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Neverwinter Nights 2 OC Review

by Corwin, 2007-04-29

It doesn’t seem all that long ago, that Bioware launched its original NWN game and in some ways, turned the way we play RPG’s on its head. With two expansion packs, literally thousands of community created modules and the opportunity to play co-operatively online with several friends, the game set a new benchmark in value for money. Now, the spiritual successor to Black Isle Studios - Obsidian - has released NWN 2 in much the same way it produced KoTOR 2 a couple of years ago. How then does it measure up?

To be honest, out of the box, in many ways it doesn’t. While the Official Campaign that ships with the game is easily far better than the original one, (which wouldn’t be difficult), I found playing it one frustrating annoyance after another. Yes, design decisions and sloppy execution can ruin what should have been an excellent game.

Let’s address the ‘out of the box’ issues first. We all expect that a newly released game will have issues that require patching. NWN 2 is no exception, though while some things didn’t work quite as expected, I didn’t encounter any major game stopping crash bugs. That was a pleasant change. However, as a person who runs regular online campaigns, the lack of the DM client ‘out of the box’ - while being previously announced - still is not good enough. I’ve heard all the excuses but, I’m sorry, they still don’t wash with me. What I paid for wasn’t in the box and as I write is still being fixed. In any other business, the managers in charge would likely get fired.

The game is ugly; the characters in the game are especially ugly. Without mentioning the assorted merits of Oblivion, comparing the two games graphically is like comparing chalk and cheese. Gothic 3, despite its flaws, is a far more attractive game to play. Yes, it’s an improvement over the original, but then it was an ugly game too. I couldn’t find even ONE character portrait I liked and had to settle for the one I found least revolting. Surely this could have been easily addressed.

Still, graphics aren’t everything. The game’s the thing. Gameplay, strategy, character development, combat, and story; that’s what we want in an RPG. Sadly, much of that is missing, poorly implemented or generic and trite. Certainly, the game has tried to be as faithful as possible to the D&D 3.5 ruleset, and within the limitations of a CRPG has done a good job of implementing them, especially for the main character. The idea of offering a larger variety of companions from which to choose, and having them cover all the major classes available was good. It’s the effective implementation that is weak.

In a well-balanced and organised game, the skills of the companions would complement those of the player character, since no PC can master all the important skills. However, the vast majority of the skill choices you make for the NPC’s at level up, are totally wasted, since only the PC seems to be able to use them. Let me offer a simple example: I built up the Diplomacy skill with one NPC and ignored it with my PC who was (in my mind) a very blunt, in-your-face type of person. However, all conversations were only involving my PC, no matter how hard I tried to have this other character do the talking. What a joke! If something needed to be done, only the PC could do it, except in rare circumstances such as the arena fight.

More frustrations: I played a caster and in one section had with me a tank, a druid and a second caster. Imagine my horror when we entered an area where magic wouldn’t work, without prior warning. I could have reloaded with a different group, but that’s not how I play. Tactics; what tactics? I enjoy tactical combat, as opposed to hack and slash. So what happens with NWN 2? You set up your tactics; casters to the rear, tanks up front, with your tanks held so the casters can drop in a couple of ‘softening up’ area of effect spells, and what happens? Up pops a cutscene that destroys all your work and when it’s over, your casters are in the front line and you’re surrounded by enemies. My screams of anger and frustration could be heard far and wide.

The game was clearly rushed and therefore, sections are both inconsistent - as if different people did them, but didn’t have time to ‘blend’ it all together properly - or just plain sloppy. In one section, a key (though dead) character has a name change. One poorly implemented section has two guards outside a house guarding someone you are asked to escort to safety. Inside the house there’s about fifty thieves waiting to attack you - how they got past the guards unseen is a mystery. After you despatch all of these, and find your target, he’s in a room with the head thief honcho, who still hasn’t killed him. She needed all those men for one merchant and you still manage to rescue him. It’s just silly.

Another annoyance. Parts of the game force you to use certain NPC’s. While I can accept that it’s a device for helping tell the story, I don’t have to like it, especially when it happens so often. If the AI allowed you to ignore these NPC’s, it wouldn’t be too bad, but the AI in this game seems almost non-existent.

Praise the Lord for Puppet Mode. Without it, the game would be unplayable - the programming for the default behaviours of the NPC’s is dreadful. Imagine, you have this highly intelligent druid with martial abilities and a powerful array of spells. Along comes some conflict and what does she do? Summon some beasts to help; call down lightning from the heavens; turn them to stone? No, she transforms into a badger and gets herself killed in no time. Asinine! The predilections of Qara to destroy everyone in a blazing conflagration have been written about everywhere. You have to micromanage your NPC’s or suffer the consequences. A classic: the Warlock (who I have no idea how to use effectively) has at one point to read something out loud. However, unless you park him away from everyone and give him explicit instructions (despite his reminding you to protect him while he does it), he’ll leap into battle and quickly get killed.

The interface is clunky and cumbersome. The mini-map is useless and actually annoying. Targeting is a royal pain and characters frequently get boxed in or stuck. I find the casting menu to be awkward and I miss the simplicity of the original. Inventory management is difficult and things tend to get lost quite easily. Movement can be confusing and I lost track of the number of times I ended up running in the wrong direction trying to click on a place on the map.

The list could go on and on, yet it’s really not a ‘bad’ game, just one that needed more time and a lot more playtesting by gamers. There’s so much potential here and I’m very hopeful that the modding community will do wonders with it. I’ll certainly buy any expansions and I expect to be playing online mods with friends for many years, but just as in the original, the OC is a disappointment.

Box Art

Information about

Neverwinter Nights 2

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

SP/MP: Single + MP
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Pausable Real-time
Play-time: 40-60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
World
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2006-10-31
· Publisher: Atari

More information


Other articles

Summary

Pros

  • Full party really improves the gameplay
  • Interesting story after the first 20 hours
  • Detailed Stronghold scenario
  • Longevity - MP, toolset, mods

Cons

  • Poor performance on many PCs
  • Litany of interface and AI issues
  • Linear campaign with a slow start
  • Reliance on cut scenes and forced party members
  • Many feats not useable by party members

Rating

Review version

1.02 - 1.05

Opinions from other editors

While I read Corwin's review of Neverwinter Nights 2, I was nodding my head in agreement at most of the items he complained about. Yet, we have very different overall opinions on the game, as it was one of my favorite games of 2006. How can that be? Simple - interpretation. How much does something bother you about a game? If you are a stickler for accurate translations, then a game where the grammar is terrible and the dialog being voiced doesn't match the written description will drive you insane pretty quickly; someone not concerned with such things will simply gloss over them. This can extend as far as someone liking a truly awful game such as Dungeon Lords or not liking an excellent game such as Baldur's Gate 2, based on a single non-central element. Neverwinter Nights 2 is not the apogee of role-playing games, but it is certainly not the nadir.

There are some clear issues with the game - it is very linear, the party system conflicts with the focus on the main character and cutscene-driven story telling - and the overall performance is not very good. But the combat system is refined from the original game and the party system offers an excellent level of interaction and development - the overall experience includes working with your party and developing your stronghold in addition to the main story and side quests. Your opinion of this game will be strongly influenced by your opinion of the original Neverwinter Nights and also the relative importance you place on single player versus multiplayer campaigns. I loved the original NWN and have greatly enjoyed the expansions, premium modules and user content that have come along in the years since. It seems that NWN 2 is lagging in terms of focus on the multiplayer experience, but the developers are patching the game quickly and I'm confident that you will still have the game on your system three years from now, with extra modules and content piled all over the place. I am encouraged that despite some initial concerns we are starting to get some user-created content. I am further heartened by the obvious commitment Obsidian has already shown through their extensive patches to date - each one significantly reduces the bugs and problems while also improving performance and taking user suggestions into account. It is a game that I heartily recommend - while also sharing many of the concerns Corwin addresses, just to a much lesser degree.

- Mike "txa1265" Anderson



It's amazing how ideas that look great on paper don't always work in practice. When I first read that Obsidian's campaign would require the unknown player to work to gain favour and win influence with those that counted, it sounded appealing. The reality is the execution didn't quite match the concept and the first 20 hours of NWN 2 are tedious. Fortunately, the slumbering story suddenly awakes with Chapter Two and quickly gathers pace, plus a deeper crafting system and the player Stronghold scenario add some texture and diversity as the game progresses. Sure, you're (once again) chasing a McGuffin to defeat an Ancient Evil but chunks of the story are rooted in politics and human events that are quite interesting, despite the linearity and annoyances such as forced party member changes.

On the other hand the interface is straight from hell and has me bashing my head on the desk in frustration. Every one of Corwin's points is valid and then some. The addition of a real party lifts the single-player gameplay well above the original NWN and, at times, you'll smile as a moment of classic party-based goodness shines through - but then you'll come crashing down when the lack of formation controls has your puny mage up front blocking the door and the melee tanks head off in the opposite direction - perhaps off to the tavern for a stiff drink. The latest v1.05 patch adds some welcome functionality (finally! Select all and rubberbanding) but the beta implementation still has a long way to go and exposes other shortcomings that Baldur's Gate had down pat nearly 10 years ago.

Obsidian is working hard with updates and the underlying improvements make NWN 2 a much better single-player game than the original, not to mention the potential of community mods once some of the toolset roadblocks are sorted out.

- Brian "Dhruin" Turner