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The Video Game Series You Might Not Realize Is Based On Dungeons & Dragons

The long-awaited arrival of Larian Studio's Baldur's Gate 3 has reignited excitement for the most famous set of western-style RPG rules, Dungeons & Dragons. However, the developers have specified that only Act 1 will be playable during the game's early access period, and that they anticipate a full release won't arrive for at least a year.

So what are fans looking for a Dungeons & Dragons fix to do in the meantime? The 2010s have seen very few original games set in the Dungeons & Dragons world. Outside of the middling action-role-playing title Sword Coast Legends and the enhanced editions of early 2000s classics like Icewind Dale, there have been almost no games in the setting for nearly a decade.

There is one exception, though. The free MMORPG Neverwinter is still going strong over seven years after its 2013 release and is now available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Although you may not realize it, Neverwinter has deep roots in Dungeon & Dragons lore. Here is a brief history of Neverwinter, the video game series you might not know is based on Dungeons & Dragons.

Early Neverwinter games

The first game to go by the Neverwinter title was 1991's Neverwinter Nights. The game was one of the first online multiplayer roleplaying games to display graphics, using the Gold Box engine that powered many Dungeons & Dragons games in the late '80s and early '90s. In a 1997 Wired article about AOL's decision to end support for the game, Neverwinter Nights staff member Harry Miles stated that the game had a user base of 115,000 players.

Neverwinter would return in 2002 with BioWare's first 3D RPG, once again named Neverwinter Nights. While the game had no relation to its predecessor outside its setting, the new game's concept was to build a platform that gamers could use to run original Dungeons & Dragons adventures. To support those ambitions, Neverwinter Nights could host multiplayer sessions with up to 64 players.

While those experiences didn't materialize until much later, the customizable framework allowed BioWare to release many expansions called premium modules. These modules were similar to the DLC gamers buy today, and Neverwinter Nights received two full expansions and six premium modules in just four years.

Neverwinter in the modern age

In 2006, Neverwinter Nights 2 arrived. The game used an enhanced version of the Aurora engine that powered the previous game, and received praise for its story and use of the Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 ruleset.

The series then came full circle with 2013's Neverwinter, an MMORPG based on the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons rules. More than anything else, Neverwinter is the game that has kept the Dungeons & Dragons world alive in video games during the 2010s, with 20 major updates released between 2013 and 2020. Each added new areas, expanded the game's story, and increased the level cap. The most recent, Avernus, launched in July 2020.

There is some other life left in Dungeons & Dragons world outside of Neverwinter, however. D&D fans can look forward to Dark Alliance, an action-RPG and spiritual successor to the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance series. Also, Beamdog Studios produced an enhanced edition of the original Neverwinter Nights, improving the graphics of the 2002 game and porting it to consoles. During that process, an unfinished module was brought back to life, to the thrill of its creator Luke Scull, giving role-players a whole new adventure to enjoy.