Questions by Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF)
Answers by Rob Overmeyer, Executive Producer of Neverwinter
Underdark is the latest update to Neverwinter, the Dungeons & Dragons themed MMO. With this update, players will get the chance to adventure in the Underdark, the massive underground that exists beneath the Overworld. Civilizations have risen and fallen here, and one of the most beloved characters in R. A. Salvatore’s novels was born here. Players will get the chance to fight along side and interact with characters from Salvatore’s novels as they complete a quest-line authored by the man himself. In preparation for the launch of Underdark, I got the chance to sit down with Executive Producer Rob Overmeyer and ask some questions about the expansion.
Jordan: Could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about your part in Neverwinter.
Rob: My name is Rob Overmeyer. I’m the Executive Producer of Neverwinter PC, Xbox, and worldwide. What I do is executive producing, a bit of that is working with a bunch of talented people on Neverwinter, helping them realize their dreams of what the game can be.
Jordan: Can you give a brief overview of Underdark?
Rob: There’s a bunch of stuff coming with Underdark. One of the really cool things that we have is a partnership with R. A. Salvatore on a quest-line that acts as a lead-in to one of the main parts of the Underdark story. The player is met with a stranger who needs help from an adventuring party to retrieve a lost item in the depths of Gauntlgrym. There’s a new threat there that needs overcome and the adventuring party helps out with that. Through that story line they realize that part of the threat is Quenthel, who is a well know character in the IP. Eventually, they will work with Fenago and realize that he is a classic character from R. A. Salvatore’s books, and help him regain a lost item and the throne of Gauntlgrym.
So it’s up to the player to figure out what the story is there and work with well-known characters to fight the new menace and the threat to Menzoberranzen and the Underdark in the form of a really cool large group fight, almost like a raid, with Demogorgon.
There’s also a number of places around the world where demons have started to ‘peak through’ into the Overworld, so there’s a campaign that players will go through. They’ll visit places around the Sword Coast and push back the approaching demons as they try to move into the Overworld and bring their destruction that they’ve brought to the Underdark.
Really, it is a start of a story, of a multi-part story, that we’re telling. We’ve done this in the past with the Tyranny of the Dragons with a great intro story of the Tyranny and then following up that story with Rise of Tiamat, the Dragon Queen. The Underdark is told in multiple pieces, and the beginning of it is the lead-in playing through the Salvatore quest, working with well-known IP Characters from Salvatore’s world, against Demogorgon that giant demon from the abyss.
Along with that, there’s a ton of really cool items, a new campaign, a ton of new rewards, and new adventures.
Jordan: Even if you’re not very familiar with Dungeons and Dragons and the Forgotten Realms, you’ve probably heard the name R. A. Salvatore before. Were you excited to work with him and tell us a bit about the quest-line he authored for the game and are there any plans to work with him again?
Rob: Yes, absolutely. It was a blast working with him. We started working with him a while back, and we were trying to craft a story and he wrote a story that was really, really good. We liked it and it was something we definitely wanted to put into the game. We held on to it for a bit because it had something to do with Gauntlgrym and at the time Gauntlgrym was host to large-scale PVP and there was a PVE adventure down there, but we also knew some of the things that would be happening to Gauntlgrym in the distant future. And when we started working with Wizards of the Coast and Bob (R. A. Salvatore) about their future plans, we realized that story line was going to be the perfect intro to the Underdark story. In Bob’s novels, Bruenor meets Drizzt after he’s been down in the Underdark, losing himself and sort of spiraling down into madness. We pick-up right alongside that story and tell a side-story. Drizzt is doing his own thing, but the players come together with Drizzt to fight monsters.
The whole time working with Bob he was great. It was cool, he had a gamer’s mind and he’s definitely a great storyteller. So when we talked about what the story was going to be, it seemed like a bunch of old friends sitting around telling stories. It actually wasn’t the first time we worked with Bob. We worked with him in the original plannings of the game. We talked to him about how we could destroy Neverwinter and what the story is there. We talked about how Mount Hotenow exploded and ruined a lot of Neverwinter. So he was part of the original story when we sat down with Wizards of the Coast, figuring out how it would work, how it would fit in with the time-line.
So picking up from “it seemed like a bunch of old friends sitting around” it was like hanging out with an old friend talking about cool things, great stories, and adventures. It was really, really cool and very easy. There were times where we were able to treat him a bit like a quest designer and tell him, “Oh, that’s great. Your stories great. But can you put it in this template?” We went back and forth and it was really cool and easy.
Like I said, we had worked with him before on larger, big picture stories like why this is happening in Neverwinter for the launch game. So this was just an extension of that. When he was working with us last time, we talked about, “What’s next?” and one of the cool things about Bob’s process is that he kind of lets the characters tell their story and then he tells his story, writes it down. So when we talked about where his characters are going – where Drizzt and Bruenor are going, where Wulfgar went, all those well known characters – the future is sort of wide open, but he definitely has some places where he’d like to go. He mentioned that they want to go home and that’s something that’s definitely very interesting to me and the team as fans of his work and Neverwinter. So we’re very excited to work with Bob going forward and also seeing more of his iconic characters in Neverwinter and seeing what adventures they go on and where the players’ story meets the classic characters. There’s a more than good chance that we’ll be working with Bob and his characters again in the future.
Jordan: Drizzt Do’Urden is probably the most recognizable character name in this franchise and I’m sure players are excited to get a chance to interact with him in the game. What is the extent that they’ll get to? Will his appearance be brief?
Rob: Like I mentioned, it’s a multi-part story. So, in this instance you’re meeting him on his path. When you run into him, he’s going to take on Demogorgon. In this first part you’re fighting alongside him and he’s helping in these really big fights, but the story expands after that. We’re not telling Drizzt’s story; we’re not playing alongside Drizzt. It’s the players’ story, focusing on that adventure and Drizzt comes in and there’s a partnership there but where it goes next is something I’m not going to reveal yet. But it’s not like the player is going on a quest with Drizzt the entire time.
Jordan: What can players expect in the new 10-player battle against Demogorgon?
Rob: One of the really cool things that we’re trying new in Neverwinter is a boss fight with multiple stages. The big fight with Demogorgon isn’t the same every time; the rewards are variable, the content is variable, there’s a difference between the normal version and the epic versions as far as challenges and what you see.
Essentially, mechanically, it’s a playable version of the madness that Demogorgon brings. So the players have to deal with the madness that Demogorgon just oozes and it just permeates out of him and into everything. Most of Menzoberranzan is driven mad by his rampage through there. The players can’t even go to Menzo because the Drow will kill anybody that comes near it it. They are lost, they are kind of in the wind and very violent. More so than usual.
In the Demogorgon fight, it’s a big ten person fight. In the normal version you join into the fight with a bunch of other adventurers. In the epic version you queue in with your party so it’s two parties of five basically. You go through multiple stages, dealing with these different mechanics that lock out part of your abilities, and you’ve got to figure out how to deal with that. And the rewards are based on how well you do. One of the things we’re working with are variable rewards, you score in each phase and depending on how well you do on each phase is how good your reward is at the end. And if you’re not getting ‘gold’ in the phases, the reward scheme is built out so that through the fight (and the campaign) you’re getting gear that will get you to the point where you can get the high score.
There are a lot of challenges there and a lot of fun. Most of the time, in our play test, it comes down to where we’re getting really close and we’re just getting past Silver, about to get into gold, and there’s just a couple more seconds to go and we’ve got to push. So there’s a sense of pressure that you’ve got to deal with as well as the mechanics of the fight itself. It’s a big fight, lots to figure out and do. In the end it can be really, really rewarding.
Jordan: Just how much of the Underdark will players actually get to experience with this update? Are you trying to ‘get it all’ or will you be focusing on certain key areas?
Rob: This story is focusing on just a part of it. Menzoberranzan is off-limits, like I mentioned. We’re in Mantol-Derith, which is kind of a mid-way market for all the denizens of the Underdark. You can think of it as a neutral place where enemies can come together and do their shopping. We’re focusing the story in there, that’s where the different factions and races are getting together, kind of as an escape from everything else that’s happening in the Underdark.
The other parts of the story take place in Gauntlgrym. There’s a number of queued content skirmishes that are basically where Gauntlgrym meets up into the Underdark. The rest of it is in the Overworld. So we’re not going into the expanse of the Underdark, that’s probably way to much to tackle. It never ends!
Jordan: What other challenges can we expect to find added to the game, besides the content in the Underdark?
Rob: Like I mentioned, we’ve got the Salvatore quests, we’ve got skirmishes, a campaign – which is a path of progression and cool rewards. There’s some new things added to Strongholds. A new PVP tower and a new plot as well. A bunch of demonic and heroic encounters in the Overworld, which is all basically group content. But easy group content; you can do it as a solo player or get a bunch of people together.
Jordan: Is there a particular feature or addition coming with Underdark that you’re especially excited about?
Rob: Yeah, I like two thing. I’m really into PVP. The new structure we added to Strongholds is a PVP tower. It’s a giant mushroom and it drops healing mushrooms as well as enemies that when killed around it turn into healing fonts effectively.
I’m also excited about the Demigorgon fight. There’s a lot of really cool rewards with different tiers that can drop off of Demogorgon. They focus more on theory or build crafting. They are “differently powered” is an easy way to explain it. They’re not like the “best in slot” thing, but they’re definitely situational and can be the “best in slot” in certain situations. It brings a different level of theorcrafting into Neverwinter, which I’m really excited about. I want to see how it goes; it’s sort of our first foray back into theorycrafting. We want to take it from there and expand it based on player feedback. My own, too. I play a lot. So I’m really excited to be getting accessories and trying to figure out what circumstances I can use them in. And the biggest surprise in there is that there are a few accessories that you can get from Demogorgon, sort of proc accessories, that can mix up PVP a bit.
Jordan: Will there be any major class changes, stat tweaks, or anything of that sort included in this expansion that players may want to know about?
Rob: No, there’s not. For this Dev cycle, we took some time to look at classes and evaluate them. It was about identifying the process for how we review classes and starting our class review. So with this update, there’s no serious balance or class changes, but one of the things we focused on was figuring out what it means to fully review a class and identifying the classes we need to review first. A lot of that comes from player feedback – the PVP and PVE forums. We also have tons of fans of the games that are pretty hardcore class advocates, not even only for themselves but for other classes as well. We’re looking at Paladin, Scourge, Warlock, and potentially Cleric as the ones we’ll be doing class reviews for really soon.
Jordan: What sort of additions to the Shop can we expect with Underdark?
Rob: There’s a few new items. The basic sort of fare of mounts and companions. And then items that aren’t necessarily related to the expansion, just normal new items. One of the things we’re looking at is changing up the shop a bit to make it easier to find things you’re looking for. I think right now we have a mount and a companion and maybe a couple of surprises, but I won’t mention them yet.
Jordan: Any word on what’s in store for Neverwinter after Underdark?
Rob: Yeah, I can. Like I mentioned, we’re doing a two-parter story for Underdark, so we’re going to continue the story there. Then there’s a lot of big and really cool plans for next year, some of which I can leak out a little bit. But I won’t give you any details. We want to expand Respen’s Game. It’s a bit of a fan favorite and we want to change it from being something that came around once a year and was a little gimmicky, to something that’s a lot cooler. It was an April’s Fool joke, but we’ve brought it around a couple of times and the fans love it, so we’re going to give it more of a permanent home.
We’re definitely looking at class balance stuff. It’s fresh in our minds. Like I said, we spent a Dev cycle looking at it. So the fans can expect us to work on those and continue to listen to their feedback and make changes that are better for the game. We’ve had big stuff for the end of the year for the past two years, so you can probably expect that Wizards of the Coast is going to have something big and we’re going to have something big right along with them. Really cool stories and a lot of great stuff to come.
Oh one last tidbit for the console gamers. We’re looking to have Xbox in parity with PC by the beginning of next year.