Reviewed: November 23, 2006
Released: October 31, 2006
There are role-playing games and then there are AD&D role-playing games and anyone who has played the table-top game knows the difference, and so do the wizards at Obsidian Entertainment. They have gone to painstaking detail to make Neverwinter Nights 2 the most in-depth and detailed RPG the computer has seen to date.
Making use of the latest AD&D 3.5 rule set, Neverwinter Nights 2 will put table-top gamers right at ease as they slip into comfortable character creation, combat rules, skills, and all the other complexities that make these role-playing experiences so compelling and so addicting. And what better place to start than by placing your game in the hugely popular Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms universe created by Wizards of the Coast.
Bards sing tales of heroes from ages past, but never have the Forgotten Realms so desperately needed a champion. Years have passed since the war between Luskan and Neverwinter, almost enough time for the wounds of war to heal. But the brief peace the Realms have known may be at an end. Tension growing between the mighty city-states means the Sword Coast again teeters on the edge of open war. Unnoticed, a greater danger stalks the City of Skilled Hands.
Unbeknownst to the denizens of the North, deep in the Mere of Dead Men, dark forces from across the Realms have been rallied under the banner of a legendary evil. If left unchallenged, all of the North is doomed to fall under its power. Even in this darkest hour, hope remains. A mysterious relic is borne to Neverwinter in the hands of a lone hero so that its secrets may be unlocked - secrets that carry the fate of all the North. So begins an epic tale of shattered alliances, noble acts and dark deeds to be told across the Realms for generations to come. This is Neverwinter Nights 2.
Neverwinter Nights 2 features:
Neverwinter Nights 2 takes players back to the embattled city of Neverwinter and features more than 10 new companions that players will encounter and join in their ongoing adventures in the lands of Faerun. Players will be able to select up to three additional companions to adventure with at any particular time. Along with the larger party size comes increased companion complexity in all aspects from enhanced usefulness and combat effectiveness to dramatically improved personalities, dialogue and story background.
The most notable improvement to the party dynamic is that you now have full control of each party member, allowing you to dictate their actions in combat as well as personalize their inventories and equipped items. While this is nothing new to gamers used to RPG’s like Dungeon Siege, it has been long overdue in the Neverwinter Nights series.
In addition, companions in Neverwinter Nights 2 take full advantage of the game’s complex influence system, which dramatically alters the player characters’ alignment and the world’s reaction to the player based upon the actions and choices made during the course of game play. Just as the world will change based upon the player’s actions, companions will also react directly to the player characters’ alignment and the decisions they make. The more a companion trusts the player the more likely it will share its history, fears and even secrets. Likewise, the more divergent the player’s point of view is from a companion, the greater the potential for loss of influence and, in some cases, may even lead to the companion abandoning the player during gameplay.
Companions are much more than just a simple collection of statistics and abilities. They provide the player with a dynamic insight into the game’s storyline as well as a source of additional entertainment. By allowing more companions to accompany the player, plus the addition of direct companion control, and much more robust companion storylines and interactions, not to mention the romance possibilities, Obsidian has brought Neverwinter Nights 2 to “life” like no other RPG before it.
In Neverwinter Nights 2, players will also have the ability to select and control companion actions including guiding their spell selections, attacks, and other special abilities. Players can also simply allow each companion’s advanced artificial intelligence to take over, which will ensure an appropriate response to any given situation. In addition, each companion in Neverwinter Nights 2 has also been designed to fill both a role-playing personality role as well as a specific class support role. No matter what class a player chooses to start with, the selection of available companions will allow players to balance out their party to reflect the style of play they prefer.
Some of the first companions players will come across in Neverwinter Nights 2 include:
Neeshka (Neutral, Tiefling, Rogue) -- Part demon and part human, Neeshka has had a tough life. She has been raised most of her life as a ward of the Church of Helm, and from childhood to today she’s been in one sort of trouble or another. Tieflings are often noble figures who fight to redeem themselves despite people’s initial prejudices. However, Neeshka doesn’t have a heart of gold, or some inner core of virtue, she’s just trouble at heart. She’s a cute sort of trouble, though. She fuels the perception of Tieflings as worrisome imps good for nothing but headaches.
Elanee (Neutral Good, Wood Elf, Druid) -- A child of the forest, fickle and fae – Elanee is a wood elf druid who watches over the Mere of Dead Men. Elanee is not quite of this world, and is more at home in the realm of forests and mires than she ever will be in civilization. She has tremendous courage and a fiery temper, as well. She views the world with a strange newness – which is at odds with her often-wise counsel. She also sees deeper into people than they suspect.
Neverwinter Nights 2 is a massive game and with great size comes the challenge to keep the player interested for the weeks and months required to complete the main narrative. To that end, the designers have packed in a substantial number of side-quests and even managed to integrate them into the main plot with some interesting premises and back stories of their own.
The addition of the player stronghold adds a bit of simulation to the role-playing. Once you acquire your castle you will need to locate and hire all sorts of staff to repair, maintain, and inhabit your property. It’s a good idea to make mental notes of possible hires during your adventure, even prior to obtaining your stronghold. There are some pretty cool people (and creatures) you can get to work for you.
Despite the attempt to some clever features to the standard RPG experience, Neverwinter Nights 2 ultimately devolves into the expected dungeon crawl and level grind experience that has plagued the genre from the beginning, but at least this games masks the tedium with a rich story and fantastic dialogue. Plus, with the new added control over your companions, there is a vast amount of decision-making and combat options available if you decide to forego the AI and take manual control over your party.
One place where Neverwinter Nights 2 fails miserably is in the inventory management system. It took Dungeon Siege a few tries to get their system perfected but I’m pretty sure it’s not copyrighted, so while not “borrow” what works so well in that game. Instead, with no community inventory and no sorting ability you have to micromanage each character’s pack individually, and when it comes time to swap out a companion with somebody new you’ll spend a lot longer than you should have to getting everyone properly equipped, and it really detracts from the overall fantasy experience.
One thing I did notice was that the game was too easy, and I’m not the best RPG player in the world, so I’m guessing that more experienced role-players might find the game way too easy. There definitely seems to be some balancing issues, mostly with the player getting access to spells and leveling up too quickly for the monsters to provide even a basic challenge. If you have any RPG experience I’d recommend cranking up the difficulty setting as high as it goes.
Actually playing the game is quite intuitive with a nice combination of mouse and keyboard inputs. If you have a gaming keyboard like the Logitech G15 you can really put those macro buttons to great use. As expected with any RPG, there is a wealth of information and data that you have to sort through to play the game and it is presented in an accessible and functional series of screens and commands.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Neverwinter Nights 2 is the level builder, which basically puts the entire toolset used to create the core game on every gamer's desktop. Not only can you build massive outdoor environments with the drag-and-drop terrain editor, you can populate these worlds with buildings and dungeons of your own design and fill them with hundreds of monsters. The character, item, and monster database is second only to Stormreach.
And while it might be beyond the scope of casual designers, you can actually go in and create complex scripts and actions, record your own dialogue, and create your own conversation trees. Never before has the creativity of the tabletop game been represented so well in electronic form. The only limit in Neverwinter Nights 2 is your imagination, and it will be exciting to see what the talented RPG community can add to the Neverwinter experience.
I also need to compliment the designers on their 177-page manual that gives you detailed info on the AD&D rules, Player’s Handbook, and all sorts of charts and tables. In this day and age of PDF manuals or no manuals at all it was refreshing to actually have a book to hold and refer to during the game.
Neverwinter Nights 2 is a good-looking game for the most part. There is some nice terrain, foliage, water, rocks, and ambient wildlife, but it never really achieves that level of greatness you would expect from a game with such rigid system requirements. You’ll be lulled into a sense of complacency with a few occasional WOW moments, which usually involve the use of magic.
Spells and all the flashy colorful effects that go along with them are the only truly memorable moments when it comes to the graphics. Cities are built around repetitive sequences of buildings and interiors, while still better than most RPG’s, are sparsely populated and include just enough furnishings to make them believable.
I saw no huge difference going from a system that matched the recommended system requirements to one that doubled or tripled them. There were a few framerate issues that magically vanished when I started playing on the upgraded system, but overall textures and details don’t seem to scale on a level that would justify the expense of those upgrades.
There also seems to be some camera issues. While you have full control over the camera during gameplay, the computer takes over for the in-game cutscenes and the results range from embarrassing to humorous. You might end up with a view that is focused on a wall or even an empty screen, as characters might walk off camera. The scripting that drives the animation doesn’t always match the voice so characters might be looking away or at the wrong person during a conversation.
There are just several sloppy mistakes and an overall lack of polish. It’s nothing that cannot be fixed in a future patch but it shouldn’t have made it past the initial QA process, especially on a major, and much-anticipated release as this.
The soundtrack for Neverwinter Nights 2 is fantastic with a wonderful orchestral score that is constantly in flux with the gameplay. You get these enchanting melodies while you explore the land then things ramp up with some serious combat music. They even mix in some great vocals to cap off a great musical experience.
The sound effects are spot on with the clash and clanking of swords and armor and all of the expected sounds of wildlife and ambient nature, water, wind, the rustling of foliage or the crackling the fire or the creaking of stone. As with the visuals, the spells are your best source of stunning sound effects that match the fiery graphics perfectly.
The voice work is perhaps some of the best I’ve heard on the PC in quite some time. While you do get to read a lot of the script, just as much of it is spoken with professional (or professional sounding) voice actors who deliver their lines with all the appropriate emotion and accents. It really helps sell the entire narrative and immerse you in this epic quest. The only minor quibble with the voices would be the repetitive speech from the companions in your own party. They have a tendency to acknowledge your commands or even your mouse clicks with one of only a few responses each and every time.
Neverwinter Nights 2 is a good 30-40 hour RPG depending on how much you want to exploit the material the designers have given you. You can plow through the main story in half that time but if you want to experience any of the engaging side-quests or fully develop your stronghold you can spends weeks and months with this game.
There is also support for multiplayer over the Internet or a LAN, so you could potentially have a full party of four adventures all controlled by humans. You can play the main story in this fashion or invite others to play in your own personal creations. It definitely makes things more interesting and takes the edge off of micromanaging your entire party.
The toolset that Obsidian has generously provided is nearly identical to the tools they used to create the game itself. What this means is that anyone with an ounce of creativity and imagination now has the power to create new scenarios or improve upon the existing material with a power limited only by your imagination.
I’ve was playing AD&D back when the DM and Players Guide where on typed booklets sold in zip-lock bags and d20 didn’t have double digits – you had to ink in half the numbers to indicate 10-20. It’s great to see this imaginative game and lifestyle is still thriving more than 30 years later. While I certainly don’t have the time or circle of friends I did back then to play real AD&D, it’s nice to know that companies like Obsidian and franchises like Neverwinter Nights respect the rules and integrity of role-playing enough to create an officially recognized game like this.
The curse of being a game reviewer is that I tend to enjoy games that I can finish and be done with in 10-15 hours. RPG’s, or at least good RPG’s, are almost always longer than this, so I try to limit my role-playing to one or two good games each year. Neverwinter Nights 2, with it’s rich narrative, engaging gameplay, and total attention to role-playing detail is certainly worthy of being one of those games.