I'm not 100 percent confident that all of this will add up to an experience that will mirror my weekly tabletop D&D game, but at least there are some familiar trappings. Another big part of D&D is the ability to hire henchmen, or otherwise convince non-player characters to join your party and fill out your ranks. This is especially important in an online game. Say you love playing with only 2 or 3 friends, but the content difficulty is geared more for groups of 5 or 6. By hiring henchmen, you will be able to tackle quests or dungeons that otherwise might be outside your grasp. "[Henchmen] have got character classes just like players do. Obviously they are controlled by an AI, but you'll have some control over what they do. Essentially they are players in the computer's clothing, so to speak," said Emmert. There is no announcement on exactly how henchmen will get hired, whether it will only be gold or if you can unlock henchmen through conversation options.
Technologically, the game will work and look very much the same way that Cryptic's MMOs do. "It's the same engine for Champions Online, Star Trek, Neverwinter and every other product that we do," Emmert said.
For the first time though, players will be able to create their own stories and quests in a fully-realized 3D world that uses that engine. As I said before, the tools available might rival the Aurora toolset and the huge amount of player-made content that was made using the Neverwinter Nights engine. But Cryptic is allowing players and modders to jump a few technical hurdles from the onset. "The biggest evolution is that Neverwinter is going to be an online game from the very start. You don't have to set up your own servers or anything like that. You won't need to worry about any of the technical complications at all," Emmert said.
By providing the tools and the game engine, Emmert hopes that budding dungeon masters will use Neverwinter to play their own campaigns with their friends. "They will have the ability to link into our game world and their adventures will branch off from there."
It's undecided whether players will be able to create new NPCs (it could quickly become a dangerously over-populated world after all) but Neverwinter will allow you to hook into the game world using the exact same tools that Cryptic does. Using this system, it's possible that creators will use to create stories that do not take place in a typical fantasy setting.
"We'll probably come up with some interesting stuff for people that want to be creating content that uses D&D rules but is perhaps in a setting that is far different than ours," Emmert said. "Eventually, we want to open it up for people to expand [the game] outside of just seeing Neverwinter." I can't say for sure whether there will be spaceships or WWII veterans, but knowing the crowdsource out there, I'm fairly certain that weird anachronisms will show up if the ability is there.
After hearing Emmert talk about Neverwinter, I'm cautiously optimistic that Cryptic will be able to create a videogame that can adequately translate the tabletop experience you get from playing D&D. Many games have tried, but pretty much all they've accomplished is to create a subgenre. Computer Roleplaying Games are very different than the tabletop games that inspired them. Neverwinter is aiming to bridge that gap by allowing you to play with your friends from the start, and allowing dungeon masters and modders to sculpt their own play experience from a shared palette. Neverwinter doesn't drop on PCs until Q4 2011, and I'm sure that we'll learn a lot more as we get closer to launch. For now, I'll roll some dice on physical table with my friends, but perhaps in 2011 I'll be able to roll digital dice on a table consisting of 1s and 0s.
Greg Tito might just want to throw some digital dice in 2011.