on October 24, 2003
The Neverwinter Nights (NWN) game engine represents what I hope to be a new era in computer gaming: platforms that invite users/players to create their own games with near-complete access to the game engine.
Sadly, while the NWN platform itself was a major breakthrough, the included gameplay was routine, uninspired, and sometimes even silly. Shadows of Undrentide (SoA) shows that the Bioware crew can not only create a great technical product, but also deliver a solid story.
Unlike the original NWN storyline, SoA has a coherent plot that, while short of "compelling," kept me interested. The fact that it was written for single-player mode meant the storytellers could focus on developing non-player characters rather than try to have the story work with lots of different players (not an easy task!). While many have complained about the lack of multi-player support, personally I've been unable to commit to that kind of gameplay anyway, and the few experience I've had were disappointing.
The fact that NWN is both a generalized toolset and a game means a lot of tradeoffs: one is that the graphics and environments become pretty uninspiring after a while because they re-use the same assets over and over again. To me, this is almost a blessing, as it forces story developers to focus more on the story rather than dazzle players with graphics.
Toolset enhancements and expanded assets (monsters, spells, etc.) make this expansion essential for those of us creating content.
Although not approaching the peaks of the Infinity Engine series of games, the NWN platform still has a lot of room for growth, whatever the power-gamers who want shiny graphics instead of good stories might say.
on September 2, 2003
I'm one of those people who, having loved the Baldur's Gate series, was REALLY excited about NWN. When NWN finally came out, the graphics already looked dated and the official campaign (OC) was, franky, silly. Still, the power of the toolset--and the fact that there are thousands of modules freely available (many of which are MORE entertaining than the OC) kept me playing.
I wasn't expecting too much from SoU and my worst fears appeared to have been realized when the adventure starts with your adventuring school is attacked and you have to recover the four artifacts that were stolen (that sounded a bit TOO close to the OC). After that, though, the story picks up. The henchmen and villains are much better written; Drogan is a more compelling mentor than angst-ridden Aribeth. You have more control over your henchman (including the desperately needed inventory management).
The toolset expansion is welcome as well. While it's still not as easy to use as I would want, they've incorporated a lot of small improvements that make it feel a bit more like (to steal another reviewer's image) Leggos and less like object-oriented programing. The new tilesets are useful as well, though they're only "just as good" as fan-created content available for download.
Really, ultimately, what makes this a 4-star game (and one I keep coming back to) is the fan-created content. While the OC stuff is pretty much hack-and-slash D&D (the kind I liked when I was 13), you can download old-style adventure gaming (full of challenging puzzles--it's like Riven with a sword), PvP deathmatch (Rune with a wizard), and even online social servers (like those MMRPGs without the MM part). There are even scripts to allow players to create full-size parties. It's exciting to have a game where the official releases are only a jumping-off point for users to improve upon.
on July 24, 2003
Shadows of Undrentide doesn't do much to change the way Neverwinter Nights is played, and this is generally for the best. The main changes in terms of characterization are five new prestige classes, a scattering of new feats and skills, and a few new spells for each spellcaster type. New creatures have been added as well, including two new familiars. Lastly, several new tilesets have been added: snow, desert, and Netherese ruins.
The new campaign isn't as long as BioWare's infinity engine game expansions (Heart of Winter, Throne of Bhaal) but isn't too short either. There's enough new things to see to make it interesting, and the roleplaying aspect is significantly improved over the original NWN campaign. For one, you really have the chance to act evil and still get through the game, which until now- in the general universe of D&D computer gaming- has been difficult at best. The plot is a pretty standard artifact hunt, but it does take some interesting turns. Fans of the Forgotten Realms D&D setting will appreciate this especially, but it's easy enough to follow that those who can't tell Elminster from Gandalf should be able to make sense of it.
As for the campaign difficulty, it is pretty tough. Whether out of some perverse humor or just because the original campaign was too easy, the developers seem to be baiting players to their doom. The prestige classes are the cool new thing about Shadows, but none of them (with the probable exception of Arcane Archer) are spellcasting classes. However, I found it extremely difficult to play single player without a spellcasting character [if it matters, I thought Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and the original NWN were all fun, but too easy]. You will often run into masses of enemies that individually are no match for your combat prowess, but taken in whole will make hay out of your warrior or rogue. When this happens, there's really no substitute for a good fireball. Of course, this can be remedied if you get all your friends online to help you out, which I heartily recommend.
You can bring along one of several potential allies- a dwarf rogue/priest, a half-orc barbarian/sorcerer, or a kobold bard. I found the spellcasting AI to be abysmal- the priest won't heal you when you're almost dead unless you ask her to, and the sorcerer seems to have nothing but ray of frost in his repertoire- and uses it even when he would do far better just meleeing the enemy up. The good news is you can now manage their inventory, so if you have an extra set of armor or weaponry (another plus in not being a warrior) you can give it to them. The pathfinding and trap handling AI seems to be improved as well. NPCs will no longer charge over a trap when they spot another one beyond it, and will finish disarming one before attacking an enemy.
New items in the expansion include grenade-like weapons such as alchemist's fire and acid flasks. These are useful early on, and in large quantities can duplicate that much-needed fireball effect, but are oddly expensive and don't do that much damage individually. New weapons, loot, and armor are of course available, though these generally don't have a new look. Some new potions and assorted artifacts can be found, some of which are quite interesting. For example, there is a bag that summons creatures depending on what ingredients you put inside it.
The new prestige classes available are the Arcane Archer, Assassin, Blackguard, Harper Scout, and Shadowdancer. This is where I have a bit of a gripe with Shadows. Save for Arcane Archer, these classes are, frankly, worthless. They were already pretty bad with the core rules, but some of those rules require things that NWN can't do (e.g. crafting Harper Pins as a Harper Scout). The developers overcame these problems by changing some abilities and, in my opinion, the computerized versions are even worse than the pen and paper ones. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there aren't spellcasting classes (arcane archer is far less arcane than archer). I was hoping they'd add the archmage or loremaster at least, but no luck there so you'll have to settle for the new familiars and spells. The familiars are the pseudodragon and fairy dragon, both of which are very cool. Spells include such notably absent ones as Shield, the Bigby's Hand series, Inflict Wounds spells, and Earthquake.
Of course, perhaps the best thing about Shadows is the potential fan content. The new tilesets look great, and the complex interactions in the new campaign show what can be done with the engine. Once the mod community sinks its teeth into the expansion, there will no doubt be plenty more adventures to share. This has always been the best part of Neverwinter Nights, and will surely be the best part of Shadows of Undrentide.
on June 22, 2003
I bought this expansion figuring that, like most expansions, it would increase the difficulty of the original game, like LOD did for D2. So, I began with my char from NWN, a 9/7 ranger/rogue. I found the whole first chapter and interlude WAY too easy (I guess they really want you to start a new char for this expansion). I'm hoping that it will get a bit more difficult, because it's hard to level up when you're getting meager experience points. Plus, you can no longer use your Stone of Recall; you get a ring at the beginning that sort of does the same thing, but it's only useful for Chapter 1. After that, you're on your own.
That gripe aside, the game is fun to play. The new items and spells are a welcome addition. The new enemies are entertaining. The new henchmen are okay, but I find myself missing Daelen (man I loved him!). The graphics are great as well.
Performance wise, the game isn't too wonderful. I had huge load times and there were a couple of instances where it wouldn't load at all (and I exceed the requirements for the game). I read on the support site that this is a problem with the CD protection; don't know for sure, but it sure is a pain!
Bottom line, it's fun to play and a worthwhile addition to an already fantastic game!
on July 2, 2003
Neverwinter Nights is a great game, and I really enjoyed playing this expansion pack, but the game is way too short! It probably only took me 15-20 hours playing time. It's got a Chap1, Interlude, and Chap2. Chap2 is very very short and the end enemy was cake. The new specialized classes are cool, but just as you get to a high enough level to train in one, you're about done with the game! You might want to wait for the price to drop on this one before purchasing.