Neverwinter Nights is Bioware’s beautiful rendition of the Dungeons and Dragons world. Through an impressive graphics engine and a gameplay system true to the D&D universe, Neverwinter Nights is one of the best D&D games on the market. The game is set chiefly in Neverwinter, a major city in the south of Forgotten Realms. You are at the Neverwinter Academy where you are to be trained as a warrior to help combat the plague that has recently befallen the city. Not long after your training is complete the forces behind the plague take action and it is your duty to discover and defeat the evil forces that are laying siege to Neverwinter – it’s slightly more complicated than it sounds.
There is nothing noteworthy on the gameplay beyond what is standard D&D. If you have ever played Baldur’s Gate or any D&D game for that matter, then you’ll find the game behaves very similarly. You progress through a series of lengthy chapters (over a 60+ hour storyline), running errands and doing favors (or plundering) as you evolve towards solving the primary mystery of the chapter. You are allowed one party member to help you progress through the game and doing so without that party member (referred to as a mercenary) is near impossible. Unfortunately, the party members you can choose from are limited in class and alignment and, unlike any other RPG, you can’t control their inventory, so they have a limited amount of items they can use, making them nothing more than turrets or meat shields.
Physical combat is straightforward, and allows you to use some special moves – called feats – to break away from the automated hack and slash, and even then, most feats are passive in nature. Magic is more hands on but occasionally tedious. Some magic classes like the sorcerer can hurl spell after countless spell, but with limited effectiveness. On the other hand, Wizards must stop and rest every time they want to use the same spell again, which can be an exercise in tedium management.
The game’s quest system is fairly linear; sometimes side-quests are fronted upon you to make the game seem open-ended. It isn’t. Usually you know your primary objective from the start of a chapter, and must run around for hours completing miscellaneous quests to satisfy the conditions for advancement. That may seem normal, but here’s the explanation as to why it isn’t. The biggest problem with Neverwinter Nights is that it’s soul crushingly easy to beat. By the end of the second chapter most enemies will not even raise a finger to contest your presence, and the game becomes a menial whack-a-mole event set to the D&D universe. As a Level-14 Wizard, this gamer was bored to tears smashing generic Level 3 or 4 Orcs at the midpoint of the second to last chapter of the game.
Granted, the entire game is not like that but, sadly, most of it is. There are some shining spots of redemption but they are sparsely scattered. So, when you read the back of the box and it states “60+ hours of gameplay” subtract 20 hours for killing the same zombies/skeletons/imps over and over again. Then knock off 5 for walking back and forth across terrain, and subtract another 5 for lengthy conversations. That leaves you with 30 solid hours of challenging battles, puzzles, and, admittedly, a very good storyline.
The graphics of the game are impressive for an RPG of its ilk; the world textures are crisp and detailed, and player textures are nearly as good and feature some special effects like shining armor. The big downside is that the textures inside dungeons are virtually identical in every single castle, house, and cave. After about 20 trips into one of those identical tile sets, it begins to wear on the eyes. Player models leave something to be desired, as well as character customization. All male models are bulky, with a strictly limited selection of faces; females go from one extreme to another, and neither is very convincing. Fortunately the graphics are saved through compelling spell effects and variety.
The sound, unfortunately, does not fair as well. There isn’t much in the way of music, and the sounds of weapons whizzing, smashing and clanging are virtually identical throughout. The sounds applied to spells are much more varied, but aren’t especially creative, running mostly the way of humming. The voice acting is well executed, but still somewhat limited compared to other games – even those Bioware itself has done. The voices applied to your character are varied but many of them aren’t particularly realistic; just test the Evangelist voice track, and bear witness to the pain.
Fortunately, Neverwinter Nights does have an excellent multiplayer system. It allows player to not only play through the single-player campaigns together, but they can also design new modules with the nearly limitless Aurora toolset (included with the game). The multiplayer base of the game is incredibly strong, and virtually every module can be played without the expansions, though 92% of all NWN players have all available expansions. The multiplayer can support tens of players in a variety of game types including Deathmatch and Quest, which speak for themselves. All of this is 100% customizable by the user.
So if you can look past Neverwinter Nights’ monotonous single-player campaign to its much more stimulating multiplayer mode, it is a worthy buy for any fan of D&D. The multiplayer will be extremely daunting to anyone new to the D&D realm, which will require you to learn the basics via the single-player campaigns. The graphics are the best a D&D game has ever seen, and Bioware has done a magnificent job in bringing the pen and paper classic to a convincing 3D environment. If you can hold your interest in the multiplayer mode, then NWN pays for itself over and over in sheer fun factor. However, if you aren’t a big fan of true role-playing, or multiplayer bashing set to D&D rules, you may want to pass this one by.