Probably like anyone who's experienced the pen and paper version of Dungeons and Dragons, I counted the days for the game that would change the face of RPG for all time. High expectations? Yes. Deservingly so? You bet. Best PC RPG of this year? Bar none.
Ok, ok…so I'm a little biased being a long time AD&D PnP (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Pen and Paper) fan, but does that make me harder or softer on, what is supposed to be, an almost direct port to the PC? Honestly? I think I was rather harsh on the game, yet still came out of the experience with a grin from ear to ear.
Using the 3rd edition rules and the settings of the Forgotten Realms, the game feels a lot like Baldur's Gate. The biggest difference (and most noticeable) is probably the limitations of your party and the control you have over their actions. Allowing only a henchman and 1 companion (summoned or otherwise), the game will seem frustrating at first, but this adds a whole element of strategy into the mix that will outshine any initial struggles you have. And if you find yourself overwhelmed, just hit the pause button and take a deep breath, compose yourself, assign multiple tasks for your character and let the games continue!
Because of the 3rd edition rules, characters can be customized like never before. Gone is the random stats generator that has you sitting at your computer hitting the "reroll" button and welcome to the PBS (Point Buy System). You start out with 8 on all your ability scores and have to "buy" stats with a set number of points. This makes for a very even playing field and keeps people (like myself) from trying to get as many 18s as possible. Once you're done shopping, your race modifier kicks in and voila! You have your stats, but have no fear…these are far from being set in stone. As you progress in level, you'll be given more points to show the growth you've gained through experience.
Also, we have the Feats and Special Class Abilities to further individualize ourselves. Feats are features that distinguish your character. From what type of armour he can wear to which weapons he can use. This helps you immerse into your character. Anything from "Sneak Attack" for rogues to "Turn Undead" for paladins and clerics make up the class specific abilities.
To differentiate yourself even more from those of your class, we have Skills. These are actions or knowledge your character has of a given area. These all have Skill Checks that will determine the success of a given action. Every level, you'll be able to progress in a particular skill in order to improve your success rate.
Probably its biggest flaw is the very predictable story that Neverwinter Nights offer with the single player campaign. I don't remember ever being surprised at the plot twists, which is not a good thing at all. You play through, mostly just to see if the story would unfold the way you think it will, and it always did in my case.
This is not to say that the story was weak or lacking in entertainment. It was a good, solid story, but I didn't feel the effort put into it. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from a game that was made primarily for the world of Multiplayer…At least they tried to explain why YOU had to play hero while Aribeth sat on her hands and watched.
Not the best graphics I've ever seen, but I've seen far, far worse. It's nothing special superficially, but give it some time, it'll grow on you. The little touches are what make this game so great visually. The 3D environment is rather detailed given the fact that you could use their Toolset to recreate virtually anything you have in your mind. The lighting is done perfectly and the way characters fight in the game is impressive, though only at first. You actually see your character dodge, block and even jump over attacks and likewise with the enemies.
Great tracks give mood and soul to this game. Though the music goes quiet (almost a whisper), it was there and it set the tone for the area you were venturing quite nicely. I won't rush out for the soundtrack, but I'd understand why some would.
The sound effects were well done and I have no complaints about them at all. This is quite the compliment because it's so seamless that you forget its there.
As for vocals, well, Aribeth was well done. The actor had the perfect voice and rarely overacted her part. This can't be said for many others, but most of them don't do enough talking to get on your nerves.
I think this is one of the best controls on a PC game. If you're a long time Baldur's Gate fan, you'll pick this up in a few minutes. If you're a complete newbie to the PC RPG world, you'll pick the controls up minutes after the vets do. The controls are just that simple and straightforward. Just how simple you ask? I had my eight year old sister (who has never played games period) sit down and go through the tutorial in the beginning of the single player campaign. Within 10 minutes, she was walking around and killing goblins as though she had played for days.
The Radial Menu has got to be the easiest menu system ever created. Just right click on anything you'd like, and a ring menu pops up and gives you all the actions you can do. This makes for very fast command assignments. Once you know where everything is, you'll be amazed as to how quickly you fly through the menu.
Use the F1 to F12 in combination with the "ctrl" and "alt" keys for your quickbar and you have 32 shortcuts that can be made to do any number of actions. From casting a spell, to switching armour and weapons, this makes your gaming experience that much less stressful.
The one bone about the controls I need to pick on and the reason why it didn't get a perfect score is the inventory system. Sure, you can hold a lot more items than Diablo 2, and you have bags upon bags to increase the space you have, but moving items around is hell and then some. The game won't automatically swap the item in your hand with the item you're overlapping. Meaning? Unlike Diablo 2, you need to have enough room in your inventory in order to put the item you mean to swap or it drops to the floor. This gets annoying when you get further into the game and start to horde magical items (yes, I love to horde purdy rings!!).
Throw in the super powerful and easy to use toolset and the DM client and what do you get? Easily the greatest PC RPG of all time. With ambitious game designers and a load of DMs to experience, this is one of those games that will last for years to come (or so I hope).
Was Neverwinter Nights worth the long wait? I'd say so. Should you play the single player campaign before jumping into the multiplayer aspect of the game? I'd recommend it. Was it worth the 90 bucks (I'm Canadian) price tag after taxes? Without a doubt.