Strategy Informer: Storm of Zehir is rumored to be much like Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate in terms of its non-linear progression. Exactly how much space will players have to navigate without being tied to any story objectives?
Kevin Saunders: That’s true – Lead Designer Tony Evans has taken Storm of Zehir in a more non-linear direction than previous Neverwinter Nights games. In that regard, SoZ is more similar to a game like Fallout - there’s a plot and objectives, but you’re free to explore the game world however you wish.
Strategy Informer: We’ve read that you may have run into some time crunches towards the end of the development cycle with the first expansion pack Mask of the Betrayer, including losing a mission called “Patron of the Arts.” Will we see some sort of revival for that quest or any of the other content that may have been cut from Mask of the Betrayer?
Kevin Saunders: Nope – all of the Storm of Zehir content is brand new! To clarify, no developed content was really cut from Mask of the Betrayer – there are always more ideas than you have time to implement and you have to pick and choose what you actually put into the game. Anything that we considered for MotB but didn’t implement wouldn’t be as beneficial for Storm of Zehir than new content we came up with specifically for this game.
Strategy Informer: How will the new D&D 4th edition rules work into Storm of Zehir? Wizards of the Coast maintains that the 4th edition is easier to pick up, play, and learn. Will Storm of Zehir welcome newcomers as much as entertain loyalists?
Kevin Saunders: In terms of game rules, Storm of Zehir is strictly a 3.5 Edition D&D game. We would love to create a 4th Edition D&D game, but that’s simply a bigger undertaking than an expansion can tackle. That said, you will find 4th Edition story tie-ins in SoZ. Besides just changing the rules, Wizards of the Coast also altered the Forgotten Realms setting with 4th Edition. Storm of Zehir takes place before the Spellplague and has some foreshadowing of the events that lead to 4th Edition.
Strategy Informer: Will you be able to import your character from previous Neverwinter Nights 2 campaigns into Storm of Zehir? If so, will it be a clean slate with the party?
Kevin Saunders: Storm of Zehir is intended to be played with a new party of low level characters. Neverwinter Nights 2 is a flexible game and from a technical perspective, you could bring your high level characters in SoZ.
Strategy Informer: What sort of graphical overhaul or tweaking can we expect from the new expansion pack?
Kevin Saunders: The Overland Map has a different graphical style than you've seen in NWN2 and MotB. Developed by artists Scott Everts and Justin Cherry, it's more stylized and less "realistic." The adventure areas themselves use new lighting techniques we've developed over the course of creating the previous games. NWN2 artists Jay Bakke and Roger Chang have created some great looking locations, as you'll soon see when we start releasing screenshots.
Strategy Informer: Can we expect the level cap to raise? If so, what will be affected?
Storm of Zehir has the same level cap as Mask of the Betrayer – 30. With its open-ended exploration gameplay, you can certainly reach epic levels in SoZ, but it’s also possible to “win” the game earlier than that. We felt that players would prefer our concentrating on improving other aspects of the NWN2 experience rather than extending the level cap beyond 30. Level 30 is already extreme for D&D (in fact, 4th Edition currently ends at 30).
Strategy Informer: Can you give us any sort of clue as to the story of Storm of Zehir?
Kevin Saunders: Well, Zehir is mentioned briefly in the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. =)
Strategy Informer: Has a release date been finalized yet?
Kevin Saunders: I believe that what has been announced is Q4 2008 – so by the end of the year. We can't comment on an exact date.
Strategy Informer: How long do you plan to keep supporting Neverwinter Nights 2 with additional expansion packs?
Kevin Saunders: There are many people at each Atari and Obsidian who love D&D and love Neverwinter Nights 2. Continuing to support NWN2 is definitely of interest to us. But regardless of what one might personally want to create, we also have to consider financial realities - like everyone else, game developers have families to feed. Mask of the Betrayer exceeded sales projections; if Storm of Zehir is also well received, that would create a strong argument for a third expansion.
Strategy Informer: Is there anything else you'd like to say before we close this interview?
Kevin Saunders: Thank you for your time and interest in D&D, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Obsidian. You’re the reason we make these games. =)
Note: Screenshots are taken from Neverwinter Nights 2, Obsidian aren't ready to release any shots for Storm of Zehir just yet.