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Neverwinter Cloaked Ascendancy Dev Interview w/ Chantelle Tatum

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Answers by Chantelle Tatum, Neverwinter Systems Designer

Recently, I sat down with Chantelle Tatum, Systems Designer for Neverwinter! We were talking about The Cloaked Ascendancy, the latest content update for Neverwinter PC, which is on its way to console on April 11th! This update contains end-game content, an adventure zone, epic dungeon, a fun dynamic skirmish, and a campaign that pits adventurers against four powerful mages known only as “The Cloaked Ascendancy.” Since I missed out on playing this when it went live, we chatted with Chantelle a bit about the content itself! I’m excited to get my hands on it very soon, and even more excited for the console crowd to get it too!

  1. For those in the audience who are new to Neverwinter, what can you tell us about the story for the Cloaked Ascendancy?

It’s a coming-around story; so, wait… Let me start again! Neverwinter is based on the city [Neverwinter], and one of the great things about the Cloaked Ascendancy storyline is that it brings our heroes back to Neverwinter. When you’re a hero in Neverwinter, you’re out adventuring, in Icewind Dale, or the Underdark, defending it from lots of evil threats! But the Cloaked Ascendancy is the time to come home. You get to come back to Neverwinter, and explore new areas [of Neverwinter]. But you’re not the only one coming home; the Cloaked Ascendancy are the villains of this chapter; they have been away [from Neverwinter] since the Spellplague happened, and they think it’s time they take rulership of Neverwinter. It’s such a great story for us to do because we’ve been away from Neverwinter for so long. You’re encountering new areas, defending the city from villains that are trying to take over… so, that’s one of the things I really liked about it.

  1. Are there any Major NPCs from the Neverwinter past or the tabletop that make an appearance?

Okay! So that’s a fun question to answer. There’s a bunch of NPCs you’ve encountered while playing Neverwinter, mainly Lord Neverember, he’s one of the starter contacts for the storyline, and then… 100+ years ago, when the Spellplagues ravaged Faerun, there was a guild of mages that existed in Neverwinter, and they were called the Many-starred Cloaks. When the Spellplague hit, the tower and all their inhabitants disappeared!  And then a year later the tower came back, but no one was in it. So for a hundred years, nobody knew what happened to the Many-starred Cloaks.  But now they’re back just as the last remaining survivors of the Spellplague are being thrown into the Far-Realm. That’s just some of the NPCs, you won’t know them from reading any of the lore/books but bringing them back was really fun.

  1. How does the Cloaked Ascendancy fit into the over-all main story of the game?

The Cloaked Ascendancy, one of the big things, as the Spellplague happened a hundred years ago, most of that’s been cleared up. Mistral came back, rebuilt her Weave, a lot of the Spellplague Cavern symptoms went away. But there are still pockets of Spellplague around Faerun that haven’t been cleaned up/away. One of those was the Spellplague Caverns, which exists in the Chasm, in Neverwinter.  And so, one of the big things, this is a final tie-in on “How are we going to handle the Chasm?” The Spellplague stuff needs to be cleaned up!

  1. As someone who has missed out on some of Neverwinter recently, can you catch me up to speed on the Spellplague Caverns? And what inspired the return?

The original Spellplague Caverns in Neverwinter was a part of the Chasm, where the Spellplague Magic was running rampant, after you do that storyline, a lot of shifts happens. When we release new content, things get wrapped up. So we didn’t want people still in the Spellplague Caverns, because it was a symbol that the Spellplague was slowly going away, and it wasn’t a huge influence anymore. But we brought it back because, it’s one of those pockets where it still exists [Spellplague] in Faerun, a dangerous place. It’s not as powerful as it was before, and for us/the heroes, this will be the last stand of any of the Spellplague. So, we brought it back specifically to resolve this story [the spellplague].

  1. One of the things I really have enjoyed hearing about is the Illusionists’ Gambit: Basically a roguelike within an MMO. Is this a style of skirmish players might see more of in the future?

For us, this was a first time experience, putting this together. We had a blast! It was so much fun, everyone on the team loved it; the players loved it! It’s something we’re definitely going to keep in mind for the next modules/releases. For that though… you’ll have to wait and see!

  1. Like in Storm King’s Thunder, there are new, powerful weapons. Ascended Weapons! How do people acquire them, and do you feel they could make Relic Weapons have lesser value?

This is something we’ve talked about a lot. Players want to know what’s going on! In “The Sea of Moving Ice” we released the Relic Weapons, the best weapons in the game. Usually when we release weapons, we release them every main module. So every other Module. Players were not expecting new artifact weapons in the Cloaked Ascendancy. We released them for multiple reasons. The first is that with the Cloaked Ascendancy, you meet many of the main wizards, so we wanted weapons that were themed after them. We also wanted to release weapons that are class specific [Healing Weapons for the Healers, Tank Stuff for the tanks, et al], but the biggest thing that we kept in mind was that we still want the Relics to be the best weapons in the game. We weren’t trying to raise the roof on the weapons, we were trying to make it for players that were easier to get, with less bonus set value. But one thing to keep in mind is that the bonus sets are different, the Relic one should be better. I say “should” because there are always niche’ characters that run builds that will profit more from the Ascended Weapons. But in general, Relics are going to be better. They both also have the same item level, so if you have the Ascended Set, it won’t have the same stats/bonuses; it will still have that same item level to get you into the high-level dungeons though.

  1. One of the big letdowns for me, is I’m not level capped yet, so I couldn’t participate in the Cloaked Ascendancy, or any of the other content that’s come out lately. However, Guild Strongholds set you at level 70, and you can still gain exp no matter what level you are. Having to wait to do that content is great and all for maxed players, but what about the people who are new to the game? Is there any chance of having more content that will scale with peoples’ level or content for lower level characters?

The Cloaked Ascendancy adds a lot of exciting new content, so we can understand why new players would want to jump right in. However without hitting level 70, players may not fully understand all of their characters’ powers or mechanics. Certain tools and boons might not be unlocked yet. This creates a very unbalanced experience in endgame content. We take this all into consideration, especially when we have scaled certain content, like The Illusionist’s Gambit skirmish.

When a player hits level 70, they unlock three years’ worth of story and module expansions. For a first-time player, this may be really intimidating, or at least it was for me. If we were to lower the level requirements on any of this content, it would be incredibly daunting. In just our pre-60 leveling content, we have dozens of storylines and locations to experience and all of these quests can fill up your log quickly. Adding any more to this would be too much. There’s also a lot of design to consider: scaling gear, campaign boons, and other things to balance.

However, one thing that we are always looking into is a smooth transition from the starting experience to end-game content. That means we would like to try and bring you to the content faster. With three years’ worth of updates and expansion modules, we know that there are walls in the game that players would rather overcome, and we are looking into ways to give players want they want without breaking gameplay or devaluing the earlier content.

  1. What is your favorite evil Faction, and why are they the Thayan Red Wizards?

[Laughter] No, it can’t be the Red Wizards, it’s the Zentarim! We just had a D&D campaign where all five members are a part of the Zentarim, but the DM secretly emailed everyone, we’re all undercover for the “good” factions [Harpers, etc] but nobody knew that the other wasn’t really Zentarim. We were trying to be evil, but not! It was fantastic!

  1. What are the pre-reqs for the content?

Our players only need to be level 70. Lord Neverember gives the starting quest in Protector Enclave! See you there!

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