Fun, tedious, funny, aggravating, compelling, but ultimately unrewarding
There's really two parts of Neverwinter Nights. The game that comes with it, and the toolset which will let you make adventures of your own. For the most part, the toolset is quite amazing, and also probably beyond the scope of most users. So this review focuses more on the game itself.Gameplay:
There are generally three parts to a good RPG. The game mechanics it uses; the dungeons, questing, and situations you go through as a player; and the story it tells.
Like it or not, one of the most appealing things of RPGs (and what separates them from adventure games, really) are how your characters can go up in level or power, and improve in combat. This uses the D&D 3.5 rules, not exact, but pretty close. So it's got quite a lot of character building in it.
You can generally have 3 or 4 characters with you at all times. This is nice, much better than the original where you could only have 1 or 2, and much closer to real D&D, but the AI for the characters is somewhat lacking, and also somewhat glitchy. Mercifully, you can put them into "Puppet" mode, where they do only what you tell that, but that can be a lot of work. But necessary at times.
Probably the thing I hated the most about the game, were the dungeons you explore. Some of them, many of them in fact, are some of the most tedious, most aggravating ones I've played in years.
For instance, one dungeon requires you to find 6 ghosts, and have them participate in the ritual. Simply finding them all is a slog, but you then have to direct them to the ritual area by going around and turning lights off and on.
Most of the dungeons are just a drag, I thought. There's a lot of stupid running around, too. If you go the "good" route, you spend what seems like a lifetime working for the city watch, just to gain access to a part of the city to talk to a guy that advances the main plot. Running around, doing this and that. I thought it would never end. Just when you think it was over, you'd get another mission to do. A nightmare, almost.
You can manage a keep in the game, but it's a bit weird. It's actually very similar to the very very old computer games where you would manage a kingdom or planet simply by text messages. Each turn you could select something, and then you would get a text readout of the results. Except in this case, each "turn" happens when you talk to your major domo. It's not bad, but can be confusing because it's not explained very well at all.
One that was wasn't thought out well was the way your upgrade your armies armor and weapons. Basically, you have to be a prospector, and find "ore" all throughout the game. These are simply sections of the wall that look slightly different. The trouble is, most of these are in places accessible only in parts of the game before you even have a keep. So the first time through, you don't know to look for them.
Another thing not well thought out was the crafting system in the game. Basically you can make magical objects, armor and weapons. But it's all very convoluted, quite a hassle, and probably not even usuable unless you are playing a wizard.Story:
The story doesn't suffer quite as much as the dungeons, but it could have used some work. The story is somewhat cliched, in that your main character is someone who is super special for mysterious reasons. What makes him special is probably completely new to anyone not familiar with D&D.
Part of the trouble is it's somewhat linear in your outlook. While you can play evil characters, only for part of the game, you end up being the respectable keep owner and lackey of Neverwinter Nights no matter what you do.
There are some really nice bits, like a Phoenix Wright style court trial (Sadly, you don't get to yell "Objection!", but it has some amusing moments)
To my mind, there are 3 story aspects in Bioware games (and their spinoffs, like this) that set them apart from other games: Romance, Character history, and interparty conversation.
Romance is generally a part of most drama, but sadly tends to be lacking in RPGs. While I don't expect Harlequin romance style stuff , having some romance in makes it more realistic, and perhaps more enjoyable for those of us who have reached puberty.
This has some romance, but basically only one option per sex, despite there being a lot of obvious candidates for your character's affection. What's worse is, there actually seems to be another option, but proves to be false, and is really just the designers yanking the player's chain. I get enough of that in real life, I don't need it in a game as well.
The characterization in this is quite good. The characters are all quite distinct, have interesting personalities and backgrounds. Usually in Bioware style games, you learn a little about an NPC, then they clam up, but eventually you gain their trust and they talk more about themselves. This still follows that formula to a degree, but it's much more abreviated - they dole out information about themselves very very sparingly.
The last thing that was prominent in Bioware games and its spinoffs was interparty interaction. That is, characters within your party talking to each other (and you). It's one of the more entertaining things of the games, especially the KOTOR series. In the first few hours, there seemed like there was a lot of that in this game. Especially the squabbling between the first few characters you get. But after that, there's almost nothing.
So anyway, while the story of the game had some really good moments, all in all, it could have used some more work.Graphics/Sound:
Even with a high end computer, you won't be wowed by the graphics in this. That's not to say they aren't good - they are indeed extremely good, they just aren't very sexy. The detail of the textures is very nice, the lighting is impressive, the reflections and waves of the water are cool looking, but everything just looks a bit bland. By constrast, games like Oblivion will sometimes make your jaw drop in places, and that actually seems to require less in the way of computing power (at least in terms of your graphic card, this seems to use less memory).
Probably the most impressive things in this are the water (which does make it chug a lot) and the spell effects. And especially the shimmer due to heat (like over a hot road?). Very neat.
Some people will probably be disappointed that you just get to pick from a number of assorted premade models for your character, there's no face generation/customization like Oblivion, or the Sims 2. However, I was lucky and there was a model that is almost a dead ringer for me (I am one of those that usually plays himself in games). And you can change hair and skin color.
The sound is actually quite good. While not every line in the game is voice acted, the cutscenes generally are, and they do a good job. There are some really nice ambient sound effects, and the music is generally quite apropriate.Final Thoughts:
It's funny, I found Knights of the Old Republic II (KOTORII), which Obsidian also made, to be somewhat tedious and unfulfilling in terms of NPCs, and with an unsatisfying ending. I thought perhaps it was just because KOTORII was rushed out for the holidays. But after playing NWN2 and finding the exact same problems, I have to think that maybe Obsidian just doesn't make games very well. Or at least ones I don't like.
I actually liked this a lot less than KOTORII, to be honest, but on the other hand, it does come with the toolset, so I'm giving it the same overall score, a C- (or 7/10). Because this game does have an immense amount of value - the original NWN saw hundreds of user made modules, some of which were very good.