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March 3rd, 2014, 09:35
I honestly don't know if I enjoyed Neverwinter Nights 2 or not. The game made me rage or facepalm to almost equal degree to the times when I was just happily adventuring. Every time I got comfortable it would throw me a complete curveball from planet insane and just as I was considering quitting it would deliver me a nice enjoyable quest or awesome piece of equipment.

The game's 2 biggest flaws are cut-scenes and combat, and when the two merge it's catastrophic.

Cut-scenes

The game likes cut-scenes so much that there are three different types of cut-scene. There are the unskipable ones where you just sit and watch some plot playing out (there's an awful lot of this). There are dialogues within these cut-scenes which consist of you having lots of options which, quite literally, include the line "can you get to the point, please" as an option, which are skipable but you might miss opportunities to gain party influence (there's an awful lot of these). And then there's also the old fashioned small-box dialogues which just appear as a black-box in the top left hand corner of the screen (there's an awful lot of these).

The following quest scenario best typifies how the game flows in this regard: A big cut-scene has the king tell you to get help from various neighbouring forces, to make allies. Another cut-scene tells you how to get the Wendersnaven's to help you. You then go and talk to some people who tell you about the Wendersnavens. You then go to the Wendersnaven map, which consists of one field in one screen. Upon entering the screen/map you get a cut-scene. You then walk to the middle of the map and find an invisible bard instrument. Your bard then talks to you. As you exit the map a small group of Orc trash mobs ambush you. Quest complete.

If the quest had been one character giving you the map and the quest and if you didn't take the bard with you then this would have been maybe 10 minutes of game. Instead, it's been stretched to about an hour via various 'interaction' tools. If you expand this over the entire game you will soon realise that the game is pretty much just one long pre-made movie which asks you interact with it every now and then. If the plot/story was interesting enough, then fine, but most of the cut-scenes and dialogue are so 'yadda yadda yadda' for the sake of 'yadda yadda yadda' as to be pretty mind numbing:

"You are not my daughter"
"aren't I?"
"No"
"Why not"
"I can't tell you at this point in time"
"Why not"
"Because it wouldn't help"
"Why not"
"That's not for me to say"
"Why not"
yadda-yadda-yadda

Combat

The combat in the game is, for the most part, a complete joke. It's real-time combat with some turn-based mechanics and some time-based mechanics. Some buffs will last 'per round' and some buffs will last 'per second'. The monsters will attack you on site and in less time than it takes to cast one buff. If you pre-buff too much in advance the buff will have worn off by the time you get into a fight, especially if you get met with a cut-scene instead of an immediate fight. The minions don't require any buffs, where as the bosses often do, hence the irritation around the cut-scenes/buffing issue. The game does not pause while in dialogue.

Your hero's party is controlled by AI by default. This AI is so absurdly dumb as to be insanity causing. The Druid will wild-shape within two or three rounds rather than keep it as a last resort. The mage and cleric will run into combat rather than hang-back and cast 'when needed', both of them using up all their spells on minion goblins and have nothing big left for the end bosses. The rogue will run into battle first, even from a position of shadowed. They will all run over traps that have already been identified. No-one will ever kite. The only thing the AI can cope with is melee, because melee is easy - run in and fight something.

You can manipulate the AI to a certain extent via 'character controls' but controlling them yourself is going to be an even bigger headache and verging on the sadomasochistic as the camera hops around each person you select, never allowing you one simple bird's eye view of the entire battlefield. Also, if you do try your hardest to turn off the AI, the AI is then too much the other way as, for example, a fighter in the middle of a pack of one-shot minions will simply stand motionless unless instructed to attack a new opponent after each kill. It's pretty much the worst of both worlds, you can have either utterly inept AI or completely user-unfriendly no AI, either way you'll be swearing like a mofo.

Conclusion

Since pretty much all of the game is either conversations or fighting, it's quite amazing that the game ballses both of them up in equal measure.

The really weird thing is that, somehow, the game has an element of joy about it. I honestly don't know why or how, but it remains playable (in the most part) and a lot of this playtime can be very enjoyable indeed.

I think it's because of the core D&D rules and because of the traditional familiarities the game offers within a well designed and pretty landscape. The character and monster variety is varied and well designed, the character skill-development is deep and absorbing, the loot is rewarding and everything seems to be balanced fairly well (not really well, just fairly well).

It's as if, as a player, you know there's a great game here and so you put up a mental block to all the 'nonsense' the game gives you in order that you can get on with leveling, gearing, boss-killing, party influencing and general quest resolution.

The game is too long by half though and I was more than ready for the end-boss at the castle fight stage. To put it into perspective, one of my save files was titled 'Act 6' before the game told me that I had just entered Act 3…
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