Friday, August 30, 2013

Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir

The second expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2, Storm of Zehir, is a bit different from the original campaign and Mask of the Betrayer, as it allows you to create your whole party by yourself, like in the Icewind Dale games. You can also pick up to two cohorts along the way. If you like someone leeching your experience points, that is.

SoZ makes a huge point of skill use, and it is fairly important -- if not even mandatory -- to have your party cover most of them. Especially on the new overland map, many skills are required for a pleasant experience. The too frequent random encounters were criticized bysome players, but it really only takes a character specialized in perception and hiding skills to avoid them. However, I do not deny the fact that there are too many loading screens as you are constantly transferring between areas.

I had a hard time deciding what kind of party I wanted to create. I browsed forums for suggestions and possible power builds, but eventually just made my own. I think a little more planning for the builds, especially for the latter levels, might have made some encounters easier, though. Storm of Zehir's difficulty occasionally spikes up rather radically.

My party:
  • Aasimar Paladin/Divine Champion with a greatsword
  • Human Favored Soul/Stormlord with a shield and monkey-gripped spear
  • Wood Elf Ranger dual-wielding scimitars
  • Sun Elf Rogue 1/Wizard/Arcane Scholar of Candlekeep using a longbow

The favored soul was kinda troublesome for the game's AI. It always took quite awhile before she engaged in melee with her enchanted spear if I had not buffed the party beforehand. The other option was to reduce her spellcasting frequency but that caused her to not cast Heals and such. Of course you can always just micro-manage the character, but I wanted to control the ranger, slice and dice stuff with scimitars.

Dual-wielding one-handed (non-light) weapons might not be the optimal solution, though. -4 to hit for both hands is a pretty harsh penalty even if the ranger's favored enemy feature counters it somewhat. I also should have put points in Search for the wizard as well as traps with a DC 35 or higher can only be detected by rogues. I ended up triggering quite a few.

The end boss repeatedly handed my ass back to me when I first got there, and I had to go search tips for defeating the encounter. Some people claimed it was easy, and some found it hard like me. Evidently game difficulty greatly affects the Herald's stats. For instance, going from Normal to Hardcore (on which I have been playing) gives the snake monster a damage reduction of 10 versus magic, which greatly reduces the effectiveness of Missile Storms on him.

I think the key to defeating the guy is getting past his physical damage resistance. And for that you need either cold iron or holy weapons. I had neither, so I had to sneak back out from the temple to make myself new weapons. Sonic damage is good, too, since he has no resistance to it.

When I returned, my first attempt failed again. But on my second I finally beat it. Simply nuking the Herald down first proved to be a successful tactic. You cannot really afford to tank his damage and disarm attacks for long. One of my ranger's scimitars actually went missing during the fight. I do not think disarm is supposed to destroy weapons. It could have been buried under the Herald's corpse, though. Not that I needed weapons after that anyway.

Storm of Zehir is rather light on the story. You are mostly just doing side quests and exploring the overland maps instead of progressing in the main plot. The single plot twist was hardly surprising. Seriously, how is Sa'sani not a Yuan-ti name? I saw it coming miles away. The low budget really shows in the expansion. Paul Arnold did a great job on the music, though. SoZ has some amazing tracks. My favorite is this one:

Halfway through the game, when you get to the Sword Coast from Samarach, the game also becomes an odd trade simulator. Was it really necessary to put such a mechanic in an RPG. And it is not even remotely challenging. I simply got all the interest upgrades and few caravans running, and went doing couple quests. Upon returning to the Crossroad Keep, I was given enough trade bars to upgrade all the caravans in every town and turn the rest of the bars for millions of gold pieces.

Apart from the music, Storm of Zehir is hardly a memorable expansion. While it has good ideas, the overall presentation is mediocre. Not worth playing through a second time, I think.

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