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

    
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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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Krumple Themal

The thing that keeps getting ignored is the campaigns are still time gated. So yes getting to level 20 is easy but you still have 6 months of campaigns to do to get the boons to bump your item level high enough to not get item level discrimination.

This also doesnt factor in enchantment upgrades or equipment and artifact upgrades which will require lots of AD and that corrilates to months, not days.

So its still misleading to new players to talk about “reaching end game sooner.” Its a lie, you wont really be at end game for 6 months if not longer.

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Johnny Quantum

Yeah, player level is only a small part. Levelling up all the other stuff for each character/alt is a multi-year exercise!

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Bruno Brito

Which brings me to the point i was making that Cryptic just want to dump us quickly into their awful endgame grind.

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Blake

Yep speed the players through the game in order to get them to the cash shop ASAP.

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Jeremy Barnes

What does it matter? Call it levels or item level, it’s the same thing

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Ashfyn Ninegold

At least they are doing what all MMOs do anyway nowadays. Leveling is trivial. The “real” game is end game. I’ve always thought that if that was the case, just give us a tutorial and put us at end game, which is what, it seems, Neverwinter is going to do.

Not that I think trivializing leveling is the direction MMOs should go in. I don’t. Leveling is my game; end game not so much. The problem is, after you’ve built a solid core game with a good leveling experience and players get to level cap, well, what then? That’s where devs all go down the same dark path and make end game content THE content.

Torchlight III tried to push end game off by making each Frontier a different leveling experience and players balked. Then we have reputation with factions as another replacement for the leveling experience, but in many games rep grinding is extremely unfun and almost unnecessary, with the exception of WoW which has made it unfun and necessary.

So, in a lot of ways, Neverwinter is owning up to the reality. Leveling for most players is a gate to the content they really want to do, end game. So why not just lower the gate? It gives players what they seem to really want and allows for a lot more engagement from players in the top content.

It’ll be interesting to see how it works out.

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Thomas

“The problem is, after you’ve built a solid core game with a good leveling experience and players get to level cap, well, what then?”

This is a very good point and is precisely the reason I play most MMOs by leveling up numerous alt characters while I seldom bother to try to get any of them beyond the maximum level.

It is the “leveling up experience” that I enjoy in most MMOs, not the “endgame experience” (which usually also involves a lot of real money expense). I don’t think it has to be this way. The original Guild Wars (not a true MMO, I know, I know) understood well how to keep players playing (and spending money) long after they reached the level cap at 20, so a good endgame doesn’t have to be just the same old raid and grindy crap. I wish a lot of current MMOs would get a clue about this.

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Vanquesse V

To me D&D is about player choice. Vaulting zones and having just one path whlie leveling is counter to that. Their class customization has also always felt extremely restrictive with barely any of the choices having real impact

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styopa

To be fair, D&D might be about player choice, sure.
But NWO is *not* D&D in any mechanical sense.
It’s “forgotten realms IP sort of (?), by a completely different rule system”.

What makes me so puzzled is that when they came out, 4E was the thing which was a rule set BUILT for a video game paradigm. And they…ignored it, instead building, well, whatever Frankenstein mechanics they have now.

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Paragon Lost

Hence my comments about being confused as to what they thought they were doing. You nailed it though, it was basically a sort of Forgotten Realms setting but having nothing to really do with 4e, 3e, 2e, 1e, Basic or old DnD.

Personally it always felt like a hot mess.

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styopa

It’s amazing, I looked it up and it’s there:
Perfect-World

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Paragon Lost

Lol 👍

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Bruno Brito

My goddamn sides.

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Paragon Lost

They really did it wrong when it came to designing this as a DnD mmorpg. They still made it about the destination versus the journey which DnD is more about.

End Game focus was a bad idea. Sure, design end game/level cap activities but don’t short change the journey. I’ve always considered Neverwinter a total FUBAR in DnD desired game design and they’ve not changed my mind since nor did this interview.

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Greaterdivinity

“Vaulted” content never makes me happy, but I’m pretty pleased if we can get to max level and start the “real game” within a dozen or so hours. Heck maybe they can even work on improving some of those zones to fit better since they’re not needed simply to dump XP on players and can be more focused on meaningful/engaging story/content. Makes a lot of sense from a business/retention perspective – cuts down dropoff before players get to “good” content and makes leveling alts and other classes much more attractive to existing players.

I’m kinda looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll finally get a character to max level, I was playing a warlock that I’d planed to turn into a healer a while back but maybe I’ll try once more with yet another paladin.

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Bruno Brito

The change itself is fine, if badly implemented. Leveling in D&D is a huge part of the game, and while i don’t think Neverwinter should have DDO levels of grinding, they should make the 1-20 a bit longer. 10-12 hours is not enough, and this is clearly Cryptic trying to toss us straight into their cashgrabby-endgame.

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Darthbawl

Argh, wished I knew you folks were going to ask some Q’s, would have asked you to ask them WTF is happening with the crafting system. I can’t say I have seen anything substantial about changes to it after the level squish.

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Clay Stauffer

I may be in the minority here, but I like this change and am curious to see how it plays out (while playing the new bard class of course, because bards.) Some of the zones they removed were an absolute slog to get through so a more streamlined leveling experience sounds like a win for me. Plus, the campaigns are where the real fun begins so I’m happy to see them as more of the focus.

While Neverwinter will never be my top AAA MMO of choice, it is a fun romp that I like coming back to from time to time. Adding the bard class and changing the leveling experience just makes that sooner than later for me.

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Stilvan

I think this decision is more in line with typical MMO convention so I think a lot of people are going to be happy with this change. The main problem is they have D&D on the tin and most players have never even seen a level 20 character in that system.

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Tanek

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

What other MMOs remove content like this? Only Star Trek Online that I can think of, which doesn’t count as it is also Cryptic.

Maybe the argument could be made that GW2 “vaulted” LWS1 or that WoW “vaulted” most of the game with Cataclysm, but those aren’t the same as just yoinking content.

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Mark

Depending on how you define MMO, Destiny 2.