Neverwinter preview: Dungeon Master

MMORPGs have a problem. No matter how much content they produce, eager fans chew through it almost immediately. For a genre that relies on a steady user base to remain profitable, this trend could be -- and has been -- the death knell for some games. Neverwinter intends to change that by providing users the tools to create an endless stream of content. After seeing a demonstration of its creation tools in action, I think it may just pull it off.

User-generated content (UGC) has been done before, and even done well, but it comes with its own set of complications in a game with loot and experience. Removing those elements renders it functionally useless for players seeking rewards for their efforts, but giving creators too much power could offer an easy path to break the experience progression. Neverwinter aims to solve this by giving experience, loot, and currency like any story mission, but keeping each element tightly controlled by fixing the encounters. Enemy encounters can be dropped individually, or you could choose from a healthy mix of creatures in the wizard, each with its own reward value attached.

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For those who prefer to make their own monster, you could twist and distort an existing creature beyond recognition and call it a new race, if your story demands it. You'll even be able to make slight color variations among members of the model, to make it seem like a believable set. Turning a monster into your own creation looked like a simple matter of stretching and squishing like a doll.

As a matter of fact, many of the creation features seemed perfectly simple in demo form. The game sports a creation wizard that outlines mission sequence logic, and will forward you automatically to any missing pieces. Adding new pieces consists of a simple drag-and-drop menu, and dialogue trees are just a matter of deciding on the cause-and-effect relationship between them.

The dungeons themselves can be made from templates, or any number of rooms can be linked together. As long as two rooms are touching, a door will connect them. Those rooms can then be auto-populated with items that would belong in the environment, or placed individually with a grid-like system that should seem familiar to Dungeons & Dragons fans.

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Finding content can be as simple as walking into a local bar and asking about rumors, which will be sorted by area. A peer review system borrowed from Star Trek Online assures that levels won't hit the wide audience until a set number has made it through the mission. Plus, Cryptic promises incentives for consistent quality in level creation. In case you're one to seek out missions that are heavy on lore or battles, a tagging system should be available at or shortly after launch to find UGC that fits your style.

If any MMO lent itself to user-generated content, it's one based on the D&D franchise. Pen-and-paper enthusiasts have been doing it for decades, with nearly limitless creative applications within the structure of the game. Neverwinter may not quite reach that level of customization, but it's certainly a nice start. In the hands of an experienced dungeon master, Neverwinter's UGC tools could be enough to solve the genre's longevity crisis.