With all types of hype surrounding it, as well as media coverage, Neverwinter Nights became a legendary game even before its release – including to non-PC gamers such as myself. I became familiar with its name due to countless hours of utterly annoying babble between my PC gamer friends. And though it sparked an interest in me, I passed it off for two reasons: its D&D-based structure and the fact that, well, my PC was only comparable to a giant stone with a TV on it.
Of course, as fate would have it, I find myself with a pocket full of cash and the desire to own a computer capable of performing as it was meant to – as an efficient machine. So I purchased a new computer, rocking out to video cards and processors that met today’s standards and even surpassed them a tiny bit, along with a handful of games that I’d figure deserved their chance. Amongst those was Neverwinter Nights. I figured I could take this game on with the best of mind, as I have no previous standards for PC games, and only experience in Diablo (for that was all my PC could run). It would be the ultimate judgment…sort of. The game would be either fun, enjoyable, and a worthy experience…or a waste of my fifty-five dollars.
I’m glad to announce that it ended up being the former.
Despite a mediocre, D&D-restricted plotline and overdramatic dialogue, the game still manages to offer enough of interest to keep players’ captivated throughout the bulk of the game. Anyone looking to delve into a story of unmatched intricacy and more twist and turns then, say, Xenogears, should either turn back now or tone down their expectations, though. As stated earlier, it carries a D&D-based plot. There are no deeper truths, or religious pretenses for hiding mechanical demons. The game is black and white, good versus evil, and as straightforward as they come. Despite this cliché premise, however, it can still be entertaining for those who accept the game for what it is, simple yet satisfying. Things begin at a slow pace, which may or may not dissuade some players from continuing, but once you get past the first mission – to discover the cause of Peninsula District’s prison-break and quell the danger, the game becomes less tedious and more explorative. And once the first chapter of the game is cleared, things pick up on a good foot and the rest of the way is smooth sailing. For fans of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms series, most of the environments should be familiar, particularly the city of Luskan, often-frequented by the Drow warrior, Drizzt Do’Urden. Perhaps the illustrious outcast Drow makes an appearance in the game…?
As promised, the game does offer eighty hours of gameplay, although this is only for those who are willing to take on the game’s slew of sidequests. Even without participating in these optional journeys, the game is still an impressive 50-60 hours long, which is a nice break from the recent plethora of short RPGs on consoles. And if that isn’t enough, the game offers an expansive campaign builder toolset. For those with serious ideas and a seriously large amount of time on their hands, a lot of great things can come out of this. Almost every aspect of the game can be altered or customized. And as surely as any other toolset, players are discovering ways to bend the rules and create even further customization. One example of the editor’s potential is the currently in works Final Fantasy: NWN (Neverwinter Nights). The game is to be based on Final Fantasy 1’s storyline, although alterations will be made for it to fit seamlessly into Neverwinter Nights’ already established classes and races. In addition, it is said that there will be voice acting added to the game’s revised dialogue, updating to the storyline, and of course, a redone soundtrack as well. It’s projects like these that could make NWN go on forever and ever. And much in the style of Counter-Strike’s rise to fame through a mod of Half-Life, you can be assured that someone down the road will do the same using this game’s campaign editor of near-infinite possibilities.
The menu is done in a fairly well-organized fashion, with hot keys for most actions you’ll want performed quickly spanning the F-buttons (F1-F12), with 24 additional spaces when Alt or Control are held. Inventory is sorted through allocating different sized items into the item grid, along with keeping a careful eye on your character’s weight to keep him/her from being encumbered. Unfortunately, the amount of user-interaction in battles is practically nonexistent. Once battle is engaged, the only options you have are to use status-enhancing items or potions, along with healing paraphernalia. There are different methods of attacking; such as long-range through use of bows and projectiles, and strategy-based attacks by magic-users, but in the end it’s just a matter of selecting your target and keeping a careful watch of your life bar. Additional party members’ are controlled by simple commands that are accessible by right-clicking their character model. Guard Me, Attack Nearest Enemy, Stand Your Ground; these are just a few examples of the handful of commands at your disposal. Unfortunately, as none of them are too specific, don’t find it surprising to see your additional party member running off to do combat before you are even ready, or lagging behind you with uncertainty. For the hero, movement is regulated by the typical point-and-click movement system: do such where you want to go, and the little man obeys. Isn’t he obedient? Of course, due to a less-than-perfect pathfinding, you might find your little buddy caught on something as silly as a burning corpse. For less patient players, the all-too well-known keyboard configuration of A-S-D-W can be wielded instead. Most of the gameplay mechanics should be roughly familiar to any Baldur’s Gate veterans.
Visually, however, there is an undisputed difference between Neverwinter Nights and the previous Forgotten Realms installments. Boasting graphics of a caliber similar to the first EverQuest’s, Neverwinter Nights has all the room to brag. Unfortunately, in comparison to its competition in games, especially the newest expansion of EQ, the graphics fall short due to low polygon models with only 10 tilesets. The character models are well constructed and permit decent room for customization, with twenty some-odd hair and skin colors, a handful of races, two genders (Naturally…nothin’ weird, folks, sorry), and varying appearances in armor throughout the game. Each design is finely detailed and shaped, with adornments such as rings and chain mail that become noticeable when the game is zoomed in on. This is countered by another unfortunate drag in rendering, with the absence of even cloaks. Environments are strong, however, with particular detail in the lighting and shadow effects seen throughout the game. The game is very demanding on a computer, and runs at its basics on an nVidia TNT2. Computers sporting a GeForce 2 or higher should find everything running smoothly, however. Just as the box says, Pentium II’s or higher for processors, and be sure to have sufficient ram (128MB is enough).
Overall, the score to the game is fairly unimpressive, but nevertheless solid and suitable. Much like the game itself, the music has an overdramatic feel to it. One Weak Zombie is attacking you, yet the music explodes as if it were some kind of impenetrable Golem were stomping forth to bring about your demise. But being a devoted Mitsuda fan and a bit of a musician myself, I find my standards are rather high. Despite all this, the music isn’t a distraction, or irritable, which is what matters in the end. The sound effects to the game fit in perfectly, from the gruesome sound of organs being spilled across the floor at the death of an undead foe to the sickening hack of flesh from the blow of your weapon, everything coincides with the action being performed. The voice acting in the game is solid, well spoken and delivered, although it follows the general overdramatic theme to the whole game. For me, though, that allowed for the cracking of smiles and amusement that made the game even more enjoyable. It’s just a note! Calm down! OH BY THE GODS, THIS NOTE…THIS NOTE…IS THE RECIPE FOR BREAD! …Right…
What it all comes down to is the reinstatement of enjoyable, solid gameplay and fun-factor in a game over story. It’s become the trend lately for games to lack high-quality gameplay in favor for what is perceived to be in-your-face captivating plot, although for the most part it turns out to be convoluted and a tangled web of good ideas that just don’t mix well. Thankfully, NWN places its simple, yet effective plot as a stable backbone and piles on loads of interactivity and gameplay possibilities for players to enjoy, ensuring that the game will persevere in popularity and interest for years to come. All that will take is a little ingenuity from those who are willing to devote their time to the construction of smart, creative add-ons…or expansions from BioWare, much in the style of EQ. High price aside, what the game delivers and promises in the future is well worth your fifty-five dollars…and then some. Enjoy.