Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Neverwinter Nights

After Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal, BioWare's next Dungeons & Dragons title was Neverwinter Nights, released in 2002. The company developed a new 3D engine for the game, called Aurora, which unfortunately -- unlike the Infinity Engine -- has not endured the test of time very well.

Character models have low polygon counts and they have no facial animations. I suppose spell effects are passable and terrain textures are surprisingly detailed. More so than in BioWare's recent console games, in fact. That does not make them pretty, however. The small number of different textures are repeated ad nauseum over the artificial looking maps.

Gameplay is smooth, though, and I think that matters more. NWN is a pleasure to play and it supports multiplayer to a great extent, even allowing someone to act as the Dungeon Master and oversee an adventure played by people. The active pause is hardly ever needed due to the configurable action bars.

The focus on the "multiplayer revolution" might have been one reason why the campaign has party interaction only in the form of one travelling companion whose inventory you cannot even access.

The 3rd edition rules are implemented fairly accurately. Of course, liberties are taken where necessary. A number of character class features are better than in the books, for instance. I still wish the game used the revisioned 3.5 ruleset, though.

I tried a sorcerer for this playthrough but I found the early game way too tedious for a spellcaster and fell back to a warrior character; a fighter 4/druid X. As my hireling, I chose Tomi Undergallows once again to disarm all the traps and pick locks. One could do without a rogue but it is bothersome having to rest after every trapped chest.

Upon the the game's release, Tomi had an obnoxious "Oh, I can pick that open easy!" line he said every time you clicked a locked chest. Rather similar to the repeating "You must gather your party before venturing forth." from the BG games. This offender was removed by BioWare themselves and now Tomi only occassionally says something when performing his disarming and lockpicking duties.

And there certainly is lot of work available for a rogue because there are chests everywhere. The problem is that the contents of the vast majority of them have very little value as they are randomly generated based on your level. But if you open (or make Tomi open) them all, the little bits add up and you can buy something really good. Like the boots of speed, which are very nice in NWN.

Also, I wonder why they could not allow Tomi to only prefer ranged combat. Even with all the druid buffs, he dies quickly in an extended melee. And when told to stay back instead, he is all right until some heavy hitter or two walk past your character and get an attack of opportunity every time the dumb halfling tries to use his bow. Why is he not allowed switch to his melee weapon? Even enemy archers do that.

I do not recall anyone saying much positive about the original campaign. I think it is pretty standard stuff. Though it certainly is not very engaging personally. But it makes more sense to play a story in co-op when there is no main character whose sidekicks everyone else is.

Very little (if at all) of NWN is canon. That is to be expected, I guess, but having Obould Many-Arrows as the target of a side quest was rather cringe-worthy. The respawn system is also somewhat immersion breaking. I just reload if I happen to die.

Neverwinter Nights is a fairly good game in my opinion. I think many thought so as well, since the game got the two full expansions, premium modules, and many fan-made adventures. And I believe there are still people playing on persistent servers somewhere.

The game also has a fairly nice soundtrack, made by Jeremy Soule. I particulary like the themes for Aarin Gend and Aribeth, as well as that one combat theme that uses the main suite.

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