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Neverwinter Nights

Developer: Bioware | Publisher: Atari
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 06/16/02 | Genre: RPG

PC gaming is dead... or so I thought. However, the first half of 2002 has changed my mind completely. For the first time in a long time, I am playing PC games whenever I have free time. What have I been busy playing? Three things: Dungeon Siege, WarCraft III, and now Neverwinter Nights. To have all three of these games come out in the first half of 2002 is very overwhelming. I must admit--I have had a hard time dividing up my gaming time between these three titles. Each one is a possible candidate for our Game of the Year Bernie. However, there is just something magical about Neverwinter Nights...

This game is a massive RPG set in the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons universe. And when I say massive--I mean it! This title will take the average gamer 60 hours to complete if you don't attempt any of the optional side quests. But NWN is so good that you are going to want to fully explore this game... So expect to spend over 100 hours on the single player game. While that alone would be enough to hook me in, Bioware has added much more. Also included in the package is a multiplayer mode similar to what Diablo, Diablo 2, and Dungeon Siege offered players. While the game ships with just the standard single player adventure for use in the multiplayer mode, Bioware has given players the opportunity to create their own adventures using the same toolset they used to create the game. After you have created a module, you can even host it and become a DM over the world. Here, you can control the monsters, resurrect players, make items appear out of thin air, etc! Now, not only is it possible to build your own RPG--you can run it as a DM! This has to be the most exciting element in Neverwinter Nights!

But the DM client and toolset can be very difficult to master. Thankfully, there is already a strategy guide available that covers the toolset completely. Just take things slow and you will be able to create you own adventure for the world to enjoy. Unfortunately, I do not have the time or energy to put much effort into the toolset. While I hope to learn how to use it in the future, I am content with playing the single player version and joining the games created by players across the world. So if you get a little overwhelmed by the extras--just remember that they are optional and not necessary to enjoy the overall experience of NWN.

As you begin a new game, you will need to create a new character to play as. To assist you in making this process simple, Bioware has included several pre-built characters for you to choose. While you are free to use these characters, players are encouraged to build their own character if they desire. For those of you, like myself, who know nothing about the world of Dungeons & Dragons--not to mention the "Third Edition" rules--when building a character or choosing what specific stats to raise when leveling up, there is a "recommended" button you can hit. This will provide you with Bioware's official recommendation for what you should do with your character. If you are not satisfied, you can always change their recommendations. But for me--I found this to be a welcome feature so I didn't have to spend hours learning the rules to D&D.

Combat is much more RPGish than other titles like Dungeon Siege and Diablo I/II. When you want your character to fight in NWN, you click on an enemy and the battle will take place directly on the game world instead of going to a battle menu like Final Fantasy. Each of your attacks are based on dice rolls like what they use in D&D. The same is true for the enemies too. Unfortunately, the combat with your henchman is not as fun or "action packed" as in Dungeon Siege. This is mainly due to only being allowed to have one henchman at a time. Even if you hire multiple ones, you can only allow one to come with you at a time. To help you get to know your henchmen better, Bioware has included a unique story with each one. They all come from different backgrounds and are looking for specific items to resolve problems in their past. While you don't have to speak to or help them, as you gain levels, you will learn more about the henchmen if you speak to them.

Controlling NWN is very easy. Like other titles in the genre, if you left click, you will move to that area. However, new to NWN, if you Right Click, a menu will pop up. Within this menu you have options like move here, attack, spells, skills, etc. The submenus can be a few levels deep. Ultimately, you end up with the actual skills you want to use. I found that it took me a few moments of playing to get used to using these menus. Also, these menus can change depending on what you Right Click on. For example, if you Right Click on one of your party members, you can give them orders.

Your inventory, buying, and selling work just like in Dungeon Siege--so I won't go into many details... Talk to a shopkeeper or someone selling goods, drag items to your bag to buy or drag items into their bag to sell. To use your inventory, hit the "I" key. If your bags are becoming weighed down, you can obtain magical bags that reduce the weight. It is as simple as that.

One of the biggest improvements to the genre is the tweaking of the belt from Diablo II. In Neverwinter Nights, this is known as the Quick Bar. This bar allows you to place any item, spell, skill, weapon, or whatever you use on a bar that goes across the bottom screen. By clicking the F1 buttons, you can quickly use any skill or item. Once this bar is filled up, you can hold down Shift or Control and the F1 keys to have up to two more full Quick Bars. That provides you with over 36 quick buttons at your fingertips! After playing with this feature, I have no idea why this was not implemented in a title before. In the heat of a battle, you can quickly change weapons or use different skills so you don't spend precious time looking for things in cumbersome menus. Expect many titles to copy the Quick Bar in the near future.

Graphically NWN is nice looking but it won't break any new ground. Since the title has been in development for so long, the engine is a bit dated. However, this should not take anything away from the gameplay. I personally am glad they spent more time with gameplay than worrying if their graphical engine was as advanced as possible. However, there are still a few special tweaks to mention. My favorite is when creating a player, you select a portrait to symbolize what your character looks like within the game. Each NPC character also has their own portraits--adding variety to the NPC's. Also, the shadow effects are great.

Speaking with NPC's, is very easy. After left clicking on them, their portrait appears in the chat window (like I mentioned above). Here, you can read what the specific NPC has to say and click on the appropriate response below their words. Sometimes, you may have to click on the words "continue" to continue reading what the NPC has to say. After they have finished speaking and you have an opportunity to respond, you must be careful what you say. Some phrases will make you more evil while others can make you look like a humble servant of the people. Most NPC's you come across have their own dialogue tree to go through. However, you will run into a few who just have text appear over their heads when trying to speak with them.

The enemies you meet in Neverwinter Nights range from easy to kill to challenging. At times, you may be so overwhelmed by a particular enemy or section of the game that you may need a little extra help. If this happens, you can hit the space bar and plan your next move. The space bar pauses the game but allows you to issue commands. For example, lets say that your henchmen is taking a brutal beating. If you don't do something fast, he is going to die. Quickly, you hit the space bar, pull a potion out of your inventory and drag it onto him. When you hit space bar again and un-pause the action, your next move will be to give your henchmen a potion--which they will automatically use. Other times, you may find that a particular enemy or boss is just entirely over-powerful and impossible to beat. You can pause the action, go to the options menu, and lower the difficult level down. When resuming play, the game will now become a little easier. Once you get passed the challenging part, you can adjust the difficulty level back to whatever it was before. Remember, Bioware has optimized the game for the normal difficulty level. If you set it to easy, the game will be very easy to beat. However, if you crank it up to the higher difficulty level, you probably won't last long.

Neverwinter Nights is a great title that proves if you spend time polishing and fine-tuning your product before shipping it, the player will be rewarded with a rich experience free of most nasty bugs. However, does this ensure the experience will be bug free? Unfortunately, the answer is no. While I am sure it is every developer's dream to create a game that has no bugs, it happens. In NWN, I found a few pathfinding issues. For example, if I click on a specific place to walk towards, my character sometimes stops in front of a wall, some other object, or an NPC. I then am forced to direct my character around the object when they should have already known to walk around it! Another strange bug is when opening or closing a door. At times, when doing this, it will knock your character back several steps. Also, sometimes when walking outside a building, your character will jump back several steps if you immediately try to walk forward. Finally, my last complaint about NWN isn't really a bug but more of an annoyance. I really enjoyed the voice acting. However, most characters would only speak a few of their lines and some other characters would speak all of their lines. Now, I understand that it would be very difficult to make ever character speak. Nevertheless, I feel it is necessary to either make all the characters speak or don't let any of them speak at all.

Overall, Neverwinter Nights looks to be the best Role Playing Game of 2002. While the year still has several months left, you will have a hard time finding a better game to spend 60+ hours with. Not only is Neverwinter Nights great now, it is sure to continue to get better with all the user-created modules coming out. What more could you ask for?

By Kaleb Rutherford - 07/29/02
ESRB Details: Blood, Violence
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Screenshots for Neverwinter Nights

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