Crispy Gamer

Neverwinter's going both MMORPG and 4th Ed. next year, and I'm realizing just how cuttable my wrists are these days.

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Atari and Cryptic Studios recently announced that they are currently working on a new MMORPG called Neverwinter, based on the Dungeons and Dragons based Neverwinter Nights games. However unlike earlier games, this new MMO will be based upon the new Forgotten Realms; the 4th Edition D&D Forgotten Realms. If you are unfamiliar with the 4th edition version of Forgotten Realms, it’s the one that gutted the setting and threw away everything that made it interesting.

(Warning, the following will be me bitching about this and far more D&D info than any sane person really needs to know. Short story, it is due Q4 2011 and no one responsible for making Neverwinter Nights 1 or 2 is even scarcely involved on the development side.)

This version of Neverwinter is based roughly 100 years after the events in earlier games. Basically, Mystra the goddess of magic was assassinated by Cyric the god of murder, and Shar the goddess of night. Mystra’s death resulted in the Spellplague which destroyed all arcane magic, and most of the world. The Mayan-esk continent of Maztica was destroyed, many nations have fallen to ruin, most of the gods were lost, and Elminster, everyone’s favorite red cloaked know-it-all mage, has been reduced to a doddering, insane hermit. The titular city of Neverwinter has been hit hard by the century of magical devastation and is now little more than a ruined shithole. Really, to quote the 4th Ed. Forgotten Realms book “Neverwinter and Luskan are now in utter ruin.”

So why place an MMO in this setting, given that it’s been stripped of everything fans of the earlier games grew to love about it? The answer is: Money. Hasbro put a lot of $$ into buying Wizards of the Coast and they’re doing everything they can to make it back (they’ve published 1 to 2 books every month since the game came out in 2008, with most running between $20 and $30). 4th Edition D&D is the only version supported and is probably the only version they’re licensing out at the moment. Personally I find it strange that we’re seeing a surge in games based on earlier editions of D&D (Pathfinder, OSRIC, and Myth & Magic to name a few) given how popular everyone says 4th Ed. is and all.

Players will be able to choose from one of 5 “classic D&D classes” but since that part of the system really wasn’t gutted, they’ll probably be fighter, cleric, mage, ranger and rogue. There is no word yet on what races will be playable, but if you were hoping to play as a gnome you’ll probably have to wait for an expansion as in 4th Ed. they are no longer considered a core race.

Why are there never any halflings dramaticly silhouetted against the sky?

R.A. Salvatore is being brought in to help write the story for Neverwinter, but that could be a mixed blessing. Salvatore’s written more about the Forgotten Realms than even the most rabid of fanboys, and even I have to admit that his stuff is pretty good. He’s largely responsible for fleshing out Drow civilization in his novels about the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden. However the only other game he’s written for was the PS2/XBOX title, Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone. So, has he ever written for an MMO? Nope. Is his skill as a novelist any indication of his skill as a game writer? As history has proven time and time again, the answer to that one will probably be no as well.

That Cryptic Studios is developing this title is another reason to worry. While their work on City of Heroes was pretty good, and then Champions Online was best described as “Meh”, but their most recent release, Star Trek Online, was bad enough to knock me off the wagon and send me back to World of Warcraft. So that’s the company that’s developing Neverwinter; a group that could best be described as one-hit wonders of the MMO scene.

In fact, the only thing about Neverwinter that is even slightly interesting to me is the user content generation system hinted at in the announcement. Apparently this system, currently called Forge, will allow players to create their own storylines and quests. While the rest of the info in this announcement hasn’t done much to win me over, the idea of user generated material making its way into an MMO is enough to have me keep an eye out for future news about this title. When it comes I’ll post the news here, but until then I wouldn’t advise getting your hopes up.

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I am not sure what to think about this at all. Unsure if these changes are good for the future here. They need to make the fans happy and not made. Why you they do this.

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It really depends on which version of the Forgotten Realms you're talking about.

Some games have hit the setting spot on (Baldur's gate mainly) while others have missed the point entirely (the console games Interplay did b4 it collapsed). The Neverwinter Nights games were hit and miss on this subject though as they often had little to do with what had been done before with the setting. Literally, in the old D&D books, there are at most 2 pages of material on the city of Neverwinter. Compared that to the city of Waterdeep to the south which has it's own boxed set and at least 3 other books based on it. Now none of this is including the novels by Salvatore or Greenwood. If FR comes of as generic fantasy, it's probably because it's the foundation upon which countless others have based fantasy settings. The Forgotten Realms have been ripped off almost as much as Middle Earth (which also comes off as generic fantasy for the exact same reason).

I'm far more familiar with the Forgotten Realms as a setting for table-top RPG sessions. In that regard, FR is one of the most detailed, expansive and popular D&D settings out there.

In novels alone, there are about 200+ books based in the FR setting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Forgotten_Realms_novels

In game books, adventures, and boxed sets that number is around 140+

http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/TSR_product_list

Why so much? Because for a while FR was a dumping ground for ideas and D&D settings. The 1001 nights based Arabic setting Al-Qadim was based in FR, as was the Oriental Adventures setting, and the South American based Maztica setting (Mayans and Aztecs). At one point TSR (who owned D&D from inception until 1997) released a map program called the "Forgotten Realms Atlas". It was a collection of every map ever made for FR, compiled into a comprehensive map with lesser maps linked to it (click on a town and it would pull up a map of that town). They had over 600 maps taken from all the FR books to work with. 600!

What this represents is the immense amount of time fans and developers have put into the setting, and as a result the appeal of the setting has always been just how massive and complex it is. They had to release 2 books in order to just cover how many gods the setting had. For complexity you have the nations of the Sea of Fallen Stars or even just the labyrinthine politics and feuds of the noble families of Waterdeep. For dark, you have the nation of Thay, which is ruled over by an organization of purely evil mages, the Zentarim who are pretty much just total bastards, or even the cruel manipulation of the Drow city of Menzoberranzan.


And it's often be really difficult for game designers to even begin to carry over all of that into their games. Some have tried really hard, and we got games like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale. Others got a bit lax and the results were fantasy games that felt (as you said) generic. The result has been a setting in the video games that I will admit did feel like it was a bit sophomoric at times, and did no justice to the complexities of the setting.

Hitting the big Reset button on FR for 4th Ed. feels less like them trying to bring new life into the setting, and more like Hasbro pushing them to write more books for it. Perhaps they feel that by destroying everything that's been done before, it will allow new players to start on the same level as the old ones. But in that case wouldn't it have made more sense to have focused on an entirely NEW setting or on one of the newer one like Ebberon (proto-steampunk)?

 

I love the Forgotten Realms, but personally I'm just glad they've been ignoring my favorite D&D setting since 3rd Ed. came out. Greyhawk. Then again, I gave up on getting anything of value out of Wizards of the Coast after the whole 3.5 hoopla. That's why I switched over to HackMaster a few years ago.

I've been playing PC games in the Forgotten Realms setting for almost 2 decades now (when did Baldur's Gate 1 come out?) and if it's one thing I can say for certain, it's that Faerun is about as "plain Jane" as you can get with a fantasy setting. Everything is as mild as possible with no real darkness or complexity. That's probably to be expected since D&D is aimed at teens and young adults, but to say that Forgotten Realms is "interesting" may be a stretch, at least as far as its PC game showings.

It sounds like the 4th Edition people felt the same way and decided "screw it...burn the MFer down!" Plus I'm not sure how they are going to be compete with the free-to-play (and very fun, I might add) Dungeons and Dragons Online. 

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