How Neverwinter Compares to Previous D&D Games
A lot of amazing things started in the 1970s. James Brown perfected the
Funk, Star Wars entered our collective conscious, the oil crisis
popularized small, cheap, fuel-efficient Japanese cars, and punk rock
boiled out from a seething, angry sea of disillusioned youth. In a much
quieter, calmer corner of the 1970's world, another youth phenomenon came
into being: Dungeons & Dragons. What started out as the self-funded
passion project of a couple of hardcore wargame enthusiasts, cranking out
rule books in their basement to sell in their local hobby shop, has
evolved into a multi-million-dollar entertainment empire. This empire has
spawned several editions of the original game, with hundreds of rulebooks
and adventure supplements, as well as miniatures, childrens' toys,
television shows, a series of horrible movies, and a giant slew of video
games used to ship with massive manuals and maps.And you could buy them
in actual stores!
The latest D&D game, Neverwinter,
carries on a proud tradition. While there have been some black sheep in
the herd, many D&D games have been outstanding, groundbreaking and
innovative. In particular, D&D has been very well represented in
multiplayer games - the first graphical MMO ever produced was SSI's Gold
Box Neverwinter Nights in 1991. While the graphics of this DOS
game seem primitive by today's standards, and the game itself would not
likely appeal to the modern MMO crowd, it was still an impressive
achievement at the time.
After SSI's Gold Box games died out, the D&D license was picked up by
Interplay, BioWare and Black Isle Studios to develop into new games. The
BioWare team built the Infinity Engine, which was used to power a bunch of
incredible and successful new games: the Baldur's Gate series,
the Icewind Dale series, and Planescape: Torment. The
Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games were all multiplayer, but not
massively-so; multiplayer was limited to 6 players controlling party
members. These were essentially single-player games that allowed for
multiple players (except Planescape: Torment, which was single-player
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/248442"> Back in the
day, when a serial port LAN connection was an option.
These games used 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules - the
confusing THAC0 system. Characters were generated with random die rolls,
and could range from truly feeble to super-powered. And since they could
be re-rolled indefinitely, and the points could be reallocated as desired,
there was no reason to play a weak, ineffective character. Parties could
be stacked with turbo-charged supermen. Of the two series, Icewind Dale
was more purpose-built for multi-player; in Baldur's Gate, the party could
be filled with NPCs met during the course of the story, whereas Icewind
Dale was built around a 6-man player-made party.
When Interplay went broke and axed Black Isle Studios, the D&D
license went to Atari. Atari partnered up with BioWare (and, later,
Obsidian), and the team developed 2003's Neverwinter Nights.
This was a hybrid sort of game - a big and excellent single-player
campaign that allowed for multiplayer over LAN or internet, and a set of
tools for creating all-new game worlds and hosting servers for
massively-multiplayer action. You didn't need an internet connection to
get an excellent game, but the game was so much better when you took it
are about to take a dark turn here. You can tell because it's all sunny.
The Aurora toolset was the driving force behind NWN's
multiplayer success. Adventure modules were easy to create. Players could
find servers that perfectly fit the style of game they wanted to play,
from over-the-top, ultra-powered PvP arenas where the only way to survive
was to figure out the most ridiculous Monk-Sorcerer-Paladin build
possible, to higly-restricted roleplaying servers where players could
spend the whole day hanging around in town and not doing any fighting at
all because there was no in-character reason to do so. The scripting
language used by the game was similar to the C programming language, and
was relatively easily-learned by coding neophytes. The DM client allowed
world-builders to police their creations, to administer custom-made
persistent worlds or to run adventures almost the same as they would with
This is going to be a significant hurdle for the new Neverwinter -
dealing with the expectations of the fans of the Aurora toolset from its
older namesakes. While Neverwinter is not a direct sequel to Neverwinter
Nights I or II, it will ship with a similar toolset called the Foundry,
which will allow players to build their own adventure modules and share
them in-game with other players. While the Foundry toolset
has not yet been made available to the public, it seems unlikely that
players will be able to use it to create and host their own persistent
world modules like they could with previous games. Custom player-made
content in the beta weekend was made available through bulletin boards on
the one server that was open to the public, and everything that was on the
bulletin board was single-serving adventure packs. It was all single
dungeons, small exterior maps with small dungeons attached, campaigns
spread across a handful of small maps, all set within walking distance of
the city of Neverwinter. No big, new foreign lands, no weird portals to
Eberron or Greyhawk or Ravenloft. Nothing persistent.
make my own server! With blackjack! And hookers!"
That's not to say someone won't figure it out. Players managed to do some
very clever things with the previous toolsets and some third-party tools,
and it won't likely be long after launch that some very clever people find
a way to build and maintain something resembling the old persistent world
servers within the confines of Neverwinter's custom-content system. It
will be interesting to see how that pans out.
Neverwinter will not be the very first video game to use the 4th Edition
ruleset. That dubious honor belongs to Dungeons & Dragons:
Daggerdale, a sub-mediocre 2011 console-style "Action-RPG" grinder
that received lousy review scores because of its bugginess, lackluster
gameplay, poor graphics, sub-par voice acting and a host of other
complaints. Daggerdale used a very limited set of 4E rules, drawing more
of its gameplay inspiration from other console titles like Dungeons &
Dragons: Heroes. There's not much of a comparison to be made between
Daggerdale and Neverwinter. Daggerdale had a split-screen 4-player co-op
multiplayer option, but was essentially a console-style action game with
some RPG elements. Neverwinter has also jury-rigged the 4E ruleset to
better fit the game style, but as of the first beta weekend it already
felt more polished and engaging than the reviewers felt Daggerdale was at
When Neverwinter launches, it will inevitably get compared to Turbine's
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/ddo">Dungeons & Dragons Online
DDO has been around for a while now, since before the introduction of 4th
Edition rules in 2008, and is a very different game from Neverwinter.
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/ddo">Dungeons & Dragons Online.
"Say that again and I'll show you what
happened to the last guy who called me Jolly."
DDO's character generation uses a point-buy system, allowing for a very
broad range of character builds. Neverwinter's character generation (at
least in beta) allowed for one of two sets of stats to be selected - one
set with the main stat as the highest, one set with Consitution as the
highest. While both games are MMOs, Neverwinter's gameplay feels more like
a single-player RPG experience shared with other people, while DDO feels
more MMO-like. Neverwinter is being billed as an "Action-MMORPG," with
more emphasis on combat than on character development. While DDO has
recently tunneled its way into Forgotten Realms territory via the
Underdark, it is still very much rooted in its Eberron setting.
Neverwinter is pure Forgotten Realms, dripping Greenwood and Salvatore
from every drow-infested pore.
horses look badass, but are likely very painful to ride...
The player-made content is the thing that will most clearly set
Neverwinter apart from DDO. DDO faces a type of limitation common to most
other MMOs - once players have blasted through all the current content,
they have to wait for the next big content update for something new.
Neverwinter will essentially remove this limitation by giving players the
power to create their own new content. Official patches and updates will
still roll out, adding new classes, races, official story arc
continuations, bug fixes and the like, but player-created content from the
Foundry could end up replacing the endgame gear grind found in so many
other games. Once you've beaten all the other dungeons, make your own and
introduce new challenges, tougher monsters, weirder scripted effects.
There are tons of other D&D video games out there. How do you think
Neverwinter will stack up against your favorites? Let us know in our