Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A shitload more on Neverwinter Nights 2

Sorry to those that were waiting for this: the update on infomation on Obsidian's Neverwinter Nights 2 as promised here.

PC gamers should be more than familiar enough with the original Neverwinter Nights, In my case I missed it, or rather didn't have the time to play it when it was released but I'm making up for that now by playing through it before I get my hands on the sequel. In case you're one of the unfortunate few who know nothing about the title, it's a massive D&D roleplaying game that combines an epic single player campaign with online play and a robust editor.

I'm pleased to say that it looks like the sequel appears to be preserving all the original's quality but significantly upping the ante in almost every area.

The game follows the D&D alignment conventions and tracks your morality through the game. As you perform good or bad actions, your relations with those around you will gradually shift. This is especially significant where the members of your party are concerned. There's also an influence system like the one in Knights of the Old Republic 2, so you can gradually redeem or corrupt your party members by your actions.

A companion system is in place so you'll be able to grab two extra NPCs to carry around with you and help you in your quests. Unlike the original Neverwinter Nights, you can actually control these NPCs directly rather than simply issuing orders to them. The Infinity-era pause and unpause order system is in place here for folks who would prefer to direct their followers that way.

Fans of the original game won't see many changes to the combat system. The basic commands and controls are still the same as you remember which isn't such a bad thing considering how solid they were the first time around. What has changed is that critical hits are much cooler now. The first game merely threw a little critical hit tag up in the air; the new game will indicate critical hits with cool weapon trails and neat blood splatters. Bloooood, yeeeeeeesssss!

Where most games include some sort of arbitrary tutorial, Neverwinter Nights 2 tries to make learning how to play a part of the actual story. Beginning as a relative unknown, you'll find yourself celebrating the harvest in your home town of West Harbor. There's a harvest festival competition comprised of four challenges -- melee, ranged, magic and stealth. Through the course of the festival, you'll learn how to manage all four activities in the game.

From looking at the screenshots however, you'll see that the graphics are obviously vastly improved. When gamers look closely at Neverwinter Nights 2, they'll see just how much attention is being paid to even the smallest parts of this sequel.

When you bring the camera in tight to the main character, you'll see the individual links in his chain mail, the ornamental carvings on his helmet and the texture of his boots. When you walk indoors, you'll see the weave of a rug or the stones that make up a humble fireplace. When you walk outside, you'll see trees with individual leaves and grassy plains that'll make them want to take off their shoes and run barefoot like a little kid. But all that is nothing once they start casting spells. The Shield of Faith spell results in a transparent bubble that surrounds the player, and it looks as if you could reach into the screen and pop it with your finger. Eye-popping 3D effects will turn any magical spell-slinging battle into a fireworks display straight out of the 4th of July.

I know we've all seen gorgeous graphics before, and as much as we enjoy our eye candy, we learned long ago that looks aren't everything. RPG fans especially want story, they want depth, and most importantly, they want epic battles. Fortunately, Obsidian is aware of this, too.

Throughout the 40-60 hours of gameplay in Neverwinter Nights 2, players will be faced with decisions that will let them reveal their true colors. The developers have made sure that players' decisions on whether to be good or evil will result in significant branching in the storyline. This storyline tasks players with scouring the land of Neverwinter to uncover the secrets of a strange relic and will eventually lead to a chain of events that will force you into the role of a hero.

Obsidian is also offering a wide selection of prestige classes so gamers can further customize their characters. These are obtained once players hit a certain level, and allow their characters to have more abilities. For example, an Arcane Archer can cast spells like Gandalf and still be able to make like Legolas with a bow and arrow. If gamers have got the time, they'll be able to take their characters up to level 20, but the developers say that if gamers plan on doing that, they'll have to do lots and lots of side quests to make it happen.

Players will need all the skills they can get if they want to make it through the challenges that await them in their quest. The storyline will eventually put them into battles far larger than anything they've had to deal with in the first game, and eventually they'll even take control of their own castle which they'll have to fortify and defend. To do this they'll have to rally people to their cause during their adventures. Farmers, miners, and other people will come to their aid if they play their cards right. The stronghold system, which becomes available to players around halfway through the game is part of the storyline, so it's not something that can be overlooked or missed out on. The stronghold, which looks like a castle, will initially appear in an exacerbated state of decay. Walls will be crumbling and coming apart, ramparts won't be useful, and more importantly, there won't be anyone in it. While hanging out in a castle is intrinsically cool, it's far more interesting if you can do something with it. In the case of Neverwinter Nights 2, there's quite a bit to be accomplished.

First, the castle needs workers. Throughout the course of the game leading up to the stronghold's acquisition, players will meet certain NPCs clearly dissatisfied with their station in life. After players are castle owners, these NPCs can be recruited to labor in the stony abode. Some may agree to work with no strings attached, others may need convincing, and yet more will require special tasks to be completed before they sign on as your servant. Chris mentioned most of these NPCs will be located in major metropolitan areas, such as Neverwinter, and be relatively easy to find. A few may be more out of the way. Each recruit contributes to a specific aspect of the stronghold's augmentation. Among the many possible employees, there are miners, priests, architects, blacksmiths, and farmers, to name a few.

Since the demands of adventuring are so great, players won't be able to hang around their stronghold all the time. A work foreman of sorts will need to be given commands on how to run the base's day to day operations. As an added wrinkle, some NPCs will be better at their jobs than others, so players will need to choose carefully when assembling their workforce. Once a decent amount of employees are in place and performing their required tasks, orders can be given to the foreman to alter work habits, giving more attention to varying aspects. By speaking with the foreman in the stronghold, it will become more obvious what tasks require attention, as status reports are given detailing exactly how things are going.

As the workers perform their tasks, the stronghold will build up into a more powerful, multifaceted structure. Its growth will prompt mercantile trading lines, and an inn can be built up as well. Taxes will need to be collected, revenue managed, and guards assigned for protection. Visual differences will appear, showing the stronghold as a more formidable, hardy structure than when it was first discovered. All this is in preparation for certain events that happen during Neverwinter Nights 2's story, called mass battles.

These mass battles are basically stronghold assaults. If players haven't taken the time to properly manage their castles, they'll have a much harder time surviving. Obviously the main character and three possible companions aren't going to be able to hold back an army. The stronghold provides the solution, giving the player the ability to train armies. Army management is conducted through the foreman, who can be told to ease up on training or train extra hard, and be especially harsh. Army morale is affected by these sorts of decisions, but different approaches to training need to be made in order to level up the forces as much as possible, as well as give them better weapons and armor. Based on what orders are issued, it could eventually be made clear that certain sergeants are on the take, or the numbers and strengths of your units could be diminished. In other words, if you're not paying attention and erratically issuing orders, your armies are going to get mad.

Aside from serving as an army production plant, the stronghold will also house the various characters that can join your party, such as Grobnar (left). Since you can only have four characters in your party at once including yourself, there will undoubtedly arise scenarios where some need to be switched out to take advantage of their varying skill sets. Instead of disappearing into the void, the dislodged characters will reside in the stronghold. Should players want to use them again, they can be simply be switched into the party on the fly, though in certain zones switching won't be possible.

In addition to each character having different skills, they'll also have varying alignments and backstories. Active party members will interact with each other through dialogue, and should your actions veer too much from their personal philosophies or alignment, they might leave the party altogether. By performing deeds that agree with your party members' personal philosophies, players gain influence over them. High levels of influence with party members means they'll be willing to perform actions not otherwise possible. Assuming you're a wizard and the opponent has an obvious advantage because of his armor or skills, it's clear you'll get murdered if you head into the fight. With a high influence over party members, one with a more suitable class and skill set would volunteer to take your place.

The fully controllable NPC party members are more than just cardboard characters. They all have something to say and underlying motivations, though these aren't necessarily made obvious right away. Characters will initially decline to talk about themselves or their deeper world views. Once you've traveled with them for a while and built up some trust, they'll reveal more. Special items in the game also have their own histories, which can be read by clicking on an examine tab in the menu. Hopefully something that I noticed was missing from the original game was where the characters would pipe up themselves without you haveing to ask them shit like they did in Baldur's Gate. I prefer people let fly with what they have to say (that's why this site has unmoderated comments) rather than infomation being interrogated out of them like the wogs I'm let loose on in GITMO.

There's certainly more going on here than normal, let's just say if you wanted another "generic dungeon crawl"- you're going to be disappointed on Friday November 3rd when the game surfaces in Europe.

There's a growing Wikipedia resource for NWN2 now too, check it out.

Sources: IGN, Gamespy, 3DGamers.


Anonymous said...

Looks like this is a "buy A.S.A.P and play over following summer" kind of affair.
40-60 hours? Ha! I remember back when I spent at least twice that on the original Baldurs Gate, and as long again on the sequel :)

"Obviously the main character and three possible companions aren't going to be able to hold back an army" - I guess these characters won't have the same pick of magic items as I like then :)

Anonymous said...

Yet another game which makes me consider the possibility of buyin a new PC. the big question is, is it worth the investment, well is it??

Unknown said...

I've just purchased the sim game Caesar III for the pc. I hope to enjoy many hours building my empire. As a bonus I also got a game called Paharoh. Must admit I never heard of it but presume it's along the smae lines. Grand total, 1 euro 47 cent, fuck ASDA, I shoudl have stayed at home.

Lieutenant General Creedon said...

@ Sith Apologist: Yeah, it'll be a while before I get my mitts on it, probably next year but this time I'm determined to play it while it's current. I'm sure with those graphics, Karadon will look magnificent.

@ Aaron: Aye, I'd say it'd be a good reason to upgrade, I've upgraded machines for Jedi Outcast and Half-Life 2 in the past. If you like the original NWN then I'm sure this new game won't fail you.

@ Cubaboy: Yes indeed Paharoh is indeed of the same ilk as Caesar.

Let this be a lesson to you all: There's a whole host of games like the 8 year old Caesar waiting to be plundered for pennys- just because todays mobile phones could run them doesn't mean they should be ignored. There's more shite than gold being produced in games these days so we may well all need to follow Cuaboy to the bargain bin.

Anonymous said...

I've heard of this fantastic game called "Get a real life", I tried it, it cost a lot and didn't have any rules. the sequel, "grow up and get a real job", wasn't much more fun.

Lieutenant General Creedon said...

Oooh, sounds nasty. I'll keep well away from them.