Review by kayenn

Reviewed: 11/04/06

The best the market has to offer, by far.

The RPG market has suffered from a real lack of quality single player RPGs lately with most game companies focusing their time and attention on MMORPG. While the original Neverwinter Nights was criticized for having a somewhat mediocre storyline, and was best known for its adaptable toolset and multiplayer capability, Neverwinter Nights 2 represents a step back to the roots of the CRPG genre.

The developers were heavily criticized for concentrating on the single player campaign rather than the multiplayer aspect. This focus is very apparent in the story, and not since the Baldur's Gate series, Planescape, and Fallout (by Black Isle, which many people at Obsidian were a part of), has such a fantastic single player campaign been released.

Story and Characterization:

The story is where this game really shines, from the very beginning the story is interesting and immersive. While Neverwinter Nights 2 does at times resort to RPG cliches and caricatured personalities, these are by far the exception and not the rule. Even in the cases where the characters do seem like cliches, they are made believable and interesting by their presentation. When the story lines seems cliche, it is redeemed by the fact that the cliches are very effective and enjoyable ones. Rather than trying to reinvent the genre, Neverwinter Nights 2 takes many of the best ideas from previous RPGs, and then takes it a step further.

Don't get me wrong here, this game isn't a carbon copy, but if you liked the aforementioned games you are likely to enjoy this game. Even fans of the Suikoden series, and some of the better Squaresoft RPG's (i.e.: Chrono Trigger, FF3, etc) are likely to find something they'll enjoy.

Amongst the best parts of the game are the fact that your party members continue to play a significant part in the story long after they join you, and for pretty much any of the innumerably sidequests you do, no matter who you bring they are likely to contribute their own take on the situation. The influence system from KotoR makes an appearance here, and seems to be much improved. While it can be annoying to lose influence with a character for making certain decision, the fact is that there is enough interaction with your party to make the influence system an interesting game in itself. The dialogue is very well written for the most part as well, and it ranges very witty, to humorous, to dark. Obsidian did not dumb down the conversation, or censor the evil characters in order to make this game more appealing either. The maturity of this game is a welcome change from the puerility of most of the recent RPGs.

As a final note on story, while you won't find a Minsc clone here, there is enough humor so as not to provoke unfavourable comparisons (I highly recommend setting a certain pompous bard on fire). The strength of this game lies in the depth of the characterization, and the amount of choice and meaningful interaction allowed to the player.

Gameplay:

While the Dungeons and Dragons games aren't particularly known for their gameplay, Neverwinter Nights 2 does an admirably job of taking the best of the previous games and adding innovations. While you are still dealing with dice rolls and (Insert Armor or Weapon Here) +2, the battles are sufficiently tactical and varied to make them interesting. They are far more interesting strategically than the last Neverwinter Nights, in that now you have to control your own character and up to 3 companions (there is AI as well). Often you find yourself fighting 10+ opponents at once, ranging from fighters, to archers, to mages lobbing the same spells at you that you would turn on them.

The magic system has made a huge step forward from the first game, because now there is a grid to indicate where your fireball will land and who it will damage. In the case of lightning, there is a line indicating the rough path which it will follow while it chains off enemies, and with cone of cold, the radius of effect is shown in front of your character.

Other gameplay innovations over its predecessor include a Baldur's Gate style map for transitioning between areas, new feats (monkey grip for example, dual-wielded greatswords anyone?), new prestige classes, and one new base class.

Graphics, Interface, Sound:

I must admit the game doesn't really shine in this regard. The interface follows the example of World of Warcraft and Guildwars with the skill/spell panel on the bottom, this is fine once you get used to it, but it isn't exactly intuitive when it comes to D&D style gameplay.

In terms of the graphics, they are certainly an improvement over the first game, but they don't really compare to Oblivion for example. They aren't ugly by any means though (even on my midrange system), and there are some really pretty effects and backgrounds, as well as some cool looking enemies. Overall though, what is important in an RPG is the story, and the graphics in Neverwinter Nights 2 are more than good enough to provide an immersive experience.

The sound and music are great. The sound of chain lightning, or a flaming sword hitting a zombie is quite satisfying, and the ambient music is at worst non-intrusive, and in certain cases really quite noteworthy. One of my favourite examples is the haunting and epic track in the Merchant Quarter of Neverwinter.

Playtime, Difficulty:

Due to the many, many sidequests available, the amount of time that can be spent on character interaction, and the time spent managing your group of adventurers, I estimate this game would take someone familiar with a D&D RPG in excess of 50 hours to complete.

When it comes to difficulty, it really depends on how well you know your D&D, for a newbie it will be quite difficult and they might find their party getting wiped out often (especially early on) unless they read the manual. For a veteran it would likely be just challenging enough to make the game interesting. Most people will fall somewhere in the middle, and you can adjust the difficulty via a slider in the options menu if you find it too easy or difficult. I think the difficulty is just right though, and though I have played many RPGs both on the computer and on consoles, I have even been wiped out by particularly difficult battles.

Technical Issues:

This is really where the game loses out on a perfect score. This game requires a high end system to run well, and even if you meet the recommended requirements you might find that you have to use lower settings than you wanted. The AI can be atrocious at times, and in order make the most of your companions in difficult battles you WILL have to take control of them. Some people also seem to think that the game camera isn't very good, but there is a lot of ways to customize it, and after doing so, I haven't had any problems with it.

Conclusion:

Despite some minor failings, which I anticipate will be patched quite shortly, Neverwinter Nights 2 is an exceptional game. This game has one of the best single player storylines seen in not just a CRPG, but in any RPG in years. If you are a real RPG fan, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance.


Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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