Comparing Neverwinter to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, new races, and new classes with lead designer Zeke Sparkes

While I think the majority of the current world population no longer ignorantly associates Dungeons & Dragons with dark rituals and witchcraft, I would still go ahead and say the role-playing tabletop game is far from mainstream. I’ve been playing it since second edition, and I'm currently into Pathfinder while waiting for 5th Edition. While capturing the true D&D experience is impossible in a video game, I definitely appreciate developers trying. Games like Neverwinter Nights and the more recent Neverwinter do a great job emulating the experience.

The thing is, you can’t just take a generic fantasy game, slap a Dungeons & Dragons tag on it, and say it’s Dungeons & Dragons. You wouldn’t compare, say, Lord of the Rings to Forgotten Realms. Even different worlds within the D&D universe differ greatly. So what makes Cryptic Studios new Neverwinter a game worthy of the Dungeons & Dragons title? Does it hold up as a video game that represents the tabletop source material?

I recently reached out to Cryptic Studios and talked to lead designer Zeke Sparkes, using my excessively geeky knowledge to find how the developers created Neverwinter while staying true to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Does this give insight to new races and new classes? Maaaaybe. Will you archer types finally be getting what you’ve been waiting on? Check out the interview below and make your own conclusions.      

Neverwinter Clock

How "At Will" powers are your auto attacks, "Encounter" powers are your cooldown abilities, and "Daily" powers are something you build up is all genius to me – how do you come up with the idea for this system?

All of our powers design started with asking how we could make the best action combat for Neverwinter. We knew we needed very fast powers available at any time so you always had choices and responses in combat. We knew we needed more impactful powers that helped do the bulk of the work in a combat and gave you choices on a longer timescale. Then we found we really needed a way to have massively impressive and impactful powers that could completely shift the course of combat but had a resource cost. Thanks to how well the 4th edition rules expressed those power levels, we decided to call them At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers respectively. We thought it was a great fit and ran with it!

Are there any plans to add a "Second Wind" function or adding "Rituals" to the game?

You know, early on in development we did play with a Second Wind mechanic. But we noticed pretty quickly that in general it confused players and people didn't quite "get it." Once we swapped it out for potions – which are similar functionally – the game clicked much better for people, so that's what we went with.

Rituals are an interesting concept. We've talked about them a little bit but never really found a place for them to feel right in the game. Still though, I love the concept of something that gets multiple players together to achieve a greater result than they can alone.

Were there ever talks of adding alignment to characters? I always thought it would be neat to watch decisions you make affect your alignment.

We talked about this a lot. Alignment is something that is immediately recognizable to D&D fans and it can be a great tool to customize gameplay to your personal style. As much as we wanted to include this aspect in Neverwinter we just didn't think we could do it justice for launch. We think to do it right, alignment needs to be a big impactful feature and we didn't want to include it but have it fall short of what it could be.

What was the thought process behind only having very limited weapon options for each class?

This really let us focus on getting the best feel and animations possible in combat. We focused on the iconic weapon for each class build to make sure it was as good as could be. We also made sure there were alternative weapons for each class build throughout the game and with the transmutation feature once you found one you loved you could have that style whenever you wanted.

Neverwinter Neverwinter City

Do you see free-to-play as the model of the future? Is the subscription model obsolete?

We obviously see a lot of advantages to the free-to-play model and believe it is the best fit for us and our players. The biggest advantage being that anyone who is interested can try your game with no investment; as a game designer, that's really thrilling! I certainly don't think subscriptions are obsolete; it just depends on which model fits what you're trying to do better.

Rewarding players for making foundry maps and then rewarding other players for playing their maps is also genius, how did you come up with this concept?  Will there ever be a world builder like Neverwinter Nights?

At Cryptic we've always loved giving players the ability to customize their experience, and the Foundry is one of the best ways we've done that. From the beginning, we knew we could improve on what we had done in the past and give unprecedented ability for players to tell their stories in an MMO world. As part of that it was only natural for us to go to every length to make sure players who experienced the stories of other players were rewarded just as well as they are for playing Cryptic content.

We have lots of plans to continue supporting the Foundry and adding the features our community wants most. We haven't announced the next big addition yet though.

Will there be regular updates with new content or is the Foundry there to suffice player on the regular new content front?

We love supporting our live games and keep working just as hard after launch. It's amazing that players can add their stories through the Foundry, but that doesn't change our plans to keep building on our launch game as much as we can.

The more recent MMORPG games seem to fall off at end game; what are you plans to keep Neverwinter from continuing this trend?

This is definitely an area we are paying attention to with our future expansions and you can expect to see us continuing to support our end game community in the future. Our first update coming soon, Fury of the Feywild, will have all kinds of things to do for end game players. Make sure you check it out!

Neverwinter Ooze

Is there a possibility of Epic Destinies WAAAAY down the line, possibly as an expansion?

Definitely an interesting idea that could be a great avenue for expansion in the future. Part of the fun of developing an MMO is after launch you sort of give control over to your players and develop what they're interested in. So we certainly have ideas on where we'll expand in the future but ultimately it's up to what our players want!

How comfortable were you with the game’s status at launch?

I was very happy with our launch. Sometimes as a developer it's easy to get caught up in thinking "awww, I wish we had been able to get this one last feature in, or finish that last tweak," but at the end of the day we launched a great game that was stable and people are really enjoying. We had all hands on deck to deal with any unforeseen issues so we could respond quickly, and I think we're in really good shape.

The Fighter class has two different Neverwinter classes currently in game, will this be a trend with other Neverwinter classes? IE. Brawny Rogues, War Wizards, etc?

That is certainly a possibility for the future and one we are keeping in mind as we decide where to expand the game.

Will classes in Neverwinter get more Paragon Path options down the line? For example, the Trickster Rogue only has the Master Infiltrator. Could there possibly be a Cat Burglar, Daggermaster, or Shadow Assassin in the future?

It is something we think could be a good addition to the game. It's always a balance to figure out how much to expand on vs. new things to add. Again, it's a place where we'll be looking at our community to figure out what it is our players really want moving forward.

Neverwinter Skyline

My roommate is "that guy" that always plays the iconic archer classes; I was surprised that there isn’t an Archer Ranger in the game. Will this be the next introduced class?

It was really really hard to boil down all of the cool D&D archetypes to the best five choices. There's a lot of speculation on what our next class will be. Right now, we're being quiet as to what it is, but a bow-wielding Ranger sure would be wicked cool, wouldn't it? 🙂

Minus the special Drow race, I noticed the races in the game come from the first edition PHB for 4th edition. Can we expect Dragonborn or Eladrin in the future?

This is another area where we tried to make sure we represented the classic D&D races for launch. We definitely plan on adding to race selection as we expand the game, starting with Moon and Sun Elves in Fury of the Feywild.

Along the same line of thought, are there talks about Paladins, Warlocks, and/or Warlords as future playable classes?

We would love to get to these iconic classes. Again, picking the five we launched with was a really hard choice for all of us D&D geeks at the office. We had a lot of friendly debates on which ones were most important/loved and what we should follow up with as we built future expansions. You'll have to keep an eye on to see where we go next.