Interview: Neverwinter’s Maze Engine expansion launches March 15

If you thought you were done with Drizzt, think again. Adventures aren’t over in Neverwinter’s Underdark; players will continue with the story that was started there when the ninth expansion, The Maze Engine, releases for the PC on March 15th. How will this next adventure set itself apart from the previous one? For starters, instead of squaring off against one two-headed demon lord, you get two single-headed ones. Additionally, the infamous Drow and other iconic figures will be joining you on your journey this time, instead of the other way around. But as you’d hope for in an expansion, there’s more to The Maze Engine than that. I sat down with Executive Producer Rob Overmeyer to delve into the details of next month’s new content.

Soloing the story

Overmeyer was happy to announce a return to solo storyline content and progression in The Maze Engine. He noted that much of the content of late, such as Strongholds and Underdark, was geared towards larger groups. With this expansion, players can continue along by themselves or invite a few friends to join the party to learn more about the demon invasions. And this time, players get to adventure with the iconic heroes of Drizzt Do’Urden, Minsc and Boo, Bruenor Battlehammer, and Regis tagging along, instead of players tagging along after those big-named characters. This solo story starts at level 60, and players can level up to, or at least very close to, 70 just by doing this campaign.

By now, you must certainly be asking what a Maze Engine is and what it has to do with anything? It’s apparently a magical mechanical device that can warp the very fabric of reality, and is currently guarded by Horned King Baphomet (demon number one). Yah — not exactly something you want in the hands of a demon, am I right? Players will have to go in and figure out what this minotaur is up to and neutralize then this threat.

Since the story continues to utilize his iconic characters, I asked if R.A. Salvatore was involved in writing any of the quests in this new expansion like he did for Underdark. The answer is no. However, that doesn’t mean devs took liberties with Drizzt and the gang. Overmeyer emphasized that Salvatore was consulted to ensure the characters stayed true to where Salvatore saw them throughout his own writings. “We kind of built this second half in a pitch together,” Overmeyer said. “We talked with Bob about how to use his characters, [which] are beloved characters, and where he sees them going. We worked with him to make sure that we were still going to be true to his adventure that he is writing for these characters on an ongoing basis.” The author offered direction and tone even if not exact prose.

Dungeons: You can go back!

It’s often said that you can never go back. But in the case of Neverwinter’s dungeons, that no longer holds true. Remember back when you cleared through Castle Never? Remember all those bodies you left strewn about the grounds in your quest to obliterate everything and make off with the loot? Well, an interesting thing about that… being such a litter bug is going to come back to haunt you. And bite you. Quite literally. Overmeyer described it this way: “All of those things are just laying there on the ground — there’s no real clean up crew for demons and baddies.”

It seems Orcus (demon number two) has come along and decided that all those rotting corpses would actually make spiffy reanimated subjects for his new castle. So the Prince of Undeath resurrected all the things that were defeated in the past, and gave them a little more oomph to boot. In other words, this isn’t your lower-level dungeon anymore: It’s now a level 70 epic one. The location is the same and will certainly be familiar, but time has passed and the story has progressed along.

Not only is one of the foci of this expansion a return to this previous dungeon, but more of the earlier dungeons are joining in the fun; Lair of the Pirate King, Frozen Heart, Cloaked Tower, and Karrundax are all reopening their doors to a broader, multi-level audience. Overmeyer explained that previously, once you passed the level range of these dungeons, you couldn’t ever get back in. With the release of The Maze Engine, these four will now be playable by everyone who has reached each dungeon’s minimum level. That means everyone who saved dungeon-specific items in their bags in the hopes that they could someday return and utilize them (yes, I know someone who did just that) will finally have that chance! Even better, these four dungeons will scale all players up to level 70 stats, so players of all levels can actually band together and do the content. At least here, there will be no level barriers keeping friends apart.

Overmeyer pointed out that players can also use these dungeons as an alternative leveling path, especially if they have been through the story a few times already. And since the group size was narrowed down to three, finding a couple of folks to share the experience with should be that much easier. He also said the dungeons have decent loot drops, so a few trips in might net some spiffy goods.

Customization and queues

While the story and dungeons are certainly big-ticket items in this expansion (the solo campaign is actually Overmeyer’s personal favorite thing in The Maze Engine), there are even more incoming features. There’s a new customization system for mounts as well as an improved queue system.

For the mounts, players will be able to utilize the performance stats of particular mounts combined with the cosmetic look of another for a personalized ride. If you want a speeding slug, you can get it! All previously acquired mounts will be available for players, and the mixing and matching will happen via a new mount interface.

Called the match system, the new queueing system allows for much greater flexibility and a better experience when creating groups. The flexibility comes in many forms. One, it allows matches of up to 25 to form to challenge content together. That means you can take a 25-man group of just your friends to meet up with Tiamat. The same goes for 20-man Strongholds groups and 10-man Demigorgon hunts. A match group is not party based, either; players can run out and do content with others while waiting on everyone in the private queue to be ready.

But what if you can’t get the last few slots filled for that larger group? That’s OK — you can also open your match up to allow pugs to fill in any remaining spots.

Even more flexibility is present in the fact players can set the rules in their private matches. In the public matches, the game will enforce a balanced party configuration. However, in a private one, Overmeyer explained that you can literally set it to where 25 Trickster Rogues are taking on Tiamat. Sure, why not, right?

If this all sounds pretty interesting, you don’t have to wait until the expansion launches to get a taste. Overmeyer invited everyone to check The Maze Engine out on the PST and help devs test the last bits and pieces.

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