"A city lies helpless before a virulent plague. Ancient demons rise to walk the lands. Farmers' wives have been kidnapped by giants. The venerable defenders of justice, right, truth, and kittens are powerless in the face of these trials. The solution? A first-level Dungeons and Dragons character! "
A city lies helpless before a virulent plague. Ancient demons rise to walk the lands. Farmers' wives have been kidnapped by giants. The venerable defenders of justice, right, truth, and kittens are powerless in the face of these trials. The solution? A first-level Dungeons and Dragons character!
Thus begins the single-player campaign of Neverwinter Nights, Bioware's epic Dungeons and Dragons-based PC RPG. You are a student at the Neverwinter Heroes' Academy, about to graduate from your long and arduous training. A plague known as the Wailing Death has assaulted the city, killing thousands. Reagents have been gathered to manufacture a cure, but they are stolen from right under the nose of Lady Aribeth de Tylmarande, paladin of Tyr and protector of all things bright and fluffy. She's too busy keeping peace in the city to hunt down the cure, so the task falls to you. Like many RPGs, a young unknown shall set out to save the world.
In many PC RPGs, especially those based around D&D rules, you get plenty of choices for your character type or class. Neverwinter Nights offers a wide variety of races, classes, and options. If you buy and install the two expansion packs, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, those options become even more numerous. You can either pick a pre-made package (if you just want to leap in and get started) or you can build your character from scratch, picking everything from her skills to her favoured weapons to the colour of her eyes. If you're familiar with Dungeons and Dragons character creation, it's a piece of cake. If you're not, the game still makes it easy to understand. Different classes have different strengths; you can build a warrior with massive strength who cleaves things in half with swords/axes/bladed weapons of choice, or you can have a swift, sneaky rogue, or perhaps a sorcerer. The game will also recommend statistics and skills, which you can tweak to suit yourself instead of starting from scratch.
It is worth noting that the game balance is occasionally somewhat skewed; much like in Dungeons and Dragons, a warrior is vastly overpowered early on while a mage dies if the enemy looks twice, but later in the game a mage can destroy whole groups of enemies with a single spell. The best strategy is usually to get a balanced party, which is easier in multiplayer than single-player. If you have never played a PC RPG before (which I hadn't) and you start with a magic-user (which I did), you're in for some serious pain and frustration as you get accustomed to the controls and try to survive hordes of Weak Goblins. Once you get accustomed to the system, though, it becomes easier. The game remains fairly difficult throughout, with enemies being rather well balanced against your abilities. Time passes regularly in the game, shifting from day to night to day, and this affects the duration of special skills and the abilities that you're able to use (some can only be used a certain number of times per day, while others last a number of hours determined by a formula.)
At the beginning of the game, you'll go through several tutorials as you make your way through the Academy's halls, teaching you combat, exploration, the management of your henchman (see below) and the use of the game's many useful components such as the map and journal. These instructional tutorials fade away after the prologue, the NPCs apparently having decided that you've learnt quite enough and must now muddle through on your own.
The non-playable characters (NPCs) are well fleshed-out, with personalities and goals of their own. You can hire a henchman to complement your own skills (for example, you could hire the hulking warrior to run ahead and be what is affectionately known as a meat-shield, or the rogue to disable traps and open treasure chests.) Your own character's personality is quite up to you; most dialogue boxes have between two and seven options that will affect how an NPC responds to you and, thus, what you can get from them. This doesn't really affect the outcome of the game, but it does give you a little more control over where you are and how you do things (i.e. do you persuade the NPC to give up the shiny thing or just kill him and take it?)
The plot in Neverwinter Nights is quite solid and unfolds slowly over a prologue and four "chapters." This is easily an 80 hour game. Each chapter has four basic "tasks" that you must complete, and then there are innumerable little sidequests that garner money, experience, shiny things, and access to facilities to make magic items or other, similar things. I really enjoyed this process, although from a certain point of view the endless grind of "sidequest, kill stuff, sidequest, kill stuff" could get rather old. I did greatly enjoy the plot, though, and the actions of NPCs were entirely believable. You don't get a free ride just because you're the hero; as you gain renown within the city, people will react differently to you, which can be a lot of fun. NPCs will also react to you based on your appearance, race, etc.
The graphics are quite good, although very dark; if you're not carrying a torch or equipping an item that provides light, you may have difficulty seeing from time to time. You can change the level of the gore and splatter that results from your many battles, which allows you a nice range of "barely any blood" to "incredibly realistic crimson sprays." There are all kinds of textures, interesting corners, passageways, and other fun things to explore, with a 360-degree rotatable camera and the ability to zoom in and out. If your computer's graphics card isn't quite up to par, there's an option to scale the eye candy to suit your hardware.
Sound is also excellent. The music doesn't have too much variation, but I didn't mind the repetition as none of the pieces were particularly annoying. As you walk through towns, you hear random snippets of conversation and occasional outbursts. Forests and caves are replete with odd noises and animal sounds. The voice acting is good quality and believable. The sound quality is quite good overall.
And that's just the single-player campaign. You can also play through the basic storyline online through Bioware's servers (or, if you're playing with friends, one can run the server off his/her own computer and make it a private game.)
As vast and fun as the single-player campaign is (not to mention the multi-player option), that's not all there is to this game. Bioware included something called the Aurora Toolset. Think RPG Maker, and you've got a fair idea. You have all the textures, enemies, and other components of a game. You can make your own adventures. This is a lot of work (again, think of how much work you put into a single map in RPG Maker games), but regardless, it's a lot of fun to be able to sit down and create your own adventures, which you can then offer up for download and anyone who owns Neverwinter Nights can download and play them. I know people who have run entire Dungeons and Dragons campaigns through the use of the Aurora Toolset. It's a really nice addition that just rounds out a fabulous game.
Overall, for all the struggle I put into it and the multitudinous oaths and rants I directed at it when some enemy had laid waste to my sorceress, I really enjoyed this game. I would have considered it well worth the money and the time even without the Aurora Toolset, which I find completely fascinating and awesome. It's definitely worth the purchase, especially with the Diamond Set out that contains both of the previously mentioned expansion packs as well as the recently released Kingmaker expansion, made up of official modules released online by Bioware themselves.
Featured community review by lassarina (December 04, 2005)
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