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July 15th, 2013, 18:18
Neverwinter Nights 2 - Official Campaign

Any attempts to review NWN2's OC lead me to comparisons with Dragon Age: Origins. It's possible my being away from the genre for so long distorts my views but I'm certain there are significant similarities in gameplay, story and scale.

To say that the game's start is slow would be understatement. Apart from gaming disasters which I either didn't invest time in or regretted doing so NWN2 must be the least inviting game I've played.

On the one side there's the introductory areas which drag for about 5 hours and deservedly gave the game the reputation of a slow starter, And while I did arm myself with plenty of patience to play through that I never expected to find out that even beyond those areas, about 80% of Act 1 was filler. To put that in perspective that's about 25-30% of the beginning of the game which translates into 10-12 hours (the length of the average modern game), all that while looking past the initial 5h intro.

On the other side you've got an enormous amount of technical issues (not bugs by the strictest definition) which ensured that that first part of the game was not even remotely entertaining. I've mentioned them in another post but it here it goes again: horrendous camera system, terrible and tiny UI, least reliable autosave ever (lost about 5h in total and more importantly ended up supporting a faction I didn't want to in Act 1), bad AI and lengthy loading (10seconds to load a 3 room building on an SSD?!). While I (to my surprise) got used to that feeling of struggling against the engine in order to progress in the game, even after finishing it I can't say this wouldn't have been better in 2D or another medium altogether, at times it felt like the game agreed.

By contrast DA:O was both easier to play (regardless of rulesets) despite the evidently similar engine and some of the origins were as good as any part of the game. Unless the (Dnd)ruleset is by far the most important part of a game for some I am somewhat baffled by the various projects that sough to recreate games in the NWN2 engine.

With that said, the game does get much better. Act 2 (and a large part of Act 3) is genuinely good in all respects and while the city of Neverwinter never turns into a memorable hub the questing done in and around it in that part of the game is of a high quality. My playing routines are a testimony to how much the game improved, Act 1 took me ~10 days of on and off play while the subsequent Acts took me 3 and 1/2 days of (almost) non-stop play. Despite the wasted hours the length is one of the game's strong points.

The gameplay is solid, if unspectacular. The (implementation of the) ruleset is obviously the selling point, with the depth, complexity and sheer amount of different combat approaches pretty much trumping your average cRPG by an order of magnitude. The game's items and crafting are similarly intricate. For anyone big on those specific aspect of cRPGs the game must have been a goldmine. One minor complaint from my part if the (possibly set by the difficulty level?) ability to rest pretty much anywhere. My fairly basic wizard never run out of spells and I feel like I hardly exploited that particular mechanism.

From Act 2 onward the quests were mostly interesting. Most of them (obviously) led to resolution by combat but there were about half a dozen puzzles included and numerous chances to resolve quests through dialogue. Unfortunately any skill checks were usually insta-win options and there was little of the famous Obsidian reactivity. Much like the (binary) treatment of morality and the quality of writing, NWN2 wasn't bad by the industry or the genre standards but it was underwhelming in comparison to their own work.

I suspect the designers intended the companions to be the showcase of the game's reactivity. However the fact that more than half of the 12 (!) companions were either not interesting or simply annoying coupled with my intention to roleplay rather than powerplay and babysit each one of them meant that when that reactivity mattered in the main-quest I simply nodded in indifference to the [Infuence: Success/Failure] the game started throwing at me. In fact the only Act 1 companion I bothered dragging with me was Khelgar (the dwarf) and stuck to the 2 most developed by the main quest (Sand, Jerro) + the Gith (due to my fondness of Dak'kon) whenever possible. With that said props to Obsidian for designing the most annoying companion yet (Qara) and
Spoiler – slight ending spoiler
Grobnar is also memorable, must have been fun to write.

As far as the story is concerned it's your typical fight the bad guy thing. In comparison to DA:O's they come up about even with DA winning on the details of the story and NWN2 handling the sequence of events better. It's (I guess) fairly epic but the lack of any significant twists or any involving qualities (was I supposed to care about Shandra?) ranks it lower that most decently written RPGs. All in all the story is worth your time but it's not something that one just has to experience.

As far as art direction is concerned I found the OC to be somewhat bland. The music is forgetable although it's possible the lack of dramatic highs or lows undersells it and the locations are, with a handful of exceptions, standard generic middle-age forests, buildings, caves and crypts. It's again possible that Faerūn is to blame but when your engine is so limiting in terms of immersion your art department better make up for that.

A couple of sidenotes:
  • As far as the scripts are concerned the game was mostly bug-free. I only noticed about 5-6 occasions and they were at best immersion breaking. Some scripts needed a reload to initiate but given the scale of the game that's pretty forgivable. The most annoying pure bug was the rubberbanding that plagued my prefered camera mode but as with every other engine problem I got used to it.
  • Given how often it's been mentioned in the Kickstarter campaign I guess Crossroads Keep is worth a word but I just found it a decent time/money sink. It's infinitely better than the stupid minigames every other RPG has but apart from that it's merely a good excuse to revisit certain places.

All in all I'd give the OC a 8.7 for a good, lengthy but not particularly memorable or exceptional RPG experience. I'm looking past the issues in ¶ 2-4 (as it ultimately wasn't unplayable) and concentrating mostly on the good qualities (or their lack). I can see how this can be 9+ game for someone who only cares about Dnd or a 7ish game for anyone not into the kind of RPGs that Obsidian and Bioware develop.

I'd just like to interject here and point out that I'm not going to say anything to spoil the mood, Chief. I'll just float here and watch. Don't mind me, just sitting here, floating and watching, that's me.
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