SummaryNeverwinter Nights is a very ambitious game that almost lives up to my expectations
The GoodNeverwinter Nights (NWN) is a very difficult game to review because there are so many different ways to play the game. NWN's biggest strength is as a platform for game development since it is so expandable you never run out of things to do whether you are a player, a Dungeon Master, a world builder, or all three.
The pre-made modules make up a good RPG with good characters and a fun, if somewhat cliched storyline. Bioware did a good job of making it possible and fun for any class to solve the game using class-specific special abilities and your henchmen helper. The graphics, while not as good as Dungeon Siege, are still very good, and the quests and dungeons are well done.
Gameplay is straightforward and easy to get into. Bioware gave you three sets of configurable hotkeys for activating abilities, weapons, emotions (like waving or anger), and spells. The character sheets are well laid out and easy to read and the automap and journal make it easy to figure out where you are and what you are supposed to be doing.
The journal is especially well done, letting you sort your quests by priority, completion status, and several other criteria as well as giving you the option of adding your own entries. The automap lets you mark locations on the map, and is automatically updated with obvious marks such as local stores and points of interest.
Multiplayer play is very easy to set up (I mostly played a few PvP modules and played some cooperative games through the main game). I can't comment on the Dungeon Master modes yet as I have not tried them, but I had a lot of fun dungeon-delving with my friend through Neverwinter.
The editor is easy to get started with, and has all the tools you need to make a game just like the included Neverwinter Nights (unless if you want to add new graphics, movies, or sounds of course).
The BadThe main problem with Neverwinter Nights is that it is not an exact implementation of 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules. The combat is very well done, but the lack of crafting, professional, and knowledge skills really limits the flexibility of a Dungeon Master trying to add spice to his campaign. Other notable skill and feat omissions are: no Tracking feat, no acrobatics, balance, jumping, climbing, disguise, or forgery skills for thieves, no magic item crafting feats for magic users, several fighter feats are missing including Great Cleave and Whirlwind, and my favorite weapon, the spiked chain is not implemented.
Bioware initially stated that flying, climbing, mounted riding, and crafting skills would not be included, but why get rid of knowledge and profession skills, even if they aren't used in the Neverwinter campaign? Any creative DM could put in skill checks when necessary, even if the skill isn't directly supported in the engine. Also, I was very disappointed that you had to take Parry to get a defensive skill because the Acrobatics/Jumping combo was one of my favorite thief or Monk skill combos.
The omissions in NWN may be fixed in patched, hackpacks, or expansion packs, so this may only be a temporary issue, but it should have been addressed in the first release.
The other problems with NWN are only minor. The automap, as it is used in the NWN campaign, tends to reveal too much as you explore. It is a little anti-climactic to see a marker on the map labelled "Orc Chieftan Throne Room" when your character would really have no idea what the room was for until after he had entered it.
Another gameplay issue (for single player play only) is that compared to earlier Bioware games, interaction between your character and NPCs is not nearly as involving as some of the romances and inter-party conflicts in Baldur's Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment. This is mostly a design issue: since you can only hire one henchman (henchperson?) at a time, your role-playing is limited to your interaction with one teammate instead of five teammates.
There are other minor quest and scripting issues in the game, some of which were fixed in early patches. None of them keep you from finishing the game, but they can get a little annoying.
Another design decision that I didn't like was to use tiles to create the maps. The result of this decision is that NWN is the only recent 3D game that does not support smooth terrain such as the rolling hills and steep mountains trails in Dungeon Siege. It may make the map design easier, but I hate the "terraced" look of the wilderness maps.
The Bottom LineNeverwinter Nights is an implementation of the 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons game on the PC with 3D graphics, sound, and the ability to design and run your own games. It succeeds at providing a good bundled game and a well-designed if somewhat complicated construction set to build your own games. Of the three big RPG construction sets released this year (Dungeon Siege, Morrowind, NWN), Neverwinter Nights is the most successful at what it aspires to do.