Neverwinter Nights

Review by Jen
April 2004

I come away from Neverwinter Nights thinking to myself, "That was fun. Now what can I write about?"

There is not much to say. Neverwinter Nights is fun, a lot of fun. It is also bland. Despite its figurative colorlessness, it has an addictive quality to it. I started down the Path to Gaming Enlightenment and Achievement of the One True Electronic Nirvana the arcades of the 1980s, when platform was my thing. "Just one more level—gimme another quarter, willya?" Perhaps that is why Neverwinter Nights worked for me. Gameplay has a certain sameness throughout; locations are all made from the same limited set of tiles; freedom of in-game choice is illusory—you see it but you don't feel it; after a very few times bashing open chests, I lost that little buzz of excitement on learning what lay within. The story is nothing special, yet another product of the Acme Fantastical Defy-the-Odds-and-Save-the-World Factory. I'm thinking it was the ongoing quest for more strength, better weapons, longer life that propelled me forward, much like the points and levels of Centipede or Crystal Castles of days gone by. And there are some dragons. Dragons are cool.

I am not interested in D&D rules, any edition, I don't like dice games, statistics bore me. So when I play a CRPG, I am perfectly happy to ignore as many of those aspects as possible and let the game do the scut work for me whilst I barrel through it in pursuit of the bigger and better. Neverwinter Nights will do the stats chores for you. But if you are one of those peculiar people who wants to micromanage your way through it, you can do that too.

When you start, you can either create your own character or choose from one of the premade ones. I made my own, but after I got her looking how I wanted her and chose her fundamental characteristics (human, fighter, chaotic good, blah blah blah), I went along with the game's recommendations for abilities and feats and blah blah blah. (Here's some editorializing from one who probably just doesn't get it, i.e., me: Sometimes the distinctions among these various choices are pretty much not in evidence.) Anyway, I ended up with one Mommy G, polished, jet-black skin, dark blue hair, and stylish green skivvies.

Mommy G was an asskicker. Mommy G wielded a longsword and sliced right through everything that got in her way. She tried to be a good person most of the time, though. As always in these games, Mommy G met her maker on a regular basis, especially at the beginning. After she moved up a couple of experience levels, though, she became tougher and lasted longer in battle. That's when the game started being fun—I'm never too fond of dying all the time in any game.

Once you get into the meat of the game, you mostly get the standard step-n-fetch tasks, with the occasional brain-bender thrown into the mix. Neverwinter Nights usually gives you several quests to work on at any given time, so if you're hornswoggled by one, you can just go on to the next, and chances are the first will resolve itself along the way.

There's a whole messload of fighting in NWN. It's real-time virtual dice rolls; you can pause at any time and issue a command, sometimes a string of commands, such as move, drink a potion, switch your weapon (you cannot change armor during battle); otherwise, you can just sit back and watch the avatars duke it out to the bitter end. In the game options, which you can access whenever you want, there is a difficulty slider with four settings on it, ranging from Easy to Impossible (I don't know about the nomenclature of that last, exactly; truth be told, I never even looked since it was so far outside my realm of comprehension). I mostly played on the default Normal setting, but I snuck it down to Easy from time to time when I came across something particularly hard to kill.

As for the plot, I very recently played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, another game by the same developer. Same shit, different day—the stories are that similar (although the settings are wildly different). Even several of the puzzles are repeated. I really loved KOTOR, and I am well aware that it came after NWN. I am glad I played it first, though, because otherwise I would've felt at least some of the same disappointment with it, by far the better of the two games, that I now feel with Neverwinter Nights. It's as if these developers only have so many good ideas and they pack them all into every game they make. Which is okay, seeing as how it's balanced out by the fact that there are not very many bad ideas 'tall. Some, though.

Anyway, story: You are plopped down out of nowhere smack-dab into the military academy of the city-state of Neverwinter. You are a new recruit; this is the part where you get to familiarize yourself with the controls and interface and learn a little about what's in store for you depending on the type of character you're playing. As a fighter, I had to figure out how to manage the swordplay, first against friendly NPCs and, a little later, weak monsters. This is also the part where you learn that your destiny is to save the city first from a plague and later from enemies both corporeal and ethereal, from both within and without Neverwinter itself. You end up roaming the surrounding lands and attempting to thwart ever more evil foes.

A big job for one person—two, actually, in my case. Early on, you get an opportunity to hire one or more henchpeople depending on your character. As a fighter, I could only have one companion; I believe the maximum is four, and some character types can even have vicious animals accompany them and aid them in combat. Each of the possible henchmen (or women) (or beasts) have different strengths and weaknesses that come into play in different areas of the game, or perhaps complement the abilities of your own character.

The game is broken into four chapters; once you finish a chapter, you are thrust into a new locale and there is no going back. It is almost like four different but connected games—in each chapter, I felt as if I were beginning anew, new maps, new quests, new shops, new people, new monsters ... In the middle of Chapter 1, I won a bar in a fight, which entitled me to be paid that establishment's income once a game-week from that time forward. But I was never able to go back there to collect any of it!

Luckily, money is never much of a problem. As in just about every RPG, you pick up stuff from the chests and barrels and dead bodies littering the landscape. Most of it you can't use or don't want, and so there is a lot of buying and selling. You end up exchanging your spoils for better weapons, magic spells, items, and/or armor, and once you have the best of everything, you just take cold, hard cash. The merchants never run out of money, and they'll buy just about anything you have to offer. Of course, buying a thing costs about four or five times as much as its sale value, but that pretty much mirrors real life, don't you think?

Finally ... I am such a huge ignoramus! Once I had everything I wanted or needed, inventorywise, I was saving up all of my money and hoarding all of my specialized armor and weapons and what have you, thinking when I finished the original NWN campaign, I'd be all prepped and buffed and rich and powerful for the transition to the expansion Shadows of Undrentide (I have the NWN Gold edition, which came with SOU). Nope. Not only is there no kind of transition, the expansion is a whole 'nother game altogether. (Who knew?) You can save your NWN character only and get a little bit of a leg up in SOU if she was any good by the end of the original campaign (mine was), but everything else is lost and you start SOU at level zero with nary an asset to your name. And thus I called the game done and figured I'd save SOU for another time. Nevermind. I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sorry 'bout that. When you start SOU, you'll have multiple instances of your NWN character in the premade set for the new game. Some will have the inventory and money and some won't. Choose wisely, grasshopper.

So here I am, writing this review. And now this is done too. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: June 2002 (original version); May 2003 (Gold version)

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000SP2/XP
450 MHz processor (800 MHz recommended)
128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
2.6 GB free hard disk space
8X CD-ROM drive
32 MB TNT2-class video card
DirectX-certified sound card
Multiplayer: Local area network with TCP/IP protocol or established internet connection (56 Kbps modem or faster required)
DirectX version 8.1 or higher

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