Neverwinter Nights 2 (PC) review
"Now typically when one wants to read a review of a game, he or she visits a website that specializes in reviews. Such sites are usually organized by game, wherein you can search for titles or browse by system or genre. Some review sites are commercial while others rely on user contributions. Did you know that Honest Gamers accepts submissions from its users? Click “submit review” when logged in for details. A review usually ends with a a numerical score being assigned to the game; the higher th..."
Now typically when one wants to read a review of a game, he or she visits a website that specializes in reviews. Such sites are usually organized by game, wherein you can search for titles or browse by system or genre. Some review sites are commercial while others rely on user contributions. Did you know that Honest Gamers accepts submissions from its users? Click “submit review” when logged in for details. A review usually ends with a a numerical score being assigned to the game; the higher this number, the better the game. When deciding if a game should be purchased, it would be prudent to read multiple reviews of a game to accurately gauge its overall quality. I’m not just wasting your time telling you this, I’m making a point in a round-about way. You know how to use the Internet, you know how to find reviews, and you probably know what a review is, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this one. So why is it necessary to delay this review – like I’m doing right now with this paragraph – instead of just getting straight to the game?
I would like to ask Obsidian the same question. From the lengthy installation of Neverwinter Nights 2 to the unsatisfying ending of the campaign, I have spent more time reading the little hints that appear on the load screen than I have actually playing the game. I suppose this goes with the PC territory, but upon closer inspection I’m not quite sure what exactly is being loaded. One would imagine that such excruciating waits would yield a visual ecstasy of vibrant images and sweeping vistas, but the only thing my system has been mustering is bland environments and characters that look like they're cross-eyed. When visiting the world map, a static 2D image, even then there is a lengthy load time – are you telling me that this game can't perform a function efficiently that Microsoft Paint can handle in two seconds? I will grant that my PC isn't the most powerful machine money can buy, but she has been reliable with nearly everything I have given here. She runs Half-life 2 like she's been smacking Combine in the face with crowbars all her life, and the distant land in Oblivion -- despite Bethesda's ineptitude as software programmers – comes in as clearly as pea-soup (note: it's supposed to look like that). Yet with NWN2, she must work herself to death to produce something as minor as a small room with a lone dwarf.
I hear that NWN2 still aspires to ugly even on the most impressive, soul-eating beast of a machine that money can buy. This begs the obvious question of why the system requirements are so high, and the only possible answer is that it is just poorly coded. I don’t think Obsidian would disagree with me either. Since the game’s release, they’ve released numerous patches to address issues like the fact that the game runs so poorly, was initially filled with bugs, and wasn’t fun to play. And while these patches have been steadying addressing issues one and two, issue three remains relatively ignored.
Now I should stop myself here and say that NWN2 isn't all that bad – but I won't. The things that it manages to get right are so obvious that it would take a developer with stupendous amounts of incompetence to completely screw up the formula. NWN2 manages to be a decent implementation of Dungeons & Dragons rules without letting all the numbers become overbearing; the music isn't necessarily bad; and it's an conventional RPG. That last item is NWN2's major saving grace.
One thing that no one can deny about CRPG fans is that they are so desperate to play something -- anything -- that they are willing to slog through some truly terrible games in order to experience anything that even resembles the RPGs from the days of old. Anyone that has played an unpatched installation of Temple of Elemental Evil knows exactly to what I am referring. NWN2 is that person you dated a few years ago because you didn't want to be alone. She isn't Baldur's Gate, she knows she's not Baldur's Gate, but sometimes she shops at the same clothing store that Baldur's Gate frequented, hoping that you might love her too. She tries to wear player controlled companions, romance sub-plots, stronghold development, plot twists, dungeon crawling, city crawling, sewer crawling, and all that other stuff that people tend to consider the qualities of a decent CRPG, but she's so bloated with bugs that it's hard to reassure her that she doesn't look fat.
Now, I hope that I didn't give the impression that Neverwinter Nights 2 is only festering with technical issues, when in reality its technical and design flaws are equal in frequency. You'd think that being the new stewards of a popular series with such a famous lineage, Obsidian wouldn't have been so lazy with their work. In the interest of creating more meta than the first paragraph of this review was able to generate, I will now lazily stop with these coherent paragraphs and resort to using a laundry list of issues:
1.) Poorly written dialogue and annoying characters. If you were afraid that you might drown in the depth of characters, then you can safely put your fears to rest. There is a dwarf who likes to drink and fight, a gnome that won't shut the hell up, a thief that likes to steal things, a druid that likes trees, and every other cliché of fantasy story telling. That’s fine – we’ve come to expect this type of thing, though we generally demand some sort of quality control with the writing. At times, I wondered if I was still playing a game or watching a low budget sequel to The Hobbit written by high school students. For example, there is one moment in which you are talking to one character about the dangers of lizardmen in the area, and while you are in the middle of said conversation a group of lizardmen jog across the background with torches towards a barn like some sort of Saturday morning cartoon. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't it be more appropriate to represent a central character's complete loss of livelihood with a little more seriousness than that? Considering that story and dialogue is the metaphorical car that drives the RPG forward, this isn’t a fault that anyone should be expected to ignore.
2.) Bugs – lots of them! True, this fault has already been beaten to death in the previous paragraphs, but this roach could survive an empowered fireball cast from an evocation specialist. Here's an example: early in the game, there is a battle between some random planar creatures and the citizens of your village. These planar creatures spawn on the other side of a hill along the edge of the town's map, and they are supposed to charge the village as soon as a brief cut scene ends. Nothing happens. I had control of my character at this time, so I walked over to my foes to personally ask them why they were delaying the reign of death that I was planning to unleash upon them. They were standing there, completely neutral, completely mute, and completely immune to being flagged as hostile. That's right – a game stopping glitch within 30 minutes from the outset.
3.) All characters are forced into your party. You cannot refuse to travel with NPCs with whom your character would never make friends or NPCs that are really annoying, which makes no sense since no one character would ever make friends with a bloody thirsty psychotic and a holy warrior of the faith. Did I make a mistake; is this not a roleplaying game?
3.) The camera. It’s terrible. Patches add new camera options, but that's like putting a new coat of paint on a building that is on fire. It constantly gets stuck behind objects or otherwise obscured, and the less that is said about the driving camera the better. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Obsidian had so much trouble with this. NWN1 had a more competent camera, which just boggles the mind.
4.) Your companions are idiots. For example, one time it was me verses a few shambling undead creatures. I figured it would be an appropriate moment to command my paladin to attack. I did so, but he just stood there and stared at me. I thought perhaps he didn’t understand or maybe my mouse was broken, so I tried it again, but he just continued to stand there. I took control of him and asked him politely to move, at which point he started to run to the point that I had commanded him to run to. Thinking my problem was now corrected, I switched back to my original character, at which point my paladin stopped dead in his tracks. I’m not sure what I expected from him though – this was the same paladin who not five minutes earlier had decided that it would be more expedient to run around a wall and through the visibly marked traps rather than attack the enemy that was directly in front of him. There are options for the AI, but many of them are ineffective or clearly broken.
5.) Enemies are idiots. I've seen enemies continue to walk along a set path as my comrades poke them with swords and the battle music plays; I've seen enemies run through poisonous clouds of gas; and I've seen enemies bewildered as they try to find a path between two points that are completely unblocked. Thankfully this is balanced by the stupidity of your own companions.
6.) One of the characters you are forced to take is a farmer. She has by far the most annoying lines in the game and cannot be removed from your party.
7.) Inventory icons are so small and blurry that I don’t know what half the crap I’m carrying actually does.
8.) The crafting system is almost identical to fan-made crafting mods used in Neverwinter Nights 1, which is tedious for the player and pure laziness on the part of Obsidian. This wouldn’t be so bad if inventory management wasn’t such a pain thanks to items #7 and #9.
9.) Every time I right click on something to read details about it, that object becomes selected as my current target. All I wanted to know was what spell that enemy mage just cast; I didn’t want my fighter to run across the screen at attack him.
10.) In-engine cut scenes look ridiculous. During dialogue, the game takes control of the camera (good luck with that!) and everything appears in a sleek, black letterbox. The problem is that any character that isn't talking may do things like initiate combat, walk away, or stand in front of the camera. One time I was being attacked by kobolds while everyone around me continued to spout their uninspired lines. Another time, I spent most of a scene staring at the dwarf's ass.
I could go on – so I will.
11.) The toolset is completely different and counter-intuitive. The feature that gave NWN1 such incredible longevity was the ability to easily and quickly create large scale campaigns. I hear that it is more powerful this time though, but I doubt that NWN2 will ever develop a usership comparable to the first installment, what with the game being of poor quality and such.
12.) It still uses stock head and hair models rather than letting the character directly manipulate their avatar's appearance.
13.) Menus are unresponsive. There is a second delay between the click of my mouse and the receipt of the command by the game, which makes everything feel sluggish.
14.) When a character is killed, he or she is automatically revived when the battle ends. This effectively removes most of the challenge from the game and it cannot be turned off.
15.) The plot is stupid.
The best thing that can be said about NWN2 is that it is an RPG, and some people (myself included) are really into that sort of thing. If you want to create a character and run around pretending to be a wizard or a famous bard in an epic campaign, this is pretty much your only option for the foreseeable future.
In short, NWN2 feels like NWN1 with pieces of Baldur’s Gate II taped onto the box in some sort of attempt to have its cake and eat it too. Instead, it just gets cake all over itself and stands there waiting for Obsidian to release a patch to clean up the mess. If you like watching things load, babysitting cameras, playing RPGs, or staring in awe as your AI controlled companions refuse to obey your commands, then you might enjoy NWN2. The core is still there – semi-realtime combat, well implemented rules, multiple characters – but the experience just reeks of sloppiness. It does everything without passion or artistry, much like an English 101 paper about a book that the student never read. If you, like me, are desperate for a single-player RPG, then you might as well lower your standards and take this one home. She's not pretty or fun to be around, but it's either this or nothing at all.
Featured community review by dagoss (May 21, 2008)
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