More than six years ago, Atari published the groundbreaking roleplaying game Neverwinter Nights. This game, based on the Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 ruleset, was supposed to revive the roleplaying game genre. Although the main storyline was something nobody who played through it was crazy about, the multiplayer function of the game is what helped keep it alive, and in the process, keep the RPG (note, not “MMORPG”, which is generally far larger and less focused on actual roleplay) genre alive. Its success was unbelievable, and to this day popular servers in Neverwinter Nights continue to thrive. This game can be compared with Minecraft after the addition of best minecraft shaders in terms of popularity and addictiveness. This makes this game really really intense and interesting for all the players that are out there.
Now, in the coming October (2008, for future readers), it will have been the second year since Atari released a sequel to the bestselling game previously mentioned. This title was, unsurprisingly, to be called Neverwinter Nights 2. It would feature major graphical improvements, a customizable interface, the addition of various in-game mechanics, and an upgrade to the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 ruleset. There was hype about this game years before its release, which is to be expected from the successor to such a groundbreaking platform.
The problem with the game was that upon release, it did not live up to its expectations. The toolset used to make custom gameworlds was missing many features, the game seemed to crash every five seconds, and bugs permeated the code more than cockroaches permeated my old house. In fact, a functional DM Client did not even come with the game. To many, Neverwinter Nights 2 was a major disappointment. Its initial popularity began to waver around January 2007, and many players were close to giving up.
For the few that have stuck with multiplayer servers, however, the game has improved a lot since release. Now at version 1.13 (its tenth major patch) and boasting the announcement of a second expansion pack soon to come, Neverwinter Nights 2 has squashed a lot of its previous game-breaking bugs. Indeed, for many (including myself) the platform actually runs more smoothly than its predecessor. The only major concern left is its tendency to crash occasionally when moving between large areas, and even that happens rarely.
Though you’ll be hard-pressed to find English-speaking servers with a large number of players online at one time, the multiplayer aspect of Neverwinter Nights 2 is actually fairly successful. There are a number of quality roleplaying servers still running, and, indeed, some that are more successful now than they were two years ago.
At the time of this writing, NWN2’s graphics are so-so for computers without high-end NVidia graphics cards. In the official storyline set forth by Obsidian, NPCs’ mouths are moveable, and audio dialog is frequent; however, in fan-made storylines and gameworlds, such technology is almost never seen. It is possible to set the game to have beautiful textures, however, on computers with low-end graphics cards, such as the one I own, this slows down the game almost to the point of unplayability. All characters in this game are highly customizable, with the user fully designing their physical features, tone of voice, race (in the sense used in works of fantasy; elves, dwarves, and humans are three different races), profession, background story, name, and voice set.
Without the expansion pack installed, players are able to level up from 1 to 20 in the traditional Dungeons and Dragons sense; this is done by completing missions or killing enemies, both of which grant “experience points”. Included in the game are many base classes with which you can start the game with, as well as prestige classes that you can earn by learning specific talents and skills, and sometimes only by accomplishing relevant tasks within the game. Combat is turn-based, but not in the traditional sense, as the game automatically calculates all damage and takes into account enchantments upon your person. For the beginning player, combat may simply entail clicking on a foe to fight them; or, for more advanced players, it is possible to vary tactics within the battle (which, for a turn-based game, is fairly fast-moving–combat does not stop to allow you to make moves, you must make them within combat). This will feel a lot like a sped-up version of Dungeons and Dragons to players of the said tabletop game, only without the dice–indeed it should: the game is based around that concept. To those unfamiliar with the game, it seems a lot like most other RPG combat systems.
The audio component of this game will be lost on many, but it is breathtaking for those who do notice the detail put into it. Combining scores composed solely for NWN2 and its predecessor, the music will provide a unique form of the fantasy experience to any avid listener. The sound effects and voiceovers (the latter present only in official storylines), however, are nothing to write home about; I would even go so far as to say they’re sometimes annoying. When playing online, however, where the lattermost example of audio is not present, the game is quite a treat to the ears.
One should note that playing this game alone, quite simply, is not fun. Just as you would not play tabletop Dungeons and Dragons by yourself, it is rather unreasonable to play NWN2 by yourself. The official storylines are not actually all that fun or interesting, and due to the boredom they gave me, I stopped playing them halfway through. Only get this game if you want to play online.
This game, while not a perfect experience for the average gamer, will tickle the hearts of hardcore roleplayers everywhere. If at any time you have played Dungeons and Dragons, Neverwinter Nights, or any sort of text-based RPG, and enjoyed it, you should definitely give this game a try. If you’re more into simply killing things for the sake of killing things, you might want to look into another game, such as any number of first-person-shooters, or perhaps even World of Warcraft. To those who don’t care about developing an interactive story with their character, Neverwinter Nights 2 is sub-par. To those who do, you might as well pick up a copy of the game now… your only real options in the online game department are NWN2 or its predecessor.