Neverwinter Nights

3966

 

Genre: Role-Playing Game
Format: CD
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Atari
Mac Port: OMNI Group
Mac Publisher: MacSoft
Minimum System Requirements: 450MHz processor, OS X v10.2.6, 32MB video card (Radeon/GeForce 2 MX), monitor supporting 800x600, 256 MB RAM, 2.1 GB hard drive space
Review Computer: Mac OS X v10.2.6, 800MHz iMac, 256MB RAM, GeForce 2
Network Feature: Yes
3D Support: OpenGL
Retail Price: $49.99
Rating: Teen (blood and violence)
Availability: Out Now
Official Website: nwn.bioware.com

Neverwinter Nights is one of those aggravating games that reaches—sprints towards, even—greatness, but chokes at the last minute and decides that being good is good enough.

Based on the third edition of the geek monolith, Dungeons and Dragons, NWN presents the most finely-realized vision of the game yet put to a computer screen. You begin by creating a character, using all of the character types, subtypes, feats and other special abilities. The new rules have made the game far more flexible than the arbitrary rules of the past; you want a fighter who can also pick locks? Fine, it'll just cost you more character points to have that skill than it would cost a thief.

Once you're done creating your character, you move quickly into the story. The city of Neverwinter (so named because an unknown energy keeps the city warm even in the bleakest winter [cue ominous chord]) is overcome by a terrible plague, and no skill, magic or prayer can cure it. Suspecting that some unknown adversary is causing the disease, the city forms an academy to train adventurers to hunt down the cause. Guess who's the star pupil?

I can't say I think too much of the Academy's training—on graduation day, your final exercises consist of learning how to use the game's GUI, destroying a practice dummy, and shooting an arrow at a stationary target until you hit it. This rigorous regimen starts you off as a level one character, and makes me wonder if the city has really been doing all it can to stop the plague. I've seen stricter requirements for becoming a muscle-bound he-man on the back of a comic book.

Graphic novel! Graphic novel! Crap! Nobody saw that, did they?

Anyway, all hell breaks loose. The elders of Neverwinter have found a cure for the plague, but at the last minute, Something Goes WrongTM .

How unexpected.

So, you have to find all the ingredients for the cure—which are alive, by the way, and very dangerous—bring them together, and uncover the enemy within. Pretty standard stuff, right?

That's part one. Of four.

Neverwinter Nights is a ha-uge game, one that the makers suggest could take over sixty hours to play all the way through. And while the first module described above seems like standard D&D fare, after its completion, things start to get twisted. What makes an RPG truly great is its supporting cast, and NWN has that in spades. For starters, you don't form a party of adventurers, but play only one, who can choose to hire one henchman. Each of the henchmen have skills that can compliment your own, plus they each have a background that you can unravel to lead you on a side quest. I could never get my henchmen to fully reveal their story to me, perhaps because I switched between several of them, rather than devoting my time solely to one. In some parts of the game, you have access to a wide variety of skilled henchmen, but in others, you're limited to the one you brought with you...provided you remembered to bring one.

The henchmen level up as you do, so they're always helpful when going up against a powerful fo. If they die, they respawn at the nearest temple, which you have a teleport stone to. If you die, you have the option of restarting from a save point, or respawning at the temple at a loss of gold and experience. Save often, though, because the option to respawn is taken away at certain points in the plot.

The other supporting characters include Lady Aribeth, Paladin and protector of the city, Lord Nash himself, and Arin Gend, spymaster for the kingdom. More than simple placeholders, you can interact with these characters on a deeper level than most RPG non-player characters, uncovering their back stories and thoughts. Mercenary players will be happy to learn that you can receive magic items in a lot of these cases, and unlock side quests, but the real payoff is the new level of commitment to the game you'll find.

NWN is an amazing game. Its focus is on combat; this is D&D we're talking about, after all, where your value as a person is defined by how much of a badass you are. But even within that framework, there are side quests available and achievable only by convincing people they should trust you, or by fast-talking your way out of trouble.

You'll take trips into haunted villages, travel into the spirit world of a forest, and even travel millions of years into the past to overcome an obstacle in the present. This is a game where it's abundantly clear the level designers wanted to make our jaws drop—the graphics are fantastic. If your character changes weapons or armor, you see it on screen. Magic swords will drip acid on the ground or burst into flame when you fight an evil opponent...and then go out when the foe dies. If you dodge or block a blow, you'll see your character do it. The dungeon backgrounds all have a sameness to them (everyone used those Easter Island heads?) but they were so richly detailed, it wasn't distracting. Few of the puzzles seemed derivative, and the quests had neat twists and payoffs.

Which is what makes the ending such a drag.

Neverwinter Nights is epic in its scale. It is a game where you meet unusual, memorable characters who stress how difficult your mission is, how they don't see any hope for the future, yet are moved when you begin to provide that hope. It has love, betrayal, and perhaps redemption. As I came hurtling towards the end of the game, I saw it coming—one of those things gamers talk about for years to come...a Truly Great Ending. Totally unexpected, yet which would make perfect sense and had in fact been alluded to the entire game. Everything was going to come together! The final enemy lay dead at my feet and then...

And then the game ended. Congratulations, hero, a winner is you. Roll credits.

What. The. Hell.

Maybe I was expecting too much, but it just seemed so obvious. You have a game with a plot that hinges on a terrible mistake, which then spends the last half of the game talking about time travel, alternate realities, and doorways into the past. Why, why, why show me all of that, and not let me do something about it? I don't care about time paradoxes. I don't care if it meant that the majority of the game "wouldn't have happened." It would have kicked ass (pardon my French). Alas, no.

You can play NWN online with your friends. And you should; it's a very good game. It's rich, detailed, great story, finely-tuned. You can download expansion modules and create your own. You could even create the ending this game deserves.

But for now, I'll just look around a while.

 

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Purchase Neverwinter Nights


Bill's been using Macs since the late 80s. When he's not making smartass remarks to amuse Kirk Hiner, he enjoys fighting for the user.



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I hate games with crappy endings. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth and a sinking feeling that despite the fun I had, it was somehow not really worth it.

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