Navigating through Neverwinter’s Maze Engine

After the “big missteps” involved in Elemental Evil, Cryptic is looking to put Neverwinter back on top of its game with this week’s Maze Engine content update. It’s not looking to rewrite the game but to continue the story set up in the previous expansion while responding to community feedback.

Making our way through the Maze Engine was tricky, which is why we enlisted the help of Cryptic Producer Landon Falls to give us a tour of what to expect when the patch lands tomorrow. Lean, mean, and chock-full of every Forgotten Realms iconic character that could be ripped from the pages of R.A. Salvatore, The Maze Engine has plenty of delights and surprises in store for adventurers.

Spelunking in the Underdark

Whether or not you care for the home of Dwarves and Drow, you can probably agree that allowing a horde of demons to use the Underdark as a highway into the Sword Coast is not beneficial to the inhabitants of the region. With this in mind, high-level players will be called into action to return to the Underdark for a new solo campaign that will span over a dozen “beefy” story quests.

It’s here that a rightful heir to the throne of¬†Gauntlgrym will be restored and the horned king Baphomet will be confronted. Speaking of Baphy, this nasty piece of work has taken charge of the titular Maze Engine as a way to open up the way for not some, but all of the demons to party down in the Forgotten Realms.

As you’re probably aware, there will be plenty of cameos of beloved characters, including Drizzt and Minsc. Depending on your level of fanboyism, that’s either a major selling point or a minor PR one.

Dungeons redux

Players upset that Cryptic disabled several dungeons in the previous patch should be happy to see their return here. The devs said that it all boiled down to time: By raising the level cap, the leveling dungeons required a retooling across the board — a task that wasn’t able to be done in time for Elemental Evil. However, The Maze Engine will see some — but not all — of the leveling dungeons return with significant improvements.

Not only will these dungeons be level adjustable to the new cap, but players going into them will find better lighting, fewer bugs, and improved rewards. Cryptic said that its worked to streamline each instance so that they can be run in a tight 15 minutes or so, down from the 30-plus minutes from before. Dungeons are now a viable leveling path, offering players an alternative to questing if so desired.

The work isn’t done in this regard; some leveling dungeons will remain in drydock until Cryptic retools them.

Speaking of dungeons, the infamous Castle Never epic dungeon will return in this update as well. It’s been both streamlined (sporting a shorter 30-minute runtime) and enhanced (with new areas and visuals). The team’s injected cool rewards into this castle, including cosmetic versions of popular old armor sets, a new artifact, and a weapon set.

Advanced mounts & matchmaking, 2nd edition

Of course, if you’re not far enough into the storyline to partake in the new campaign you might wonder what this patch has for you. Cryptic is spreading the word that two old systems — matchmaking and mounts — are getting major improvements with this update.

The team “broke apart” the mount system in response to player requests and rebuilt it to be sleeker and more useful than before. The big takeaway from the update tour is that players will be able to mix-and-match mount looks with mount buffs, allowing a character to retain the best of both worlds if desired. Mounts will also be getting a new insignia sub-system that will bestow bonuses on characters if players can match them up correctly.

Matchmaking was another area in dire need of improvement. The old system didn’t lend itself well to improvements and new features, so Cryptic reworked it from the ground-up to allow players more options in choosing and customizing parties for dungeon queues.

At the end of the tour, we asked if Cryptic was going to give any more attention to the Foundry system — one of Neverwinter’s original selling points. The developers said that while there was a core community that used the system, the lack of a larger audience for it and the potential to abuse any further “improvements” disincentivized the team from working on it more.

The Maze Engine goes live on Tuesday, March 15th for the PC, with the Xbox One version to follow at an undisclosed date. So which is the more popular version of Neverwinter? Cryptic was incredibly cagey on this matter, saying that the audiences were very different. But will both audiences come together to be excited about this update? Cryptic is certainly hoping so.

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