter:
- Action-focused combat; this means you have to actually aim at your targets to hit them. The tab-through, auto-target combat is no more!
- UI indicators to signify enemy attack patterns, ensuring fluidity of combat and reducing the “stand and hit it until it dies” mentality. This helps tell players when to move, whichencourages point-to-point combat and keeps action high.
- 4E-inspired play – though the game is not using the turn-based mechanics of D&D, we do see powers with similar names to smooth the learning curve.
- The as-killed action point system that builds up the equivalent to a Daily power (from 4E) provides players with a high-powered, specialized attack that fully implements the player’s class and its implicated abilities. In our demo, we saw that the control sorcerer’s power attack ripped the weapons from the hands of her foes; we were told that rogue power attacks might include sneakily bouncing between subjects and backstabbing them.
- Heavy focus on rewarding players for acting in ways that their class might. A control sorcerer, for example, could gain more action points for performing crowd-control abilities and freezes, while a rogue would gain more points for being, you know, a rogue. Sneaky bastards!
- Dynamic challenges (who can kill the most orcs in the next hour?) and player-centric world events that bring players together to form groups, delve into dungeons, and otherwise explore the world.
- A 50/50 mixture of open-world content and instanced areas, both of which are playable in groups or alone, but being D&D, groups are encouraged for maximum fun output.
- Adventure zones act as an overarching container for centralized exploration, featuring both instanced and open world activities, and ending with a “final boss” type of dungeon thatis spec’d for a 5-man team.
- Super-defined classes that drill-down to be as specific as, similar to what was earlier mentioned, control wizards. The common archetypes that we’ve seen in other MMOs are all present, but the extremely elaborate NWN class system isn’t quite as powerful as what we’re used to. That said, Neverwinter Online isn’t meant to be an immediate successor to NWN.
And here’s some of the details they offer concerning its toolkit:
- The toolset will integrate seamlessly into the game. No patching, no separate EXE, no hassle. Just go to the main screen and hit ‘go.’
- Custom level content plugs directly in to Neverwinter Online; sharing your quest with the world could pop-up a quest indicator over incumbent NPCs, items, or even objects. Jumping into a pool, for example, might trigger a custom dungeon that teleports you elsewhere.
- There is no need to install numerous modules to play with the toolkit-created instances, so anyone can jump in and play a friend’s encounter.
- We were told that there aren’t any plans to allow custom texture or model packs, but we’ll have more details on those shortly.
- Templates and restrictions will be implemented to help control/prevent item farming, treasure rooms, and XP farms.
Obviously, the D&D-based stat system isn’t fully compatible with the Ultima style, and one doubts that Neverwinter will afford its modders many opportunities to alter or mask the game’s underlying systems in the same way that Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 allowed. Interface modifications are also likely out of the question.
Still…I can’t help but wonder. I’ve argued before that what the Ultima fan project community needs to do is branch out and tell new stories…and then not necessarily lengthy ones that require ten years to make. Smaller teams crafting tighter, more compact stories that perhaps take place in only a handful of locales within Britannia or Sosaria would, I think, be a valuable contribution to the project community. Obviously, it’s nice when a Lazarus or U6 Project get released…but such things are few and far between. A steadier stream of shorter stories would, I think, do wonders to bolster and enliven the fandom and the fan project community, possibly even serving to build interest in what larger projects are still in the works. And it would seem to me that games like Neverwinter are designed to allow users to create exactly that sort of experience.
So I can’t help but wonder: is this something that aspiring Ultima fan project developers should take a look at?
Oh, and by the way: If you’re at all curious about Neverwinter, and if you’ve been waiting anxiously for Torchlight 2, you can pre-order the latter directly from Perfect Worlds and get a Neverwinter beta key along with it.