Gamescom 2012: Cryptic's Neverwinter

Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 are games that live vividly in memories of gamers around the globe, especially those with a passion for Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy RPGs. If you are one of them, rejoice because the next instalment in the series, developed by Cryptic Studios and published by Perfect World, will go massively multiplayer. We were at Gamescom this year to take a closer look at this upcoming free-to-play title, and Craig Zinkievich, Cryptic's COO and executive producer of Neverwinter, was on hand to fill us in on the details.

Gamescom 2012 Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter
The story so far

Set more than a century after the events of Neverwinter Nights 2, Neverwinter continues the story of the famous northern city untouched by the harsh, cold climate. About 100 years ago, an interplanetary collision wreaked havoc across the lands, gods were killed, and fire rained down from the skies, but Neverwinter remained relatively unscathed -- that is, until 30 years ago, when Mount Hotenow, itself responsible for the temperate climate that gave name to the area of Neverwinter, violently erupted, destroying many areas around the city and unleashing foulspawn and other nasty creatures into the world. Then, Lord Neverember came to the city and proclaimed himself protector of the region and set in motion events that would eventually restore the city and the surrounding areas to its former glory. He called forth all willing heroes to come to Neverwinter to help rebuild what still lay in ruins. That is where you, the player, come in. You've heeded the call to aid all who need it.

Neverwinter is a free-to-play action MMORPG featuring a full open world, co-operative dungeons, and events, to name a few highlights. It builds upon its predecessors in that it's a story-driven experience full of quests and memorable characters set in The Forgotten Worlds setting. But that's not all it has in common; players will also be able to create and publish their own dungeons with loot, bosses, quests, and lore for others to enjoy. Within its new MMO setting, this feature becomes more interesting than ever.

Gamescom 2012 Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter
User-generated content

In early versions of Neverwinter, creating your own content was a key element of the experience but wasn't without its flaws. Sharing your creations was cumbersome; you needed to have the same version of the game, and separate servers had to be set up. With the move to MMO, players will be able to share, play, and rate content more easily than ever. "Authors can just tag objects, doors, and even NPCs in the world to use in their creations, so you can use Cryptic assets to forge your own experience," Zinkievich explained. This is made possible through The Foundry, a user-generated content tool already in used in Star Trek Online.

Zinkievich booted up the editor and within moments was crafting away on a simple dungeon, placing walls, doors, and NPCs. It's a drag-and-drop procedure that enables even the least-knowledgeable players to be successful. "We wanted everyone to enjoy the toolkit," Zinkievich told us. "You can create simple quests easily and enhance them with your own story and writing. If you are a bit more experienced with creating content, the tool permits you to go all out. We want them to have all the tools Cryptic has, and enable them to create a lot of content fast and effortless."

Creating a quests proved to be an easy undertaking, but Zinkievich also showed us some optional choices, such as multiple dialogue options and quest rewards but also different failure criteria. It is entirely possible to make a quest so hard that only the best or fastest players are able to complete it and do so at lightning speed. Zinkievich used an NPC who already existed in the world by tagging him and making him the start and end of the quest. As soon as the quest template was removed, the NPC went his merry way as if nothing had happened. "This way," Zinkievich says, "we can make sure that no different versions of the game are needed for quests to work and no-one else is bothered by altering an NPC for your personal creative purposes."

Gamescom 2012 Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter

There is, of course, much more to Neverwinter than creating your own content. Combat is something a little out of the ordinary as well. Instead of the select-target systems of other MMORPGs, Neverwinter uses a blend of skill-based roleplaying and crosshair-like combat. Said Zinkievich, "We wanted a more visceral kind of combat, hence our calling Neverwinter an action RPG. We've drawn inspiration from games like God of War and Dragon Age to give the player a more dynamic and thrilling combat experience and bring that to an open world experience."

The class we were shown was the Control Wizard, with its powerful attacks and tight control on the battlefield. Instantly, we noticed a little reticle serving as a cursor to point at an enemy. Once you paint the target with the reticle, you can unleash hell.

The skills a class uses are divided up into several categories. The At Will abilities can be used more or less freely without any form of cooldown and serve as your bread-and-butter attacks. The Control Wizard shown to us had Ray of Frost as one of her At Will abilities; it slowed and damaged players who were affected. The second-tier abilities work more as traditional MMO abilities: They all have cooldowns and cast times and are interruptible. The Control Wizard can find one of her more powerful direct attacks in this tier in addition to Utility Powers like Frost Nova. The last tier of abilities -- also the most powerful -- is made up of Daily Abilities. They have a long cooldown and require action points to use. By doing damage in combat (in the case of the Control Wizard, anyway), you gain action points, which you spend once the corresponding bar is filled. Unleashing a Daily looks devastating and can effectively turn the tide of battle in your favour.

Gamescom 2012 Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter
Neverwinter looks and feels a lot like a AAA title, despite its free-to-play model. This is no coincidence, according to Zinkievich: "We wanted to deliver a well-rounded, deep, and fulfilling experience with Neverwinter and claim a place in the free-to-play genre. We do have a cash shop, but we'll offer only cosmetic or situational upgrades such as a temporary bonus to XP gain." We had to ask about the availability of user-generated content tools in the cash shop, but our fears were ungrounded; Zinkievich told us, "We do not want to lock people out of content to toy around with, and that goes especially for user generated content. We believe it's a key element of the Neverwinter experience, and we do not plan on charging people for it. It wouldn't feel right."

Neverwinter is slated for release in early 2013, so keep an eye out on this promising little game with a twist.

Every summer, the gaming industry descends on Cologne, Germany, for Gamescom, the world's largest trade fair for interactive games and entertainment. Massively's on the scene in 2012, bringing you all the best scoops, impressions, and interviews from the MMOs at the show!
This article was originally published on Massively.