Walk into any tavern in Cryptic's Neverwinter and you'll find a typical assortment of drunks, wenches, and overturned tables. They're rowdy joints, as taverns usually are, but these locations are more than social gatherings in this free-to-play game. Clicking on the sparkling job board opens up access to user-generated content--one of Neverwinter's most unique elements, and the thing that sets it apart from the rest in the genre.
The Foundry is Neverwinter's ace in the hole when it comes to taking on its contemporaries. It's a massive suite of tools that allow gamers to create and share their own levels, crafting robust narratives from the ground up (literally). We watched as one of these worlds came to life, starting with opening up the Foundry menus and jumping into the easy-to-understand user interface. Dragging and dropping boxes and options created a full MMO dialog tree, with multiple choices and all of the stuff you typically click through and ignore. We picked objectives, too, randomly deciding that the player would have to kill X of Y, and collect an object. Those Ys won't know what hit them.
Check out the trailer, which is awesome despite not showing off the Foundry
Creating a dungeon looked like snapping Lego pieces together. Almost any room can be linked to almost any other room at any point, so it was easy to drag and drop different pre-made structures from the list of hundreds to create a dungeon. With a few additional clicks, the rooms were full of the objects and enemies of our choice, all of which could be customized to our liking. We were amazed to see that besides choosing from any of the dozens of NPCs in the game, it was also possible to edit them completely, essentially creating new creatures and characters with Cryptic’s character creation tools (which have always been among the best in the industry). And no, that's not limited to swapping skin color or eyes--you're able to bend, warp, and distort any part of the body, even if it means intentionally breaking the character model.
Cryptic is working towards making sure that the missions fit within the universe as well. After accepting a mission from the job board, it shows up in your quest log, and needs to be executed just as other missions are. The Foundry allows you to place your missions in the already-existing world, too, choosing almost any pre-existing NPC as a starting point, and any doorway as an exit point. You're literally filling the world of Neverwinter with content, or discovering what others have created on their own.
While it’s easy to brainstorm simple uses for this (talk to an NPC standing outside a tavern, exit to the forest-based level by leaving the city), it allows for much more abstract ideas. Want to have an NPC explain that he has enchanted the nearby sewer grate to take you to a magical floating dungeon? Go for it. Want to go through a door and end up on the opposite side of the world? Sounds good. It’s here that Cryptic expects that some of the most dedicated fans will find their niche--in creating total out-of-the-box ideas and sharing them.
Other features include the ability to send “tips” to level creators, to subscribe to their works, and to even write blogs within the game. These features, mixed with the impressive level creation system we saw in action, should make Neverwinter the game to play for those interested in creating and exploring user-generated content in MMOs. Oh, and it'll all be free. Cryptic will be charging for some stuff in its free-to-play game, but playing and creating levels will be barrier-less. If it follows the patterns of Little Big Planet and Sound Shapes, we expect to see some amazing things coming out of the system when it launches next year.