120th played so far
Year of Release: 2002
On this blog, as well as elsewhere, I’ve never made a secret of my fondness for the Bioware RPGs (as well as certain related spin-offs). Neverwinter Nights is no exception.
In its single player standard campaign, you go to save the titular Neverwinter from a plague, as well as chasing after the guys who caused this. The game was (and really is) more than that, however. First because of the strong multiplayer component – the game had been designed with that in mind from the start – and second because of the powerful toolset which allows you to create your own adventures using the engine. The entire campaign (as well as its sequels and such) could be recreated using this engine if you’d want to. You can create them for your own pleasure, to share and play with friends (up to having online D&D sessions using the game) or to give to everyone out there to play through.
Unprecedented, for sure. Amazing? I’ll be the judge of that one.
It really is a bit odd that for this write-up that I, a self-proclaimed not-so-big-fan of D&D style RPGs, take the lead on it… but in this way I can give a more impartial perspective on the game when compared to my good friend typing next to me. I’ve played this game so much, I really would lessen the mention of the inevitable flaws.
So far this is the third game (and apparently not the last) we have covered in this blog which is based firmly on the rules of the much-beloved (by a select few million) role-playing game and although the next few paragraphs may seem to some people as touching on a hate crime but… I’ve played better D&D based games than Neverwinter Nights and here are a few reasons why.
The first thing that hit me (apart from the game crashing on my Vista laptop… not their fault but annoying) is that the art-style in this feels like a bit of a step down when compared to Baldur’s Gate II and the earlier released Icewind Dale (see I know my Bioware RPGs). Where Baldur’s Gate II has really stood up to the ravages of time the graphics in Neverwinter Nights feel oh so very dated. This in a way comes back to the discussion we had on Baldur’s Gate II before: 3D graphics like this have dated a lot more than the sprite art up to scratch. By trying to be realistic, you set yourself up for failure when technology moves on. Then there are the character portraits which in Baldur’s Gate II are varied and beautiful… here they are just plain creepy. You really are expected to provide your own… or find one of the few bearable ones that isn’t always reused.
The voice-acting too is not that great. The cadence of some of the character’s lines may drive you crazy after a while. Again when you look at a game like Planescape: Torment they have some fantastic lines of dialogue with great voice acting… not here. You can quite clearly tell here how the lines were recorded one by one, without any context, unlike other games, where it seems to be done as a conversation (even if some are repeats). The best example is with one of the main characters of the campaign, Lady Aribeth. Aside from being stuck up, she really sounds like she’s having constant mood swings… in every part of the month. Finally, (don’t worry we will be getting to the positives soon) there is the single player campaign which just feels cliched and it is very hard to develop any empathy towards the mission itself… seriously I would have just happily ventured off and left Neverwinter to their plague. To hell with them I have giants to slay. (Something you do get to do a few hours in). Don’t get me wrong here, the gameplay during the single player campaign (or actually to be more accurate, the official campaign) is as good as everywhere else, but the storyline is flat and boring… seriously just a way to get from quest to quest and chapter to chapter.
The expansions do this better, with them giving the game more memorable characters and some proper interaction that influences how your helpers develop, but it took Bioware a while to get this right. It’s worth getting Shadows of the Urdrentide (or however it’s spelled) and Hordes of the Underdark if you want to get a better story… they enhance the existing game as well, always making it a good addition.
Anyway, why is this on the list if there are so many things done better by older games? One word: customizability. Most games based on the D&D rules naturally have to allow for you to customise your character since they act as your avatar into a fantastical populated by barely clad women with strange names. Here though they finally let dungeon masters have a field day and allowed for completely customised ‘modules’ where you can create maps, campaigns and even magical hostile penguins with a penchant for ice magic. It takes a lot to fulfill such a promise as “whatever you think you can make” and just like The Movies this game has a really fair stab at it and for the most part it suceeds majestically… and it really helps that you can upload your own portraits.
The premium modules add into this as well. Although a few have allowed for some engine updates to support more features, all in all the modules are actually made using the same tools everyone has access to. They are usually pretty good quality, making them a lot of fun to play as well. Beyond that, however, you can download tons (and with that I mean lots) of modules for free from other people. A good source is NWVault, which contains lots of them, as well as other files that are useful to add and download. Several of these are quite a bit better than the original, official campaign… making it worth checking out even now.
No game is without it’s faults and this does have it’s fair few but it was able to suceed in making a customisable fantasy game that is pleasing fans almost a decade later. What would I rather play? Saint’s Row 2 if I am being completely honest… but Baldur’s Gate II really is better in every facet where you can compare the two. But I may still have a play in creating my own module with penguin bards and dragons who slur their speech; what other game allows for such indulgences?