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Spacer Neverwinter Nights

System: PC
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Teen
Designers: Bioware
Publisher: Atari
Price: $24.99
Rating: 9.5 of 10

Review by Brutilus

Deep in the desolate northlands sits a shining jewel of a city. It's a center for trade, a haven for the weary, and a place of learning. It draws in adventurers, travelers, and merchants of all races from all over the globe. It is also a city that has recently been beset by the awful Plague of the Wailing Death.

Welcome to Neverwinter.

Like many, you have been called upon to help quest for a cure for this foul plague. Many think that there is something special about you, but you'll be forced to prove yourself in these harsh lands.

Quit dragon me down

In the course of your adventures, you will have to solve the riddles of madmen, soothe the ache of a friend's soul, and even slay dragons. Many will challenge you, but none can be allowed to prevail for you are the champion of this fair city.

Overview

Neverwinter Nights is the brightest jewel in Bioware's already reslpendent crown. It is the first Dungeons & Dragons video game that I've ever wanted to take the time to finish. (Considering that I am a 12 year D&D role playing veteran, that's saying something.) The plot is rich and full of intrigue. There is none of the contriteness and generally dull story telling that has plagued many earlier D&D computer games. The plot of Neverwinter Nights is well developed and filled with dynamic characters for you to interact with.

The graphics and animation are stunning. The dragons are properly scaled in relation to the human characters and are both fearsome and beautiful. The trolls have a characteristically odd gait in their movement. All of the spells are distinctly identifiable and attractively animated. Every piece of equipment is beautifully detailed.

Stylin' As your character changes and upgrades equipment, the look of your character model changes. Each category of item has a unique look. Each piece of armor, every ring, every weapon, and even different types of boots have a different physical representation. For example, every "long sword" in the game may look the same, but the "long sword +1", a magically enhanced longsword, has a distinctly different look. The same is true for armor, clothing, helmets, and shields. The Shield of the Dragonslayer is much prettier than the plain, old tower shield.

Magical properties of weapons are visibly identifiable. For example, my current character, fights Florentine with an Astral Blade (a long sword that does sonic damage) and a Blade of the Gladiator (a long sword coated in acid). The Blade of the Gladiator appears to have a bright green sheen to it and has steaming drops of acid falling from it as you walk and fight. The Astral Blade has a white aura and emits a small sonic boom every time it connects with an enemy.

The sound in Neverwinter Nights had a lot to live up to. The Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series had magnificent ambient noises and incredible soundtracks. The music and sound in Neverwinter Nights is better. I'm looking forward to getting the soundtrack on CD. The Collector's Edition of Neverwinter Nights looks very sweet and has the music packaged with it, but is a little pricey ($69.99)

Every character in Neverwinter Nights has a vocal characterization. With player characters, this means that you get to choose from a large selection of characterizations including the Stoic Hero and the Evangelist. (Having a cleric that sounds like a southern Televangelist is a scream.)

All NPC's (Non-Player Characters) have at least one or two lines that they will say when you approach them, but many of the plot-critical NPC's may have several minutes worth of voice work recorded for them. The Lady Aribeth has several extended dialog sequences with your character in each chapter.

Gameplay

I'd be lying if I said that gameplay for single players was well balanced, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the game. The single player quest heavily favors the fighter classes. Other classes (such as wizard or rogue) can be used, but the farther you stray from a fighter, the harder the game gets.

Dial M for MonstersDuring combat or other character interactions, you can right-click on any other creature to bring up a list of things you can do to them. Talk, attack, cast a spell, and even certain skills are useable on both your foes and NPC's.

The command system is easily picked up and there is a pause feature so you can assign actions to all your party members during the course of a battle without worrying about them getting munched by your enemies in the meantime. Everything can be done through Neverwinter Nights' new command system: the "dial" system. When you right click on a character, a series of symbols appear describing different categories of actions that your characters can do. Most symbols on the first layer lead to other dial menus, especially if spells or special abilities are involved in your selection, but none of the menus go more than 4 layers deep.

With a maximum of 3 full time characters in your party (yourself, a hireling, and a familiar or animal companion), things are a little easier to manage than in Baldur's Gate. You only have control over the statistics, inventory, and skill advancement of the character you generate. This change of focus from party management to individual management is both a blessing and a curse in that you can't upgrade your henchbeing's equipment in any way shape or form and you can't pass off excess equipment to another party member when you are over your carrying capacity. (Fortunately, magic bags & bags of holding are plentiful, but not cheap.)

What's that chittering sound... As your character gains experience, they will achieve periodic level increases. I am very happy to say, that unlike in Baldur's Gate, where once I didn't notice that my character had increased in level for 3 levels, Neverwinter Nights doesn't let you forget it. Your character sketch is replaced until you level your character. Increasing you characters level is more important than ever as use of skills has become an integral part of the game. For example, having an increased concentration skill for a wizard or sorceror becomes more and more important as the game goes on so level up as soon as you can.

I do have one gripe with NWN's character system. Bioware currently has a cap on your character's maximum level. No matter how many classes you take (you are allowed up to 3 classes), you can reach a maximum of a combined level 20.

This is not a problem yet, as I made it through the original quest and all of the subquests while reaching a combined level 16, but if you wish to continue using your character in single player adventures or in multiplayer games, you will burn through these last few levels in a hurry. (Note: It is possible to continue gaining levels beyond 20, but you must purchase the current expansion The Shadows of Undrentide.

All in all, Neverwinter Nights deserves every accolade that has been visited upon it. It is a fine game with almost limitless possibilities thanks to a wonderful set of development tools and some exciting official expansion adventures which include new tilesets, monsters, and even new character classes.

Get in the adventure by buying your copy of Neverwinter Nights at Amazon.com. and read my review of the expansion pack The Shadows of Undrentide

All images are property of Bioware. Article copyright 2004 MillionairePlayboy.com


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