Video Game Thoughts: Neverwinter Nights

Neverwinter Nights was a 2002 role-playing game by Bioware for the PC. After Bioware’s previous masterpiece, Baldur’s Gate II, I had high hopes for this game. My high school friends were all using 3rd Edition Dungeon & Dragon rules, so I was excited to play a game using the same rules. The game unfortunately didn’t live up to my hopes. It wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t perfect like Bioware’s previous effort. I found the story to be just as epic. The fate of the world hung in the balance. The main problem was caused by deliberate limitations in the game engine.

Bioware’s real goal with Neverwinter Nights was to create a game editor that players could use to create their own campaigns. These campaigns could be played online. I thought this was a cool idea by itself, but this required the dungeons and levels to be easy to create. Instead of using custom 3D environments everywhere, every area was a grid. Using the editor, players could pick a “tileset”, which included a bunch of easy, snap-together pieces that would fit on the grid. New dungeons and levels were easy to create, but also gave me a sense of sameness everywhere.

The main campaign Bioware created for the game suffered from that sameness. Basically, each act had six large square areas to explore. The first area was the hub with shops and inns and major story characters. The four side areas each would have one major quest item the player needed to collect to unlock the final sixth area. Three full acts followed this exact same pattern. Only the fourth act made any changes, but it took place in mostly the same areas as the first act. It was just too much of the same thing. The story was fine; the gameplay was weak.

Another change Bioware made compared to Baldur’s Gate II was removing the whole party system. The game was designed for multiplayer, so they expected players to group up with real people online. The solo player like myself was stuck using only a single henchman companion. These companions were controlled by the computer AI as well, so I couldn’t directly control them. I could give them a few basic orders, but they largely made their own decisions in combat and in dungeons. It was very annoying when they would stumble onto traps without me being able to do anything about it. Sometimes they would run off into a room full of enemies and get themselves killed. I especially hated how the only way to unlock the locked chests in dungeons if my character wasn’t a thief was to hire the thief henchman. Many other henchman seemed interesting, but I would have to give up lots of loot to hire them instead. Each henchman had a story, but it only amounted to the player finding a quest item in one of the dungeons and handing it over to them.

Overall, Neverwinter Nights just didn’t have the detail or complexity of Baldur’s Gate II. I’m sure the multiplayer was great, but the singleplayer could have been a lot better. I was quite disappointed. I guess the good thing is that I read the reviews before buying this game. I got the Platinum Edition on sale a few years after the game was out. At the discounted price, the game was worth it. I would have been very disappointed if I had paid full price when it first came out though.

Shadows of Undrentide expansion

I never liked this expansion. Shadows of Undrentide wasn’t actually part of the story of the base game. It was an offshoot short story. The story was fine I guess, but it was too short to really go anywhere interesting. I did like that they added some new monster types and environments to explore. They also made the dungeons more intellectual with puzzles to solve instead of rooms full of monsters to kill. It was just a let down going from my level twenty hero to new level one character for this expansion. It didn’t mesh well with the base game.

Hordes of the Underdark expansion

Hordes of the Underdark was much more to my liking. Unlike Shadows of Undrentide, this expansion let me continue the story of my character from the base game. It wasn’t really a sequel to the story in the base game, but the timeline was roughly meant to be after those events. The character got to keep all their levels from before. This meant Underdark was an epic level campaign, so there were a lot more interesting monsters to fight.

Out of everything Bioware created for Neverwinter Nights, Hordes of the Underdark was most like Baldur’s Gate II. I could now use an additional henchman for two total. With my character combined, it was a party of three. I still couldn’t control them that much, but they at least had some speaking lines at various points of the game. The only downside to this expansion is that it felt a little too much like Baldur’s Gate II’s Underdark areas. The story was different, but the setting was very similar. It wasn’t as fresh as it could have been. I really wish they had made the base game as good as the expansion though.

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