Neverwinter Nights 2 is the follow-up to Bioware?s 2002 hit, though with a new developer, Obsidian Entertainment. Obsidian is composed of many industry veterans who, as a team, have developed the acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic II. Based on the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, Neverwinter Nights 2 is one of few games to bear the D&D brand and hardcore D&D fans will be extremely pleased with the many options available during character creation and throughout the entire game in general that take full advantage of the license.
For those who are unfamiliar with Neverwinter Nights series, we?ll lay out the basics for you. The game is a fantasy RPG based on Dungeons and Dragons, utilizing the 3.5 ruleset of the game, along with the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, which is a vast, rich fantasy world. In the game, players take on the role of an adventuring hero, along with his group, who must complete many daring quests and defeat an evil that threatens the world of Neverwinter and the lives of its citizens. The game allows the player to make decisions that affect his character?s moral and ethical alignment and to customize his character as it gains experience and levels up, allowing a vast variety of possible characters. Neverwinter Nights games have also been released with a toolset, which allows players to create their own modules (playable adventures) to share with others. The game also includes a Dungeon Master (the person who runs the game) Client, which allows a player to take on the role of the traditional D&D DM to guide players through a multiplayer game and allow a more in-depth role-playing experience.
NwN 2?s character creation system is fairly typical of the genre. Players must choose their gender and one of 24 races and sub-races. New in NwN 2 is the Planetouched race, allowing players to choose to play as either an aasimar or tiefling, each with special racial bonuses to character abilities. Players may change the look, style, and color of their character?s face and hair from a list of pre-made templates. The game also asks players to choose their character?s alignment, class, background, and deity.
There are 12 character classes available for play with 16 additional prestige classes. In addition to the usual D&D base classes, the Warlock is available for play. Unlike wizards and sorcerers, warlocks do not utilize spells, but rather have an innate ability to create powerful effects through sheer will. They are also tougher than their spell casting cousins to make up for their lack of magic powers. There are several new prestige classes too, such as the Duelist and Shadowthief of Amn, along with the Neverwinter Nine, a custom prestige class created by Obsidian.
An interesting element to any role-playing game is character alignment (a character?s basic sense of morality); though, Obsidian takes character interaction a little further with the addition of character background, an element that has not surfaced before in electronic gaming. Characters may be aligned as good, neutral, or evil, with three degrees to each set (lawful, neutral, and chaotic). A character?s alignment impacts how non-player characters (NPCs) interact with your hero. Alignment also impacts what classes you may play as certain classes, like the Monk, require a certain alignment, in this case, lawful. Players are asked, during character creation, to select a background from six different choices, with the additional no background option, which slightly impacts how the people who know your character view him, and also grants special bonuses and penalties to your character?s skills.
Players are given the option to choose a deity for their character to worship, during character creation process. While the deity has no impact on gameplay, and player may choose to have no deity for their character, certain classes, like the paladin, may be required to choose one during the game. The extent to which a character?s deity is represented in the game is at certain points in conversation with some NPCs.
Last in the character creation process, players must choose skills and feats. The player is allocated a certain number of skill points that they can distribute among many various categories such as Appraise item, Search, and Open Lock. Allocated skill points give the character a bonus to the action he is attempting in that category and can make these actions easier to perform. Some skills must be unlocked by spending skill points, to simulate that a character has had training in that area, otherwise the character will not be able to use the skill. These include actions like: Disable Trap and Use Magic Device.
Feats are similar to skills, though they have a base cost and once acquired cannot be upgraded. Feats allow characters to do things like hold two weapons at once or gain an extra health point when leveling. Some feats are also prerequisites to unlock other feats, which also signifies the amount of training and practice a character has doing certain things.
NwN 2 gives new players ample time to move about and get to know the interface through a tutorial system that introduces characters and other NPCs that will play a rule in the main story. Players are given free reign of the opening town during a town fair to try out their abilities and may team up with friends they meet along the way to create a group, much like what they will do throughout the game. Once several quests have been completed and the fair is over, night comes and brings players into the present troubles of the world as an attack is waged on the town and the player character will be called upon to assist in its defense. For experienced players, the game gives the option to skip the tutorial and jump right into the story following the fair.
The main storyline in NwN 2 is standalone and does not pick up from where the previous title left us. Some familiar NPCs of past are back in NwN 2, however, the game?s story takes place some years after the first game. The plot involves an ancient battle in Neverwinter?s past with the antagonist known as the Shadow King. The player character is a commoner who must prove himself in battle and adventure and make a name for himself within the city. Eventually, much like the esteemed Black Isle title, Baldur?s Gate, players will have the opportunity to create a stronghold within the city to act as a base of operation. With over 50 hours of gameplay, the plot will keep players busy.
While character alignment is chosen at the start of the game, this can change at any time due to the choices made while playing. Players are given several responses when talking to the various NPCs in the Neverwinter world and over the course of the game these responses will determine how elements of the story play out and how the character is perceived by others. This also means that a character?s alignment can change if the player chooses to commit evil crimes or decides that the law has overcome him and chooses to turn from his dark past.
The player?s party may consist of up to three additional NPCs (or humans in multiplayer). NwN 2 allows up to 4 players to join together as a party and play over the Internet. NPC party members can have an impact on the story. Should a party member decide that he does not agree with the way the group is being lead, he could turn against the party or choose to abandon it altogether. Each group member brings his or her own special skills to the table. Some characters specialize in being sneaking and picking locks while others provide healing magic to the party. Players can control any member of his party at the click of a button, so issuing orders is easy, and by using the game?s pause feature to switch between real-time and turn based combat, ensuring that the party functions as a well oiled machine during battle is completely possible--after turning off party member AI that is. The AI can take care of targeting enemies, fighting, and casting spells whenever an enemy is within range. In some cases, though, party members take things into their own hands and run off to battle. We think they?re just too anxious to get their hands dirty. Sometimes characters can become stuck while attempting to maneuver through a dungeon or closed in street, though, so it will be up to the player to ensure that everyone stays close, and targets an appropriate enemy, and casts the right spell, and, oh never mind, you get the point.
A great feature in NwN 2 is the way character deaths are handled. So long as at least one member of the party survives a fight, even players that have been knocked out (basically dead) will revive and fully heal with just a few seconds (real-time) of rest. This means less reloading the game during play. It is always a huge inconvenience to be in a dungeon and have a party member die during combat if a healer isn?t on hand to raise them since the closest secondary healer is usually in a town and charges a pretty penny to do the act. The options were to reload or play without that party member. Thankfully they?ve found a nice solution for NwN 2 that may not appeal as much to hardcore role-players, but makes life easier for those of us that really don?t enjoy reloading.
Like Diablo II and several other RPGs, NwN 2 has an embedded item creation system. Characters of sufficient level may synthesize new weapons and build great armor, to use or to sell, with the right supplies. Unfortunately, after obtaining such items, it might be hard to locate exactly where they are. NwN 2?s inventory system is on the clunky side with no way to sort inventory, and to view information about an item, one must right-click and select the examine option from a menu.
We ran into some issues when sending our party from place to place within the town. Some of this can be attributed to the awkward camera. While more realistic to an extent, the game does not allow players to see through objects like trees, this also complicates the act of controlling one?s group. Since trees can take up the entire screen under lower resolutions, players must move the camera down below the branches to give clear orders to their party. Camera problems creep up even under higher resolutions as well. The camera periodically gets stuck on objects and requires the player to constantly change perspectives to see what?s going on.
While the Aurora graphics engine for NwN 2 is not new, it has been completely reworked for this title. Unfortunately, this may have created more bugs and unnecessarily high system requirements for the game. The graphics have a dated feel to them and while the emphasis is notably on storyline and role-playing, the technical problems experienced due to graphics and gameplay bugs take away from the experience.
To say that the system requirements of NwN 2 are appropriate is like saying that a 56k Internet connection is good. Needless-to-say, even a high end system that exceeds the system requirements will still experience slow downs and chugging throughout the game. Even with all settings at minimum, including an 800 by 600 resolution, the game lags. Furthermore, there are many bugs found throughout NwN 2, including NPC glitches that won?t allow players to complete some quests including one we found that affects the main story. We found a glitch with an NPC early on that made us reload to an earlier save to reset a quest that broke on us. These problems and others make the game near impossible to play without the assistance of several more patches. As we write this, we?ve patched the game three times and are still experiences problems.
One of the most notable features of the original Neverwinter Nights was the ability for players to create their own games, known as modules, for others to play using the game?s included toolset. NwN 2 adds onto this toolset giving creators even more power and flexibility. Creating forests is now easier than ever, and the process of making realistic environments has been streamlined a bit further.
Role-playing games tend to cause distress to parents worried about game content due to their magical elements and addictive nature. NwN 2 is based on Dungeons and Dragons rules and is about as hardcore a game as they come. Warlocks, wizards, sorcerers, clerics, and various classes in between, all use magic as their primary ability. Where clerics mainly focus their efforts on healing the sick and injured, wizards and sorcerers may take the path of necromancy or shape shifting, or even decide to specialize in the arcane and call down fire or ice from the sky. There are few gaps in the list of magical abilities and spells available in NwN 2.
For the squeamish, NwN 2 includes three levels of violence that may be changed at any time during the game. The no violence level may be misleading in that there is always violence to some extent within the game, but this option does remove all blood and gore from the screen. A high level of violence displays large puffs of blood as weapons come into contact with flesh and bone. In all cases, dead bodies remain on the ground for a time before disappearing, leaving only items where they once lay.
As is common in fantasy worlds, taverns serve ale and other alcoholic beverages can be found about the world. Alcohol is used in the mixing of certain potions and can grant certain bonuses and penalties to characters that consume such drinks. There is some cursing found within NwN 2, mostly to add depth to characters and realistically portray their emotions and personalities. For the most part the language is kept to minimum and can be found primarily in conversations with NPCs. Also to add depth to the characters, players may become romantically involved with several of the NPCs.
An amazing story awaits, in NwN 2, for those who are patient enough to complete the many quests using a clunky camera system and look past the bugs. With three patches already under its belt, NwN 2 is definitely still in the works, but if NwN 2 is anything like its predecessor, the game will come out on top in the end. If you?re unwilling to surf message boards for answers and find ways around the bugs, we suggest waiting a few more months on this title.
» By Stephan Mack, Plain Games. Published 12/20/2006 4:00:42 PM.