Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide



Genre:   RPG

Developer:    Bioware, Floodgate

Publisher:     Atari

Released:   2003

PC Requirements:   Windows XP/Me/2000/98/95, Pentium II 450 MHz or AMD K6 450 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB TNT2-class OpenGL 1.2 compliant video card, 8x CD/DVD-ROM drive, Internet (minimum 56k) or LAN connection required for multiplayer games. This is an expansion and requires a full retail installation of Neverwinter Nights



by Drizzt

First we had Baldur’s Gate. Trademarks of this RPG was it’s quite (at least by that time’s standards) huge world, almost total freedom and a very refreshing way to create a RPG with D&D rules integrated. To top it all off, we also got a well-worked and well-thought through story with many twists and exciting turns (who doesn’t remember the Return to Candlekeep section of the game). For this, the expansion Tales of the Sword coast was later released, which included a few new additions and two major quests, one of which is the best dungeon crawl area in any RPG I have ever played – Durlag’s tower.

After that, we got the sequel, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, which now included an enhanced Infinity engine, many more quests, less – but more interesting and well-written – NPCs, and a more detailed world, but this to a cost of the size of the game areas. All were now much more concentrated in fewer maps, but instead of wandering around wondering if you might find someone out here, these areas were not instead buzzing with life and vivid details.
To this, the developers decided to make the expansion Throne of Bhaal, which not only managed to conclude the saga in the most satisfying way ever possible, but also to add the giant dungeon of Watcher’s keep into the bundle.

These games were history, and no role player will probably ever be able to truly dismiss them, and this group of people would be very hard to satisfy after such a marvelous epos such as this. But still, Bioware made the attempt, and what it ended up in was Neverwinter Nights.

Neverwinter Nights was Bioware’s step into the – now almost dominated entirely by these kind of games – 3D world, with a brand new engine and the game concentrated to the main character instead of creating a group of well-written NPC’s as before. Even if they game got criticized for some matters from those pointing out that Bioware should never have done the game in 3D (RPGers are usually quite a conservative bunch when it comes to the style of the games) to those thinking the illogical bashing of craters to gain health potions, not to mention those complaining about the lack of any real depth in the story, Neverwinter Nights, still managed to gain quite the large group of fans. This was probably almost all due to the multiplayer in the game, the multiplayer mode and the tools to create new modifications.
Modifications are being released to games constantly, and it is here Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide enters the scene. Why should we care about this expansion when there are hundreds, maybe thousands other, free, modifications online?
That is exactly what I am going to try to clarify.

The game starts at the quiet village of Hilltop, with you as a student at your masters, Drogans, house. You are apparently there to study…well, what you exactly do study we never get to know, but I figure it is simply something resembling a School for Adventurers, as Drogan himself was an adventurer in his days. However, one day Kobolds attack this school, and it seems Master Drogan was hiding something from you…four artifacts to be exact, now in the hands of an unknown foe. The reason why this happened and what those artifacts actually do you can not yet get a grasp on, though, and the a new encounter in the home of Drogan (A harper named Ayila) isn’t very helpful at all regarding the subject, except making it clear you must be the one to find them and bring them back, before they fall into the wrong hands.

Can you feel that? Doesn’t this all just of cliché and plagiarism? The answer is “yes it does, and it seems horrible so far”. But don’t despair. The story gets a lot better once you have acquired one or two of these artifacts, with some interesting double crossing and removal of despicable (or honourable, if you play that kind of character) people to do.
The main plot also gets a lot better towards the end, and even if it isn’t exactly something magnificent as in the Baldur’s Gate series, it is certainly worthwhile and better than the normal “find-and-retrieve-things-before-evil-guy-gets-hands-on-them” (but he still always seem to do, and you always have to fight him in the end…wouldn’t be much of an ending if you didn’t have to, eh?) plots you can find in some RPG’s and also many mediocre fantasy books.

The most improved part of this expansion is probably the Henchmen (or NPCs if you prefer), who has been drastically improved. You can now edit their inventory (tell them what armour to wear, weapon to use, rings to wear etc. etc.) and edit their combat tactics more suitable, for example. What is also good to see is that they are not just the shells they were before, in NWN, but that effort has been put into actually putting some background to them and their personality. This shows itself in the dialogues when you talk to them (or when they talk to you) or they interfere in conversations (and not just to be ignored, I might add, as opposed to the earlier BG games where the conversation just continued). It all adds up making you feel more an integrated part of the world, and having a more personal role in the destiny of Hilltop (or Undrentide, if you so wish).
I have to give Bioware credits for Deekin, one of the NPCs in the game, and is probably the funniest NPC as well, not to mention a whole lot of people would probably find him awfully cute. What made me almost laugh out loud, however, was him singing his bard’s song. Whether that was “cute” or just the kind of raspy barking you expect to hear when drawing a rusty spike along porcelain is up to personal preference, but a nice touch, still.

This all sounds great, but as they say, not even the sun is without its spots…so what is the catch? Well, to begin with, there are only 3 NPC’s, which I find quite a bit mean-pocketed, especially as there are 3 students at the academy but you can only bring 2 of them (would it have been so much trouble to make the third student a Henchman as well?) with you. Another NPC turns up later, but the expansion sure isn’t generous in this aspect.

This also leads to another problem, which is that none of these NPCs are any kind of fighter classes, which means that if you are a wizard, bard or rogue for example, you will have a very hard time early in the game, since much is based on the fighting sequences. Actually, pretty much the whole game you fight your way through monsters and humanoids; some new, some old, but they still prove a challenge most of the time. You can’t very well charm a group of kobolds with Charisma or Persuade undead warriors with your intelligence. In short, the game gets unbalanced, depending on what class you play with.

Talking about classes, there are a few new ones, so called “Prestige classes” such as Assassin and Blackguard. Special about these classes are that you have to meet certain requirements before being able to choose these classes. This all comes down to you starting out as one class and then while developing your character also potentially unlocking a prestige class.
An interesting addition to an already excellent character generation engine and rules, which makes the game a bit more interesting and much more funnier to replay again, when testing different ways of developing a character.

The graphics may be a small bit dated, but still work great to the purpose Neverwinter Nights was created for: creating a RPG in a 3D world without demanding too much of the computer. While some textures are a bit too dull and many the game is generally not feeling as detailed as it was when the original Neverwinter Nights was released, it still does a fine job with creating the outdoor settings and also, one of the major reasons I still feel the engine is up to today’s standards, the dungeons feel as atmospheric as ever.

The sound has not changed much, and as opposed to e.g. Morrowind: Bloodmoon, the developers at Bioware felt the need to renew the musical score to make the game feel updated also in that area. This is done in a masterful way, with the powerful classical parts now enhanced by more appearant and dominating choirs in a hectic way during battle sequences, and slower, more beautiful parts in more inhabited and other areas where there is nothing special of interest. I haven’t found any name of a composer or person responsible for this, but judging by the style of the music and the great number of other Bioware games (and other best-sellers such as Morrowind, too) he has produced, I would guess the composer and conducter is Jeremy Soule (who I for some reason can not seem to stop praising in my reviews, but at least not without an obvious reason.). As a matter of fact, I am currently listening to the Neverwinter Nights soundtrack CD, and it almost equals the Soundtrack CD to Icewind Dale, which I guess says a lot.

Without drifting off too much into the infinite world of music, however, I can say that the rest of the sound is pretty much the same as the original Neverwinter Nights, with the usual battle cries, steel hitting steel, chanting and various creepy ambient sounds (especially prominent when in old catacombs or tombs.

This expansion took about 15-20 hours for me to finish, and added the prestige classes and more interesting NPCs than Neverwinter Nights, I thin I’m safe to say that it is a rather solid game when it comes to the question on whether it is worth the money or not.
The only thing speaking against it in this area is the linearity, which is almost always restrained to one or, sometimes, two ways you can choose. One usually leads to a dead end, and you have to go back to where you were before. Some might not like it, because it imprisons them within a certain few areas they can not go outside. I, for one, found it very refreshing not have to dread which way I am going to choose at every crossing, and especially as this is only an expansion pack, it is forgivable.

In conclusion, I can say this is an expansion that nobody who liked Neverwinter Nights would like to be without. Despite its downfalls, it is still a solid expansion with more action and force than the original Neverwinter Nights, if not as good story (but more interesting characters and conversations). Neverwinter Nights on steroids if you so wish.

Sooner this year, Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark is being released and I personally can’t wait for it to start shipping here, because this expansion has once again convinced me of Bioware as a developer of high standard RPGs.

So the question stands between Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark. The solution? Get them both. Judging from what I have seen of HotU, there is no way you choose wrong by doing it.

My Rating: 85%

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