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Neverwinter Nights - Staff Review

A Future, But Not Current, Classic

By: Justin Weiss


Review Breakdown
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 6
   Plot 7
   Replay Value 9
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Easy - Medium
   Time to Complete

40-50 Hours

 
Overall
8
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   Neverwinter Nights has been on the minds of nearly every D&D player since its announcement nearly five years ago. After countless delays, a publisher change to Infogrames, and a period of time when the game almost missed seeing the light of day, this highly anticipated RPG has finally made its way onto store shelves. Was it worth the wait? Almost certainly, though it could have used a few extra months of testing before its release.

   Neverwinter Nights could most accurately be described as "The most powerful RPG engine available, with one hell of a sample module included." The "sample module," also known as the single-player campaign, provides players with about fifty hours of some of the best PC role-playing since the Baldur's Gate series. Those looking for a Baldur's Gate III will be disappointed, however, as Neverwinter has a much more action-oriented feel. Combat is done in real-time, with an "action queue" that the player can fill while the game is paused. This allows sorcerers, bards, and other strategy-focused classes to pick and choose the order of the spells they want to use without having to worry about being chopped to bits, while allowing swordsmen to run up and destroy the enemies without excessive delays. The player can only bring one henchman at a time along on the adventure and can only exert limited control over the henchman's actions, which is a far cry from the Baldur's Gate series' ultimate control over a six-man party. Playing with friends, however, will allow for a larger, more D&D-like party.

   Traveling through Neverwinter and the surrounding area, the player will become engrossed in a deep storyline, beginning with the decimation of Neverwinter due to the Wailing Death, and continuing through doubt, betrayal, and, depending on choices made by the player, eventual redemption. The storyline may be cliché, but it is told in a way that will draw in even the most skeptical RPGamer. The world is vibrant and filled with small touches, such as dynamic shadows, spectacular ambient sounds, and environmental details like waterfalls and birds flying around, that it is very easy to be lost in the forests and plains surrounding Neverwinter. The game uses a limited number of tilesets (ten are available, but the main campaign only uses nine of them), though different colored lighting, fog, and sounds really capture the difference between the calm of Neverwinter Wood and the strangeness of Coldwood or the difference between age-old ruins and a simple tomb. Character and monster detail is lacking a bit, but as this reviewer kept the view zoomed out to its maximum most of the time, it wasn't noticeable at all. Armor and weapons are visible on the characters as well, creating some very impressive effects when swords are dripping acid or glowing with fire. Visual effects as a whole were extremely impressive in this game, and coupled with the dynamic lighting and shadows caused by the effects, they were some of the best this reviewer has seen.


Shocking!
Shocking!  

   The main campaign, however, has some pacing and balance issues; for instance, the first part of the game is very difficult to complete without hiring a henchman, but near the final stages of the game, it is simple to could cut through nearly anything in one's path single-handedly, including dragons. In addition, the game became increasingly more Diablo-like toward the end, with most quests involving clicking on enemies, waiting for them to die, and collecting their treasure. Despite these issues, however, this reviewer found it hard to quit the game for more than an hour without feeling the desire to fire it up again.

   The main campaign is not the main draw of Neverwinter Nights; that honor belongs to the Aurora toolset. Far more than a simple level editor, the toolset allows even novice creators to design simple campaigns in less time than it would take to play through them. Everything from weapons to simple NPCs to areas can be designed in no time, and the more serious developers can make use of the powerful conversation tree editor and the C-style scripting language to create powerful, self-running modules. With the scripting language, the possibilities for modules are virtually limitless. There would be only minor difficulties porting, say, one of the Ultima games over to the Neverwinter toolset, and this reviewer even designed a simple Castlevania-style area where the player would run around, fighting undead creatures and whipping torches to collect items. Bioware has dropped a powerful tool into the hands of gamers worldwide, and once good modules are released by gamers, Neverwinter Nights will have tremendous replay value.

   The multiplayer game seeks to recreate those late-night D&D sessions, and in that, it excels. Those looking for a quick multiplayer session will be disappointed, as will those who don't pre-arrange games, for most of the publicly available games are, at this writing, full of overpowered characters and people not interested in role-playing. Players more interested in setting up games with close friends or a set group of people over the Internet will have a much more rewarding experience, as their characters grow as a group into an adventuring party with stories that will rival those of tabletop role-players. The DM client will only add to the entertainment of the multiplayer mode, allowing for one player to have full control over the games of the other player, possessing, creating, or destroying creatures and items, remotely running scripts created in the Aurora toolset, increasing or decreasing player stats and levels, and much more. With the DM client, a player can have the power a DM would have in a tabletop RPG, a must when players decide to go off the beaten path to find their own adventures.

   Unfortunately, none of this entertainment can be experienced if the game doesn't work. From day one, the game has had major problems with quite a few players' systems, ranging from random crashes and lockups to savegame corruption to quests not working to the game just not starting. However, Bioware has been more than supportive, offering potential solutions quickly to players through its tech support board and promptly releasing patches to cure the most common problems. Still, the technical problems have caused this player to lose hours of gameplay and use awkward workarounds to complete important quests, and one would assume that a few extra months in testing would have done this game well, rather than rushing it in order to compete with the high-profile Morrowind, Dungeon Siege, and Warcraft III.


Light From Below
Light From Below  

All in all, Neverwinter Nights is an RPG that may have some problems now, but will only get better with age. Once the community learns how to use the toolset, some truly impressive modifications will appear, extending the game beyond imagination. Neverwinter Nights is the best implementation of tabletop role-playing available today, and coupled with the impressive toolset and D&Dish multiplay, it will most likely remain on hard drives for a very long time.





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