No more lonely Neverwinter Nights, that's what Atari's signaling with today's announcement that Neverwinter Nights is returning as an online roleplaying game. It also means one online version of D&D clearly wasn't enough (even if said version had to go free-to-play last year to save its bacon).
Curiously, D&D Online's developer Turbine isn't at the helm. Nor is BioWare, the company that resurrected Neverwinter in 2002. Instead, Cryptic Studios, the guys behind online games like City of Heroes, Champions Online, and Star Trek Online, are handling what'll amount to Neverwinter's third coming.
It also sounds like they'll be fiddling with what fans might deem canon, re-envisioning Neverwinter as a once proud city presently down on its luck (okay, so maybe not much re-imagined there). The last Lord of Neverwinter is dead, no one agrees who's in charge, factions struggle to gain the upper hand--all the usual disconcerting bits at the heart of fantasy fiction these days. Oh, and the dead are rising, as the dead often do. This occurs in the wake of a "spellplague," which actually does qualify as Forgotten Realms lore, and which you can read more about here.
"We're beyond thrilled to develop a brand new version of Neverwinter," said Cryptic Studios COO Jack Emmert in a press statement. "It's been years since the original became a gaming icon and we're honored to work with such a great franchise."
"We've been working closely with Wizards of the Coast and R.A. Salvatore to create an authentic D&D adventure filled with compelling fiction and exciting gameplay."
You read that last bit right. Bob Salvatore is indeed involved, which means great things if you're a fan of his breezy shared universe pop-fiction...or the inverse if you're not. I guess he's even written a tie-in novel, launching October 5, called Gauntlgrym and subtitled 'Neverwinter Book One'. According to Atari, it "previews the settings, characters and monsters from the PC game and details the events that lead up to this highly anticipated PC gaming experience."
In said experience, you'll select one of five classic D&D classes, then play cooperatively with friends or solo employing computer-controlled allies in five-player squads. Like D&D Online's city of Stormreach, Neverwinter will apparently limit players to the eponymous city itself, so think dungeon-delving in honeycombed urban nether regions, and plenty of it.
Atari also claims it's devised a way to allow players to "create their own storylines and quests utilizing an extremely user-friendly content generation system, tentatively codenamed Forge." User-friendly content generation implies, well, user-created. In an online game? Interesting.
Neverwinter Nights has a lengthy, commercially successful, critically uneven history. The AOL-hosted original, based on TSR's Forgotten Realms campaign, wasn't pretty, but faithfully replicated then-publisher SSI's gold box rules (in turn modeled faithfully on the pen and paper Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset). The game, co-developed by AOL, SSI, and Stormfront Studios, was released in 1991, and managed to survive until Wizards of the Coast snapped up TSR and the D&D franchise in 1997.
BioWare's first stab arrived in 2002, a tediously told single-player story with a bold, well-played multiplayer angle that mimicked D&D's pen-and-paper mode. The second game developed by Obsidian Entertainment was a real mess at release, buggy to the point of unplayability, overly faithful to the D&D 3.5 ruleset, and woodenly plotted. Patches tidied up the gameplay, though not the storytelling.
Lets hope Cryptic's version won't be one more power fantasy level grinder swirled in D&D mythos and shallow multi-platforming. Fingers crossed then.
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