Game Review: Neverwinter Nights 2

Neverwinter Nights 2
(8.9 of 10)
Platform: Windows XP (PC)
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment


I've always been a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, may it be the traditional table-top or the electronic game equivalent. I've spent and wasted countless of hours playing campaigns, delving dungeons and slaying dragons, with my fellow "Magickeros" at the Rotary Park or at the 2nd floor of Signs and Symbols. When I'm home, I'll turn on my PC to play games like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment until my eyes were bloodshot. Those were the days of old, however. Fortunately, and I'm glad, Neverwinter Nights 2 has brought it back.

The main story in Neverwinter Nights 2, unlike its predecessor, can only be described as epic. Albeit the storyline is a standard in fantasy gaming -in which a nobody, a humble villager, from out of nowhere rises up to confront an ancient evil of great power- but the journey to defeat the threat is thick with twists and turns, which are altered and based through your actions and inactions. The ending of the story is quite unexpected as well, and you might, or might not, be disappointed by it.

Gather around the campire and listen to tales of adventure.

The sterling story is also presented in long, well-written dialogues and is given life by stupendous voice acting. In addition, the main story is backed by an extensive history, geopgraphy, and short stories, making it even more interesting. The plethora of information that can be found throughout game also introduces you to the realm of Faerun, which is good if you're not well versed in the Forgotten Realms setting.

There have been a couple of changes since the original, and probably the most notable is the utilization of the D&D 3.5 edition rules (whereas the first game uses D&D 3rd edition). Character creation is much richer this time. New prestige classes (like the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster) and sub-races (like the Drow and Tiefling) are made available. You can also choose your deities and background traits, which gives you starting bonuses, for more role-playing goodness. However, if you think that creating a character is too complex or too long, you can always click the "recommend" button -for automatic selection of feats, skills, and abilities- to hasten your creation. If that's not fast enough, you can simply choose a pre-generated character.

Facing your demons with swords and spells.

After you're done with the character creation you'll undergo a quick tutorial in form of a story, where your character must join a series of village festival contests. If' you're already a veteran of D&D games or Neverwinter Nights, you'll have the option to skip the tutorial and go right into the action. But if you're new to the game, the tutorial does its job in showing you the ropes. In the tutorial mode, you'll quickly learn to interact with non-playable characters (NPCs), trade with them, and get quests. You'll learn how to use your combat skills, magic skills, and thieving skills. Also, you'll learn how to equip, command, control, and develop your companions.

The companion system in Neverwinter Nights 2 has been greatly improved. You can have a full party with a total of three companions. Though sometimes, on special missions and situation, you can exceed your limit of three companions. Each one of your companions can be commanded and controlled by you, much like in the Knights of the Old Republic games. Although you can't multi-class your companions, you can still equip and develop them to fit your strategy. Companions are more than just pack mules and meat shields too, since each one of them have their own story and skills. You can talk to them, learn about their pasts, and if you treat them right they'll become more amiable towards you. In addition to that, you can also use their non-dialogue skills and feats, especially their crafting skills.

There's always a catch when you're dealing with demons or devils.

Crafting in Neverwinter Nights 2 is a lot of fun. Unlike in Hordes of the Underdark expansion, where you can only alter the appearance and change the color of your armor and weapons, crafting this time allows you to create many wondrous things -provided you, or your companions, have the skills and feats. Different types of materials can be used for crafting items, and each material has a special modifier. If you're not satisfied with your crafted item, you can always add a little more flair by enchanting it with spells.

Besides crafting, the game also has other fun features like the "stronghold" for example. Later in the game, your hero will have his own stronghold, a Keep. Running your Keep is similar to playing a simulation strategy game. In your adventures, you'll meet different characters like miners, farmers, and sergeants. You can hire these persons to help you train your militia, grow crops for your Keep, or gather ore. You can also build up your Keep's defenses and beautify the surrounding areas to attract more farmers and merchants. But if you're the evil type of character, you can always choose to be a corrupt lord and tax your subjects to death or turn your Keep into a criminal's haven.

The Red Dragon Disciples fearlessly engages the Fire Giants.

The game's graphic engine underwent a bit of an overhaul. While the visuals aren't abysmal, it's also not up to today's standards. The special effects here are realistic and mesmerizing, and it's a step up from the first game or the Knights of the Old Republic series. But it does not stand out if compared to other games released this year, namely Oblivion or Dark Messiah. But one thing I'm really happy about is that the flat and generic terrains are gone, and the environment is filled with rolling hills and high mountains.

Most of the sounds in the game, however, were obviously recycled from its predecessor. The ambiance, the background, the voices for your character, and even the music can also be heard from the first game. But the new ones, especially the musical scores, are really orchestrated and add more to the game's mood. Like I said earlier, the voice acting of the NPCs in this game is astounding, probably the best I've heard this year.

The Bard sings to inspire herself, and her companions, for the upcoming battle.

But even though with all the praises and niceties mentioned above this game isn't free from bugs. I've encountered some of them like the endless scene looping were one cut scene would keep repeating everytime I'm trying to leave an area. There were also times that I can't transit to other areas and would be stuck in one place. I've also suffered from low frames per second (FPS) counts in some parts of the game, even with my above mid-end PC specifications and all settings turned low. In addition to that, I also had a hard time updating my game because the auto updater wouldn't work properly.

Overall, Neverwinter Nights 2 is really a great game. I never had much fun like this, in a computer game, since Baldur's Gate II. Although it was hammered down by multitude of bugs and other technical problems, the whole gaming experience outweighed those annoyances and inconveniences. The stronghold managment, the exemplary storyline, the crafting, and the ability to defend yourself not only with sharpened swords but with sharpened words as well were all awesome. Of course, the adventure of the main story was only the beginning. There is the toolset so you could make your own D&D campaigns, and a bunch of fan-made modules to download and play. But that's a review for another time. For now, just get this game and enjoy it.