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Lead Designer Thomas Foss on Neverwinter: Undermountain

Garrett Fuller Posted:
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Neverwinter recently grew with the Undermountain content expansion. Undermountain brings some huge changes to the game with classes being retooled and much more. We chatted with Lead Designer Thomas Foss about Undermountain and what it brings to the community.

MMORPG: Undermountain is an iconic D&D setting, what was it like bringing it to life?

Thomas Foss: When looking at the idea of an expansion and a level cap raise to 80, Undermountain was the perfect choice as the biggest and deepest dungeon in all if Faerun. With that idea in mind, Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon of the Mad Mage book was our tome of choice and gave us so much to work with. It was actually a hard choice to pare down the amount of cool levels and monsters that were available. We came to five new zones (dungeon levels) as well as a new Endgame dungeon as well as our expeditions, which are repeatable, ever-changing dungeon runs.  Our Environment team did an amazing job creating all-new dungeon and caverns kits from which we built the zones, each with its own “flavor” and ecosystem - a fancy word for monsters.

MMORPG: How can new players get involved in the expansion? What does it bring for first timers?

TF: First time players will be experiencing all the changes we did to classes and powers from the start of their adventure - so it will feel new to them in a different way. This was a major goal of our changes; first-time players will have a streamlined UI for powers and gear, making creating your character that much easier.

Returning players who have reached our previous level cap of 70 will be invited to meet with Lord Neverember himself at the famed Moonstone Mask - where you begin your adventure to Undermountain, getting there in…interesting ways.

MMORPG: Neverwinter is also updating the Wizard class. What will change for players?

TF: We’ve actually made lots of changes to all our classes in this expansion but since you asked about Wizard… Wizard was in kind of an odd place prior to Undermountain in that the name still had the flavor of 4th edition premade characters by being called a “Control Wizard”. While many of their powers are, in fact, built around controlling enemies, the Wizard is so much more than crowd control. It is a very powerful and versatile combatant. In our switch to better align with 5th edition we dropped “Control” from their names and brought them back to their base as a pure Wizard.

On top of their existing spells, several new powers have been added to Wizard with the Undermountain expansion. The most notable is probably Fireball, the classic and iconic D&D spell that had been missing from Wizards in Neverwinter and was the most asked for addition to the class.

As Wizards level up they reach a point where they choose a path for their future adventures. Their options are the Arcanist, a wizard focusing in arcane and electrical attacks, with feats that open up options such as spell weaving to maximize their damage. The other path is the Thaumaturge which is a wizard who focuses on the duality of fire and ice. It is probably not too surprising that this path has Fireball, whereas the Arcanist has the classic spell Lightning Bolt. With loadouts in Neverwinter, a player can easily swap back and forth between both types for whatever fits their current needs.

Adventurers new to Dungeons & Dragons will find a lot of flexibility and powerful options within the Wizard class. Those familiar with D&D will find a mix of powers that classically define the class, as well as others that may not be as traditional but are just as fun in their own rite.

MMORPG: Will players interact with some famous Forgotten Realms personalities in Undermountain?

TF: Oh yes!  I won’t name them all (spoilers) but players will be working with Durnan, the famous and seemingly indestructible proprietor of the Yawning Portal tavern - a personality in its own right. If adventurers are lucky - or very unlucky - they will also see the mad mage himself, Halaster and take on his Apprentices in our new Dungeon.

MMORPG: How will classes work together in the new game zones? What about raids or dungeon runs?

TF: One of the balancing goals for the expansion was to give classes more role choices as well as supporting each other. Fighters and Barbarians (formerly “Great Weapon Fighters”) can now both be DPS or Tank, for instance; Warlocks can now choose a paragon path to fill a healer role. This opens up a lot of options for players to more easily team up for queues and adventures.

Because of this emphasis on party-friendly mechanics, dungeons and trials are now going to be more challenging. Expect to use more potions and teamwork to advance. Teams that would try to play as five individuals in the same dungeon are in for a big surprise.  

MMORPG: How will loot and items be brought into balance with the new expansion?

TF: Undermountain features a major overhaul to character statistics; some existing stats like Recovery were removed, but new stats like Critical Avoidance and Accuracy have been added. Equipment has been updated accordingly, even to items players already have in their inventory. The basic equipment a character wears now also accounts for more of their overall power, and increases a character’s strength and durability more broadly.

With this expansion, players can be more confident that when they pick up a shiny new piece of equipment with a higher item level, they’re going to get stronger if they equip it, regardless of their build. When you are trying to compare two pieces of equipment, we’ve also made improvements to item tooltips, making them easier to read and compare, at a glance.

Of course, since the Undermountain expansion features a level cap increase, there’s a load of new equipment to earn, including powerful new endgame armor sets and weapons. We’ve also introduced new ranks of enchantments and artifacts for players to upgrade as they challenge the new level 80 content.

MMORPG: What are your plans for Neverwinter moving forward?

TF: Neverwinter is a living game with lots of moving parts. I am sure we did not get all the balancing in that we wanted (or needed) to, because you just can’t know how 18 million folks are going to play their characters - so the first thing is responding to players’ feedback and getting the expansion shiny as possible. This is super important to us.  

Past that, with all the balance changes we can now look forward to working on more PvP love, more new campaigns in partnership with Wizards of the Coast, expanding out to new adventures, Stronghold updates, new events, and maybe a new class… 


Garrett Fuller

Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997 and writing about them since 2005. He joined MMORPG.com has a volunteer writer and now handles Industry Relations for the website. He has been gaming since 1979 when his cousin showed him a copy of Dungeons and Dragons. When not spending time with his family, Garrett also Larps and plays Airsoft in his spare time.