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Neverwinter Nights (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  kbmb (399)
Written on  :  Dec 22, 2002
Platform  :  Windows

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Perhaps what AD&D fans have been waiting for, but as a computer RPG, it stinks.

The Good

I'm not going to comment much on the whole toolset, since I couldn't get it working right on my machine. It should be noted that the toolset is basically what Neverwinter Nights is about, and in that, it probably is one of the best things to come to computer RPGs in a long time. The ability to create your own RPGs, and the ability to play the DM online is something AD&D fans - as well as people like me who just like to create things for others to see and play with - have wanted for a long time.

I did get the thing to work, it just crashed constantly and it wouldn't let me play any of the maps I created. But what I did see, and what I did play with, it brings the complexity of other RPG creators to the simplest form possible. It was easy for me to create maps, create custom characters and even custom items. It couldn't have been simpler to create walking paths and dialogue was easy enough to figure out, though I wasn't able to get very far in that. I can't say much about the toolset because I couldn't get it to work worth a darn, but it looks very promising for anyone who can get it to work.

So that's all I have to say about the editor in "the good".

The game that comes with the editor is interesting. You begin in a sort of training place, training to become a guard for Neverwinter. It works as a good tutorial to familiarize yourself with the controls of the game and some of the more basic rules of AD&D. At the end of this tutorial, events happen that throw you into your journey to be the "hero" of Neverwinter.

Most characters have a voice, if only as a greeting, but some of the more important characters voice everything they say. The acting ranges from good to...eh...laughably horrible.

Along the path, you're able to get a henchman and a familiar to accompany you. They can be of great help to you, whether they aid you in combat, open chests, or disarm traps. And who wouldn't want a little bird to keep you company, and peck out the eyes of your enemies?

It was great to see the characters actually dodging attacks in combat, instead of just sitting there swinging their weapons around without moving, like in Baldur's Gate. They have many different types of attacks, like "sneak attack" or "attack of opprotunity". I didn't know what these meant, however, since it wasn't explained in the game and since I was borrowing the game from a friend I didn't have the manual.

Much of the dumbass rules from AD&D have been updated in 3rd Edition Rules that make the game much more enjoyable. Wizards can wear heavy armor now, but it will restrict their spell use - just like it should have been from the start. Now you have an incentive to give your spellcaster weak armor other than "he can't wear that".

The graphics are pretty good. Character models look more detailed than, say, Dungeon Siege, and with certain cards you can activate "shiny water" which makes the water look a bit more realistic.

The journal is good. It displays a bunch of quests which, when clicked on, give extensive information regarding them.

There is some nonlinearity in the game. Your choices in the game effect your "evil" and "good" status, which I assume bears some effect in the overall game.

Spell effects were pretty cool, particularly the "magic missile". In fact, the "magic missile" spell thing was one of the nicest looking spell I've ever seen in a 3D game.

Lighting in the game is usually pretty good. Shadows could be cast from multiple light sources and looked realistic (in conjunction with the character).

The game has very high resolution textures. Finally, I was able to zoom in as far as I could and not see a blurry mess of a texture.

The Bad

(I could complain for ages about why the AD&D system sucks, but that would be kind of dumb because the main purpose of Neverwinter Nights was to bring the pen-and-paper experience into a computer game, so I'll try and keep that to a minimum)

The editor, while easy to use, is annoying. Everything is tiled, and most tiles are huge, so 99% of what you might see in the game - all that nice architecture and furniture placement - you don't have any control over in the editor. You can't place a couch, you just place the giant room tile that has the couch in it.

That's not entirely true, actually. You can place specific items in a room, but the editor doesn't come with couch items. You can probably download them with ease, but it doesn't help with the giant room with the couch in it that you can't get rid of. Oh, you can just download another tileset, but most of the unofficial tilesets (not all, though) available for download on the major websites look like they were made by a monkey on crack.

My particular video card caused the editor to crash-crash-crash-crash every time I tried doing anything. I had to disable almost all video options to get it to work right. It was a fairly common problem with my card. But even then, when I tried to play the map, it gave me some wacky error and, well, then I gave up. It was too frustrating.

The game that comes with the editor sucks. The cinematics suck - aside from a few, they're nothing but narration and sliding still pictures (though they are drawn quite well). The entire story of the game is boring and predictable. I might be spoiling something by saying you'll get betrayed very early on in the game, but if you're too thick to know this after talking to the guy the very first time (he just oozes with "I'm going to betray you all!") then you shouldn't be playing this game, as it is a "teen" rating. (Get it? Because you'd have to be very young to have such a low intellect...ahhh forget it.)

The graphics aren't too bad, but chances are, you'll see many many many buildings and "tiles" again, and again, and again. With the maze of tiles that all look alike, your only guide through the game will be your map, which is far too large on normal size, way too crunched and undecipherable on small size, and it can't be manually moved or resized. Also, some parts of the map are specifically marked, like exits. But not all exits are marked, and some important places that are marked on one area aren't marked on another. At least it lets you manually mark special spots yourself, but you shouldn't be obligated to do it some of the time.

The first chapter is too linear. You basically have four major locations to visit, each one with some big bad boss at the end of it. The second chapter is just long and boring with nothing worth mentioning in it, and I gave up there. Yeah, I didn't finish the game. So sue me. I can still complain about the graphics and gameplay.

I don't know much about the AD&D rules, but it seems to me that the Ranger is a useless class. By the second chapter, I had the "best bow you can get" by that point (according to a friend) and even with my dexterity and strength way up there, I did more damage with my wimpy sword than I could ever do with my +2 composite something bow with acid arrows. I wanted to be able to stand back and fire off arrows like the Ranger class should be able to, not have to resort to using a sword and doing low-damage-but-not-as-low-as-my-arrows to the enemy.

There were some other class advantages, but due to my large armor I couldn't use any of it - and since my henchman and familiar turned out to be all but completely useless I had to wear giant obtrusive armor to survive.

I love the idea of not controlling your allies. I think it's the biggest way Fallout was such a great game. The fact that you're playing the role of you and you only adds so much to the game. But Fallout was a much simpler game, especially for your allies. In Fallout, your allies basically just followed you around, attacked who were hostile and healed themselves if they had something to heal themselves with. If you wanted them to do something, you could tell them to do something, and if you wanted to change their behavior, you could do that, too. But in Neverwinter Nights, a much more complex game, having allies is a real pain in the ass. You can change their behavior...kind of. I told my ally to "stay close" to me, but I often found him running clear off-screen if he saw something that interested him.

Yeah, your henchman and familiar are stupid and almost completely useless. I had this halfling idiot as my henchman - I chose him because I needed someone to disarm traps and open treasure chests for me, but he couldn't do that worth a damn. If anything got in his way, like a chair or air, he'd get stuck. Other times, he'd just not obey me, or he'd screw up. Here's a typical situation:

Halfling spots trap.

"Hold up there," he says and runs to the location of the trap.

KABOOM! Halfling idiot walks right onto the trap and nearly kills both of us.

Haling stops, bends over and starts playing with the ground.

"Ah, it's done!" he says and runs back to me.

And here's another:

I try and open chest, but it turns out to be locked.

"Ah, I can handle that," says the Halfling.

I wait. Nothing happens. I try and open the chest again.

"Ah, I can handle that," says the Halfling again.

I wait again. Nothing.

"What, are you bragging?!" I yell at the screen.

Three attempts later, the halfling runs up and starts picking the lock on the chest. As he's doing this, I take a few steps back.

Uh oh! I walked too far back. Halfling stops picking the lock and rejoins me.

Halfling then spots trap and kills us all.

Fortunately, my rogue Halfling was better with a sword than anything else.

Another bad thing about your henchman is that they will magically acquire healing potions, but you'll never know when they have them. Sometimes they will just pull one out of their coat and drink away, regaining lost health. But other times they won't. It's up to you to guess when you'll have to come to the rescue and save them before they get killed.

You can't give your henchman better weapons or armor. You can give them potions, but they will drink them right after you give it to them.

The giant spider is a completely useless familiar. He dies in one hit and there's no way to protect him.

Pathfinding is laughable. I thought pathfinding in Baldur's Gate was bad, because if something got in one of your unit's way, they'd turn around and go in another direction. But at least they'd try to find a way around the obstical. In Neverwinter Nights, your NPCs - and you - don't even bother. They just stop and stay there until YOU come around and help them again. What's the point of not controlling your henchman if they can't even get around on their own?

Also, my henchman seemed to have a real problem with charmed animals. Even if the animal was never hostile, even if the animal never attacked me or my henchman, once it was charmed (that is to say, it became a temporary ally) my henchman would go attack it. But I do recall one hilarious incident that occurred because of this. I charmed a chicken just for fun, and my henchman went and killed the chicken. But then, all the other chickens in the area came and attacked my henchman! For some reason, he didn't attack back, so for a while I just stood there watching these chickens surround him and peck at him.

Sometimes, when you kill a big bad boss, he'll stay alive and say "if you let me live, I'll tell you where to find a special item!" or something, but your henchman will continue hacking away at him until he's dead and I'm not able to hear what the guy had to say!

Playing a Ranger did have a certain advantage, although it was a very cheap one. It was very easy to fire off an arrow and run around in a circle. I was always faster than the monster, and able to fire off an arrow, run away from him, run around certain obsticals, fire off another and keep running. Or, I could just wait for the monster to bump into a rock or something and get stuck so I could kill him that way.

The "forest" tileset is cool. You see leaves falling to the ground and all. But forests from the outside look stupid. You'll see some polygonal trees and a poorly hidden flat texture of a "dark forest" behind them, with odd looking leaves that look more like a straw roof of a house than anything else. While most of the tilesets in the area aren't that great, these "forests" just make it look worse.

The "shiny water" thing didn't look all that convincing and slowed the game down way too much for me to care to leave it on.

The game is way too easy. You can almost forget about strategy (though with henchman like this, there isn't any, really) because if things get too hairy, you can just teleport back to the temple. Or, if you die (or your henchman dies) you just teleport back at the temple. Pleh.

It would have been very nice to have more camera control. You can only zoom out so far, and you can't tilt the camera at more than a 45 degree angle (estimate). This makes planning battles all the more harder (though battles have almost no strategy since your NPCs are stupid and you can't tell them what to do anyway).

Attacks are determined upon the start of the swing or the sword or the pulling of the bow, meaning that if you're a mile away from when the enemy actually swings his sword, you're still going to get damaged, or if you click to attack the enemy, but then decide not to and run away, the arrow will suddenly fire out the back of your head and at the enemy.

Arrows home in on the enemy. If the enemy is running sideway when you fire the arrow, you'll see the arrow change its course and hunt the enemy down.

The game (without the manual) assumes you know D&D by heart. Though most things had descriptions for you, they really never explained exactly what effect they have. What the hell does a +1 armor check mean?

The Bottom Line

For DMs and those who want to create an RPG for themselves, this is what they've been waiting for - if you can get it working. But the game that comes with it is just plain awful, and the gaming faults and bugs will carry over into your custom RPGs without some heavy custom scripting or patches that will hopefully be released.

The game is a bit spendy at sixty dollars. Personally, I would have rather paid thirty bucks for the toolset and just skipped the game.