The new night.
NeverWinter Nights is Bioware's long-awaited sequel to the Baldur's Gate games. Based yet again on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule set, and set in the same Forgotten Realms play environment, the play areas will have a familiar ambience. However, this is where things change.
Firstly, the focus in BG2 was on your party of six adventurers. Part of the fun was in the growing of your group and the inter-character conversations between them. And, of course, a fifth of the NPCs you could add to your group would at some point try to jump into bed with you :P. Instead, NeverWinter Nights has a "You Vs. World" feel to it, where your single character can pay to hire a single henchman to add to the carnage. Whilst there's a lot of focus on hack-n-slash in Neverwinter, it also has an awful lot of talking & wandering, which it has inherited from BG2. Whilst great for role-play freaks, I'm not sure it's in keeping with the general feel of the game - it seems undecided as to whether it wants to be Diablo or Baldur's Gate, so tries to do both at once.
What I've neglected to talk about is, of course, the graphics. Bioware's new Aurora engine has replaced the Infinity engine used for the BG games, and offers one or two improvements. Firstly, it's fully 3D. You can pan around your character and zoom in all you want. Realtime lights flicker on the walls and cast plenty of shadows. The game is also an aural treat for the rich bastards with surround speakers, as the positioning is perfectly carried out and adds greatly to the game. However, the config program needs a little refinement - it detects my Pentium IV 2.26GHz as minus 2046MHz and an SiS Xabre400 64Mb card as 8Mb. Nothing you can't manually override, but certainly irritating.
Another feature of Aurora is that unlike Infinity, it's designed to allow users to create their own adventures. The Toolset editor is perhaps more complex that Visual Studio, but it allows for pretty much anything to be created, and the same program was used by the developers to create the single-player game. However, I recommend a big book on how to do things, and a sound knowledge of C++. I miss the painfully easy Starcraft map editor :(
Once a level has been created, the main focus of the new engine comes into play. You connect (or allow others to connect) to a server running the new module, and play through it in true multi-player fashion, where one player does not participate as a mere player. A separate program, the DM client, allows full control of the proceedings of a multi-player game as they develop. At its simplest level, the Dungeon Master can create ambushes or monsters at will, and monitor the progress of the other players through his or her module. Forming a conclusion of this game is difficult.
I've been waiting for this ever since I finished Baldur's Gate 2, playing until 3AM most days. And for the most part, I'm actually pretty disappointed. I don't play enough multi-player to buy a game purely for multi-player content, and Baldur's Gate 2 offered some of the most engaging single-player action I have ever experienced. A lot of the good work in BG2 seems to have been lost. Most notably, BG2 immediately threw a sinister enemy at you whom you wanted to kick the ass of. I hate "mysterious" enemies. I want someone to hate. And NeverWinter does nothing but present increasingly mysterious enemies to you. If you can stomach all the "mystery", the game itself isn't actually very long - perhaps a third or quarter of the size of BG2. All that said, it's still a very impressive game graphically, and the Toolset will hopefully provide some extra experiences as professional as some Half Life add-ons. Buy the game if you like to role-play, but perhaps wait until it comes down from its £40 price point.
Gaming Hexus rating: 6/10
(About the Gaming Hexus rating system: The score system is inspired by Edge magazine. Basically, we're bastards. Since 5/10 is halfway between perfect and shite, it's the rating given to average games. By definition, 6 or above is "above average", and probably worth owning. And we really don't hesitate to award low scores for bad games.)