For rpg traditionalists, especially those with a shady history in the glamorous realm of pen-and-paper RJPGing, Bioware is the incumbent lord of anything even remotely resembling a virtual dungeon. As any self-respecting goblin-fancier will tell you the Baldur’s Gate series is still widely held as the yardstick for fantasy RPGs, and Neverwinter Nights promises to deliver an experience that’s just as epic and absorbing as its forebeards, er, bears.
But the most exciting thing about NWN, and the thing that could cause major ripples even in the wider gaming world, is the inclusion of innovative new multiplayer features that give players the power to create their own gaming experiences. Taking pen-and-paper RPGs as a model, Bioware has created an impressive Dungeon Master mode, which allows one player to take control of the game, shaping and directing the experience for the other players. In a very cool twist, the DM not only oversees the action but can enter the fray at any stage by possessing a creature in the game world.
Then there’s the hugely powerful NWN Toolset, which allows you to construct your own game modules and play through them with your friends (or complete strangers on the Net if your friends frown on such behaviour). As Greg Zeschuk, joint CEO of Bioware explains: "The thing I think players will like most about the game is its flexible nature - you’ll be able to play Neverwinter Nights in almost every conceivable way, certainly more than any other game."
NWN also promises to set new standards in graphical terms, shedding the archaic 2D of Baldur’s Gate for a fully realised 3D world, as well as going nuts with pyrotechnic special effects. Clearly, NWN is going to set a new high watermark for the genre; it may even change the face of gaming forever.
Download Neverwinter Nights
- PC compatible
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If, In The great playground of computer games, the FPS is the school bully and the RTS is the brainy kid, then the hardcore RPG is definitely seen as the kid whose mum gave him the wholemeal bean sprouts and hummus sandwiches every day. The one with the helmet haircut and the hand-knitted scarf that made him look like his neck was in traction. But considering how the wider world views computer gamers, this is just geek snobbery. No matter how far down you come in the pecking order, you’ll always find someone uncooler than you.
However, since Dungeon Siege and Morrowind have sashayed down the games catwalk with their big and beautiful 3D implants, RPGs are suddenly looking very rock and roll. For many fans though, those two were simply the support acts, because this is the one they’ve been waiting to see. So would the people in the cheap seats clap their hands, and the rest of you stroke your beards in appreciation of the game called Neverwinter Nights.
The Ultimate Creation
While Baldur’s Gate I and II have been capturing the hearts and minds of role-players everywhere over the last four years, Neverwinter Nights has been in the background, the baby that Bioware has been quietly working away on. And it’s a beautiful baby - not only the game they thought fans really wanted to play, but also the game they really wanted to make. Although it might not be as much of a looker as Dungeon Siege, the move from isometric to fully 3D graphics has created a world that’s so rich and immersive, it’s like being a Bioware virgin and experiencing the magic of your first Baldur’s Gate game all over again.
Although there’s around 60-80 hours of gameplay (compared to BGII's estimated 200 hours) it’s clear after just a few hours that this is the way the Baldur’s Gate world was always meant to be seen and explored. The hours you play through in NN, and there will be many, seem more well rounded and meatier than in previous incarnations. You feel like you're working harder. It’s like peddling away on an exercise bike with a roast dinner in one hand and a book by Wittgenstein in the other, instead of scoffing your face with crisps while monging out in front of The Sopranos.
If you're a hardcore fan worrying that the single hero aspect (unlike Bioware's previous partybased epics) has turned the world into a kind of Diablo II clone, then let me put your mind at rest. Neverwinter Nights is about as much like Diablo II as Dungeon Siege is like Baldur’s Gate (in other words not very much save the barest of gameplay mechanics). The whole idea behind the single character is to create a feeling of importance for this lone warrior. You are the hero, meaning you’re not stuck babysitting a load of whinging hangers-on.
However, the game does introduce the feature of henchmen, of which you’ll only find a handful in the entire game. They are free-thinking characters who’ll join you. for a price, and each one has their own history and agendas. They’ll fight by your side, gain experience and levels and even offer a bit of advice or a romantic interlude from time to time. You can give them various orders about whether they should use ranged or melee weapons when fighting, how quickly they heal you and the distance they keep, but that’s about all you can do with them as they don’t have an inventory or any weapon/armour slots. A conscious attempt, claims Bioware, to keep the focus on the central character.
Magic users will be able to summon creatures and have familiars, the latter being an aspect that never really took off in previous BG games because of the penalties incurred when your familiar died. But in a world where you need all the help you can get, a strong familiar - like a hellhound or a panther - is a godsend to vulnerable magic users like sorcerers and wizards. Again, like henchmen, you can give them orders, interact with them and even possess them to do a bit of reconnaissance work. They don’t tend to be as bright as henchmen who generally try to make life easier for you, and you’ll sometimes find yourself having to retrace your steps to find your familiar who's gotten lost somewhere. But when they see you again, they bound up to you so joyfully and look so soppy it’s very easy to forgive their misdeeds.
Bioware has made a considerable effort to refine the art of character creation, in order to make it as accessible as possible for those players not so used to the ins and outs of a game based on an AD&D rule set. As you put your character together at the start of the game, you'll almost feel as though someone from Bioware is sitting next to you and guiding you through the process, with 'recommended’ buttons, which basically make your choices for you as you navigate through the creation process. You can find the rest of the character information in the boxout on the left, because I’m sure that as RPG fans, you probably know one end of a halfling from another, and would much rather find out about how the game plays.
Aside from the groupies we’ve already mentioned, you’re on your own. And what does a young adventurer look for when they’ve just set off into the world with a shiny sword and a fresh pair of underpants? A little bit of action, of course. Luckily your first bit comes right at the start of the game with your character being initiated into the Neverwinter city militia. You learn that the city is currently in the throws of a mysterious and deadly plague, which has reduced the districts to war zones. The city authorities are hoping to find a cure in four magical beasts that have been brought to the city, but unfortunately the main keep of Neverwinter comes under attack early on in the game and the creatures flee into the city.
The Littlest Hero
So you're pushed out into the plague-infested city and charged with the task of getting these creatures back, which is the focus of the first chapter. Bioware is particularly fond of city crawls, and the quests and general feel of the city of Neverwinter with its various districts, is similar to the city of Amn in Baldur’s Gate II. Bioware claim not to have ripped any one quest straight out of Baldur’s Gate II, but you do find yourself thinking: "Hey, that quest’s almost the same as the one where..."
But that aspect doesn’t spoil it one little bit, as the fact that you're playing in a fully 3D world makes all the difference. Because you start in a quarantined city the graphics won’t initially grab you in the same way as the open countryside of Dungeon Siege and Morrowind. But the atmosphere of a doomed, infested and thoroughly pissed-off city is created extremely well. Everywhere you go there are burning piles of plague victims (you even have to set fire to a few yourself), citizens camp out on the streets too frightened to go back to their homes and too poor to go anywhere else.
You spend most of your time trying to sort out people’s problems, which usually involves killing off zombies, malicious wizards or giant beetles, looting a few establishments or generally helping empower the local unfortunates. Every quest you do is important to someone, and often helps you understand more about the main storyline. There’s none of the annoying little 'my friend has a rather nasty gerbil infestation’-style quests, which are simply there to build up your experience points. Of course good and virtuous isn’t the only way to play, you can easily take advantage of the climate of fear and pickpocket, blackmail and sneak your way through the game, but don’t expect to make too many friends.
And more than ever Bioware has tried to reflect your character stats by the way people respond to you (you might want to think about that before you go round thieving everything in sight). Every now and then you will get chances in a conversation to elicit more information out of a character by persuading, lying, flirting and using your skills of insight and lore, which will succeed or fail randomly on a background dice roll, based on your charisma, wisdom and intelligence. You’ll also find that if your intelligence is set to eight or below you'll start speaking as if you’ve just given yourself a lobotomy with your own axe.
The main plotline and the multitude of sub-quests are generally less complex and prolonged than in previous titles. But the atmosphere is just as dark and blood-soaked as ever, and makes Dungeon Siege's vague plot look like a bedtime story: "Ho. Ho. Ho said the evil goblin" etc.
In order to maintain more fluid gameplay the Neverwinter Night's team has also done away with the constant cutscenes that saturated previous games. Resting is also no longer such a laborious affair, as it simply involves your party sitting down for about ten seconds while they heal up and re-learn spells. This does wonders for the gameplay and it makes the whole thing a much smoother, if slightly unrealistic experience.
The Baldur’s Gate series was always particularly good at creating an unparalleled sense of atmosphere, even in an isometric environment, and it's something that has thankfully carried over into Neverwinter Nights. Every aspect of the 3D environment has been utilised, from weather effects to a full day and night cycle with superb ambient light effects. This works especially well when the darkness closes in on the festering city and you have to get out your little burning torch to light the way. And that little bit of light somehow serves to make the approaching dragging sounds and gurgling screams all the more disturbing.
The 3D world also lends itself exceedingly well to beautiful and frantic battles, especially when you become a high-level magic user. It really is a thing of beauty to watch your enemies cower as your henchman hits them repeatedly over the head with a double axe. while you're saying: "I know what you re thinking. Did she fire six fireballs or only five? Well, to tell you the truth in all this excitement I've kinda lost track myself."
Build Your Own Adventure
Aside from the single-player aspect. Neverwinter Nights is handing those of you that started off your role-playing careers with pen and paper AD&Ds the perfect opportunity to go up to the attic and dig out those scribbled-on sheets of paper, so that you can recreate your imaginative yearnings in glorious 3D by way of the powerful toolkit and Dungeon Master client that ships with the game.
Bioware aimed to create a toolkit that was going to be easy for anyone to use; in fact, they designed the entire tile-style building blocks of the game around that premise, and it works bloody well.
For a game that seems so outwardly complex and full of gameplay details, creating levels couldn’t be simpler. Not only does the manual include a step-by-step guide to creating basic levels, it also shows you how to unlock and edit some of the existing levels from the game. These tools are going to make it very easy for Bioware’s online community to support the game. Alongside the toolkit, the DM client will allow any would-be dungeon masters to guide adventurers through their levels, possessing creatures, designing guests and creating a perpetual storyline as an original AD&D DM would. Even for those of you who wouldn’t normally dream of touching a level editor, it would be very difficult not to swell with just a little bit of pride when you see your first herd of killer badgers come stamping out of a forest and nipping at your mate’s ankles. Bioware’s gamble of taking their long-established isometric universe into the world of 3D adventures has definitely paid off. Although there has been an obvious bias towards a more hack ’n’ slash style of gameplay, the things that made the Baldur’s Gate games so great, such as an absorbing storyline and detailed character development, are still very much a part of Neverwinter Nights. Like a book that’s turned into a film, it’s not going to please every hardcore fan, but it does a damn good job of taking a world that RPG fans everywhere have known for years, and opening it up to a wider audience.
Games such as Baldur’s Gate. Pool Of Padlance and Neverwinter Nights owe as much to the original AD&D world as the world owes to them. Born out of the community, they have done much to elevate role-playing from a backroom hobby to a worldwide genre. With Neverwinter Nights it really feels as though an AD&D game is giving something more fundamental back to the community, rather than just increased recognition. It’s giving substance.
Neverwinter Nights isn’t just about the 'look what we can do’ show-off factor of a great single-player game, it’s as much about saying 'look what you can do’. The single-player, multiplayer, DM and toolset don’t just make a role-playing game, they make a complete role-playing package.
Neverwinter Nights is not only a classic game that will appeal to both old fans and new, but it’s also a perfect nod of acknowledgement from the latest technology to its humble beginnings as an outlet for vivid imaginations everywhere. The world is yours again.
It was all part of Bioware's master plan to make Neverwinter Nights as much of an online experience as an offline one. and even though the quality of the single-player game is high, it's through multiplayer that the true magic of the game can be found. Despite it being out for less than a month at the time of writing this review, the online side of Neverwinter Nights was buzzing, and by the time you read this it should be even easier to get a multiplayer game in any chapter of the single-player game or numerous official and fan-made mods. Lag is dependant on the number of players and whether you're providing both server and client information, but generally the multiplayer shouldn't run much slower than the single-player.
A Hunting We Will Go
As with the single-player game, creating a character is extremely easy, plus you get a number of pre-made characters to experiment with. Once you get in you'll find that, in a similar way to Diablo II, the monsters you encounter will go up in strength in relation to the number of people in a game. It's worth bearing this in mind, because enemies also go up in skill as well, so you can charge into a room intent on offing a relatively easily dispatched prison sorcerer, only to find that the bastard is toting fireballs.
There are many features contained within the multiplayer side of the game that are tailored to make the whole experience that much more immersive, particularly if you're playing with a group of mates. Through your character screen you can access pre-set emotional dialogue and actions for your character such as waving, bowing, begging, and laughing. You can even create personalised dialogue and assign it to your quick slot bar. So if you have some particularly witty quip about badgers, and believe me they've all been done before, you are free to annoy your fellow adventures with it as quickly and often as you wish.
I Love A Good Party
Playing through Neverwinter Nights with a party not only gives the game a more traditional Baldur's Gate feel, but it also gives you the chance to see the various ways all the quests can be completed and the characters can be developed. Needless to say, this all helps create an amazing sense of atmosphere by allowing you to inject a lot more personality into your character. Whether you and your friends just fancy a leisurely preamble while chatting about the latest episode of Hollyoaks, or if you're looking for a more hardcore "Lo, goodly wench, a pint of your finest ale, and dare I venture a slice of dragon's liver pie?" approach, the world is yours to manipulate.
It seems a long time ago since that first dice was gingerly thrown and the first set of stats scribbled down. When thousands of young men, and a couple of women, ostracised themselves from society in favour of Advanced Dungeons And Dragons in dimly lit back rooms. But luckily for us, some of those young men got out of those back rooms and became game developers, otherwise our trip to Canada to see Bioware's latest code for Neverwinter Nights might have been just a nosh up at the local grill with a spot of moose watching.
A Night's Tale
Since our last Neverwinter Nights update in issue 105 the gameplay in every area has advanced by leaps and bounds, and Bioware is now in the last few months of testing, retesting and polishing to ensure you get the best possible RPG experience. The focus of the game is quite different to anything Bioware has done before with the Baldur's Gate series, and revolves around four key areas: singleplayer, multiplayer, the dungeon master client and the toolkit. In our last preview we looked mainly at the multiplayer and dungeon master aspects of Neverwinter Nights, so now we're going to fill you in on the single-player and toolkit features. As it's the single-player aspect that RPG fans will immediately gravitate towards we'll start there. Unlike the party-based system used in the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games, Neverwinter Nights focuses around a more Diablo 2-style single hero, who apart from hiring the occasional henchman or summoning a creature is on their own. The storyline starts with your hero being summoned to the city of Neverwinter, which has been blighted by a seemingly incurable plague, to join the city's militia to help control the burgeoning unrest and search for a cure. You start in the main keep of Neverwinter, which acts as a training ground as well as introducing you to some of the main characters and plot elements. In conjuction with the 3rd edition AD&D rules that Neverwinter Nights is built around you get a choice of seven races and 11 classes, each with their own skills and abilities.
Things To Make And Do
The whole issue of character creation is one of the areas in which the Bioware team has adapted Neverwinter Nights, in order to make it reach out to those gamers that maybe enjoy the RPG genre but have previously stayed away from the more complicated aspects of an AD&D title. "At its core Neverwinter is a hardcore RPG," explains senior producer Trent Oster. "But on top of that hardcore role-playing aspect we've put in levels to shield people from some of the complexities." The game has a full character generation system for the first time and recommended buttons through each stage of creation for those who are unfamiliar with the different classes and kits. But it's also possible for players to go in as normal and create their own specific character makeup.
Many of the puzzles throughout the storyline can be solved in a simple way but there will be more advanced paths and trickier quests for hardcore players. Aspects like the interface, camera angle and function keys are also very user friendly and customisable for your own specific gaming preferences.
"The way we see it capturing the mainstream is not about this big amorphous mass of people who are all alike," claims joint Bioware CEO Ray Muzyka. "It's a significantly large group of people who all like different things. Some like the behind the shoulders camera, some like the top-down camera, some like action whereas others like more of a storyline. What we're trying to do is make Neverwinter appeal to all those different kinds of people through the customisation, through the content and the class system, the camera angles and the interface. We're trying to make it possible for anyone to get into it."
"Neverwinter Nights is really a re-examination of computer games," continues Trent. "It's a re-examination of rules and interaction. In Baldur's Gate you have a party with multiple characters but Neverwinter is much more of a return to the pen and paper style in that you have a party of one character. It is more traditional and actually does flow into multiplayer better. You are the character you play!" And it suddenly strikes me how odd it is to see a rather large Canadian man talking with such teenage zeal about the finer aspects of RPG.
Tools Of The Trade
Another aspect Bioware has simplified is the toolkit. Neverwinter Nights is shipping with more comprehensive and powerful tools than the ones in BG and BGII.
"I think making your own adventures in a game is an awesome idea," enthuses Trent. "Probably most of our main design decisions have been made with the toolset in mind, in terms of our whole approach to tile-based art work. We've made it very easy to work within the toolset, because the whole idea all along was it has to be simple to use. We wanted people to be able to quickly create an adventure, which means building an area, dumping some creatures in and getting into the game, in maybe 10-15 minutes." The team are also willing to give up a few of their developer secrets along the way, and when you complete the first chapter it becomes 'unlocked' and you can load it up in the tool set and see how it was created. This can allow you to model your initial adventures and sequences on the ones the team originally used. But partly we suspect, this is because Bioware knows that there are fans out there that like nothing better than a good rummage through their code.
Bioware hopes to create an all-encompassing RPG that both hardcore players and the hack 'n' slash brigade can enjoy. But whether it turns out to be the four course meal we're expecting or a paltry prawn cocktail is something we'll reveal in our upcoming review. But we've played the code and are starving ourselves in anticipation of a full on banquet. GB
Neverwinter Nights: Just the name sends shivers down the spines of most PC RPG gamers. After months of waiting, the RPG to end all RPGs has finally hit the market. But is it everything it has been hyped up to be? Neverwinter Nights was an ambitious idea in the first place: An RPG that allowed ultimate customization and a never-ending series of adventures, created by the gaming community and RPG lovers everywhere. It would be like buying your very own AD&D module creator, in a pinch.
My main gripe, then, would be the lack of an equally exciting module built into the game. NWN's single player game is somewhat weak: A plague is killing the denizens of Neverwinter, and you need to find out how to stop it (shades of Heretic II, anyone?). While not a bad module in itself, it lacks the depth of gameplay that the Baldur's Gate series had. Also, character movement and control is not as graceful or simple as Dungeon Siege, but then again, this is a much more in depth adventure game. I was unable to test multiplayer aspects of the game, but the engine looks solid and should support LAN play with very little lag.
But in many ways, NWN is superior to that title in many aspects. The first person perspective is a lot more intuitive than previous Bioware titles, and sound and video are both excellent. The Aurora module building tool, while extremely memory intensive (256M recommended), is very simple to use and will be easy for even moderate RPG enthusiasts to master quickly, making turnaround time for module creation much shorter.
In short, I give Neverwinter Nights a Fans Only rating for the time being, being as that the single player game lacks the fun factor that I expect newer fan created modules will. In a month, new adventures built by fans will definitely push this game into the ranks of Recommended Buy.