Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mega Review

I’m pleased to be in a position where I can now review Neverwinter Nights 2 (NWN2) after harping on about it for so long. I often neglect to do this- a review of something I actually preview here- you people should remind me. Anyhow, NWN2 however is an experience I must share with you, hopefully without revealing anything about the plot for those who may wish yet to play. The story, which unlike an FPS or RTS, is probably the most important element of an RPG, so I guarantee no plot-specific spoilers here.

The first thing I wish to inform you about NWN2 is that it plays like the offspring of a union between Baldur’s Gate (BG) and Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) as opposed to the original Neverwinter Nights (NWN1). This is a good thing! I would say that if you‘re a fan of NWN1, the BG and/or KOTOR series’ then you’ll likely be quite satisfied with NWN2. As good as NWN1 was; both BG and KOTOR are superior to it in many respects and in order to illustrate what I think of NWN2, I must refer to those which have appeared before it and obviously influenced the designers. Furthermore, I’m in a relatively unique position to review NWN2 both on its own merits out of the box and as a comparison to the NWN1 Official Campaign (OC), having just completed that before Christmas. I did not complete or attempt (as yet) any of the expansions or add-ons to NWN1 but I did install the latest patch which eliminated the myriad of retail-release bugs that no doubt plagued users for many months. With all of these points in mind, I hope you will appreciate my insight.

One of the first things I noticed about Neverwinter Nights 2 was that developers Obsidian seemed to address the main gripes I had with NWN1. Most notably you can have more than one companion. Companions make the game feel less like Diablo. Diablo is a good “dungeon-crawl” or “hack & slash” but it has no plot. Companions, their interaction with you and even with each other flesh out the RPG experience for something as story driven as NWN. In NWN1 you had many companions- but you could only ever have one with you (as a henchman) at once. This forced me to bring Tomi Undergallows, the Rogue with me almost exclusively as Paladins don’t mesh well with locks and traps. You had no control over their inventory so if I picked up a “Ring Of Ultimate Thievery” I could not have given it to Tomi which I thought was a bit shit quite frankly. Also your henchman did not speak until spoken to and if spoken to after a certain level of XP was reached during each chapter in the game they would expand a quest that they give you to find an object for them, not too much substance in comparison to your companions in BG who would argue with you or each other in a faithful way to their alignment. I’m pleased to say in NWN2 the companion experience is greatly increased. They have the individual personalities as BG NPCs and you have complete control over them, their spells, levelling, AI routines and more importantly; their inventory. You add them to your party until you have a party of 3 (and later 4) companions. During conversations with other NPCs they will offer advice or suggest action, if you follow, ignore, agree or disagree what they say you gain or loose influence with them and can mould them using the KOTOR2 influence system. The higher your influence with a character the better your interaction with them and you will open up sidequests with that character and other options. If you loose influence or do not take a character with you at all they will grow to dislike you or not get to know you and you will not be able to avail of them fully. Unfortunately you have no “gauge” of how “influential” you are with a character and you may be even shocked with the results at endgame.

But enough about them, what about you? Well in true D&D fashion you have complete control over what your character can become from appearance to what prestige class he or she will aspire to or not as the case may be. There are dozens of decisions to make to create your character and I would advise that you have a plan for your character before you set off. For D&D I normally resurrect Karadon, the noble human Paladin, paragon of virtue, utterly fearless and devoted to the light. Instead of recreating a human Paladin this time round I decided to play a member of the planetouched races; an Aasimar. This gave me some pretty nifty powers and advantages like +2 to WIZ and CHA scores but it crippled my level advancement by 1 which means throughout the game all the basic race characters were one level above me. One thing to note that throughout the course of the game you meet a member of all the basic classes so you’re never without muscle or magic in your party when you need it, so play whatever you want.

The gameplay was pretty standard RPG fare. You start off as a Lvl1 whelp and end up a Lvl20 god after about 50-60 hours or so. You follow quests and sidequests forge alliances and relationships, raid treasure, upgrade your arsenal of weapons, buy & sell stuff pretty much like most RPGs. Your character acts as a small-unit commander and can broadcast commands to the other members, but you can set your own character’s AI to respond to commands you issue while in control of other characters if you so wish. In conversations with NPCs however if you initiate it with another character, the game will default back to the main character for the conversation. Your companions may chime in but you have no control over what they say. You do however have control over what they buy from and sell to merchants and you have a shared pool of gold. Tip: I’d advise you to buy something whenever you get the opportunity, it’s not like you can sell the gold on eBay! Don’t be stingy and buy all sorts of crazy expensive shit for your friends too, you’ll still finish the game with more than a quarter of a million gp! One good change Obsidian made was to the inventory system. In NWN1 you had a number of inventory slots relative to the size of the object, so a gem would have taken up 1 slot but a suit of armour would have required 6 free slots to carry. The magic bag system was also a bit screwy allowing you to carry only a few items. The NWN2 inventory system is based on a one object-one slot system, everything is one slot be it armour, books or gems and your bag of holding can carry 140+ suits of magical plate-mail armour if you wanted it to. Tip: Buy magic bags if you see them especially if you intend to do some crafting or want access to stuff yourself constantly without going to other character's inventories. The World Map from Baldur’s Gate is back, you can now pick on a faraway destination and go there in a hurry if you need to and not have to go through all the other areas like you did in NWN1 which was more than a little annoying.

One thing I must say I thoroughly enjoyed about the game was crafting. Being somewhat creative myself, crafting appeals to this element of my personality and I probably spent somewhere between 10 and 12 hours creating shit for Karadon and his companions throughout the game. Now crafting to a lesser degree appeared in NWN1 where you brought a weapon and a gem or some reagent to an elite blacksmith and he would reforge your blade to something more deadly like an Astral Blade +2 with +1D6 magical damage or some such. A greater degree of crafting appeared in KOTOR2 where you used a myriad of optional focusing crystals and power chargers to create special lightsabers. However I’d never seen anything like the crafting options available to you in NWN2. There are dozens of enchantments alone for arms and armour all which can be constructed basically first from dozens of material options. Some of the items you could even name yourself. My sword was “Karadon’s Holy Diamond Longsword of Lightening” which was a +5 Longsword that did +2D6 against evil and +1D6 Electrical damage; who needs a Holy Avenger when you have this? (Just as well as I didn’t find one). I crafted my full plate armour from Mithral, enchanted it to +5 and made it somewhat resistant to magical attacks. My shield was crafted from the hide of Umberhulks which I slew in combat and thus rendered me impervious to mind altering attacks. Tip: Your companions will be far better at crafting than you’ll ever be, so don’t spend any skill points on your main character for crafting, take control over the others and see what they’re good at making instead. When levelling up your spellcasting characters be sure to choose the “create magical arms and armour” and “craft wondrous item” feats if you want to create superior weapons as they’ll need to cast the final spells to create the desired enchanted item for you even if they don’t craft the basic items. Note: I never found as good weapons or armour as those I created myself.

Only once during a PnP D&D campaign did I ever get a stronghold. I recall that in the middle of some wondrous adventure I suddenly became owner of a castle and had to manage guards, workers and farmers etc. It was an interesting change of pace but getting back out adventuring was of paramount importance. In NWN2 you become guardian of Crossroad Keep which you make your base of operations in the coming struggle. However there’s not much there to begin with, and you must order people to rebuild it using money given to you by the Lord of Neverwinter but mostly from your own pocket. 100,000gp seems like a lot for building a road you'll never see when you have only 250,000gp but you’ll never spend it all before endgame anyway so blow all your money on battlements, towers and even a church. You must make decisions yourself on where and how you want your soldiers to be used from patrolling the roads allowing merchants to trade or enforce outrageous taxes upon the unsuspecting farmers you’ve lured onto your lands; it’s all up to you and you may leave at any point to pursue the main quests, it’ll all be there waiting for you when you return.

I’m not going to say anything about the graphics. I've loaded some hi-rez screenshot links here in addition for you too see Karadon in action and to judge for yourself. Note that if you’re using anything superior to Bellerophron’s archaic Radeon x800Pro, your NWN2 graphics should look superior to these. (These shots may spoil elements of the game to a minor degree) Karadon v Dragon, Karadon v Wraith, Fireworks, Lunch, Miles and Miles of Swamp, Over kill effect of arrow impact, StarGate SG-2, Turn Undead in a graveyard and you're bound to kill something. It’s no Oblivion, but it’s amazing how far advanced they are even in comparison to KOTOR2.

If you have an ear as keen as mine you may recognise that some of the sounds in NWN2 are resampled from NWN1, and why not? They fitted the game fine before so why not again? There are still many new sounds however to go with the myriad of incredible new spell effects from magic users. Voice acting is very good (even from Badgers: Right) considering that the most notable thing that 98% of the cast have done before are bit-parts on various incarnations of the Law & Order franchise, which is a bit weird. TV veterans Rachel York, James Murtaugh & Christopher Murney make notable voice-appearances too. Jeremy Seoule’s magnificent score for NWN1 would be a hard act to follow but one relatively unknown artists David Gray Fraser and Neil Michael Goldberg managed to pull off superbly.

The plotline of the NWN2 OC I’m sorry to say: did not hit the bar set by its predecessor. In NWN1 there was an epic story, the plot hinged on a terrible plague and an enemy from eons past attempting to shape the world for their return, it was full of themes of betrayal, intrigue, hopelessness, at one point you were deep in an enemy city, you had to investigate and piece together part of a grander puzzle and what you uncovered along the way was so ingenious that there were times I forgot that the graphics were so old. In NWN2; yes your character grows from a village boy into becoming a Knight-Captain of an impressive fortress, last bastion of hope for the land of Neverwinter and proceeds to come to a final confrontation with the King Of Shadows (that’s not really a spoiler folks that’s pretty obvious- if not, you’re a retard) but getting there just wasn’t as well crafted as NWN1 was. Don’t get me wrong: it was still very well done and welcome in an age of games where graphics seem to be the be-all and end-all of a game’s success. The game’s “tutorial” levels were well thought out and also provided your “origin” so there was a learning curve as well as advancing the plot. Act I was seemingly endless but gripping. Act II was a bit slow in comparison, not much happened other than you got your stronghold and you had to start building it up. I will say there’s a very good trial sequence that hinges on your use of the conversation skills in court which was impressive (and showcased the abilities of the voice-actors from Law & Order LOL). Act III and Endgame were nothing short of spectacularly executed if somewhat predictable if you know how Obsidian have worked in the past.

There are still a few show-stopping bugs even in version 1.04. The most major of these in my opinion involves a cutscene where this big brutish demon-thingy bashes down a door of a room you’ve barricaded yourself in. The scene repeats itself several times before resolving but it’s most annoying when you come across it. At other times, the game may just cut out for no reason at all and the ol’ Windows error message may appear at random. One good thing is that the game can be updated via an autopatcher system in the game launcher window- the game designers assume that whatever system you’re playing it on is connected to a broadband connection (and let’s face it; it’s 2007, time to expect this as normal now, no more grabbing Patch.exe from elsewhere)- good call Obsidian.

All in all, while I probably spent too much time crafting, it was still a very rewarding gaming experience and one I’ll undertake again a few years down the line. In the meantime however I’ll most definitely be keeping the game on my system to avail of the already thriving online community add-ons, new modules and campaigns etc. that I missed out on from the original Neverwinter Nights.

Colonel Creedon Rating: ****1/2

24 comments:

Civilian Overseer said...

Lt.Col, did you become a life taking marine because you needed to get a life?

P.S. We the culture loving element of the 2IGTV blog audience request, nay, demand, more Marvel coverage. Let the comic hating liberals, be damned!

Aaron said...

SO you like it then !

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

@ Civvy: A 60-hour game took me just three days short of FOUR MONTHS to complete.

People with no lives complete the game in a week and complain on the net that the game was too short. I on the other hand fight to preserve your life and right to ridicule the entertainment choices of my almost non-existant free time. You arguement is deflated sir, run along now before your bloody nose becomes more than a metaphor.

As Mark promiced during the last episode I believe: there will be more Marvel and Comic coverage.

@ Aaron: Yes! But why say: "I like NWN2 and I recommend it" when you can say why with more than 2500 more words with pictures? :)

Civilian Overseer said...

A 60-hour game took me just three days short of FOUR MONTHS to complete.

that just means that you're a tad slow.

People with no lives complete the game in a week and complain on the net that the game was too short.

People, obviously a tad bit smarter than you.

I on the other hand fight to preserve your life and right to ridicule the entertainment choices of my almost non-existant free time.

The less said about your "entertainment choices" the better. Still banned from Thailand, eh?

You arguement is deflated sir, run along now before your bloody nose becomes more than a metaphor.

I believe I have sufficently refuted your responses to my argument, your metaphor is undone, sir, my snoze is held, unbloodied & high.

As Mark promiced during the last episode I believe: there will be more Marvel and Comic coverage.

Specifically, details on the Thunderbolts, what genius decided to take a bunch of the most vicious, muderous scum in existance and decided with the aid of some handydandy nanobots to regulate their behaviour, make them into superheros?, and put Norman Osborn in charge?, no, wait, it was your boyfriend, Tony Stark. You know it is just going to go horrible, horrible wrong.

'jœrmuŋgandr said...

Did you get the opportunity to 'subdue' any party members with a Vorpal Sword, Lt.Col?

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

@ Civvy: Bravo, I yield to your superior wit (while calling down an air strike on your present position).

I know little of the Thunderbolts, but I'll make a note to ask Mark...

@ 'jœrmuŋgandr (Sithy's latest attempt to annoy me by adopting an unpronouncable handle): Look that was a mistake made about 6 or 7 years ago in a long-forgotten (except by you obviously) RPG session- I was trying to disarm him- I didn't even know what "vorpal" even meant at that point. Sheeesh!

'jœrmuŋgandr said...

And how about the Cleric party member you deliberately attacked?

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

Who Logan the insane undead-hunter? He turned to evil. He had to be stopped...

johnmeade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

There are three different camera modes accessable from the options menu. I think the Numberpad "Del" key changes them too. There was some griping from some menbers off the community so they did further fixing for one of the patches so perhaps the issue you had has been fixed since December. Be sure to update to ver 1.04 before playing.

Civilian Overseer said...

Bravo, I yield to your superior wit

Interesting choice of words, "yield"

I quote from the Collins on-line English Dictionary

Yield verb
to surrender or relinquish, esp as a result of force, persuasion, etc.

Remember, when you said that you would never give up and We asked for your definition of never?, and when I said that I was lulling you into a false sense of security?

Well guess what, you just gave up, I don't blame you, it was a battle of the wits, you where only half prepared.

Did you just out Sithy's secret identy?

'jœrmuŋgandr said...

@ Overseer:
It was hardly secret ... still - damn him!

@ the Lt.Col:
I wasn't referring to Logan; just how many DID you assault is what your readers are now wondering ;-)

Alro said...

I think he nailed two that I recall. While I was DM anyway.

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

Look if D&D characters begin to manifest evil tendencies then they have to be neutralised. As a Pally, I've done nothing out of character. Case closed.

Hey Alro, why did you delete your earlier post? Now it looks like I'm talking about NWN2 camera angles for no reason at all.

I used to delete comments that were nonesence or got out of control before but your observation about the camera was valid and not inappropriate to this forum.

Civilian Overseer said...

Ahem, I noticed, the conspicuous lack of a response to the charges of "surrender in the face of superior forces". is "discretion the better part of valour" your bag now, Lt.Col?, he who runs away, lives to fight another day, eh?, disgusting.

Bring back Rabb!.

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

Nw I just wanted you to shut the fuck up so the discussion could continue on topic.

Yes, I manipulated you...

Civilian Overseer said...

Whatever your intention, a surrender is a surrender.

Yes, I manipulated you...
Not physically, I hope. Urgh!

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

No not physically; mentally, where you're weakest...

Alro said...

Reinstalled NWN2 and updated to 1.5 patch, the game seems much improved, however the camera action is still very annoying. Not as smooth as DDO. Feel Stormreach dragging me back to the dark side with the new level update....

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

There's no reason why you can't play both. You've got too used to the camera motion in DDO. I'm glad that they're adding content to it, but you don't get the sence of Epicness or high adventure in it like you do with NWN or BG.

Oh and AI companions don't have to go and get coffee or feed the fuckin' baby!!!

Alro said...

Updated Dungeons and Dragons last night. 600MB update took 9 hours and did not work.

(They recommended I uninstall and start again :).. Now that’s what I call tech support...

Anyway I finally managed to load in this morning. Gave an online friend my account details and told him to loot then delete my characters as I cancelled my account and threw the game discs in the bin, then uninstalled as fast as possible.

Motoring through NWN2 though and really enjoying it. Thanks for the recommendation.

Civilian Overseer said...

No not physically; mentally, where you're weakest...

I see the false sense of security is still with you. ;)

Lt. Colonel Creedon said...

@ Alro: Good lord! You chucked DDO in the bin? Extreme measures all-round!

Alro said...

No regrets, NWN2 rocks, played about 6 hours this weekend and am looking forward to the unfolding storyline and character interaction. DDO now sucks by comparison.