Here is a list of flaws, great and small. A lot of this stuff is the kind of thing that never gets mentioned in reviews, but I think it matters. I wouldn’t want developers to get the idea that we don’t care about things like CD key length or a predictable autosave.
The flaws, in increasing order of seriousness, from the minor to egregious:
This game has the longest CD key I’ve encountered so far. Thirty-five alphanumeric digits. Sweet mercy.
There are a few bugs and broken quest triggers. One was a looping cinematic that I couldn’t escape. I checked the forums and this is a pretty common and well-known bug, but no patch has yet emerged to deal with it. A user made a mod fixes it. Sigh.
When you reach Neverwinter city the game locks up randomly until you pass some plot point that I haven’t figured out.
This game also broke the record for number of splash screens. There is a little animation for Atari, then Obsidian Entertainment, then Hasbro, then Wizards of the Coast, then NVidia, followed by the opening cinematic, which then leads you to a bunch of fine print atop the logos for all of the companies you just saw. After that you are at last, mercifully, delivered to the main menu. That is a lot of times to have to smack the ESC key when trying to start the game. Geeze guys. Do you mind? I’m trying to play my game here! Get over yourselves already.
The autosave is unpredictable. I never know when it will do the auto-saving. In the middle of Act II is when the game started killing me. It had been pretty easy up until that point, so I wasn’t in the habit of saving often. I went to load the auto-save, and found it was almost two hours old. Sometimes the auto-save seems recent. Sometimes its ages old. I don’t know why. Eventually I learned not to trust it, and got in the habit of manually saving on a (very) regular basis.
The sound effects are very lackluster. Most areas are dead silent. Some (Like Port Llast) have odd sounds that don’t seem to fit. The swampy areas should have been creaking and croaking and buzzing and bubbling. Barring that, our footsteps should have made a little noise. (Once in a while they did.) Swords always went “thud” in combat instead of “clang”. Fighters grunt when they attack, and in long fights this can ge really annoying. The music gets old quick. The combat taunts are fun, but they don’t always make sense. Bash a door open and your character will start trash-talking to the door. “Now you will pay, villain!” or “Perish, as you should!”. No effort was made to make the many crypts and dungeons sound spooky.
The system specs are out of control. I was shocked to find out my GeForce 6200 was below the minimum system requirements. There is no reason the game needs this much hardware. It’s not doing anything special. When I first started the game I was getting about five frames per lunar cycle. Luckily, I was able to turn down some settings and get it running smoothly. Still, this game doesn’t look significantly more advanced than (say) KOTOR, yet it requires many times the horsepower. I’m pretty much sick of this whole graphics card business. I’m buying them about every nine months or so now, they are getting increasingly expensive, and I’m not at all excited about the visuals I get from them. I can go back to games made five years ago and they still look great. This was not the case in 2002 or in 1997, but we are on some sort of visual plateau. Why the hell do I need to keep buying new graphics cards to play games that look 10% better than the crap I saw last year? This is a problem all over the PC games world, but NWN 2 is a particularly severe example of this problem in action. It demands a lot of horsepower for only a modest benefit.
The leveling is pretty much on rails. Sure, you can do all the side-quests you want, but in the end you’ll still ding level 20 just as you enter the room to face the final boss. Go through the game and skip all the quests, or track down and complete every little quest in the game. It doesn’t mater, because the XP rewards are small enough that they don’t make much of a difference in the long run. Now that I think of it, this is probably more a problem with D&D itself than with this game in particular. Still. For me one of the most satisfying parts of a CRPG is building the uberchar: The process of amassing huge loot and XP and leveling off the charts, so that early sacrifices pay off as power rewards later in the game. I like stomping the Big Bad. It’s been a long time since a game has let me do that. Maybe I need to move to console RPGs, since the Japanese seem to be the only people who have discovered the elegance of self-balancing games.
The load times are needlessly long. Save the game. Then re-load that game you just saved, and it takes even longer than moving from one area to another. It’s obvious that when you load the game, it purges EVERYTHING from memory and then re-loads it all. This is very sloppy, and is made worse by the need to load the game often in Act III.
The camera is clumsy. It’s possible to position it just over your shoulder as in KOTOR, but you can’t play that way. This is a shame. There are many interesting, highly detailed areas that are quite provocative up close, but in order to navigate I have to pull the camera way back until the game looks more or less like Diablo II. There was no setting that allowed me to look with the mouse and walk with the keyboard third-person style, which is what I really wanted to do. Even when pulled way back, scenery was always in the way to keep me from clicking on the ground to move my characters around.
The AI is a joke. You’ll finish a tough fight and pause to regroup. Everyone is low on magic and health. As you go around fixing everyone up, you’ll suddenly notice that one of your characters has sprinted off to go mix it up with a bunch of foes waaaay off in the distance or in another room, who were content to leave you alone until your wizard went charging in to the middle of their group for a little fisticuffs. Once the fight starts, the rest of your team will run to his aid. What you end up with is being dragged from one fight to another before you’re ready, blundering through a dungeon, setting off traps, passing up loot, and starting fights without proper preparations. If you grab that wizard and yank him back before he starts trouble, by the time you get him back into place someone else will have run off. It’s like playing with a bunch of spastic junior high kids with ADD.
The spellcasting AI is even worse. Casters will cast dispel for no reason. They will unload a big spell on the weakest monster. Or they will skip casting spells and run into the fray for a little meele funtime. My cleric would never heal anyone on her own, not even herself. Sometimes they will cast stupid, low-level spells which are useless or weak against your current foe. I never saw them turn undead (or if they did, I never saw it work) despite that being your major foe later in the game. Once you’ve beaten down the enemy gang and reduced their group to one last monster, then the casters spring into action and use their buff spells on everyone. The durations are such that they will most likely wear off right before you find your next fight.
You team up with a lot of party members as the adventure goes on. Some of them are repulsive or irritating. There is no way to get rid of them, and often you are obliged to take them with you. My favorite character was killed at one point, and I was obliged to team up with her murderer, who then became a central character. Give me a break. I realize that you must be on rails when playing on the computer, but this is just making things worse by making the player resent those rails. If this had been an adventure run by a human, then at the end of Act II I might have asked the DM to find another player to take my place. At the end of Act III, I think I would have told the DM that I didn’t want to have anything to do with his games in the future. Note to Obsidian: I don’t want to have anything to do with your games in the future.
You can only have four other people in the party at once, and the rest of your companions wait back at the tavern for you. Very often I realized I needed to change a member. I would find I had no use for the bard in the dungeon, but I really needed the Rogue. Or maybe I was facing a bunch of undead and I wanted to get the cleric’s help. In any case, I’d have to hike up out of the dungeon, through several loading screens, and navigate all the way through town, then enter the tavern. The walk itself took several minutes, and the loading screens ate up at least a few more. I just wanted to say to the DM, “Look, I run back to the Tavern. I get the Rogue and dump the Paladin.” KOTOR had this and it worked just fine, and it eliminated a lot of dull, pointless backtracking.
SPOILER: As I mentioned before, the ending was one of the very worst I’ve ever seen. Some people pointed out that the budget was cut or the schedule shortened, and that would indeed explain why the ending played out in text and voice over. But that doesn’t explain why the ending was so senseless and childish. The voiceover tells you that the dungeon collapses and your party is apparently buried alive. There is something seriously wrong with a team that thinks this is a good way to end a 50 hour game. All they had to do was say “you live happily ever after”, but instead the writer killed off the player and all of their friends. This is after killing off everyone in your hometown, and most of the other sympathetic characters in the game. This is the most reprehensible flaw in the game, and the one that has put me off of Obsidian games for good. (They got me once with KOTOR 2 and I gave them some slack. Now they have done it to me a second time and I’ve decided that these people don’t know how to end stories.)
Wow. This is a lot of grievances, now that I’ve bundled them up and stacked them together. The big problem here is that a lot of flaws combine, Voltron-style, to become bigger and meaner flaws. The lack of ability to switch party members at will is made worse by the loading screens. The uneven difficulty is made worse by the capricious autosave. The bad AI is made worse by the unwieldy camera that makes rounding up your bezerker wizards all the more difficult. The crashes are made worse by the annoying splash screens. Everything is made worse by the ending.
People are giving this game all sorts of awards. There is indeed a lot to like here, but there are enough compounding flaws here to ruin the experience, particularly if you allow yourself to be spoiled by the excellent first act.
Could Have Been Great
Here are four games that could have been much better with just a little more work.
The plot of this game isn't just dumb, it's actively hostile to the player. This game hates you and thinks you are stupid.
Skyrim Thieves Guild
The Thieves Guild quest in Skyrim is a vortex of disjointed plot-holes, contrivances, and nonsense.
Quakecon 2012 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
What did web browsers look like 20 years ago, and what kind of crazy features did they have?