Interview: Neverwinter’s lead designer on the level squish and why the new cap will (probably) be 20 forever

Neverwinter is about to embark on a major retooling of its entire leveling curve, resetting level 80 players to a new hard cap of level 20 and adjusting all of the content in the game accordingly. It’s a significant rethinking of the way the game works at this stage in its development, and it’s had players wondering about the details. So we got some! We spoke to Lead Designer Randy Mosiondz about the goals of the new leveling curve, the impetus behind the decision to implement it, and whether the cap will ever raise again.

MassivelyOP: If the curve to level 20 is 10-12 hours now, was the goal to get players to consider that part of the game the new tutorial, with the level 20 cap now being the “real game”?

Randy Mosiondz, Lead Designer for Neverwinter: We wanted more of a connected story arc that led players through the 1 to 20 leveling experience. As part of that leveling, we wanted to make sure both new and returning players had a good set of tutorials on how to play the game so once they got to post-20, epic-level content, they’d have all the knowledge they needed to play the game. For our veteran players, we wanted them to have the option to quickly level up their alternate characters, see what all the classes in Neverwinter are like, such as the upcoming Bard class, and experience all the class Paragon Paths as well. This new leveling system gives all players the chance to easily experience all that Neverwinter has to offer.

Are the developers hoping that making all endgame content level 20 from here on out will also make it easier to balance for them as well as more palatable for returning and veteran players?

Balancing at level 20 wasn’t a specific goal, but making it easier to get to epic-level content definitely was. With M21, it will be a lot easier for new players to get their character’s full suite of powers, or veteran players to level up a new character — and, whenever we release new content, it’ll be much easier for players to reach it quickly.

Starting with Avernus and Sharandar, we’ve also initiated a two-week free access period where players who may be behind on their Item Level rating but want to experience the latest content get scaled to the minimum for the zone and start getting the higher-level rewards.

What games or MMO systems were the devs looking at for inspiration when it comes to the squish? I’m wondering about games like Guild Wars 2 here, which famously have locked level caps and horizontal content. Or was it D&D itself that led the change? What made you decide to do this now and not, say, years ago – or at launch?

Fifth edition tabletop D&D was a big inspiration for these. Both the 1-20 level range, milestone advancement, and post-20, epic-level content were big factors in how we changed the leveling experience in Neverwinter.

One of the big factors about doing this now and not years back was that by now we’ve got a much larger volume of content to go through. Prior to the upcoming leveling experience changes, it can be a bit intimidating for new players to go through dozens of hours of leveling content, then do that all over again in campaign content. With the much shorter leveling curve and better understanding of how to play the game, getting to the latest content is more within reach, especially with the aforementioned two-week free access period at the launch of a new adventure zone.

Will the team ever consider raising the level cap again, or will 20 be the permanent cap for all content going forward, ensuring horizontal progression? How will the team ensure that players still feel that sense of progression that levels can offer?

We have no current plans to raise the level cap beyond 20. It gives us good parity with our D&D tabletop counterpart — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t player progression. Players have an Item Level rating that tracks the quality of all their equipped items, companions, and mounts. As players progress through epic-level content, there is challenging content and more powerful rewards available. So, it’s more a change of mindset: getting to 20 gives you your full suite of powers, while post-20, epic-level content gives you powerful items to measure your progress.

Do you anticipate veteran players being grumpy that newbies will have it a bit easier than they did? What might Cryptic be doing to soothe their concerns? Is there anything that might convince the team to abandon this plan?

I think there’ll be some players who may be a little surprised with the changes at first, because they spent so much time leveling up their characters. However, what I really want to stress is that these changes aren’t meant to diminish those accomplishments in any way. While the new leveling system allows newer players to more easily get to the latest content that veteran players are enjoying now — veteran players will also benefit from the changes as they’ll be able to get their alts to parity with their other high-end characters. Also, veteran players will have more players to party up with when taking on epic-level content, so it’s a win for everyone.

There’s been a lot of work that went into the Leveling Experience changes, from re-flowing to re-tutorialization to data changes. Player response from Closed Alpha and Preview has been largely positive, so we won’t be changing this implementation any time soon.

How long will it take to get the removed zones back into the game?

The zones have actually become “vaulted” similar to what happens to other long-running games: content is removed from regular play, but may return at a later date, possibly in a new format. We don’t have a specific timeline for returning vaulted content.

When can we expect M21 to roll out to PC and console? Will the next content arc launch before or after?

We’ll be announcing the launch date very soon. In the meantime, players can check out the final episode of the Neverwinter: Sharandar story arc, The Odious Court, which went live on PC on June 8th, and will go live on console on July 6th.

Thanks for chatting with us!
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