A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step
Development is going well - Neverwinter has made tremendous leaps and bounds over what we saw at the last E3. BioWare is hoping to release it late this year, but that's only a goal. The company has taken a "when it's ready" stance - they won't ship half a game.
One of the major reasons that Neverwinter has faced numerous delays is the 3rd Edition D&D rules. It was assumed during development that the cleaner, 'exception-free' design of the rules would allow for a quick and easy implementation. Sadly, that turned out to not be the case. Trent explained that while 3rd Edition doesn't have exceptions, the rules are so broad and far-reaching that getting all of them to work in the game properly with each other has taken much longer than expected.
Several features have been cut. BioWare wanted to give thieves the climbing ability and players the ability to fly, but these faced not only technical challenges but gameplay challenges as well. Some of the rules and options could be abused to break the game (flying over mazes, buildings, etc.). BioWare chose to eliminate the rarely used abilities instead of spending months and months handling each and every special case.
Here sparky! C'mere boy!
Wow, that was bad news. What about the good?
The good news is that the hordes of other new features are here to stay. For example, the development team is committed to letting players customize the looks of their characters. You start off with picking a character model, then you customize the hair, tattoos and default clothing colors - there are up to 10 colors to decide on for those of you who are afraid of clashing.
Once you have your character's basic appearance set, you can pick out items and weapons. As a player, you cannot change how a suit of armor or a weapon looks like, but as a DM you can. A suit of armor can have a solid steel breastplate, no left arm (or maybe a short one made of chain) and a right arm made of plate, but bronze in color. It's totally possible to give your character the gladiator look, the professional soldier look, or even the "knight-errant on parade" look (Jakub's personal favorite no doubt. -ed.). All you have to do is find the proper pieces of armor, or maybe make some of your own and drop them inside a module.
Two-weapon style rocks
Weapons can be customized as well. Swords, axes, maces, pole arms all have various hilts, blades and pommels to choose from. As DM, you can create a weapon from any combination you like. Want a jagged, evil looking sword, or maybe something more elegant and professional? It's up to you. Item creation is as simply as clicking three different buttons to scroll through available parts.
Most of the artwork is finished, so the development focus has switched to content, tools and programming. When we asked how far along the team was, Trent said that the tools and programming are halfway through the 'hard' part where everything gets implemented.
BioWare is also considering releasing a graphics test application to help hardware vendors get their OpenGL drivers up to spec. Whether or not this test reaches players is unknown at the moment. However, judging by the BGTest program, it will be non-interactive and strictly utilitarian.