Neverwinter Nights 2: Fun Adventure with Technical Frustrations

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Image: Obsidian via GOG

Genre: Fantasy RPG

Synopsis: The player character has grown up in a small village, raised by his/her foster father after some terrible event long ago killed his/her mother. But one otherwise peaceful day, the past comes back to haunt the village. The protagonist is sent on a quest to the city of Neverwinter by his/her foster father, given little by way of explanation. The danger escalates, and it slowly becomes clear that something truly terrible is happening. The protagonist must build a reputation, gather alliances, and fight an enemy more powerful than anyone imagined.

Series: Stands alone.

Verdict: Fun, but buggy.

This is a fun, not-too-serious adventure with a number of interesting mechanics that I really enjoyed. It could have been deeper, sure, but there’s plenty to enjoy as it stands, provided you don’t run into too many bugs. The plotline is pretty standard, as you gather a party of adventures to help you reach the point where you face a big bad, but it’s well executed from a story standpoint.

Pros:

  • Sand. He is by far the most interesting companion you can recruit in this game. His sarcasm and biting wit make him come off as caustic in his interactions with anyone–but then whenever he receives a ‘thank you’ for the help he provides, he’s completely flabbergasted, like he’s never been thanked for anything before. He’s also unafraid to tell everyone how terrified he is in the most acerbic way possible…while never actually leaving or refusing to go into danger. I adore this character, I really do. There’s this great charisma and subtlety to him, in a game that doesn’t have much use for subtlety. 
  • The character of Shandra. Can’t talk too much about her without getting into huge spoiler territory, but she manages to ground a lot of the ridiculousness around the party, and enables the story and game mechanics to go some interesting–and totally unexpected–places.
  • One mission in the story line involves a court trial. This is a huge shakeup in the quintessential combat-based hero fantasy journey. Investigation and persuasion take center stage for this mission, adding an interesting game element. I wish they had gone further than this, but it was still very enjoyable and a highlight of a generally entertaining game.
  • Humor. The games doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that takes the edge off how often it avoids going deep. Part of that is a humorous self-awareness that comes out through the storytelling and characters, leading to some laugh-out-loud lines and hilarious absurdity.
  • Sand’s relationship with tavernowner Duncan is also intriguing, because something about it doesn’t quite add up. Whenever they’re in the same room, they trade insults and generally act like they dislike each other. And yet, we first meet Sand as he’s casually visiting Duncan’s place of business. Then there’s Duncan, who turns to Sand when he needs magical advice, and has obviously done so before as well. They talk to each other like enemies, but they reach out to each other like friends. So what’s up? Are they friends, and in denial about it? Are they frenemies? Are they secretly married and trying to hide it? The game doesn’t give us any answers, just shows us the surface of a relationship that seems like it’s hiding something deeper.
  • Character creation and leveling up. The rules for the game come from a DnD system, and there are so many options. For someone else, this might be overly complicated, but once I figured out how everything worked (which admittedly took a while) I loved the breadth of options. You get dozens of choices for classes and skills, many of which will make subtle differences in how you tackle situations later on. Personally, I’m a huge fan of using the speech skills, like Diplomacy and Bluff, to talk my way out of a problem.
  • The main character’s somewhat estranged relationship with his/her reserved foster father. It’s a cool aspect of the story, where you get to choose how your character reacts to your father’s loyalty versus his lack of affection, his trust in your abilities versus his insistent withholding of information.

Cons:

  • The bugs. Oh, the bugs. Save a lot and in different places if you play. Maybe you’ll get lucky and everything will be fine. Or maybe you’ll encounter something game-breaking and need to load an earlier save–I ran into this problem recently when I quicksaved everything, but ended up saving after the point where a bug was already inevitable. I had no earlier saves anywhere near where I was.
  • The characters, aside from a few exceptions, are a little shallow. Still interesting enough, especially during the first playthrough, and way stronger than anything seen in other styles of games like Skyrim. But by Bioware standards (and it is a successor to a Bioware game, even if Bioware didn’t make this one), it’s nowhere near the powerful characterization seen in the Dragon Age or Mass Effect series.
  • Weird camera. Takes some getting used to–but pretty much all of the RPGs I’ve played from before 2008 have been somewhat clunky, at the least.

I thoroughly enjoyed Neverwinter Nights 2–for me it was worth the technical frustrations. But the real revelation of getting the game was playing its expansion, Mask of the Betrayer, which is probably some of the best storytelling I have ever seen (though it’s still buggy). I’ll address that in a future post, but suffice to say that despite its technical problems, the game has plenty to offer from an adventure and storytelling standpoint.

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