Hunter Ranger, new Paragon paths and more coming to Neverwinter

Neverwinter's next module is titled Shadowmantle, and will add a new class, new Paragon paths and a ton of reworks to the free-to-play MMORPG's core mechanics when it launches later this year.

The new class — which, like the rest of the module's content will be free-of-charge — is the Hunter Ranger, a hybrid ranged and melee damage-dealing attacker geared more towards the game's expert players. Playing the Hunter Ranger requires a lot of deft input by the player, but those who excel at the class' fast-paced abilities will find themselves with a hero far more mobile than the game's current five archetypes.

Speaking to Polygon during a recent hands-off preview session, producer Andy Velasquez explained that the Hunter Ranger was fast-tracked due to overwhelming player demand.

"The Hunter Ranger by far, by far the most requested class. Like, we hadn't even come out yet and we just got inundated with, 'Wait, but is there a Ranger?' The reason why it took us so long to get to it is exactly that: So many people have such high expectations. We actually had it somewhat playable pre-launch, and with action-combat being the cornerstone of what Neverwinter was trying to do, we wanted to make sure when it came out, it came out great."

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The challenge for Cryptic was building a class that didn't just feel like a ranged version of the Trickster Rogue, one of the five launch classes. The solution was found in the Hunter Ranger's hybrid nature; by pressing Tab, players can swap between their hero's long bow and dual blades. Each of their At-Will and Encounter powers have two implementations, based on which weapon the Hunter has equipped — moreover, those twin powers are on different cooldowns. In order to be effective, the Hunter has to swap between the two styles constantly in battle, darting in and out of the fray as they pick off their foes.

For example, one Encounter power lets the ranger dart backwards when their bow is drawn, giving them some breathing room as they rattle off a few bow shots. When their dual blades are out, that same power dashes forward, letting the Ranger close the gap between themselves and their target.

every other class is getting bolstered with one additional Paragon Path

Mobility is a more tactical concern for the Ranger, as you might imagine, a factor Cryptic has built into the class' Shift ability. Like all classes, the Ranger has a defensive maneuver assigned to the Shift key, but it's a much, much shorter dash than the other classes can use. However, using the Ranger's dash drains far less Stamina, letting them use their short dash more times in a row. It's a bit more taxing on the player, forcing them to tap repeatedly to get where they're going; but it gives them more options when moving around the battlefield.

The Hunter Ranger is the only new class in the Shadowmantle module, but every other class is getting bolstered with one additional Paragon Path when the update goes live. As of right now, each class only has one Paragon option available to them; after Shadowmantle, they'll have to make a choice after reaching level 30 of how they want to specialize their character.

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The Control Wizard, for example, will receive the Master of Flame path, unlocking a suite of new powers built around fiery AoE attacks. The Devoted Cleric will get the Anointed Champion path, giving them a set of group buffs. In an interesting twist, the Great Weapon Fighter and Guardian Fighter will gain access to each other's Paragon paths following the module's release — meaning both classes can choose from the Swordmaster and Iron Vanguard Paragon options.

"We wanted to cross-pollinate those two," Velasquez said. "That's always been the intention for us, but we couldn't just offer that for the two fighters, because then the three other classes would have felt pretty bummed about it."

Paragon Paths are just one mechanic that's getting overhauled. Players will manage their Enchantments through a new, far less confusing interface. A player's slotted Companions will bestow different bonuses on their heroes, even when they're not active. Collection-focused players will have access to an in-game catalog showing which epic equipment, companions and other rare items they still need to acquire.

Players will also have access to a new equipment slot for Artifacts — rare items that can level up alongside the player. These items appear in the hotbar, bestowing powerful stat-boosting buffs and granting special abilities. During the demo, one such Artifact could be clicked to blast enemies with a wave of holy light; but Velasquez explained that other artifacts could teleport the player from zone to zone, summon a shopkeeper or serve other non-combat functions.

Shadowmantle will also add a new high-level area for players to explore; a keep settled in the skeleton of a massive black dragon, called Dread Ring. The area contains narrative content that will tie up some of the loose ends introduced in the core game and its August expansion, Fury of the Feywild. That story will be told through new quests, new instanced content and a new dungeon.

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Shadowmantle will launch before the end of the year, meaning Cryptic Studios is delivering module expansions at a pace of every three to four months. That's fairly aggressive for an MMO, and Velasquez said the studio has no intention of slowing down. They're already laying the groundwork for the game's next expansion, and are nearing completion on yet another playable class.

"We already have one class beyond the Hunter that's almost, I'd say 50 to 60 percent done, so that will be our next one," Velasquez said. "But ... we're staggering development on those, so that's always going to be the cadence we want to do. As the Hunter Ranger gets close to being released, then we'll be working on the next one. Once that one gets close to release, there will be the one following.

"I can imagine the Druid will probably be, if not the next one that we start next, it will probably be soon..."

"In terms of which class we're doing, it's a combination of what we find interesting and what the players want. The Hunter Ranger was easy, because internally we all wanted it, and the fans wanted it as well. We went through a lot of Wizards of the Coast player data, who had metrics on when players make characters in D&D, what race, class and gender combinations do they make. We compared that with the list of classes we had at launch, and what we're planning to do, and all seven were in the top 10, so we felt comfortable about that, and we'll probably continue to look at that list."

When asked which classes from that list they're considering, Velasquez let slip one type that "gets mentioned a lot."

"I can imagine the Druid will probably be, if not the next one that we start next, it will probably be soon, because just about everyone when they say, 'What about new classes, like the Ranger or Druid?' Those are the two they always talk about."

You can check out the debut trailer for Neverwinter's next expansion, showing off a Hunter Ranger in action, above.

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