by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
Neverwinter has come a long way since its release. Its ninth expansion, The Maze Engine, is due to release very soon with heaps of new features and content. I had an opportunity to sit and talk with Rob Overmeyer, Executive Producer of Neverwinter, about the upcoming expansion and what to expect. Based on his enthusiasm simply talking about it, it quite easy to say there will be something for everyone.
The Maze Engine is the second part of the Neverwinter Underdark storyline. Since players are set to meet up with more famous characters from Forgotten Realms lore, I was curious how they would interact with the players. “The focus of the story is on the adventurers,” Rob iterates. The story focuses on the demons Baphomet and Orcus. While Baphomet is trying to warp our reality, Orcus has somehow come to the surface, and settled in the long-forgotten Castle Never. “The dungeon has been forgotten; no one goes there anymore,” Rob explains, detailing how Orcus has raised all the creatures killed and left there, including beholders and the dracolich.
One major thing of note is the fact this storyline is intended for solo players. Each of the major updates has touched on an aspect of the game the developers wanted to improve, Rob explains. PvP, Groups and Guilds, and now a brand new solo storyline thrown into the mix. These types of updates are going to be the norm, focusing on improving aspects with precision development. “Soft grouping is a good measure of how well a campaign is,” he goes on. For those unaware, soft grouping are zone events that occur where everyone who participates receives credit. There is no grouping required for these events, simply fulfilling the objectives.
For people more interested in group play, Rob provided some excellent news: dungeons are returning. Four dungeons are being brought back, leveled to ensure your character will receive a quality experience. They’ve been tuned to only require three characters now to provide fast, fun runs. They’re unlocked at the same levels they were on the leveling path (for instance, a dungeon that was level 50 before will require level 50 to unlock). With the smaller group size, and the focus on revamping them, Rob promises they will not be the same experience as before. In fact, they provide better loot, better experience, and best of all, can be run regardless if you’ve leveled past their requirements.
To facilitate this change, they’ve also completely updated the matching system. Now, players can create special groups of their choosing should they desire. There’s also extensive tweaks that can be made to really gather a group you want. “This allows for things like guild runs, or specific runs,” Rob elaborates on, giving an example of challenging Tiamat with a very specific group of classes, or having a bunch of friends attempt to run a raid with nothing but Trickster Rogues. One important allowance is you can fill in your group with others should you not have enough to challenge the content in your own group. You can also fill in slots for people who may disconnect or general loss of a member.
Of course, even though the tool allows guilds and groups of friends to customize their experiences, “you can still solo queue, no matter what.” There are a variety of rules being added to help completely streamline solo queueing. Best of all, this applies to all queued content across the entire game.
The last thing I touched on with Rob was the mount system. This was something Rob was especially happy to talk about, too. “Mounts will have slots for ‘gear’,” he informs me, going further by explaining that some mounts will already have gear slots with equipment. There are three main slots for mounts: active powers that allow the mount to perform actions for you in combat, passive powers that provide their ability just for having the mount, and speed power to allow your mount to travel faster. “These customizations are fully interchangeable,” he excitedly tells me. He gives the example of the warg being his favorite mount. However, in high level zones, he’s constantly getting knocked off of the mount. With this new system, he can have barding equipped to the mount that will prevent that, and can equip an active ability from, say, the flail snail, to really give it some oomph in combat.
One other change is the active stable, similar to how companions work. You get the benefits of the mounts simply by having them in the stable, which can give some amazing synergies for your characters. “There will be things like set bonuses, and insignias,” Rob says, which will allow for a huge amount of customization as far as mounts are concerned. They’re quite eager to see what players can do to push the boundaries of this new system to come up with ideas and builds of their own.
Neverwinter: The Maze Machine is providing quite a bit of content for everyone. Solo players can experience an epic, challenging storyline that helps conclude their Underdark explorations. Guilds have new tools to allow them to set up and engage in major group content much more easily than before. Mount collectors sound like they’re going to be in Seventh Heaven with all the customizations and combinations they can now achieve. The Maze Engine releases on March 15, so get ready for this exciting expansion!