reviews\ Jul 1, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Neverwinter Nights - PC - Review

"Hold up!" Tomi Undergallows moves forward quickly. The floor panels are overlaid in red, meaning that section of the floor contains a trap. Tomi kneels down beside the panels, his hands working quickly. There is a click. The trap has been disarmed.

It would be easy to say it is safe to move forward, but you know that danger lurks just around the next corner. The choice to proceed slowly is taken away when your animal companion, a dire wolf, rushes forward, snarling. The battle is on.

Neverwinter Nights, developed by BioWare, has been five years in the making. The wait was well worth it. This PC game is simply incredible. The plot has depth, the game play has so many options and side quests that players will be immersed in this three-dimensional world for a long, long time.

As its title suggests, the game begins in the city of Neverwinter. A once mighty, peaceful city of the Forgotten Realms, Neverwinter is in the grip of terror. A plague has swept the pallor of death across the landscape. Funeral pyres occupy the streets. Prisoners have mysteriously been set loose from their confinement by the head gaoler, and have expanded terror’s grip on the city.

All this happened while you were at the Academy, a training ground for adventurers. That was when you were summoned before Lady Aribeth de Tylmarande, a city administrator working for Lord Nasher. She has asked for your help. Waterdhavian creatures, which may hold to the key to overcoming the Wailing Death plague, have escaped. Your task is to get them back. However, these creatures are not helpless, nor are they scared. They are nasty.

Lady Aribeth also suspects that there may be someone within the Academy who has betrayed Neverwinter. There is little doubt that the plague was unleashed upon the city by unknown forces. But whoever is behind it has help within Neverwinter.

That’s another quest you’ve been given ­ find the traitor. Your journal has been updated. And it will have so many entries before you are through with this grand adventure.

Neverwinter Nights incorporates 3rd edition D&D rules, but even if you aren’t familiar with the essence of D&D-based gaming, not to worry, this game sports an interface that is very user friendly. The quickbar will give you instant access to inventory items or spells with just a keystroke. And not only do you have the initial 12 slots, but using the shift and control keys open up 24 more slots. Of course, your avatar has to be skilled enough, or strong enough to carry enough to fill all those slots.

The game begins with the selection of your avatar. The experienced player can work through the intricacies of race and class, though the quick way for both veteran and newcomer is to let the game’s recommendations guide you through what-can-be an involved process. It should be noted that there are no distinctions between gender other than cosmetic. Male and female characters are equal. There are seven races to choose from, 11 classes (such as barbarian, druid, wizard), alignments for your avatar (good, neutral, evil ­ and a host of in-betweens), and six ability scores. Neverwinter includes packages for players who want to get on with the game. A package automatically selects skills, feats and spells tailored for your character.

Once you have your character set up, you enter the Academy in Neverwinter. The first NPCs (non-playing characters ­ those which are controlled by the computer) you encounter will give you instructions on using the player interface, how to use the map, engage in combat, rotate the camera and cast spells (if you have a character capable of that).

Because the main game is a single-player outing, you will have opportunity to hire henchmen ­ such as Tomi. The henchmen are computer controlled, though you can give them a variety of orders.

When it comes to the graphical elements of Neverwinter Nights, it is the subtle things that truly make this a tremendous game. Torches actually have a light smoke coming off them, and shadows, cast by a variety of light sources, remain true even when you rotate the camera. The combat is well animated, and the environments are wonderfully textured. The spell effects are dazzling.

One of the best features of Neverwinter Nights is the Aurora Toolset. Think of it as the editor tools used to create the game. Players can use these tools to create their own modules (or scenarios). You can create the storyline, landscape the terrain, put in magic items, and put foes wherever you wish. Then you can invite players to play your module, with you acting as the dungeon master.

The Toolset is configured to make the experience fun and easy for beginners, but also to give the more serious-minded the instruments to create challenging scenarios. The Neverwinter game site allows players to swap modules or host games. You can even join another DM’s game.

Not only does this product offer a great single-player game, but the Toolset makes this a value-packed program.

Gamers who have a few minutes to spare won’t want to play Neverwinter Nights ­ not unless you have several hours’ leeway in those "few minutes." This game is extremely addictive, immersive, challenging and a whole lot of fun to play. Neverwinter Nights is easily one of the best RPGs released in the past several years.

This game is rated Teen for blood and violence.


Gameplay: 9
There are some load times when transitioning between areas, which can slow down the flow of the game.

Graphics: 9.3
The interplay of shadows and environmental textures give this game a stunning look. The NPC characters are a little generic, with what seems like a few models repeated again and again. The animation and special/magical effects are excellent.

Sound: 8
This is a game that does employ some vocal characterizations, but conversations are mostly text driven. There was some audio breaks during the story setup/introduction that was quite irritating. The musical score foreshadows game action (the music picks up in intensity when combat looms), and is well done. Effects also are nicely done.

Difficulty: Medium
This game does come with difficulty levels, and because of the depth of game and the controls, if you have never played one of these games before you can count on a learning curve of 20-30 minutes.

Concept: 9.8
The addition of the Aurora editor and the depth of storyline add up to a superbly crafted game.

Multiplayer: 8.8
Take on the role of Dungeon Master and manipulate modules to your heart’s content. You can build your own module with the Aurora Toolset, then host a game. Or you can join another DM’s game. This expands the options for this game in a wonderful way.

Overall: 9.3
This is an amazing game with tremendous depth of play, and a fantastic scenario editor. While the game has some minor problems (like the sound cutting out), it still provides players with a complete gaming experience. There is intrigue, adventure, and a lot of combat. Neverwinter Nights is certainly one of the best, if not the best, role-playing games of the year.


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