I was recently given this game. Here’s a review of it. Note that I’m not interested in the multiplayer and module-creation parts of the game, so this review focuses on the campaign that comes with the game. Click on a picture to enlarge it.Neverwinter Nights 2
(NWN 2), just like NWN 1 and Baldur’s Gate, starts with the creation of a character which will be the party leader and the only character you can develop fully. The character creation is adequate. They've added some weird feats (like a Background feat: Bully, Natural Leader...) and changed some others (like Toughness giving an extra Hit Point per level, Tumble giving AC bonuses and Spellcraft giving saving throw bonuses). The player characters always get maximum HP when they level up.
I created a Cleric with Air and Earth domains. You might say that cleric is the ultimate character class since:
- clerics can fight well
- clerics have a lot of Hit Points
- clerics can wear heavy armor and shield with no spell failure chance
- clerics can destroy many undead creatures with a word
- they can craft useful holy axiomatic weapons
- they can increase the attack rolls of the entire party (bless, prayer)
- they can cast offensive, defensive and healing spells
- they don’t need to buy or find magic scrolls to learn spells.
Fighters have a better attack bonus, but very few options are available to them. Wizards can cast powerful spells but they are very weak and if you play with the “hardcore D&D rules” option they’re likely to hurt the party more than the enemy.
The first things you notice when playing are the good graphics, good pathfinding, poor camera management and long loading times.
The graphics are not as good as in Temple of Elemental Evil but the difference is small. NWN 2 has better graphics than NWN 1 in my opinion. In NWN 1 it was obvious that the game world (tunnels, forests, etc) was composed of 3D tiles.
The pathfinding never gets stuck and does not take forever.
The camera is better than in NWN 1, it will stay where you set it most of the time. It doesn’t zoom-in everytime you walk through a doorway. However, you still have to rotate and reposition the camera from time to time, which is annoying. For example, if you stay in top-down view all the time, you can see only your immediate surroundings and you might blunder into enemy groups. It would have been better, in my opinion, to allow only a fixed viewpoint like that of Temple of Elemental Evil or Baldur’s Gate, with a change only during dialogues.
The loading times: well, this is the worst part of the game. NWN 2 is an exercise in patience. As the party goes from one small world-map area to another, you will be presented with a succession of screens saying “unloading map”, “loading map module 1”, “loading map module 2…”, “map successfully loaded!”, “first map update completed” and “second map update completed”. The installation also takes a great deal of time as the game covers more than 6 gigabytes. After that, downloading all the patches takes some more time. By the way, if you see a message saying "cyclic redundancy check failed" it just means that you need to clean the DVD.
The next thing you notice when playing is the real-time-with-pause combat system. In that respect the game suffers from the same flaw as NWN 1. The pen and paper version of D&D 3.5 is a highly tactical game. In computer games with "real-time-with-pause combat" many of the game’s tactics, like taking a five-foot step or carefully aiming a spell, are lost.
Every combat is a chaotic melee. Casting a spell takes 3 to 5 seconds and during that time, it is highly likely that at least some of your targets will have moved away or been killed by your companions. I'd say that offensive spellcasting has a 50% failure chance because of this alone. That is a shame because there are so many useful spells in D&D.
Also, there's hardly any visual feedback on who gets affected by a spell effect. The game should really display a floating "Save failed: stunned" or "Save failed: paralyzed" or "save succeeded", but it doesn't. Speaking of feedback, NWN 2, just like NWN 1, does not allow you to click on the result of attack rolls or saving throws in order to get the list of modifiers. As a result it’s difficult to see whether a given bonus or penalty is actually taken into account by the game.
Another problem that is in both NWN 1 and NWN 2 is the tendency of party members to go running after enemies here and there rather than doing the logical thing. The logical thing would be for the entire party to attack the same enemy until it dies, then switch to the nearest target as a group. This can be done manually, though, but the game lacks a shortcut key to select all the party members. [Edit: just found out that a shortcut can be created using the Keymapping option/Misc./Toggle Group Selection]
Right, so far it might seem like I did not like the game, but that’s not true. I think it was much better than NWN 1.
Firstly, it actually allows a party of 4 characters – NWN 1 allowed only two characters. This makes the game much closer to D&D and thus much more fun and interesting.
Secondly, the quests are very interesting! For example, when you arrive in Neverwinter you are offered a job in the City Watch. Crime and corruption are rampant in the docks area, so the party can choose to act like an anti-corruption unit or it can try and get a cut of each bribe. It’s a lot of fun to be able to say “You’re all under arrest!” in a medieval fantasy game. Also, unlike the campaign of NWN 1, you can go back to a previously-completed location at any time.
Thirdly, items and healing potions are not scattered around as if the game was a giant easter-egg hunt, like in NWN 1. You can’t open most crates and you can’t plunder a villager’s house. Good magic weapons are rare and it’s very difficult to apply enchantments on a weapon or armor. Unlike in the original D&D rules, enchanting a weapon requires not only to have the proper feat and spells, but also to find a recipe, a precious stone like a diamond, and essences. Essences are even rarer than the precious stones. You get them by using the Alchemy skill on a beast’s teeth or some other part.
One last thing I’d like to mention is the fact that the game tries very hard to make the player feel like he/she has a lot of choice during dialogues. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it fails utterly. In many places there are three or more dialogue options, and all of them mean the same thing. Look at this example:
You see a girl run near two men. One of the men accuses the girl of picking his pockets, and demands that the girl empties her pockets.
Here are the three dialogue options:
- You don’t know she’s done anything.
- Let her go, she was just running.
- Unhand my daughter!
All three options mean the same thing: let her go. So what’s the point of having them? The only options I might like to choose, “well girl why don’t you empty your pockets and show you're innocent” or “You’re all under arrest!”, just weren’t there.
This happens many times in the game. Another silly occurrence is when you meet the female tiefling rogue for the first time. She’s ambushed by soldiers and you get to help her. Once you’ve saved her, you can choose a dialogue option saying “I saved you, now you belong to me”. If you choose that option, she says “Oh, I’m not sure I like what you’re saying… but, please, please, take me with you!!”. How realistic is that? You don’t get any choice at all – she joins the party no matter what.
To conclude, NWN 2 is a good game. Its most serious flaw is the fact that area loading is very slow and very frequent. Quick loading times and turn-based combat would have made this game a classic, in my opinion.