Lead designer Zeke Sparks adds: “We also did stuff like making sure they can take out the counters by themselves, but not necessarily through pure damage. So they have some control elements in there, and debuffs, and self buffs. So they're fine, but they're not just like a rogue with healing powers.” Another challenge that comes with the third-person combat is the 4th edition Dungeons &Dragons ruleset upon which it is based. Consider the so-called 'Daily Powers' – the D&D equivalent of a super attack. In the tabletop game, they can do unbelievable damage, but they're only available once per day. In Neverwinter, these same powers are only available 'daily' in the sense that they have a much longer cooldown timer than other abilities.
"The D&D spirit is more about character builds and combat than realism."
More revisions are likely to be in store for the Daily Powers, not least because many of them feel weak and unsatisfying at the moment. Of them all, only the newly-revealed Great Weapon Fighter's Avalanche of Steel feels more impressive than the regular attacks, and that's mainly because it's good for clearing crowds with its area-of-effect damage. It's a tricky balance, but one that Cryptic will have to pull off if they want serious MMORPG fans to take Neverwinter seriously.
Whatever form the Daily Powers ultimately take, they will be useful in the sense that they fit into the broad mantra of making you feel powerful, no matter which class you take. It's an approach that fits the Dungeons & Dragons spirit well, which for a long time has been more about perfecting character builds and hack-and-slash combat than trifling issues like 'realism'. Tabletop enthusiasts refer to it as the “beer and pretzels RPG” for a reason – it's always been one of the easiest systems for newcomers to pick up and play.
“We kind of want everyone to feel broken,” Sparks says with a smile. “If everyone plays the game and is convinced their class is broken, then we've done a great job.”
"If everyone is convinced their class is broken, then we've done a great job."
Back to Helm's Hold and that green dragon. In case you were wondering, its name is Chartilifax, and it was charmed by the same demons who corrupted the keep. The final challenge of Helm's Hold is to find this monster and put it out of its misery. And, as you might have guessed, that's no easy task. Chartilifax has a massive life bar, dishes out substantial area-of-effect damage with its powerful stomp attacks, and periodically summons Pit Lords.
In the battle I was shown, it was interesting to see how all of the classes came together to bring Chartilifax and friends down. The Divine Cleric provided the healing. The Great Weapon Fighter was a mix of tank and damage-dealer, and made for a great barrier against the Pit Lords with the powerful burst damage provided by moves such as Sure Strike. The Control Wizard and Trickster Rogue reduced the damage taken by the party and dealt damage respectively.
It was a battle royale lasting more than 20 minutes, and when it was over, it came with the distinct sense that, yes, Neverwinter is definitely a Dungeons & Dragons game. If there's any reason to be worried, it's that Cryptic are a small studio who have previously had trouble pumping out enough content to keep fans satisfied. Sparks assures me that there will be fully-featured endgame content; and the presence of interesting daily quests is reassuring.
"If we're successful, the number of hours you can spend playing is boundless."
All that said, Cryptic may have a trump card, which takes us back to BioWare's Neverwinter Nights and its incredibly dedicated user-generated content community – a fanbase so strong that a custom Neverwinter Nights quest is a required part of your portfolio when applying to join BioWare. It was that version and its fanbase that was on Cryptic's mind when they set to work on their own incarnation of Neverwinter. For that reason, user-generated content has been a focus from the beginning, rather than serving as a content hook to recover straying players, as in the past. Neverwinter's quest creation system is dubbed 'The Foundry'.
“The Foundry is huge,” Sparks tells me. “Especially given the history of the Neverwinter games. We're working really hard to engage the community with the Foundry, and if we're successful, that means that the number of hours you can spend playing is boundless. It's entirely based on not just what we can do, but what the community can create. That's what's exciting to me – the idea that you can conceivably create as many [alternate characters] as you want and never repeat content.”
We've heard those promises before, in both City of Heroes and Star Trek Online. But Neverwinter will be launching with user-generated content from the outset, and Cryptic plan to weave it as tightly into the actual world as possible. With a set of community mods and a few top Neverwinter Nights modders helping them out, Cryptic hope to pick up right where BioWare left off back in 2002.