Announced three years ago and originally intended to coincide with the release of four R.A. Salvatore books (currently available in stores), a co-operative board game, and a D&D role-playing game based on Forgotten Realms, Neverwinter has been a long time coming. However, after changing hands and switching gears from a cooperative RPG to an MMORPG, Neverwinter is looking primed to be one of the slickest releases of 2013. RPGamer recently had the opportunity at PAX East to chat with Cryptic Studios' CEO, Jack Emmert, about this upcoming MMORPG and the legacy of the Neverwinter universe.
Trent Seely (RPGamer): Firstly, thank you for taking the time out to chat with us about Neverwinter.
Can you give a quick rundown on the upcoming MMORPG release?
Jack Emmert (CEO, Cryptic Studios): Neverwinter is an MMORPG by Cryptic Studios. It is based upon the popular IP, well known from two PC products, and it is set in the Forgotten Realms (D&D Fourth Edition, in particular). It features a suite of user-generated content tools that allow players to create quests, campaigns, and adventures for their friends and the public as a whole in a way that simply has never been done in an MMO before.
TS: There's a huge RPGaming legacy left by Neverwinter Nights. This MMORPG is a part of that world, but it's not associated directly with the Neverwinter Nights series, correct?
JE: No, it is not. That is the history of the game, but we're not picking up and trying to recreate those fantastic games. They still stand today as excellent RPGs, but we're taking our own spin on the IP. We are inheriting a terrific setting, but one that's been linked to user-generated content — at least in its two most recent iterations.
In terms of the narrative of the game, we're set over a century after Neverwinter Nights 2. A lot has happened in the Forgotten Realms, but we do look to the people, places, and things in those games as canon.
TS: The overarching plot of a lot of MMORPGs tends to suffer due to a focus on drop-in, drop-out quest-based gameplay. I understand that you've placed a lot of focus on the game's narrative to curb this. Can you explain?
JE: Neverwinter's story is all about a city. In this case, a city that is trying to recover and rebuild. You as a player are part of that. If you watch the trailer, you'll see some major threats to the world of Neverwinter that you actively have to deal with to aid the recovery effort. It is something that I think we had to set out to do, more so than other MMOs.
TS: Could you give a rundown of which player classes we can expect at launch?
JE: There are five classes at launch: Great Weapon Fighter, Guardian Fighter, Control Wizard, Trickster Rogue, and Devoted Cleric.
TS: I understand that we'll be able to go out with parties, some of which feature non-playable companions. Can you explain this system?
JE: We have five-man content (content that demands a party of five) and every player also has a companion, which is a pet that you level up and can equip. I'm not sure if we'll be adding anything that allows you to hire an NPC to take the place of a player, but it's something we've discussed internally.
TS: With regards to the companion (the player's pet), does it have a standard character progression? Does it grow as you grow?
JE: It grows as it gains experiences. While he's out and actively part of your adventuring, he'll gain XP and levels up. However, his usefulness is dependent on how much focus you place on his development.
TS: You've been working on this game for quite some time. It was originally being published by Atari and is now being published by Perfect World. Have there been any direction changes or has development continued as normal?
JE: When we started with Atari, Neverwinter was going to be a co-op RPG. When we were purchased from Atari by Perfect World, we turned Neverwinter into a full-on MMO. After all, Perfect World is a MMORPG company. We took elements of the original game, as well as art aspects, but transformed the titles into a massively multiplayer experience. That was a huge directional change. We've since also taken the traditional MMO combat and transitioned to the very action-oriented gameplay we have now. That was a huge change too.
TS: It's now a Free-to-Play title as well. What do you see as the major benefit of that model?
JE: It's a better business model for us. Star Trek is a great example of this. It had a strong launch and proceeded to do alright, but when we went Free-to-Play things blew up. The past thirty days, we've had more people play Star Trek than ever played City of Heroes — which was considered a smash hit. Star Trek, today, is bigger as a Free-to-Play game in every measure than City of Heroes.
TS: What's to come in Neverwinter's future? Is there much post-launch content planned?
JE: We have an amazing amount of content planned. Already mapped out the first year, even. I want players, day one, to have a clear idea of what's coming next. Just like with Star Trek, there's going to be constant updates, new game systems, and new storylines. It's an MMO and is a vibrant, persistent world that we plan on continually adding to.
TS: Is there anything else that you'd like to add?
JE: Just that I hope everyone stays tuned. New information is just around the corner and we just might add some more beta weekends — we'll have to wait and see.
RPGamer would like to thank Jack Emmert for participating in this interview. Neverwinter is shaping up to be an exciting MMORPG full of action and user-created content. Check out Neverwinter's official website for further details and media.