Neverwinter Nights 2

If, like me, you spent your late 2006  getting super-duper psyched for the Burning Crusade – OMG we get to go to space! – then you might be one of the millions of people who didn’t play Neverwinter Nights 2. It came out on Halloween of 2006 and no-one gave a fuck.

Well since then, I’ve cleaned up my act and quit WoW (more like Burnout Crusade, amiriteguyz?) and now I get most of my electronic RPGeeing done on the XBOX. And that has been great, believe me.

But the titan that is World Of Warcraft just won’t go away and the release of World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm more or less guarantees that winter is a lean time for XBOX RPGs. When the titan’s foot lands, mere mortals flee. Having wrapped up Fallout: New Vegas to my satisfaction (benevolent dictator, thank you very much) I was stuck with no RPGing from last Tuesday night to this Thursday. Eight nights without pretending I’m someone else? INTOLERABLE!

So I started poking around for games to download from Steam to my laptop. Neverwinter Nights 2… hmm.

I haven't met that fourth person, but I bet they're a bloody sorceror. Damnit.

I had Neverwinter Nights, and it was great, even though the game sounded like it was going to be about a pair of vice squad detectives, playing fast and loose with the rules in the beach resort of Neverwinter, with Lou Gossett Jr ready to take their badges after the stunt they pulled at the marina. But it was really pretty good. Story was great and in those pre-WOW days, it seemed like this was the best RPGing was going to get; it was essentially a computerization of the D&D 3rd Edition rules. If you knew how to play D&Dv3, you knew how to play NWN and vice-versa.

Then came my first glimpse of WOW, making a Gnome rogue called MacShoogle on Overbo’s computer and running around killing rabbits in the moonlit snowfields beneath Ironforge. Suddenly NWN looked totally goddamn weak. I thought no more of it.

So playing NWN2, yea these many years later, I’m kind of enjoying it.

There are three big grumbles:

  1. The camera controls are fucking nuts. I must spend about 1/2 my time trying to figure out which way is north and then trying to walk that way.
  2. D&Dv3.5 is a turn based game and inexplicably, NWN2 is not. I don’t know why people did away with turnbased RPGs they’re fun. Making everything happen in realtime is not fun because you spend most of the time pausing the game, queuing up actions, playing, pausing, wrestling with the bloody camera, playing, pausing. If the intent is to introduce a natural flow to the game, it doesn’t work.
  3. Your starting buddies are a fighter and a thief and I kind of wish they’d told you that, so that you didn’t replicate their class. That’s why I’m a Rogue 2/Sorceror 4 now. Hardly optimal.

Other than that… it is really pretty good. The sound is great; music suitably bombastic and Forgotton Realmsy. The voice acting is good. The skeletons make a really satisfying clatter when they hit the ground. The backgrounds are pretty, even if the people are Dragon Age ugly (not Oblivion ugly, just kind of bland), but really that says more about Dragon Age (2009) than it does about NWN2 (2006).

In the three years between NWN2 and Dragon Age, head-blandness was perfected.

The story so far has been good and the reviews, while not giving too much away, hint that this is a strong point. You have quite a bit of freedom to go off and do side quests, although it isn’t really clear what is a side quest and what is part of the main quest yet, so it all feels very natural. The character dialogue exchanges are the same type of alignment-shifting choices that are presented in Fallout3 but done fairly well, as opposed to Fallout3 which was completely transparent.

For $20 on Steam, you get NWN2 (a 50 hour campaign, unless you like your camera a certain way, in which case it is a 70 hour campaign) two expansions and the NWN2 toolset to design your own levels. That seems like a bargain, I’ve already extracted more enjoyment out of it than I did out of several $60 XBOX games. I’m enjoying it, with no particular urgency.

I feel like I’ve stomped on Dragon Age a bit, which is unfair because as hum-drum as everything about the game was individually, as a package of atmosphere and urgency in storytelling I thought it was pretty good. Not Mass Effect good, but hey, Mass Effect had aesthetics on its side. You can’t play Dragon Age twice however; you just can’t.

I mention that because I think DA2 is the next XBOX RPG I’m excited about and that doesn’t come out until March. WOW casts a large shadow indeed.

I'm in your markets, laying waste to your release schedules.

3 Comments on “Neverwinter Nights 2

  1. I’m looking forward to the next installment of Dragon Age. The first one, despite the dated graphics, was pretty fun. It had a good main story. The side quests were pretty boring though which is why you’re right in that it doesn’t have a lot of replay valve (unless you like fucking dudes and I for one don’t).
    Oblivion, which I’m also excited about a sequel of, kind of had the opposite problem. The main story was pretty weak but the guild and side quests were much more fun. This wasn’t too big a deal to me. Just exploring was a lot of fun.
    The problem with Oblivion thought was that the character felt faceless. The conversations with the NPC were all pretty linear and I never got a feeling that my character was anything more than a body running around killing things. Dragon Age’s NPC were much more fleshed out so interacting with them seemed more real. However I still felt a chained in because aside choosing the order in which you visit the four locations in the game you were stuck in the main story.
    All that being said I enjoyed both games and am interested to see how, or if, they address these problems in their new iterations.

  2. I once asked JIM how far he’d progressed in a Bioware game and he told me he was in the middle of the Companion side quests and I knew exactly what he meant.

    Which is kind of a problem, if the games you put out are full of side-quests that happen in a very predictable pattern. Fallout NV did it too with its companions. Here is how it works:

    You – Tell me about yourself, Buddy.
    Buddy – Well, I have an unresolved problem X, but I can’t go into much detail.
    (time elapses)
    You – Oh, go on.
    Buddy – Fine. Here is unresolved problem X… but let’s not talk further on it.
    (time elapses)
    You – So you were saying…
    Buddy – Yeah, I’ve thought of a solution to unresolved problem X, let’s go do that.
    (You go solve problem X)
    Buddy – Thanks! Now I give you special ability Y because we’re obviously good chums. I mean, I could have done it while we were risking our necks to solve the problem X, but, hey, I don’t just give out special ability Y to anyone.

    Mass Effect 2 was even more infuriating in this regard because you were trying to save the bloody universe and taking time off to make Mopey McHiddenpast comfortable enough to really commit to the team… that was going to save existence.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t work, just don’t do the same damn thing for everyone.

  3. So I might know a thing or two about computers, but I by no means have the most up-to-date PC. My dear old HP Pavilion is now almost 7 years old, which makes it about 300 in computer years. In other words, it can’t handle the modern graphics of Neverwinter Nights 2. My 4 year old MacBook can, but it costs $50 for Mac OSX. It’s probably all for the best…