Neverwinter Nights 2




Genre:   Role Playing Game

Developer:    Obsidian Entertainment

Publisher:   Atari Inc.

Released:  October 2006

PC Requirements:   Windows XP, Pentium 4 2.4 GHz or Athlon XP 2000 or equivalent, 512 MB RAM, 5.5 GB hard disk space, DirectX 9.0c, GeForce 6600 or Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card with PS 2.0 or better






by Drizzt


Rarely is a game as hyped as when the masters of RPGs – Bioware - are to release a new title. With Neverwinter Nights in 2002, Bioware presented the gaming community with the most anticipated title in the genre since the fabulous Baldur’s Gate II was released.

Critics were almost drowning each other in a flood of praise for the game, but the gaming community itself was not impressed. The game seemed to have it all -- the new integrated Dungeons & Dragons rules, a fresh new interface, a rich world in 3D to explore and an unfolding mysterious story. So what went wrong? According to most, the game lacked a soul. (It is debatable whether a computer game can have a soul, of course.) Neverwinter Nights was not imbued with the same magic that made the player want to play Baldur’s Gate over and over again, to experience the same story until one knew it by the numbers. Perhaps it was Neverwinter Night’s lack of a real party or its shallow henchmen. Maybe it was the unremarkable story. No matter the reason, I personally thought the game was criticized far more than it deserved. It was not an amazing game, but the immense hype from magazines and the growing Internet community raised expectations that it could not meet.

Now, four years, later the sequel has arrived, and while the hype has not been as thick, the expectations certainly have been high. This time, with Obsidian Entertainment at the helm, can the game hold its own against the other games in the genre?  Let’s find out.

Neverwinter Nights 2 is, just like its predecessor, played in a real-time 3D world. Most remarkable is how much easier camera control is, and that the interface has been slightly improved. Gone are the ugly oversized inventory windows, replaced by smaller click-and-drag windows. Other than small changes here and there, it is the same system as before. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but in a short time one can easily cast spells, use items and move the characters around without a second thought.

Without spoiling too much of the story itself, the player assumes the role of a villager, forced from his home by a series of events that eventually land him (or her) in Neverwinter. The player starts to uncover a plot with dark and sinister forces behind it (but more of that later).

Along the way you will – as is the norm – encounter different characters to help you on your way. Many of these can join your party, and it is here the greatest improvement from the previous games (and expansions) lies. While Hordes of the Underdark definitely had characters deserving of praise, they rarely felt part of the game itself. In Neverwinter Nights the characters interject, banter with each other and many have their own quests to be pursued and solved. In a way, it is a shame that every NPC (non-player character) you meet may end up following you (or at least hanging out in your current base of operations). It would have been more interesting to replay the game with different characters each time.

The most improved aspect of character interaction is that not all dialogue windows are a simple box in the corner now. For each “special” NPC you interact with, a special dialogue cut scene opens that makes it feel a lot more as though you’re actually talking to someone instead of just choosing between dialogue lines one, two, three and four.

Remember Knights of the Old Republic? The dialogue system is the same here. Another similarity is the influence system that seems almost to have been copied straight from KotOR. The way you treat other people or your companions decides how much they like you, giving you influence over them. Gaining their trust is never a bad thing, since it may allow certain paths in the game to be explored. Just keep in mind that what is acceptable to one companion may be entirely unacceptable to another. This way, one is almost forced to play a certain type of character in the game to “experience” what a specific companion might offer to the story. It is one way to tempt the player to replay the game, and a good idea.

It would have been more interesting if certain companions could turn against the player or leave the party. However, despite how badly you treat them, companions never leave your group. It seems Obsidian decided to avoid the issue of a mutinous party altogether and instead focused their energies on making the entire story “as it is supposed to be played”. Granted, you may only take a few companions with you each time you venture out of your stronghold, but it still feels somewhat strange. Sometimes, it is a matter of story consistency, but not often. Another very annoying aspect of party management is that if one wishes to change the party composition, the only way to do so is trudge all the way back to the current stronghold and enter it before once more exiting and choosing companions from there.

Speaking of the story, this is where the game both excels and fails at the same time. How can that be? The most disappointing part of the entire game, unfortunately, is an error that no patch can fix. This is one of the most linear games that I have ever played. It may offer slightly more freedom than Dungeon Siege did, but not much. The entire game consists of the player undertaking quests in a certain area before solving them, and getting the “reward” of the ability to move on to the next area.

The few side quests that are available should at least appeal to the anxious players (like myself, mind you) who fret over missing something that may lead to acquiring a few extra experience points. The objectives of these side quests are always located by the path to the area’s main objective.

As for the story, it is remarkably varying. In some parts, the story is enough to make you yawn in boredom and write it off as a cliché, while in others it consists of very interesting ideas and extremely well written scripts. The companions themselves have an impressive lot to say, both relevant to the story and otherwise. Some of it is just entertaining banter and other times consists of different takes on morality and other similar topics. It is a shame not as much work was put into the story itself. And did they also have to hire the worst possible voice actor they could find to speak the epilogue of the game?

The audio in the game is decent overall. Nothing remarkable, but by no means horrible either. There are the usual battle cries, weapons clashing and magic spells being cast. No surprises there. What the developers should be credited with is their excellent choice of voice actors (excepting the narrator, as mentioned above). All of them are far above average and really make an effort to step into their respective roles: the sarcastic wizard, the burly dwarf, the obnoxious gnome, and so on. What are less well done are the voices of the actual player character. No matter the race and class, they all sound like a burly human fighter, with little to no variety. 

What I found confusing is the music. Once again it is composed by Jeremy Soule, and the result is quite inconsistent, to say the least. There are many new tunes of outstanding quality, but the battle music seems to have been recycled from Neverwinter Nights. I cannot fathom the reason for this, since the new music is just as good and often better. One annoying aspect is that, while in a certain area, the music keeps repeating itself. A certain melody sling is tied to an area, and thus it keeps repeating itself until either entering battle or leaving the area. Mixing different musical pieces would not have hurt anyone.

Speaking of technical issues, it would be impossible to completely omit the hardware problems and bugs that unfortunately arrived also in the flashy (Chaotic Evil Limited Edition) package.

First off, expect to stare at the Neverwinter Eye much of the time you spend with the game. I first ran the game at a P4 2.4Ghz with a GeForce 6600 256Mb card and 512Mb RAM. I did not expect the game itself to run at anything other than lower settings due to the lack of RAM, but in no way did I expect the loading times to be so horribly long. Entering new areas and reloading games is enough to make anyone want to hear his (or her) hair.

Since I (by some magic intervention) managed to do something no one else managed to -- fry the motherboard when changing the RAM -- I bought a new computer and rejoiced that I would no longer have to stare at the ominous Eye for minutes on end. I now have an AMD Athlon X2 64 with 2048Mb RAM and a GeForce 7500LE (512Mb RAM). No, the card may not be a brilliant one, but this time I expected to at least be able to play the game instead of staring at the screen.

There was an improvement, but a very slight one. So, having completed the game, I think I can safely say that ten to fifteen percent of the time in front of my computer has been spent watching the loading screen when saving a game, loading a game or entering another area. I am not a hardware expert by any means, and do not claim to be one. But from the discussions at the official forums, those with even higher computer specifications have also had tremendous problems.

And to be perfectly honest, I don’t see either why the game requires as much as it does to run smoothly. The graphics are crisp and clean with nice details, but even as such it is hardly breaking new ground. They work well with the game, but are nothing spectacular.

The game also carries with it a whole lot of bugs. Many have been fixed by continuous updates from Obsidian, but it’s a shame that they were there in the first place. Quest problems, but most of all technical issues have been reported at large. Another game suffering from the “Before Christmas” hysteria, unfortunately.

It is hard to summarize the experience of Neverwinter Nights 2. Despite the extremely linear game play there is always something urging the player to go on, to see what lies beyond the next quest. Perhaps it is one of those particularly well written sections of the story. Maybe curiosity over the fate of a dear companion. Regardless, Neverwinter Nights 2 is a game that will keep you occupied for a while. Despite the linear story, the well written dialogue invokes a curiosity to be satiated, possibly even for a second time.

The game is not amazing. It will probably not still be played seven years from now. But it is a good experience that contains some nice surprises and is worthy of attention.


April 2007

design copyright © 2007 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index