In 2002, Bioware released Neverwinter Nights. It joined a handful of games based on the ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons at the time, although it possessed several novel features that set it apart from its predecessors. Games like Icewind Dale or Planescape: Torment were self-contained systems with their own stories, but Neverwinter Nights was that plus the ability to create your own modules. It was the first officially-licensed video game that let players join in a digital D&D adventure through the Internet under third edition rules. Beamdog is now working on the finishing touches for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition which will bring it to the modern era. We reached out to the developers to find out just exactly how the past and future of this series is coming together.
Beamdog CEO Trent Oster was all too happy to answer the questions we sent off to him. One of the first things I was wondering about was how they were going to handle new content. Previous enhanced editions had to integrate the new content into the core storyline - a notion that was somewhat unappealing to some of the fans out there. That won't be an issue this time around, thankfully.
"With Neverwinter Nights, the entire game is structured around the concept of a module, which you can play with your friends and then move on to another module," Mr. Oster began. "When we built the new content to the Baldur’s Gate series, there really was no choice, it had to be part of the campaign and the feedback we received indicated the fans wanted more all-new content. With [Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition] it makes so much more sense to build a smaller scale adventure, where the experience is new from the start as opposed to burying plots within the existing campaign.
Development of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition has been underway for over seven years, five of which have been work on post-release content and improvements. Beamdog's work on the title led to a brand new expansion that had a number of issues, many of which were simply a consequence of a dated game engine with many limitations. Though their previous efforts had their fair share of problems, Mr. Oster is much more optimistic about the prospects for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition. "Our upcoming launch on Steam is really the tip of the iceberg in terms of new features, content, and support for the game. In some ways we view [NWN: EE] as more of a platform than a game and the potential of that platform is huge."
Some of their Enhanced Editions had new content created by Beamdog added in, but this didn't always work out well. The Siege of Dragonspear DLC for Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition - an entirely original interquel created by Beamdog - had some challenges of its own to overcome, particularly with fitting into the existing narrative of Baldur's Gate. (You can see our review for the Siege of Dragonspear DLC to find out more. While Siege of Dragonspear had to somehow fit into the existing Baldur's Gate narrative, a new adaptation of an existing story or a completely original piece can work much better with far fewer fan complaints about how it affects the original tale. After all, why would a brand new story matter at all to a completely different, unrelated adventure?
Dungeons & Dragons is a long-running role-playing game, and Wizards of the Coast is sitting on a treasure trove of adventures that could be adapted to this new platform. Unfortunately, there is no current work underway for adapting any of WOTC's modules to Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, but Trent Oster hasn't ruled them out entirely, stating that they'd "love to bring some of the greats to the platform and we’re always talking with the Wizards of the Coast about the potential." It's crystal clear that Beamdog is in it for the long haul with this game.
As with all games, the first Neverwinter Night's had its fair share of cut content. Some bits of unused dialogue and code still remain in the game, and archives of a rumored original design document mean that there's a lot of potential for restoration of missing material. Originally, Beamdog had no plans to tinker with the core games and simply upgrade them with the planned graphical improvements, but community feedback has led to them re-examining that stance. We may see some of the game's missing bits brought back to life, though how exactly that will play out is still up in the air.
Beamdog is currently investigating alternative ways to restore cut content if they are unable to get it done internally. The original release of the game did have its fair share of criticism regarding the vanilla game, so an argument can be made that there are areas in need of improvement. That review was one of many to highlight the strength of the game's potential for self-contained expansion content through modules, and in the coming months & years we'll see Beamdog (and hopefully some interested new content creators) add to an already formidable amount of custom content.
I asked some friends and colleagues who are well-versed in D&D games about some of the more interesting issues with Neverwinter Nights. One of the key areas brought up was Witch's Wake. It was a premium module that was planned to be a multi-part series, but fans of the game only ever received the first part. Beamdog has a lot of documentation surrounding the original plans for Witch's Wake (and likely other parts of the game, surely) to hand, but their current priority is building out the game as it stands right now. (Witch's Wake is one of three premium modules included with Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition.) According to Trent Oster, the developers seem quite keen on nurturing Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition as a platform for long-term development, so if we're lucky we might just finally get to see how that particular tale (and others) ought to have played out - right alongside some new original content.
Lastly, a recent blog post stated that they would love to bring their enhanced editions to the Nintendo Switch, but there are currently no plans to do so. I asked the developers outright if they thought Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition could be brought to the Switch and, more importantly, if it would be able to support custom content just the same as a PC could. "I think NWN: EE would play very well on the Nintendo Switch," Trent Oster said. "That said, I think supporting custom content would be a real challenge on any mobile platform, but at the same time a worthwhile challenge. The custom content is what really makes NWN:EE stand above and beyond what other games are able to achieve, so making that content accessible would be worth the fight."
If Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition sounds like the kind of game you'd enjoy, you can pre-purchase it directly from Beamdog for $19.99 or your regional equivalent. You can also add the game to your wishlist on Steam. Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition is set to release on March 27, 2018.
What do you think of Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition? Do you think the game has a promising future with new content created by Beamdog? Let us know in the comments below!