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Review: Neverwinter Nights 2

 
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Tinalles
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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 7:01 am    Post subject: Review: Neverwinter Nights 2 Reply with quote

Well, I've just finished playing through Neverwinter Nights 2. I know, I know, it came out a while ago. I tend to play my games a year or two behind the curve so that I can pick them up fairly cheap and so that I don't need to upgrade my graphics card too often.

Executive summary: the game is a decidedly mixed bag.

First, some good points. The storytelling is much more sophisticated in this than in the NWN 1. The story is rather intricate, in fact. The trial scene that happens fairly early in the game was superbly done -- possibly the best part of the entire game. I also liked the ability to have more than one companion, and having the ability to gain or lose influence with those characters made them considerably richer.

And it's a good thing that the story was pretty good, because there were a WHOLE lot of annoyances.

The voice acting was highly uneven. Some of it was extremely good. The voice acting for Neeshka and Qara struck me as especially well done. But other bits of the voice acting were lousy. For example, occasionally there'd be a flunky of some sort -- a nameless orc, an unidentified walk-on shadow priest, something like that -- who was clearly voiced by some random person who happened to be on hand, rather than an actual voice actor with training. I can forgive that, I guess; hiring voice actors gets real expensive in a hurry.

I'm less forgiving when it comes to the narrator. There are really only a handful of cut scenes in which there is a narrator rather than a group of characters speaking dialogue, but in all of them I noticed that the narrator's voice JUST was NOT up to par. They needed someone with a portentous, rumbly deep voice, something similar to Keith David (Goliath from Gargoyles, also did the narratorial work and Okkoto in the English dub of Princess Mononoke). Instead, they got somebody with a plain, middling tenor who sounded like a complete ponce trying to voice ominous lines. Which is a problem, since there's a very long cut scene at the very end which is narrated by this guy -- the very last thing in the entire game and they got a sub-par voice for it. Terrific. I don't understand why they didn't have the guy who voiced Lord Nasher do it, he had a much better voice for the job.

There were also some problems with the user interface.

Traveling around on the map was one. When traveling from one area to another, you're presented with a map of the realm, with a bunch of icons on it denoting places you can go. Off on the left is a list of the names of those places. Here's a picture of it (click for a full size version):



There are a number of things about this that bug me.

1) There's nothing to indicate where I currently am in the map.
2) The icons aren't labeled directly. If you click an icon once, its corresponding label at the right will be highlighted. And vice versa -- clicking a side label will highlight the corresponding spot on the map. But the separation of the label from the icon makes it a little harder to figure out.
3) The list off on the right is not organized. It's not in alphabetical order. It's not in chronological order (that is, it's not in the order in which you discover the various places on the map). The order of the list doesn't match the spatial arrangement of the icons. As far as I can tell, it's not organized in any way at all; the list is random.

All of those issues get less the more you play, because in the course of bouncing around the country completing quests you get familiar with the locations. But any time a new one pops up you have to spend time studying the map to figure out what's changed and which one you need to go to now. I mean, jeez - what's so hard about putting the list in alphabetical order?

My last objection to the map is behavioral. It doesn't act sanely. When I have found the icon that I want to travel to, I kept trying to double click it to go there. But that doesn't work. The one and only way to activate the "travel" action is to click the icon, move the mouse down to the travel button, and click it. Why make me move the mouse when I could just double-click?

I confess, I also miss the radial menu from NWN 1. It took me AGES to discover the context menu. You can right click any object to select it. If you want to bring up the menu of actions to perform on an object, you have to right-click and hold the button down for about half a second. That half-second delay is the problem. I went through fully HALF of this rather long game before I held down a button long enough to see that menu. The context menu is the only way you can talk with your companions without first removing them from the party, which meant that for the first half of the game, every time I wanted to have a chat with one of them I had to travel back to one of the designated-party-reforming spots and remove the companion from my party. BLAH.

I could go on, but I won't. There was a lot to like about this game -- the story, the very interesting non-combat challenges (such as maintaining a castle), and some really neat combat (such as fending off siege towers from the battlements of said castle). It's a lot more sophisticated than the first one. But even so, I can't give it a whole-hearted endorsement. It's pretty good, but also annoying. I give it 6.5 out of 10.

I got the sequel as part of the bundle. Once I've played through that I may file an update.
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Violabelle



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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really liked the first one, but I had similar problems with it- I didn't figure out that I could heal my companion with my potions until literally the final battle. The game went from nearly impossible to really easy ^^ So do you think it was worth it, Tin? How do the alignments work? In the first one if you tried to be evil and kill random NPCs, they all turned on you and killed you really fast, so it wasn't really practical.
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Tomato



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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've dipped my toe in this game. Truth be told, I actually purchased it on launch date way back when, with early reviewers (who hadn't actually played the game to any serious extent) lauding it like it was the second coming of something more omnipotent.

This game was, for me, anything except omnipotent.


On a seemingly unrelated matter, I've recently come to accept the fact that I am, in fact, a console gamer.

There's actually a story on how this came to be, directly related to NWN and another game.


Let me explain.


I used to be the biggest pro-computer gamer in the world. I thought consoles were cheezy charades of the real investment and realism and involvement of PC gaming. I was, you could say, a little biased.

I had played RTS games, and shooter games, and strategy games. Finally, the most recent game I had (successfully) played was world of warcraft. It is one of those games that if you play it, you are overwhelmed by it. No one who puts more than 30 minutes into this game puts less than 10 hours into this game. I gladly figured that I'd be able to handle it. Well, after some ridiculous time investment that to this day I'm not willing to calculate, I quit, severing myself gladly from that ... trap. Moving on, I experimented in other RPGs: Fable, KotOR, Jade Empire, and finally NWN2. Note that all of these were single-player rpgs, though not necessarily made for the PC (with the exception of NWN2).

I had played through, enjoyed, and beaten every single one of the games, until finally... NWN2. I expected a fun, magic-filled frolick through a mysterious land of adventure, set to a d12 Backdrop.

What I got was somewhat less than that.


From the hour+ long installation to the ridiculous character creation and loading screens, I was immediately inundated with bad vibes. Nothing was simple, streamlined, or, apparently, thought out. The music was cheesy and tasteless. The cutscenes were ridiculously narrated and worst of all, they used an odd mix of flash animations and horrible horrible in-engine scripting.

From the moment I got into this game, I felt more like I was playing something a moderately talented friend or neighbor had put together in their spare time. I felt like I was doing them a favor by being where I was: in front of their game, face firmly in palm.

Then, I got to playing it. The story opening... was very mildly interesting. I like opening into battle scenes. That was a good idea. However, generally speaking, I don't like dying horribly on the first encounter, especially when playing with such an bizaare death system as the one that game employs. Why not just stick to "saves"? Why not have frequent automatic saves?

Gah.

Anyhow, that wasn't what really turned me off to this game.

Lemme tell you something about myself: For me to consider a game is decent, I have to at least be able to finish it. I can handle bugs, as long as I can get around them somehow. When I played this game, the game was so riddled with bugs, I could not complete the PROLOGUE area, with any number of attempts, on any number of characters. There wasn't something I was missing, the game would always freeze and crash at one particular cutscene, every time. I could never advance.

So, If a game doesnt' want me to play it, then I don't.

That's how it is.

Maybe I'm just spoiled by modern console games that let you play and run through and such without being completely punished the entire time, but I don't remember DnD being ... stupid.

Anyhow, that's my take on the game: Was annoyed by the first 30 minutes, never got to complete it, gave up. Haven't cared to touch it since.
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Tinalles
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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 2:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Violabelle wrote:
So do you think it was worth it, Tin?


Hmm. There were parts that I really, really liked. Some of this will be repeated, since I mentioned it before, but here's a bit more detail. Some mild spoilers, in case anyone cares.

The first half of Act II is based primarily on political intrigue rather than on straight-up fighting, which was a welcome change of pace after carving my way through hordes of assorted monsters. In Act I you thwart the political goals of a city-state called Luskan; and so in Act II they try to frame you for mass murder and try to get you extradited under a Neverwinter/Luskan treaty. You dodge the extradition by being made a squire (nobles have a different justice system). Then you traipse all over the countryside gathering evidence as to what really happened.

It all culminates in a trial before the Lord of Neverwinter, which has is rather long and involved -- lots of choices to make. As I said before the whole trial scene was really cool. Lots of well-written dialogue, with pretty good voice acting in that part as well. I played that one scene through three or four times just to explore a bunch of the variants. It helped that my character had a high "Diplomacy" skill, which is highly useful in conversation.

Later in the second act, it introduces a super-nifty side-plot -- after the trial's over, you get put in charge of a ruined castle, Crossroads Keep. You're given a budget, an adjutant, a stonemason, and told to restore the keep. You can recruit a standing force of several hundred soldiers, train them, equip them, rebuild the keep's rooms and fortifications, encourage trade be repairing the roads and dispatching patrols to guard them, levy taxes, and so on. It was really quite elaborate. I'm thinking of playing through again just to experiment with that some more. It's not a thing you do all in one go; the keep rebuilding goes on in parallel all through the rest of Act II and into Act III. After it's all repaired, the King of Shadows sends an army of undead to try and storm the castle, and you get to defend it, which was interesting, particularly the scene with the wooden siege towers docking against the battlements to disgorge groups of undead foes.

There's a crafting system so you can make your own gear, which is horribly complicated and time consuming. I made just one significant item, a nice chain shirt for my primary character. And I cheated to do it because I couldn't be bothered with doing it all legit. In order to make that one chain shirt legitimately I would have had to:

1) Chase down assorted monsters and kill them for their body parts;
2) Distill the body parts down to their alchemical essences - I'd require something like six to eight highly specific monster body parts to accumulate enough;
3) Find three highly rare gems, or purchase them at exorbitant cost from a vendor;
4) And finally put the armor, the essences, and the gem in a "magician's workbench" and cast a particular spell at it.

I looked at how long it would take to identify, locate, and acquire the raw components and thought "Okay, no." Plus there's the fact that in order to do a good job you have to have high skill ranks in THREE different skills (Craft Alchemy, Craft Weapon, Craft Armor). I have more valuable things to spend those skill points on. It only took about five minutes to find the appropriate item codes online and just give myself what I needed to do it, whereas I'm sure it would have taken at LEAST an hour to do it manually.

Violabelle wrote:
How do the alignments work?


I've only played as neutral good. But from what I can tell, it's entirely possible to play as evil. Your conversation changes your alignment fairly often, and there are enough potential party members to assemble an evil-oriented party (as long as you don't mind one or two neutral types). In some cases there are whole sub-plots which have been written twice so that you can choose genuinely different paths. For example, when you first arrive in Neverwinter you need to get into the Blacklake District, but it's locked up. There are two ways to get in -- join the local Watch, or join the local mafia. They both get you there in the end, and both variants follow roughly the same series of events. For example, at one point the mafia is trying to extort money from a shopkeeper. It happens in both variants of the plot, but you can choose whether you're going to show up as the local Watch to protect the poor innocent shopkeeper, or whether you're going to show up as the enforcer who's going to break all his merchandise and burn his shop to the ground if he doesn't pay up right now!

The other thing is somewhat bigger. Namely, you don't have to kill the King of Shadows. You can join up with him and become his loyal lieutenant instead. I'm not sure precisely how that works, not having done it, but I'm impressed that the option is there. When you're playing as an evil character, you shouldn't be corralled into killing off the main bad guy just because that's how the writers thought the story ought to go.

Tomato wrote:
There wasn't something I was missing, the game would always freeze and crash at one particular cutscene, every time. I could never advance.


I had problems with crashes, too. Sometimes the game would crash and fall back to the desktop. Sometimes the game would crash and freeze so that I finally had to use the "power" button to turn the computer off and back on. And other times the game would unexpectedly crash REALLY hard. As in, one second I'd be playing and the next second I'd be watching the boot-up messages as my system rebooted itself. When that happened I'd get one of those "The system has recovered from a serious error" messages. The game was not stable. Save frequently.

So, overall -- highly mixed bag. Some really great stuff, a whole bunch of so-so stuff, and some holy cow yuck stuff (that's the crashing).
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Last edited by Tinalles on Thu May 29, 2008 1:36 am; edited 1 time in total
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YatesOfYore
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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 3:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just wish I had time to play through the FIRST one. *is lame*

But thanks for the reviews guys, nice to know a few other opinions before getting it yourself Wink

offtopic: I will most definitely be getting StarCraft II, even if I DON"T have time to play it, I will some how magically MAKE time.
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Tenshi



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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

S...St...StARcRaFT II.... ::starts shaking, violently, then starts foaming at the mouth. A team of white-coated people come out, huddle around him and sedate him. After a few minutes, he returns to normal::

I have spent...soooo much time on StarCraft it would make hard-core WoWers jealous. I made my own maps, setting up triggers and such, to create truly stand-alone RPG elements using StarCraft maps and characters. At one point, I had one RPG and two non-RPG maps in massive circulation, as in I could actually find games for them that I myself wasn't hosting.

Wow I could talk about StarCraft for years. I still have that game, actually, I just got so tired of people who don't speak English playing it that I finally retired it. But... O_O If people here play it, I'm totally going to dig out my serial key from the depths of who-knows-where. I totally know where my CD is, though.
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Tamir



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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I love Starcraft. Best computer game EVER. And I have hopes that SCII will be just as awesome. Very Happy

I'd love to be on topic, but I've never played either of the NWNs....
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Tinalles
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 1:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I STILL play Starcraft on a regular basis, ten years after I first got it. So I too am really looking forward to SC II. And I'm pretty confident that they'll do a good job -- Blizzard takes the time to do things RIGHT.
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Squeeself



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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 5:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Squee has tried to play through NWN2 twice now...and stopped around the same point in storyline, somewhere towards the end of Act I. While the story and gameplay are vastly improved over the original NWN, Squee just...got bored. Mostly just bored fighting with the interface, which was horrible (the map is the least problematic imho). Still mean to finish it one of these days.

On the note of crashes, do update the game. NWN2 was notoriously buggy and slow when released. They really dropped the ball on QA. But they've apparently fixed most of the problems since. Squee never had issues the second time trying to play it (and a ton of issues the first time, hence the stopping). Biggest thing to realize with a lot of the stuff in NWN2 is that it's got the same purpose as the original NWN: it was designed specifically for custom content. So gotta cut it some slack in other areas.
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Tinalles
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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 11:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Act II is where it actually started to get interesting, if you ask me. Pick it up and go from there.

If I were running Bioware, I'd actually spend a lot less time focusing on making actual games. Their strength is in developing the toolkit and making it possible for people to create their OWN games. They've gotten better at the game design aspect of it, but there's so much that could be improved with the UI (the camera control sucks, there's no first-person mode, etc). So if I were the CEO, I'd re-think the whole business model. I would:

1) Make the client and the toolkit available, cheap, with no games included. Say, $15 gets you the toolkit and the client. This would probably be available both on physical media and for download.

2) Make a few small but high quality premium modules, and sell those separately at another $5-$10 each - download from the web site, not physical, though eventually it might make sense to release an "anthology" of several premium modules on one DVD.

3) Foster a large community of module developers to generate large quantities of custom fan-made modules and campaigns. These would be available free; the idea is to attract a really large base of people purchasing the client/toolkit The better ones I'd hire to make more premium modules.

So, primary focus on the toolkit and the client UI in order to stimulate a large community of volunteer game developers. Then produce a bunch of premium modules to cash in. In terms of programming, this would mean that that the client UI would have to be as smooth as possible, and that the toolkit would have to be comparatively easy to learn. (The NWN1 toolkit was NOT at ALL user friendly, and buggy to boot.) The game production itself would come later, and might well be separated into a whole separate unit of the company.
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Squeeself



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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Note that NWN2 was made by Obsidian, NOT Bioware Tin. In fact, Bioware's strength is game design & storytelling, NOT toolkits. Take a look at all of the rest of Bioware's stuff. With the exception of NWN, they've got some of the best RPGs ever, including Baldur's Gate I&II, KoToR, Jade Empire, etc. As you said...the NWN1 toolkit was a bugger to use. It had some serious flaws.
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