- Title: Neverwinter Nights 2
- Publisher: Atari
- Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
- System: PC
NWN 2's story sees you beginning life as a 'Harborman', a person adopted by a local luminary in a small village along the Sword Coast. This is the same region of the Forgotten Realms that played host to every other D&D CRPGs you've played, so you're likely to see some familiar names in both locations and characters. There's a big evil, of course, and within the first hour of play it has interrupted your village's quaint little carnival in order to kill and maim. Once the battle's done, you're tasked by your adoptive parent to head north to the city of Neverwinter, to figure out exactly what's wrong and set things right. Along the way, you meet a cast of crazy characters who aide you on your journey. Though they mostly play into the usual D&D stereotypes (grumpy dwarf, annoying druid), there's some originality here as well. I particularly liked the aforementioned tiefling (a union between a human and a demon). She's a rogue (and thus very handy to have around), and punctuates her annoyances by exclaiming "Hells, Hells, Hells". It isn't Shakespeare, but it isn't grade-school D&D either. The story itself develops from these humble beginnings with the usual dramatic scaling that table-top gaming requires. Before long, you're fighting horrific monsters and doing a bit of world saving on the side. What could have been a hackneyed snore was actually fairly enjoyable thanks to the sheer amount of polish the designers gave the story. It's obvious they have a passion for this material, and it comes out in every witty NPC or unexpected plot-twist.
Who *you* are within this story is, of course, completely up to you. NWN 2 offers the same overly-flexible character creation system as the original. Since 3.0, D&D has gotten a lot more complicated, and this is reflected by the sometimes-overwhelming array of options you'll have when choosing your class, feats, skills, and magic spells. Every one of these, though, can be circumvented by using the 'recommend' option the game offers. While I tweaked my characters the way I wanted them, I checked in on the recommend option each time and can honestly say it would not steer you wrong. If you have no interest in choosing a 6th level feat for your dwarven Fighter, you can click right through the level-up process and not feel as though you've been cheated. At higher levels you can choose from prestige classes which offer unique gameplay styles. Some are holdovers from the original NWN, but there have been some new additions as well. It's hard to argue with the degree of customization you can achieve with the character creation system. They even have a fairly robust avatar-maker. Here, at least, there is little to complain about.
Another (much discussed) frustration is the in-game camera. To say that it is curiously designed would be to give a great deal of credit to the game's developers. I'm usually fairly sympathetic to UI problems; making something that everyone will agree is useable is very challenging. A camera, though ... this is 2006 folks. 2+1/2D games have had a useable camera for almost half a decade now. Why Obsidian felt the need to re-invent the wheel is beyond me. Thankfully, you can select yourself and your teammates via use of the F1-F4 keys; a requirement since it's quite challenging to pin them down with the mouse. If we, as gamers, can't complete the 'looking at fun stuff' part of gaming, where does that leave us? This was an inexcusable oversight, and makes you wonder how much QA Obsidian had the chance to do before the game shipped.
Graphically, Neverwinter Nights 2 is visibly better-looking than its predecessor ... if you're playing on an extremely high-end system. On my own system, I found that the game was playably smooth with almost every option turned down and a screen resolution I would have found useable in 1997. With the graphical elements turned up higher than that, my (not terrible) system began to grind and sputter. Slowdowns weren't even solely during combat. Somehow, moving from place to place also caused molasses-like framerates as well. I will say, in the games defense, that the high end XPS laptop I'm currently reviewing from Dell played the game with absolutely no hiccups. This is a laptop I could never afford to purchase for myself, but it played NWN 2 at a very high resolution with no problems whatsoever. Somehow, that's not much of a consolation.
Aurally, the game is fairly forgettable. I always looking forward to a D&D CRPG's musical accompaniment; if it's any good it's likely that it would go well with a table-top session too. The generic fight music is the highlight of the game, more's the pity. This, too, felt like a game element they just didn't have time to give full attention to. Thankfully, the voice actors that bring the NPCs to life are fairly animated. Aside from the tiefling and the dwarf, you'll find a host of unique fantasy-types awaiting your canned questions and plot-related annoyances. The voice acting is one of the strongest parts of the game, and it's a shame that the rest of the title couldn't rise to that quality level.