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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Review : Neverwinter Nights 2

By no means a perfect game, Neverwinter Nights 2 meets (and exceeds) all of the role playing genre expectations. Intricate character creation and development? Check. Huge world complete with towns, dungeons and lavish, lust-inspiring loot? Check. Multiple-solution problem solving, including moral dilemmas for both the honourable and maniacal? Check. NWN2 even includes a varied and constantly evolving storyline, arguably lacking in NWN1. Why is it then, when so much good can be said of Obsidian's latest effort, I still find myself tossing and turning throughout Neverwinter Nights?

Have you ever suffered through one of those dreams in which you desperately want to achieve a goal, but your efforts are in vain because your mind won't let you succeed? The state of angst I wake up in after one of those dreams is comparable to maneuvering Khelgar the dwarf into a tactically viable, non-suicidal position within the cave of a thousand tiny annoyances. NWN2's AI is atrocious, beyond acceptably poor, enough to drive you into the realms of deepest dwarven hatred. The problem is not simply confined to Khelgar. All AI-controlled party members (up to a maximum of three, plus yourself) fail to grasp the most basic tenets of their role within the group. Rather like joining forces with drunken technophobic cave-dwellers and attempting World of Warcraft's Molten Core, a Neverwinter Nights 2 player will soon discover their party members' preference for randomly targeted violence and staring off into the distance. The 'Broadcast Commands' - general orders, such as 'Stand Your Ground' or 'Follow Me' - help a player to reign in their party, but often go ignored when most vitally needed. The solution I found worked best for my play style was to place all group members onto 'Puppet Mode', essentially rendering them thoughtless in battle unless issued orders directly from HQ.

Although AI caused me most frustration, this game is full of minor, quickly accumulating niggles. The graphics are sub-standard, accompanied by framerates and loading times worse than Oblivion. There's a bug which crashes the game if the player has anyone but their main character selected at the end of a battle in which dialogue is automatically triggered. Many equipped items do not show on the avatar such as one has come to expect. Unsuccessful attempts at thievery go unpunished, even though the player is informed of a critical failure... I could go on, but to unveil all of NWN2's flaws would be to spoil the fun.

And the game is fun. Everything that was great about NWN1 can be found in its sequel, and then some. The orchestral score can be mood-defining, capable of evoking joy, excitement, intrigue and awe - often all at once. The story, (arranged into acts) manages to be both lengthy and entertaining. I found the characters to be particularly well realised; the first two hours of gameplay both introduces and kills off more memorable and ultimately likeable characters than most games can hope to boast in their entirety.

Although I can't recommend NWN2 for Game of the Year, there is a lot to be found, and liked, right here. The singleplayer campaign is perfect for literally days of epic fantasy, and the multiplayer features all of the dungeon master functionality of the original game. As time goes on, we can only expect for NWN2 to improve, with Obsidian having already released the first patch and an active fanbase of modders out there.

You can buy Neverwinter Nights 2 from Play.com

1 comment:

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