Neverwinter Nights 2
Bioware Must Be crapping themselves. There's a particular sub-race of stalker, separate from the mythical Ukrainian type, who follows his or her victim, copying everything they do. Obsidian, one-time Black Isle Studios, have followed in BioWare's footsteps, making Icewind Dale to Bio Ware's Baldur's Gate, making the sequel to Bio Ware's Knights Of The Old Republic, and now making Neverwinter Nights 2. It's all a bit creepy. If I were BioWare, I'd have a restraining order out and a large rottweiler in the yard.
Attitudes to the original, long-delayed king of RPGs varied; it was welcomed for its toolset and its accurate 3D recreation of the Dungeons & Dragons world, but the single-campaign was somewhat turgid, if unpredictably twisty and satisfyingly long. Obsidian have recreated Neverwinter Nights almost exactly for the sequel, adding in everything that was in any of the expansion packs, but not really expanding on the previous game in any way. Apart from the graphics, we really do have trouble believing it's a different game at all.
So the first unoriginal element rears its head. Our hero has been raised on a remote farm, surprise! It's near enough the city of Neverwinter to get yobs coming out and tipping cows, but far enough away that the local swamp is teeming with lizardmen, undead and those really irritating Scottish gnats. And one night in fact the very night you've done the tutorial at the local fair, they come to visit. Even the gnats.
Paved With Gold
So following a stalwart defence of your village, you're packed off to find your fortune in the big city of Neverwinter, with a mysterious magic shard that necromancers, demons and transplanar races seem really keen to get their hands on. Lucky you. By this point you'll have created your character and chosen your race. The traditional D&D creeds are all in there, with the addition of substantially different sub-races and the powerful new Tiefling and Aasimar races (half-devil and half-angel respectively.) You'll also have chosen your class, which Obsidian have also expanded incrementally from the last NWN expansion; on top of the usual monk, fighter, ranger and so on, there's a whole host of new prestige classes, ranging from berserker to shadow thief.
As always, the really interesting plot isn't why your avatar is chasing down the macguffin, but why your team members have chosen to come along with you, beyond simple bloodlust.
Like Knights Of The Old Republic II, you recruit henchmen as you travel the world. You can have up to three henchmen (other henchmen wait at your uncle's pub) and, while they're not quite as bizarrely inspired as Planescape Torment's garrulous skull, pyromaniac corpse and hollow suit of armour, or Baldur's Gate's berserker Minsc and his pet hamster, or even NWNl's kobold bard Deekin, they're perfectly good sidekicks whose stories are worth eliciting.
You find out more about your motley crew by performing tasks which they approve of, at which point you can go deeper into their backstories and hopefully unlock more of their skills. However, balancing off individual members' desires can be difficult especially as it's hard to predict how they react to a given action.
Go On, Scratch It
The amazing thing about Neverwinter Nights is the amount of information just below the surface and the varied ways of getting to it After an age playing the game and a bit of exploration in the menu system, we discovered that a long right-click could create a previously unearthed menu that provided 120 different quick-action buttons for each character. And it's not all about the customisable depth of the game either - in terms of prettification, the highly mobile camera gives you the option of playing from just about any angle.
Carry On Commander
And that's just looking at the game. When you're commanding your henchmen in combat, you can pause everything, queue up orders and move commands. Then you can watch the victorious outcome, or more likely, your ignominious defeat. Thankfully, unlike Oblivion, the enemies aren't levelled to your character, meaning sometimes you kill them with ease and sometimes they butcher you like back bacon. At which point you load, then pull out the hundreds of scrolls, potions, wands and various magic items you've been lugging around and blow them to kingdom-come. Or you could try and talk them out of it Or jneak around them...
I We'd better say this quickly in case Peter Molyneux hears and claims he copyrighted the idea of morality when he brought the ten command lines down from Mount Bullfrog: you can be good or evil. As with all D&D games, however, you can also be neutral, choosing not to choose, and your actions are also judged on a different spectrum, the chaotic-lawful axis. As certain classes (notably the superpowered paladins, and many of the later prestige classes) lose their abilities if you aren't the right alignment -and as your henchmen will open up to you if they approve of your actions - you have to be careful to walk the right line.
Let's talk problems. Beyond the unoriginality, the game makes Neverwinter feel a lot smaller than its predecessor - most doors are locked and the Baldur's Gate roaming world is sadly missing. Yes, you can visit anywhere in the world every time you leave an area. However, there aren't any areas that aren't there for a purpose, and there's no feeling of the passage of time as you trek across the world. I have to admit to preferring the open world of Oblivion to this far more constrained experience. Moreover, there are quite a few glitches - most of the irritating variety rather than those of show-stoppage, but they are there nevertheless. You will without doubt be expected to download a patch or two upon purchase.
An End To Worries
Despite these qualms. Obsidian, reeling from their dreadfully unfinished Knights Of The Old Republic II, have made a nearperfect sequel... What are we talking about? They've remade Neverwinter Nights almost exactly, integrating all the bits that were in expansion packs, producing a witty and clever, if unoriginal plot and prettifying it somewhat. We recommend, if the multiplayer is working at launch, that you play it through first time with friends. Make sure they're not creepy, copycat friends like Obsidian though. Brrr...
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode