Thursday, February 22, 2007

Review - Neverwinter Nights 2

Neverwinter Nights 2 is the second game to be developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a group with a highly reputable flair for roleplaying games. Much like Knights of the Old Republic 2 (Obsidian's first game), Neverwinter Nights 2 is a sequel to a highly successful Bioware game of the same name (you know, without the 2 after it). For the most part, Obsidian does a good job of making a game that lives up to its predecessor's caliber, but technical issues and a confusing story blemish what could have been a spectacular roleplaying experience.

If you've played the original Neverwinter Nights, everything should be pretty familiar here. The game is based on Dungeons and Dragons' 3.5 edition, which incorporates some new rules or whatnot. What matters is the game makes the pen and paper dynamic transition smoothly into a semi-realtime computer game. Neverwinter Nights 2 features updated graphics, updated party and influence system, and an all new epic tale with which you use as an excuse to get super powerful and beat everybody else up. Oh, and don't forget the roleplaying. Every choice you make has consequences.

Gameplay - 4/5

For the most part, Neverwinter Nights 2 was great fun to play. If you're at all familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons system, it's pretty much fully implemented in all its glory here. Choose a gender, race, and class to start off with from over a dozen possibilities for each option (except gender, that would just be weird). Gain levels by completing quests and defeating monsters, and once you're powerful enough, new prestige classes open up to you. Find and purchase powerful equipment, blast down your foes with powerful spells, learn specialized feats that give you new fighting tricks...just about everything a good RPG needs is here.

NWN2 seamlessly transitions the pen and paper rules to the computer screen, much as the original did. Combat is in semi-realtime as the computer rolls hidden dice behind the screen to determine your success and failure in everything from basic attacks to the success of your spells. While this might sound dull, it ends up being a pretty exciting experience, especially once you hit the later levels when you get 3+ attacks every six seconds or five enemies are swarming on your position just as you get off that defensive spell.

Graphics & Sound - 3.5/5

Here's where things start to disappoint a little. Neverwinter Nights wasn't known for its revolutionary graphics, and neither will Neverwinter Nights 2 be. While the environments are nice enough to look at, they're certainly nothing special - not even close to Oblivion's quality. Further, all of the character models are pretty much just downright UGLY. Maybe it's my shallowness, but playing an ugly character just makes me sad. I'm ugly enough in real life, I'd like to think the people I play in games could be a tad nicer-looking. The in-game cinematics (of which there are maybe one or two) are also rather sloppy-looking. While the introduction movie was impressive to watch, the actual in-game movies are basically powerpoint presentations with narration. Spell effects were probably the only thing that was satisfying visually in the game.

The sound in NWN2 was disappointing. I was expecting an all-new epic score for the game, but instead I found that the developers had decided to just reuse the old soundtrack. Frankly, I'm pretty sick of hearing that music (which, in my opinion, is some of Jeremy Soule's less inspiring work). There are a few new tracks here and there which overall are pretty good, but the fact that most of the music was recycled...

Perhaps the only thing redeeming about the sound would be the great voice-actors for the game. Every line spoken by major characters is fully-voiced over and most characters have an effective and competent voice actor to bring new life to their personalities.

Story - 3.5/5

...and then there's the story. You can tell that the developers tried real hard to make a good just doesn't flow as well as it should have. Obsidian really seems to have trouble making a coherent and complete story in its games (KotOR 2 was similarly plagued by a confusing and rushed storyline). Basically, an ancient evil is awakening (guh, not again), and you are destined to stop it (guh!). The storyline sounds generic enough, but one of Obsidian's few successes is to manage to make this foundation expand into something much, much more interesting. Along the way of saving the world, you'll tango with dangerous assassins, stand trial, discover ancient secrets, and so much more. Where these things all connect is where the game kind of falls apart, but that doesn't mean the individual parts weren't good.

The character interaction in the game is truly the shining point here. Your party will eventually consist of around ten companions, each with a distinct personality, and each unafraid to speak their mind - and they may even betray or abandon you if they don't like the way you're treating them. Your interaction with your companions is really one of the best parts of the game, as you get closer to them, they'll spill their life secrets, and new side-quests will open up for you. Not only that, but your companions will interact amongst themselves. One of the most memorable scenes is a tavern scene where your companions start trading insults at one another. It's a hilarious and well-scripted event, and it's things like this that give Neverwinter Nights 2 its own unique touch.

Unfortunately, the story as a whole is weak in comparison, especially towards the end. Going through main quest felt very...deja-vu. Often times you will be forced to ask the same questions to different plot-important characters, even if you don't care or already know what they're going to say. Further, the entire treatment of the story is confusing and hard to follow at times. While the main story arcs are satisfying in themselves, it's hard to see how it all comes together - rather, it feels more like you're using the same character to play through random events strung together with yarn.

The ending was abysmal. I don't want to ruin anything, but it was a complete cop-out. Not only that, but the ending narration sounded like they had a random executive producer come out of his hole in the dirt and start reading. Hugely disappointing, especially considering the high quality of the voice-acting in the rest of the game.

Still, overall Neverwinter Nights 2 was a great gaming experience. I know I had a lot of criticism for the game, but it's only because I had such high hopes for it. After all, it is the sequel to a fantastic game, and was developed by a reputable game developer. But don't get me wrong - NWN2 has its shortcomings, but I can not deny that I didn't enjoy it while it lasted.

Overall Score: 4/5