Reviewed: October 25, 2002
Released: : June 17, 2003
What better way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of one of the best RPG games of 2002 than with a brand new expansion pack released exactly one year later (to the day). Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide is the first official expansion to the mega-hit Neverwinter Nights that has been going strong for more than a year thanks to some powerful editing tools and a very active mod community.
FloodGate Entertainment is behind this first commercial expansion. While they are a relatively new company (Shadows is their first release) they step up to the plate with a legacy of hits such as Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief since many of the current design team hails from Looking Glass. That alone gives this project some added respect before you even crack open the box.
Since we’ve already covered the basics of the core game in last year’s review we’ll stick with the new features of the expansion. If you are new to the series or perhaps you are looking at the combined “gold” package that includes the original you may want to check out that review before continuing.
The expansion starts you off as an apprentice to a powerful wizard in search of a stolen artifact. Your adventurous search will take you into the darkest of dungeons and have you meeting up with all sorts of unfriendly monsters along the way. There are a few balancing issues to overcome but for the most part this is a highly entertaining medieval romp.
Shadows is a self-contained story which means you cannot use your characters from the original game. The game comes with a few pre-generated characters or you can create your own from scratch. This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds since there are several new character classes you will likely want to experiment with. You’ll need to carefully pick your skills and develop your abilities to work toward many of the cooler and more powerful “prestige” classes. Starting at level one isn’t all that bad since you are given several powerful weapons early in the game, which ultimately makes Shadows a bit easier than it should be.
Alignment plays a much bigger role in Shadows and the game tailors itself to your chosen morality. This ultimately gives you a much broader scope of choices and way to accomplish many of the goals in this game and even lends some replay value to the main story.
Most of what was said in the original review still stands. You are only able to control a single character but Shadows does improve upon this troubling aspect of gameplay by allowing you access to the inventory of anyone in your party. You’ll be stuck in a minor rut in the beginning but once you develop your characters into the more exciting classes the game will really take off.
If you loved the control scheme in the first Neverwinter Nights then you will be pleased to know that nothing has changed and Shadows features the same award-winning interface that is a pure joy to play. Other RPG games could take note of this interface.
Since the computer is in control over the NPC’s a lot of the gameplay is out of your immediate control. NPC AI has been slightly improved over the original game so they won’t get hung up or slow you down as often as they used to. Everything just seems to flow much nicer.
Shadows builds upon the very solid graphic engine of the original and enhances the gameplay with new lighting and special effects. Taking a cue from its name, Shadows of Undrentide sports some of the best real-time shadow casting of any game to date. We’re not talking trickery here, but real-time shadows being cast by in-game light sources.
The system requirements have been bumped up a notch but are still quite low in comparison to other current releases. Shadows will take advantage of whatever graphics card you care to throw at it and the high-resolution textures looks stunning on the new GeForce FX cards. The only downside to the visuals are some repeating graphics due to limited tiles, but these are soon overlooked when the spell effects start flying back and forth.
The same great music and sound from the original is back along with some new tunes and effects. It all sounds just as fantastic as the first game, perhaps even a bit better as the EAX support for positional audio seems much more spatial in this expansion pack.
There is a modest amount of speech in Shadows. You’ll spend most of your time reading volumes of captions and narrative but when the actors do speak up it’s the high quality stuff we’ve come to expect from a BioWare title – even if it’s being developed by a third party.
Shadows of Undrentide offers a new 20-hour campaign, new character classes, monsters, weapons, feats, skills and spells. The game comes with the new Aurora Toolset that includes new powerful tools and three tilesets featuring desert, winter, and ancient ruins to create even more exciting mods and expansions. This amazing package allows you to create entire modules with scripted events using these new tiles, 16 new monsters and more than 50 new spells.
The actual editor hasn’t changed much from the original so those who were already proficient will have no learning curve. With this kind of commitment to the gaming and mod community there is no end in sight for this franchise.
Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide is definitely a worthy expansion pack. While you can probably play NWN for the next five years using nothing but user-created mods, there is definitely a level of quality and sophistication about this professional release that makes it worth your hard-earned dollar.
For those who haven’t had the joy of playing the original game then you should check out the Neverwinter Nights Gold Edition that combines both the original game and Shadows for the bargain price of $40. You’ll have more RPG gaming than you will know what to do with for a long time to come.