Neverwinter Nights 2: First Impressions

by Dan H

Dan tears himself away from his laptop for just long enough to share his first impressions of the most talked-about CRPG since Oblivion.
I am sitting here wearing a loose fitting pewter ring bearing the words "chaotic evil." To the right-hand side of my laptop there is a large model of a hill troll, carrying an unfeasibly large club.

Both of these un-do-withoutable artefacts came free (well okay, included) with the Collectors Edition of Neverwinter Nights 2, which I purchased on Friday, and have been playing pretty much non stop ever since.

There are about half a million reviews of this product out there on the interweb, (most of them linked to from if you're interested). All of them say pretty much the same thing: tremendous RPG epic in the tradition of Baldur's Gate and Torment, fully interactive NPCs, your actions have real effects, and so on and so forth.

Very few of those things are actually true.

Neverwinter Nights 2 is an excellent CRPG. It's got a plot which doesn't suck, and it's genuinely epic: you get to fight extraplanar creatures, foil evil plots, overcome orcish warlords, and do all the great stuff you want to do in a D&D based RPG. What NWN2 is not, however, is a CRPG 'in the tradition of Baldur's Gate.'

Yes, you're an orphan raised by a former adventurer. Yes, you clearly have something which ties you in with the plot in an important and fundamental way, and yes, you have direct control over your NPC companions, but there the resemblance to BG ends. Baldur's Gate places the player character in a vast unexplored world and, by and large, leaves them to mill about, grind for XP, do sidequests, pick up companions, do more sidequests, get killed by wolves, and find Rings of Wizardry in completely ludicrous sections of the map. It gives you a world, and you go and inhabit that world for however many hours of gameplay you want to pour into the thing. Neverwinter Nights 2, on the other hand, is massively more story driven. Virtually everything my character has done thus far has been directly related to their main quest, and virtually everywhere my character has been thus far has only contained NPCs relating to the main quest, and nameless 'Citizens'. In terms of gameplay, NWN2 owes a lot more to Knights of the Old Republic than it does to Baldur's Gate, Fallout or Planescape: Torment.

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing. But it is a thing. Part of me is overjoyed that I no longer have to worry about trudging around through acres of mostly-empty wilderness, fighting the occasional wolf, and completely missing the major NPC/important quest/powerful artefact which had been unaccountably buried at some abandoned crossroads in the middle of the sword coast. The price, though, is that as the game takes you smoothly from encounter to encounter, cutscene to cutscene, you don't get any time to stop and appreciate the setting.

NWN2, unlike its predecessor, includes a world map, allowing you to travel quickly and conveniently between locations which you have already visited. The other advantage of a world map is that it provides a sense of -- well -- world. It's nice to be able to look at a map and see all the places you've been laid out relative to one another. NWN2, however, undermines this sense of place by making all of the actual locations extremely small. You can easily revisit old locations, but you probably won't, because very few of the places actually have anything worth revisiting in them. A few plot-critical characters, a couple of convenient merchants, not a lot else.

I'm genuinely torn, part of me really likes being able to get straight at the plot with none of that annoying, immersion-breaking dithering. There's a bit in Fallout 2 where an NPC asks you what you do, and you get the option to reply with "Well mostly I ignore my quest and go around rifling through people's shelves," and to be honest it is kind of nice not to have people keep coming up to you and saying 'hey, I've lost my shovel somewhere over in the Dark and Terrible Woods, would you find it for me?' On the other hand, part of the reason the dithering could break the immersion in the first place was because there was, well, some immersion to break. If you're thinking "hold on, I'm supposed to be finding a water chip for my vault, not sorting out some town's gang problem" then at least you're actually thinking in terms of the events in front of you, instead of thinking "right, now what do I need to do to complete this quest and get on to the next bit of the plot." There's just something about the more modern, more streamlined games which encourages metagame thinking.

And on the subject of metagame thinking, I really don't like the Influence mechanics. But I might save that for the next installment.

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Comments (go to latest)
Natalie B at 15:13 on 2006-11-07
Mhhm. I am intrigued. My laptop will undoubtedly not run it (not least because my 3D accellerator has taken a flying jump off into the dark oblivion where dead hardware goes).
I think I'd find it small. I found the first NWN (even with expansions) somewhat small. And Baldur's Gate broke my heart when it ended (which moment I did my very level best to avoid by doing every conceivable side quest... I'm one of those compulsive gamers who won't rest until every chest has been smashed and every small dog returned to its owners). I get the feeling more and more with non online RPGs that they're really just really long interactive movies. Which isn't to say that I wouldn't want to curl up of an evening with a really long interactive movie... just that I want something more.

Which is why I should never (EVER) allow myself to purchase WoW.
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