I'm True Neutral, I go both ways. - Order Of The Stick
Neverwinter Nights 2 is not for everyone. If you just couldn't get enough of the bland combat, idiotic henchman and square rooms of the original, this is not the sequel you're looking for. If just hearing the phrase "Planescape Torment" within ten city blocks of an RPG is enough to lure you in, you're going to be disappointed. Neverwinter Nights 2 is very much its own game, laying a flawed foundation that nevertheless may be just stable enough to kick off another five years of mod support by the community.
Seriously, there is nothing Planescape Torment about this game, people are just so shocked to find a story worth following in a game that has the word "Neverwinter" in the title, they can't think straight.
Time Played: 25 hours
Time to Finish: Lots More To Do
Last D&D Game Fully Enjoyed: Baldur's Gate 2
Annoying Gnome Bards: One
Jaunty Caps: Many
If the 13 page thread in the forums is any indication, most people who have been salivating for the next D&D RPG injection have already run out and bought Neverwinter Nights 2. Good for you! There is an excellent RPG in here, if you can get past a few performance issues. Once you get it running at an acceptable level (see below for hot tips), prepare to play a boring, bland two hours before you start to see the potential the game has to offer. Consider the technical issues and brown swamplands a trial of commitment, a test cooked up by Obsidian to make sure you REALLY want a new D&D 3.5 game. There is no half-way here, you're either in or you're out $50, because you won't be returning a PC game anytime soon.
Obsidian took the limp single-player experience Bioware offered with the original and completely turned it around, starting by giving you actual party members to control, level-up and journey through the story with. Die-hards have complained that they preferred the solo-style of the original, but they're in the minority. You can't have the excellent story, which is mainly entertaining because of the interplay and personal stories of your NPC party members, and have the solo stuff too. You have to pick one, and Obsidian listened to the fans and made the right choice, taking games like Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur's Gate 2 as inspiration for the new approach.
It's too bad they also seem to have drawn inspiration from Everquest 2 for art direction, as most humanoids look like they came off the conveyor at a Barbie factory. There are some exceptions, but for the most part we've seen much better D&D art direction elsewhere. Graphics aside, they totally nailed the drunken Dwarf, uppity sorceress, spunky rogue and annoying Gnome. Not only did they manage to make these predictable characters likable, they actually gave them good back stories and capable voice acting. Not one voice has made me wish physical violence on the voice actor responsible, aside from a few single lines from low-rent guards.
Complaints have been made about the stupidity of the A.I, which holds true for about 98 percent of all games ever made, including pinball. It could be that we expect quantum leaps where incremental change is more likely, but that's not as much fun as slamming every game we encounter for not having perfectly realistic human behavior. In Neverwinter Nights 2's case, I actually find the friendly A.I to do a decent job of taking care of themselves in combat. There are the occasional "what were you thinking?!" moments when your sorceress buffs herself while surrounded by angry Orcs, but not too often. Besides that, you can switch your whole party to "puppet mode" which makes sure they don't do anything without being told. Kind of like Elysium, only smarter.
I prefer to let my allies go wild with items and abilities, just making sure my caster only does what she's told rather than throwing fireballs into scrums, frying allies and enemies alike. The pause key is your friend here, assuming you're not playing on normal (read: sissy) difficulty. In normal, area of effect spells don't hurt allies, rendering the casters much too effective to provide any challenge in the encounters.
Obsidian attempted to include different camera angles to spice up the interface, hoping that a more keyboard-centric direct control system may give the player a feeling of being closer to the action. This was a bad idea. If you're not going to allow the player the ability to strafe or do any of the other useful things direct control should bring, don't bother. As it stands, your best bet is to stick with the usual overhead camera that simply follows whoever is selected by the player. You can press the middle mouse button and slide the camera right down to ground level, facing forward or way up over top without much difficulty. There's plenty of control here, just stick with the ground clicks for moving around, be a movie director! Frame those battles with the perfect camera angles while the A.I does the heavy sword swinging and potion guzzling for you. That may sound too much like Dungeon Siege, but it's a matter of taste and Neverwinter Nights 2 allows for any play style you prefer.
If I seem light on gameplay descriptions, it's because you've already played this game before. It's Baldur's Gate in 3D, it's Knights of the Old Republic, it's Planescape Tor "… ah ha ha. Sorry, couldn't help myself. I just love watching your eyes light up with false hope.
Should you buy Neverwinter Nights 2? Yes, just wait about a month until things settle down and the game is patched up a bit more, it's perfectly playable for me but it doesn't hurt to be careful. The single player is actually enjoyable so you don't need to wait for user-made adventures this time, but they're a nice bonus. Obsidian's mandate was to take one of the most successful community-supported games ever made, listen to what fans wanted and package it all up a new engine. It may be a little incomplete yet, but they've laid the foundation for a game that could last five years if Atari doesn't completely screw it up.
Hot Performance Tips!
With a 7800GTX, 2 gigs of RAM and AMD 64 3500+ processor I expected better performance, given the relative graphical quality of the game. Here are a few things you can do to get some frames back, without sacrificing too much quality. There is a great post on the official message board on how to tweak your settings, but here are the main ones to focus on.
- Force V-Sync off in your video card control panel.
- Lower the shadow detail or turn it off completely, it really depends on your system performance. I can get away with medium outside of Neverwinter city.
- Uncheck water reflections for sure, water refraction helps a little too.
- Uncheck "Point Light Shadows" for sure. It doesn't do much for the look of the game, and make a decent difference to performance.
- Make sure Xfire is not running, some users have had issues with the program while playing.
- If you open the nwn.ini file in your My Documents\Neverwinter Nights 2 folder, you should see something like "NormalMappedTerrain=1" Set it to 0 and save the file. It wouldn't hurt to backup the file before making changes.
- Drop your max draw distance to about half, you won't notice much difference and it helps.
There you go! Also make sure you have your latest video card drivers and hug your computer every night. With these changes I rarely have lower than 30 FPS at 1680 X 1050, with high detail.
- Shawn "Certis" Andrich