Neverwinter Nights 2: First Impressions

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jan 18, 2007

Filed under: Game Reviews 19 comments

Now that I’ve savaged the lazy, junior-high ending of this game and taken some time to cool off, let’s talk about what worked:

Neverwinter Nights 2 Character Creation.
A female half-orc… Warlock? Hey man, whatever floats your boat.
The character generation system is perfect. I spent the better part of an hour crafting my first character. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to run through all of the races and classes and sub-classes and sub-races and feats and experiment with different skill allotments and read about the various prestige classes available later in the game. Really, the character creation system is almost a game in itself. There are so many classes to choose from that it is difficult to pick just one. I want to play them all!

The game does an excellent job of stepping you through the process. The explanation for every race, class, feat, and spell is available right there, so you never feel lost and never feel like you don’t have enough information to make a decision.

I’ve been negative towards attempts to bring d20 gaming to the PC in the past, and I stand by those comments. Having said that, this is an excellent adaptation of d20 gameplay, and I don’t think it could be done much better. If you’re going to bring the tabletop rules to a computer-driven world, this is how you do it.

The game has a fairly modest system for cutomizing the look of your character, but the variety of races more than makes up for the lack of ability to really customize your appearance. It also offers a few fun surprises, like the ability to create dwarven or half-orc females, which has always been tough for me to picture. It will let you create an Elven Barbarian, or a half-Orc Wizard, if you really want to.

Once the game starts, it does an excellent job of teaching how to play as you go. At the outset, your home village is having a harvest fair with a number of different competitions. Each one teaches you the specifics of some gameplay or character class, and does so while keeping you amused with several colorful (and wonderfully voice-acted) characters around town.

You fools! I said the game needs more <em>Elves</em>, not <em>Elvis</em>!
You fools! I said the game needs more Elves, not Elvis!

I particularly liked the farmer who looked and sounded like Elvis, who tasked me with un-enchanting an enlarged pig in the fattest hog contest.

I know it seems strange to praise a game for its tutorial, but this this was particularly well done. I really enjoyed learning to play this game.

Another thing that impressed me right away was the manual. I thought these things were extinct. This one is nicely printed, and almost 200 pages long. On the downside: I’ve only used it once, and the thing I looked up was wrong. (The manual says you need a DEX of 13 for the Two-Weapn Fighting feat, but the game requires a DEX of 15. I don’t have the rulebooks handy so I don’t know if this is a misprint or a bug.)

The harvest fair is to celebrate the harvest, but it is also a time of remembrance. It is held on the anniversary of an attack long ago, in which the village was nearly wiped out. How long ago? I kept trying to figure that out. Eventually I realized the game was being coy about it on purpose. The attack happened when you were an infant, and since you can adjust your age when you create your character it isn’t something they could build into the dialog. If you play as an elf, then the attack can’t have happened less than 120 years ago, since that’s how long it takes elves to grow up. If you are human, then the attack could be as recent as 18 years ago. They do a good job of skirting around facts that the game can’t control, so much so that I didn’t even realize they were doing it.

The high harvest fair in your hometown of West Harbor is actually pretty fun, and there are some great characters to meet.  If you skip the tutorial you’ll miss out on it, though.
The high harvest fair in your hometown of West Harbor is actually pretty fun, and there are some great characters to meet. If you skip the tutorial you’ll miss out on it, though.

The system specs and load times are out of control, but the game does look quite nice. The screenshots you see on this page aren’t really illustrative what what you’ll see in the game at the default settings, though. I had to turn the quality way down to make the game playable, and I left the settings there for these screenshots. Areas have lots of detail, and there is precious little “recycled” stuff. Each building and location is unique and interesting. That’s nice, although I would rather settle for (much) lower system requirements.

My first impression of this game was that it was going to be one of the best RPG’s I’ve ever played. If it could have maintained this initial high standard, and if it had some sort of reasonable ending, it would be.


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19 thoughts on “Neverwinter Nights 2: First Impressions

  1. Vegedus says:

    “If you're going to bring the tabletop rules to a computer-driven world, this is how you do it.”

    I don’t agree. I have struggled to like several of the computer game adaptions, mostly because they all contain some great roleplaying aspects and stories. However, the gameplay have always bogged the experience down for me. Not because DnD isn’t a great fit for a computer game, but because it has ALWAYS been adapted wrong. Now, most that look at neverwinter nights 2 probably can’t see what is wrong in this adaption. But a very basic part of it’s gameplay is off. DnD is a turn-based game. It always have been. You can’t play a pen-and-paper game in real time, and neither should you. Even when you get the facilities that allow you to do this (a computer), the rules and the very spirit of the game is turn based. Now, NWN is still based on turns, I roll a dice, he rolls a dice, but it is executed in a fake sense of realtime. This means that nothing I do will be executed right away, since it’s turn based, but everything else will look like it’s real time. The effect is that the game feels sluggish, almost like it’s lagging, even though its not. It’s not mandatory, but many play DnD on a squared map with small figures representing their avatars. This makes it possible to plan out all sorts of moments and tactics. In NWN you lose that, since there are no squares and you’re never sure how many turns it would take you to go anywhere. Things like flanking and utilizing attack of opportunity is almost impossible to properly plan and execute in NWN. My perfect computer DnD game, would be an Tactic RPG (or, I think Strategy/S RPG is the correct term, but tactic makes more sense) similar to Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. Most SRPG’s even deal with almost the same move and standard actions as DnD! You would get 100% control over the battle, instead of this system, where you have to struggle just make your units cast the right spells, because the AI is so dumb.This way, it would actually feel like a game of DnD (without the peers), instead of this weird hybrid of hack-and-slash with slow, deep gameplay.
    I actually heard there would be a DnD PSP game, that was a SRPG, so I’ll know at some point if I’m right.

  2. Shamus says:

    I hadn’t thought about the turn-based aspect of combat. I REALLY liked the turn-based nature of Fallout, and that sort of turn-based battle – where the game comes to a halt and lets you ponder your next move for as long as you like – could obviously work well if done right.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, this would cover a multitude of sins, such as the insultingly bad AI that drives the spellcasters, as you mentioned. If it just went from one player to the next and let me take each turn myself, instead of making me run everyone at once, then it could be a lot of fun.

    It would be a very different sort of game, though. I’d like it. I wonder if it would shrink the audience. Still, they can’t be THAT worried about audience size or they wouldn’t have made the game require you to own a computer built in the last five minutes.

  3. SimeSublime says:

    Although turn based allows for better use of strategy, it drags the game to a screeching halt. I wouldn’t mind it for large boss battles, but for every single encounter in the game? That’s why I can’t bring myself to finish Temple of Elemental Evil(well, that and the fact that your charactetrs could be killed by a sick kitten. I mean level 10 cap? You can’t do anything with that). I find playing that game an excersise in tediousness.
    On the other hand, I love the way games such as Baldurs Gate 2(once again, the first game is way too low leveled for me to handle), NWN2, KoTOR, P:T etc. You can hack an slash and let the AI handle things, or you can pause every round and run everybody by hand, or somewhere inbetween depending on the seriousness of the fight. As such, you didn’t have to rely on crap AI when strategy was important, and the game wasn’t dragged to a grinding halt when it wasn’t.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do love the odd turn based game such as Fallout, but it’s really a struggle to keep me interested. I’ve found the faux real time of the D20 CRPGs to be my prefered method of playing.

  4. Will says:

    Return to Krondor played very much like what you’re describing. While there wasn’t a definite grid, you could take your turn to move around behind someone for a quick stab, and it would give you an indication of what was and was not in range that turn. I think it’s abandonware at this point, and I know it’s predecessor, Betrayal At Krondor, is free (Sierra approved) to download at various places.

  5. Scott says:

    The game is called Dungeons & Dragons Tactics and it is supposed to come out in March for the PSP. It claims to be the most true to tabletop D&D electronic game ever made. I’m very curious how it will turn out

  6. Telas says:

    RPGs are many things to many people. Some like the immersive fantasy, some like the freedom only PnP gives, and some like finding tactical solutions to battles. There are more elements, but these will do for discussion.

    Of these, CRPGs can only be good at immersive fantasy and tactics. Even the best of the DIY games (Morrowind, etc) have somewhat limited options, when compared to PnP RPGs.

    Even the immersive nature of CRPGs is flawed, IMHO. A good PnP game is evocative, like a song or a novel; it encourages your imagination to draw the scene for you. A CRPG is provocative, like a movie or a music video; it draws the scene regardless of how you would imagine it. (This is why I don’t like WoW; the game feels like a kid’s cartoon.)

    As an RPGer who isn’t much into the optimal tactical solution to any battle (I’d rather play my character as he’d act), I don’t get much out of CRPGs. This is ironic, because it was the BG series that drew me back into RPGs…

    There’s a theory that CRPGs will draw the powergamers out of the PnP market. It’s usually bandied about by “serious roleplayers” (whatever those are). I don’t necessarily agree or even support the theory, but it’s easy to understand where it comes from.

  7. Batmanintraining says:

    The manual is a misprint.

    TWF has a prereq of a 15 DEX.

    I’m sure you already checked the rulebooks and whatnot, but figured it couldn’t hurt to post it.

  8. Shamus says:

    Batman: Someone else has the rulebooks right now, so thanks for clearing that up. It really was bugging me.

  9. Maddyanne says:

    Have you tried NWN 1? You can get the Platinum Edition for about 15 dollars at Amazon.

    I really recommend it, not for the Official Campaign, but for the toolset and the amazing amount of community created content.

    The DMFI Project has put out a great tutorial module that teaches you how to DM the game, and all kinds of tools to make DMing easier.

    The graphics are pretty primitive, but Bioware has put a lot of effort into supporting the game and it runs beautifully.

    There are community created modules for single and multiplayer campaigns, mods that require a DM, and the extremely user friendly toolset to run up ones of your own. If you want to do a complex campaign with all sorts of scripting, that’s pretty labour intensive; but some familiarity with the toolset will let you build a nice little thing to DM for friends.

    I found your site reading DM of the Rings. Beautiful.

  10. Deoxy says:

    “The game is called Dungeons & Dragons Tactics and it is supposed to come out in March for the PSP. It claims to be the most true to tabletop D&D electronic game ever made.”

    Hello? Return to the temple of Elemental Evil?

    Well, it didn’t have “squares” that you could see, but I think it bahaved as if they wre there (could be wrong). Even if not, I think that would be the only thing that wasn’t “canon”.

    But yeah, I really liked the Baldur’s Gate series myself (despite the 2e rule set). Isometric view, you control the whole party, pause-and-command as necessary. It was real-time, but you could do things at the same rate as if it were turns (more attacks if you were a fighter, etc).

    That’s one thing I didn’t care for as much about NWN – you controlled ONE character. That’s fine… if you’re doing a network game or something, but it really sucks when you’re playing by yourself.

  11. Vilific says:

    Shamus, I haven’t played NWN2 as of yet but I have been playing NWN for a while and I can tell you that if NWN2 is anything like NWN, it’s multiplayer where the game really shines. The Persistent Worlds on NWN allow for a sort of mini MMORPG with actual roleplaying and a comprehensive story where your character can actually affect the world. Already gaming communities such as this one are in planning for PW servers. You should really give the multiplayer a try before letting the single player campaign ruin it for you.

  12. Yahzi says:

    I have to agree with Vegedus. D&D is a turn-based combat system. I never got past that flaw in NWN1.

  13. Dave says:

    Isn’t NWN1 turn-based?? it puts everything in an action stack and things are resolved with initiative and speed modifiers.. and zombies always go last…

    Go to .. they run DM’d adventures all the time.. and feels very much like PnP.. complete with dice.

  14. Felix Benner says:

    The problem with turn based is that it doesn’t mix well with multiplayer. Since NWN is about multiplayer (as has been mentioned already) turn based is second priority. For those who wish turns in single player mode the pause-key is provided. Of course an auto-pause option would not hurt. If you put that on the wish list maybe Bioware will put it in an update.

  15. Freddie says:

    You should remember Might and Magic 7.

    1. You were in control of a four person party.
    2. Walking around was in real time or turn based.
    3. Fighting could be real time or turn based.
    (you switch by hitting the enter key)
    4. Low level / High Level areas
    5. NO level cap that I could ever reach
    (Almost reached level 90 after a month of playing)
    6. A really good ending to a great story for both good and evil.
    7. Great graphics for the time.

  16. Redshift7 says:

    Hi Shamus,

    All valid concerns: its very hard for a CRPG to replicate the feel and strategy of pen and paper, mostly, IMO, as CRPGs have to be made to appeal to both the teenagers who just want to slay monsters and get cool loot and those who wish to capture the spirit of role-playing that drives the tabletop games. The Tales of Moonsea PW mentioned earlier is a module I’m involved with which is trying to right the former, by hopefully providing a multiplayer environment that mirrors more closely the roelplaying aspect of table top, relying on the imagination of the players with DM assistance to create the intrigues and adventures we all love.

    The user created worlds including lots of others out there are we feel the real strength to NeverwinterNights2 – the toolset is fiendishly complex which allows for very lush scenery to it all.

  17. JH says:

    I’m not sure where you “turn” based people played, but I never let people take for ever to plan out their strategy. For one thing I’ve got more things to do than just fight a single battle while you dilly dally. There is certainly plenty to grip about, bugs, very linear play, people popping up from the dead…but the game play is fairly smooth without turning into a first person shoot’em up. If it is getting too fast or your wizard is wandering off. hit space bar.

  18. acabaca says:

    NWN2’s main failure was that it was the most fucking frustrating railroading experience of my life. Somehow even with most JRPGs I felt I had more room to breathe in and stretch my limbs than in NWN2. I gave up near the midway point (I assume), but the first half of the damn game was literally a barely-masked tunnel run where you first had to go to place X and do task 1, then go to place Y and do task 2, with god damn no other options. You couldn’t look around because there was nowhere to go and all the doors were locked with unpickable plot locks. You couldn’t do side quests because the game didn’t give you any, and you couldn’t go find some because the game didn’t allow you to go anywhere except in the areas critical to the current main objective. Once in a great while they give you a single side quest, when in Baldur’s Gate 2 I had access to something like 50 different quests at the two hour mark.

    I also absolutely hate the “influence” system this game and Kotor 2 had. It turns interaction with the NPCs into a shitty minigame where you try to pick answers that raise the damn number the game gives you, instead of answers that you feel like saying. The influence system turns some of your dialogue options objectively worse than others and never lets you forget it. Not to mention how fucking illogical the “good” options were: Hey, how do we convince the stupid dwarf to reconsider his angry fightan ways? I know, LET’S AGREE WITH HIM ABOUT HOW AWESOME FIGHTING SHIT IS AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

    Finally, the interface was hell. I played a Cleric and even casting my basic personal low-level buffs took something like 15 pointless clicks, at the beginning of every major combat. WHAT FUN!

  19. Joshua says:

    Yeah, this is a way old post, but a random thought struck me. “It is held on the anniversary of an attack long ago, in which the village was nearly wiped out. How long ago? I kept trying to figure that out. Eventually I realized the game was being coy about it on purpose.”

    I wonder if this is why they made Daeghan somewhat aloof, almost as if he was keeping a secret. If you’re playing a good character, perhaps he’s just distraught over the loss of his wife or whatever. If you’re playing an evil Rogue/Assassin/Blackguard/whatever, perhaps he really was keeping a secret and was training you to secretly take over the world or something similarly diabolical.

    Eh, it’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why you’d be playing an evil character based upon the upbringing the game shows you having.

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