Previewing Neverwinter's Tyranny of Dragons module

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I'll give credit to the Neverwinter team for being straightforward and direct about its next module, Tyranny of Dragons: When the devs say "dragons," they aren't skimping on the premise whatsoever. Module 4 is dragons by the bucketful, shaping the tone and story of Neverwinter's present and future development.

Earlier today, I sat down with Cryptic Art Director Matt Highison, who showed off Tyranny of Dragons' new content while talking about how dragons are just so, so cool. With other MMOs that I won't name creating expansions that are lacking in new races and classes, Neverwinter is bringing one of each to this update as well as a wealth of content for the players to explore.

From randomized dungeons to the controversial pricing of the scaly Dragonborn, we hashed out the details behind August 14th's content release. Let's dive in!

The Scourge Warlock and the fun of free

Depending whom you talk to, Neverwinter is either a cleverly insidious moneygrabbing machine or one of the most generous free-to-play MMOs on the market. While I acknowledge that there are a few walls that need a cash sledgehammer to adequately bust down, I have always seen Neverwinter as the latter. This viewpoint is backed up by the sheer amount of free content that's coming with Tyranny of Dragons, starting with the Scourge Warlock class.

For players who like spellcasting classes but weren't big fans of the Control Wizard, the Scourge Warlock offers a delightfully different style of play. As the story goes, the Warlock made an infernal pact with the demon god Belial to gain all sorts of nasty powers, and as such the class can wield a soul puppet, pop out tentacles, and summon vomiting skulls at will. The biggest strength of the class is in its curse mechanic, which allows the player to tag up to three mobs for special treatment. Once a creature is cursed, spells and abilities will have different -- and usually more powerful -- interactions, which is a great boon when in a group. In fact, Cryptic sees the Scourge Warlock as not just a good DPS class but an excellent support class.

The Scourge Warlock will launch with only one paragon path, the Hellbringer, but will see its second added with Module 5. This makes the second new class to the game within six months, a feat that has kept the "lean, hard" Neverwinter team working slavishly. While impressed to see the game's lineup expanding, I noted that the game still only has one healing class, which seems to be a weak link in the holy trinity lineup. Cryptic was cagey in response to this, saying that the team is looking into class balancing and is "actively looking" into factors like healing.

Dragons much sooner

The Scourge Warlock is just the tip of the free iceberg with Module 4. Cryptic is rolling out a new storyline concerning the Cult of the Dragon that will start around level 25 and weave in and out of the rest of the game's questing.

The goal of this storyline is twofold. The devs didn't want to reserve dragons for the endgame; they wanted players to see these magnificent creatures much sooner. The second goal was to expand mid-game content, a goal that was accomplished by adding large chunks of land and new quests onto five of the game's current zones. Even endgame players will have the option of going back to explore this new story and revisit past favorite areas.

Whether or not you engage in Module 4's storyline, it will be hard to ignore the heroic opportunities that will populate these five zones. Heroic opportunities (think public quests) have proven to be popular past additions to Neverwinter, and the devs wanted to make sure that they spread out the fun across more levels. When a dragon touches down in a zone, Highison said that players have swarmed toward them from all over in an attempt to get in on the action and a chance for incredible loot.

A hundred bucks for that?

The free content in Tyranny of the Dragons comes with a rather notable asterisk: the Dragonborn race. This is the first so-called "premium" race that Cryptic has added to the game, and it certainly comes with a premium price. The only way to get it is to spend $75 before the launch of Module 4 or $100 after its release.

I pointed to the controversy that this pricing caused when it was announced and asked whether the studio truly thinks that a new race was worth the cost of two full video games. I mean, companies have to make their money, but this seems ludicrous.

Cryptic's response to that was to point out that the cost covers an entire package of goods, including a race change token, cosmetic outfit, and powerful artifacts. Furthermore, the Dragonborn race offer something that none of the other races does: the ability to choose stat bonuses at launch. This is aimed at min-maxers who want the flexibility of customizing their characters just so, although I was assured that it won't offer a significant advantage over other races. Think "more flexibility" instead of "more power."

I also asked if the Dragonborn race would be sold separately from the pack in the future, and the response was predictably vague. So take that as a "maybe" with a grain of salt for now.

Pricing aside, the Dragonborn is by far the largest race in the game, one that required a lot of work by the art team. All of the armor in Neverwinter had to be fitted to the new body model, a process that taught the art team a few things that it could potentially use in any hypothetical future races. The only piece of armor that couldn't be adapted to the Dragonborn are helms, since the lizard-people have vastly different heads than the other races. Highison said that he doesn't think players will mind the absence of helmets since the Dragonborn look so neat.

The Wizards of the Coast connection

Neverwinter devs have been in contact with Wizards of the Coast on a weekly basis since the game launched. This association is paying off greatly with this module, since it was designed to parallel WotC's own Tyranny of the Dragons pen-and-paper book. The storyline between the MMO and the tabletop game share many commonalities and can be enjoyed by fans of both.

The influence of D&D hasn't merely gone from WotC to Cryptic, either. One of the new creatures designed for Module 4 is a fire scorpion, which wasn't in the monster manual but was created to be part of a dungeon theme. Wizards liked that so much that the company is now planning to add the scorpion to its manual.

Dungeons, skirmishes, and companions

There's still a lot more to cover with Tyranny of Dragons beyond the class, race, and storyline. New artifacts and companions are going in with both the update and future events, and starting with Module 4 players will be able to get their hands on artifact weapons that can be leveled up to provide even better stat bonuses.

Tyranny of Dragons' storyline culminates in a level 60 skirmish and dungeon, both of which will be offered in normal and elite difficulties. Higginson said that these instances are so awesome that the team wanted everyone to be able to experience them, not just the most uber-geared players.

The dungeon, Lair of Lostmauth, offers another interesting twist to the dungeon formula: randomization. At a certain point, players will come upon a room with three doors and the game will randomly choose one to open. Depending on the door, players could be facing a path full of fireballs, a jumping challenge over rising lava, or a mad dash through falling stalactites. The dungeon finishes with a fight against a gold-happy dragon, who lives in a room full of molten gold and seems OK with his life choices.

Cryptic is holding some of Module 4's goodies for future events, such as the upcoming limited-time Siege of Neverwinter, so don't make the mistake of assuming that all you see on August 14th is all you'll be getting. No matter how you look at it, it's an impressive update that should make any dragon-lover quite happy indeed.

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This article was originally published on Massively.