All hell breaks loose in Neverwinter today as the Infernal Descent module releases for the PC version of the MMORPG. While console players may have a little longer wait for this devilishly delightful bit of content, PC players will be working their way through Avernus trying to lift curses, survive dungeons, and generally not end up as a heap of ash on the floor. We, on the other hand, got to spend some time chatting with Senior Content Designer Nick Corea about Infernal Descent, why I still don’t have (and when I might have) my long awaited druid class, and monetization.
Magicman (MM): Thank you for taking some time to chat with us about Neverwinter’s upcoming Infernal Descent module. Before we dive into content, can you introduce yourself to our readers and give us a peek at what a senior designer does day-to-day?
Nick Corea (NC): Sure! My name is Nick Corea, I am a Senior Content Designer here on Neverwinter and I’ve been on the team for over about two and a half years. My first content tasks were to place treasures, skill nodes, lore items and scrying orbs in the jungles and catacombs of Omu. Now, my day-to-day depends on the phase of our current project.
In pre-production, I’m assigned a set of features. I read through reference materials, draw paper maps on graph paper and write pitches and designs for my new features. I also give presentations for all necessary members of the development team.
During production, I build simple versions of the maps, crafting quests, creating and placing assets such as contact NPCs, creature encounters, and all other gameplay elements. This is when I need to write all of the dialog and text for my features. I also work closely with other discipline members of the team; production, environment, animators, FX, audio, engineering and systems designers.
When we’re wrapping up production, I spend more and more time with the QA team and host several team-wide playtests to get feedback and expose issues. This is when I tune the content and fix bugs. It’s a pretty dynamic cycle where I get to create something new and see it to production several times a year. As a senior, I am given any and all types of features to design and I take on the ownership of sections of our releases, like achievements or the voice-over script.
MM: From our first glimpses of Infernal Descent, things look like they are descending into hell quickly. Fire, brimstone, suffering souls, it’s all here. But from a content standpoint, what does this module add for players to tackle?
NC: It starts with a new story quest from Knox that introduces two important new characters, Etrien the bard and Alric the paladin. Players are in for a few surprises as they learn the story of Vallenhas and accompany everyone into Avernus, the first layer of Hell.
The first thing that players will see in Avernus is the Vallenhas adventure zone. It is based on the Stronghold map, but the land has been torn apart to create an all new landscape and distinct areas to explore. The fractured surface of Vallenhas is crawling with all manner of Devils and Demons together on one map like we’ve never seen before.
The new Descent Into Avernus campaign in Infernal Descent takes players on a journey to protect the many people of Vallenhas and help Alric and Berion to retain the stronghold while you can help solve the mystery of their capture. There are dozens of quests in this campaign and we are introducing a new scheme for delivering the quests to the players. Repeat visits to this campaign will feel unique as players will be given different sets of quests from each quest giver. Progression through the campaign will reveal more quests to be added to the mix.
Then there is the Infernal Citadel Dungeon! This is a challenging endgame content with more than a few surprises!
MM: From a story standpoint, most modules are based on existing D&D content, with Infernal Descent being based on content from Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. Does that mean players already know the main beats of each module’s story or does the team get to change things up in development?
NC: That’s a great question. Will players know the story beats? The short answer is, absolutely not.
The designers on the Neverwinter team are always inspired by the D&D content, but we rarely follow the books precisely. Of course, our game provides a completely different experience from the tabletop RPG and with that, a limited development plan.
If we use something directly, a character like Xanathar, for example, we do not venture far from the official cannon. We can tell our own story around the D&D properties as long as they are faithful to the design and character. For example, we are introducing a new cast of characters and a new location to be taken to Avernus. Players will see that world and it’s the sort of thing Zariel would do.
MM: Infernal Descent’s campaign menu features a linear chain and weekly haul system like the way Ravenloft’s campaign went. What has been the feedback from players about the more linear approach to campaigns lately versus the more option oriented past campaigns like Tyranny of Dragons, for example. Yeah, you’ll complete it all either way, but a little bit of choice of direction in the process is nice, right?
NC: There have been many campaign layouts over the years and each one is a bit different. The only significant difference between the Ravenloft and the Descent Into Avernus campaigns is that the boons are at the end of Avernus and are a side option at the start of Ravenloft. Due to the weekly haul system and the campaign setup that increases the weekly haul at certain milestones, it takes less overall time to complete the Ravenloft campaign if you don’t do the boon tasks until the end.
While that setup did create a choice, for most players it was a pseudo choice as they did want to unlock the dungeon and get all the boons; the best option for them was whatever choice took the least amount of time. Infernal Descent is setup so that players follow the most efficient path to completing the full campaign so that players don’t accidentally make a choice that actually increases how long it takes them to finish. With new campaigns in the future, if there is a choice, it will most likely be a real choice for optional campaign progress such as the Docks path in the Cloaked Ascendancy or the Hunts path in the Chult campaign.
MM: Let’s talk level 80 dungeons. What does Infernal Descent have in store for us and what makes this content unique compared to previous module dungeon releases?
NC: Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but there will be some new environmental challenges, a number of unique boss fights, and dealings with a few vile creatures that may give the player some special powers. Players will want to attempt it again and again.
MM: What is your favorite feature in Infernal Descent and why?
NC: I really love how we mix-up the repeatable quests players get while filling the weekly haul. Again, I don’t want to give anything away, but we developed the feature for this campaign to add variety to players’ day to day activities. So far, it’s working well and the feature can be expanded upon in the future. I look forward to seeing how players like it.
MM: On to more general topics. When are we getting a new class? Sorry, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask…it has been a long time since a new class was added and I am still waiting for my druid class.
NC: This question does not come as a surprise. The idea of a new class is super exciting and we absolutely want to add a new class to Neverwinter at some point (we are currently working evolving both the experience of the game and how we develop it and therefore weighing up priorities). We’ve discussed it a lot and we’ve even prototyped some of the work for a new class.
The issue is would make it hard to work on any other updates or new content at the same time. So, we can’t guarantee a new class in the near future. We don’t want our players to think there’s a new class around the corner just to disappoint them when it doesn’t show up. Just know that we are interested in adding a new class and we do want to make it happen.
MM: What do you say to critics of the payment model Neverwinter uses? As a player myself, some options and messages do seem to be a bit much in trying to entice a purchase out of players.
NC: Neverwinter is a true F2P MMO and we are always striving to make sure it is a very fair model as we do with all of our titles. We do this by making sure players can acquire/achieve everything in the game without spending a cent if they so choose. That being said, there are ways to spend to speed up the journey, whether through XP boosts, buying items that will get you to endgame sooner (but aren’t ones that are more powerful than are available in game), and there is VIP which grants a lot of nice perks but is not necessary to play or enjoy the game. It is also worth noting that all of the content in the game is free, players never have to spend to get access to a zone/quest/or event.
Compared to a lot of other F2P MMOs, I would say that our messaging is pretty minimal on items that can be bought. We don’t have pop-up messages that tell players to “buy now” or to spend money on a certain item to make the game easier.
The only message that I think could be considered in the way, would be on if a player dies and doesn’t have resurrection scrolls. This message isn’t so much a pressure to buy as it is what a player might want/need in that situation, so it is a window allowing you to use the ones you currently have, but if you don’t have any scrolls then it does show the option to buy them.
The other message that you may be referring to is the legendary lockbox reward pop up. While we do get players who want those messages gone, we also have players who enjoy having their moment where it’s broadcasted to the game world that they received a big prize. We have been working on how that message is displayed to make it less disruptive to gameplay as we do respect that concern from our players.
Last year, we did a number of experiments too which provided really useful info. We will continue to do this alongside working with the community in the Collaborative Development Project for discussion, guidance and shared direction. We are going to be looking at more cosmetic opportunities for player to invest in moving forward as well.
MM: The Team recently held an AMA on reddit focusing on systems design. What were some of the more surprising questions the team received and what were their answers?
NC: We always like to get and answer as many questions as possible from the Neverwinter community as we strive to consistently improve the game’s content. Some of the questions we received in the AMA were expected, for example: asking about when a new class will be added, but there were good number of questions that surprised us!
One of the questions that we liked was a player addressing that they’d like more things to farm in between mods and would like for there to be more events. We’d love to make more events, and we know many players enjoyed the recent Hell Pit event since it gave players several farming opportunities. Even though we can’t put out events every month, our goal is to create a variety of events that we can cycle through to keep the game fresh for all players, while still making zones/dungeons.
MM: Finally, what is your favorite thing about working in the D&D world? That’s got to have a bit of a “kid in a candy store” feeling as you head into work each day, right? I would hope so!
NC: I have always loved classic D&D and fantasy RPGs. As a kid, I was the dungeon master for my friends and spent many, many hours drawing maps and writing stories for my group to play through. The classic monsters are my favorite and it honestly warms my heart to build a dungeon and drop those nasties around every corner. Seeing something I designed come to life is the best part of my job.
I would like to thank Nick for taking time out to chat with us. You can see all the details of the Infernal Descent patch on the Neverwinter site! Happy hunting!