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10 Things To Hate About Neverwinter Nights

So I finished Neverwinter Nights over the weekend. It took a lot to get into it, but thankfully, I had almost interminable insomnia. This allowed me to finish it, and better yet, gave me something more entertaining to do than count ceiling fan rotations.

My overall review: the single player game is good, but made me want to run crawling back to the infinitely better Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. The multiplayer game was laggy, but so far hasn’t really lived up to its promise as ‘reinventing the D&D experience’. Currently, it’s sort of like Diablo with a better story and worse rules. The tools editor is a breeze. I give it 3 out of five stars.

That being said, I’ve read so many people talking about this game with such sparkly gleams in their eyes that I feel compelled to offer the truth. I’ve seen no end of shiny, happy things written about NWN that I thought that someone needed to say the things that I’ve seen missed or glossed over in all of the reviews. That being said, here are 10 things to hate about Neverwinter Nights.

1) The story. The story is passable. This is actually good news, since the first chapter of the story is laughably bad. I mean, want to put your head down on the desk and sob, thumb in mouth, laughably bad. This is typically the case when developers think they need to establish your character as the savior of the world when you are a level one scrub. It doesn’t work. It creates situations where, heavens to betsy, there are no heroes around, so lets find some kid and teach him! With our extremely wise and well-trained teachers! When the kid’s in trouble, he can come and ask the godlike Paladin who stands around in the temple instead of actually doing anything! Oh, and one more thing, please stop making NPCs give you missions that determine the fate of the free world and, when you pull them off, say things like “I didn’t think you’d really be able to do it”. Well, what the hell were you just sending me for then?

2) The henchmen. Dear god, are these morons dumb. Let’s start off by pointing out that you cannot command the henchmen to do anything. You want your henchman to search a chest? Well, click on it. He’ll always say, “I can pick that open easy!” but he’ll only actually pick it one time in ten. No way to direct him to, or take control of him. You can’t tell him to remove a trap, you have to wiggle your character around in place until he notices the glowing red trap you obviously see (if you click on it, you’ll likely set it off). You can’t manipulate his inventory and outfit him better than what he’s currently wearing. You can’t keep him from attacking monsters two rooms away that you can’t even see. And you can’t kill him, which becomes a greater desire the longer you play. Incidentally, when you start out, you think the thief is the only viable henchman, since you can only have one in your party and he’s the only one that can pick traps and locks. But then you realize that everyone can bash chests and you can just take the trap damage most of the time. Then you realize that the little bugger is the most useless one of the lot. The others, however, are so overpowered that they make your ‘hero’ look like an accidental footnote of history and you start to wonder why the quest NPCs are talking to you instead of him. But then you remember that he’s a moron.

3) The pathfinding. I’ll be on flat, open terrain, unable to move around my henchman to any one of the three monsters fighting him. My henchmen frequently got stuck on walls and in corners. Once, combat put me in a place I couldn’t pathfind out of (and incidentally, if you must have low objects like bedrolls unfurled on the ground, please don’t make them blockable). My henchman frequently didn’t join into battle, despite the fact that he was two tiles away (these are usually the only times I died). My pets walked through traps that I could see just fine. Occassionally, my henchman would just walk up to a wall and stand there, sometimes while I was being killed.

4) The crashes. Frequent, frequent crashes at first, and yes, I had the damn drivers, and yes, I had the game turned down to the lowest possible graphics level. My initial total and very vocal complaints were largely driven by the fact that I got crashes that required a rebooting to refree the system resources every half hour (soon, I was planning my life around them. I’ll take my laundry out during the next crash, cook some soup during the next one…) Eventually, I determined that the culprit was my Radeon 8500, which runs everything else just fine. I replaced it with an old GeForce 3 I had lying around, and the game only started to freeze once every 3 hours. Save often.

5) The art. This game was not nearly as good looking as I expected it to be. Bioware gets high marks for the majority of the monsters, most of the animations, and the particle effects. However, the tileset-built world gave the whole world a sense of sameness that you really can’t escape. And on top of that, none of those tilesets really looks all that good, with the exception of the Charwood forest tileset which is absolutely breathtaking. On top of that, the character models are pretty damned ugly (your choice in character faces is apparently a choice between disparate smudge mark colorations), the helmets all cover up the entire face, and all of the armor options replace the whole body with little ability to mix and match. The armor frequently DOES look cool, but you can only tell in the armor editor – most of the changes are too small to see in default camera modes.

6) The rules. Repeat after me: D&D rules suck for computer games. I’m sorry. It’s true. D&D is based too much upon the concept of critical monster hits. The end result is that, if you replay a fight with a boss creature 10 times, you can be killed 5 of them and take next to no damage in the other five. Also, I appreciate the monster amount of depth that the D&D license has gained in its 20+ years of experience, and I applaud BioWare for being up to the challenge of implementing them, but it doesn’t change the fact that monks are unstoppable killing machines, whereas every power that made rangers useful in tabletop play seems weak and pathetic in a computer gaming session. Also, if you’re going to put in ‘Attack of Opportunity’ could you please be sure that the automatic moving around you make my character do to make the fight more interesting visually to watch doesn’t create openings that other monsters can attack in? Thanks.

7) The sound. Hey, am I the only who is bugged when designers put ambient sounds in rooms that make it sound like there are still monsters to kill when you’ve cleared out the zone? How about using the sound as a useful guide? Oh, and while I’m at it, I see in your editor that you can use a wide variety of combat music. Can you use more, please? And lastly, is 3D sound broken? Unless an NPC is exactly front and center, anything he says sounds like it’s being said from the bottom of a well. A well a long ways away.

8) The camera. In default mode, you can’t see over the walls without rotating the camera (especially in dungeons). In behind-cam, you can see everything, but you get sick, especially when the AI takes over your character in a fight and sends the perspective spinning like a top as she mows through foes with relative ease. You can never quite get low enough to see as far down the hall as you’d like, or see high enough to see the shiny things on top of temples. And most of the time, the best strategic viewpoint is directly overhead.

9) The lack of ethics. You mean, I can really steal anything from any chest in the game, with no consequences whatsoever? In fact, my henchman will go ahead and disarm chests while I’m talking to the NPC that they belong to? You mean that the game will really send me to free the monsters from the zoo, forcing me to kill zoo guards (presumably representatives of the same city I’m tasked to defend) with no repercussions? Once, I had a guy get haughty because I shook him down for more cash. Most of the time, people just turned me down without another word. Incidentally, the lack of repercussions of your achievements is a constant problem. NPCs are constantly moaning about quests that you’ve already solved. How simple it would be to put a simple bit check in and give you kudos for saving the day, and make it feel like you’re actually saving the world.

10) Many, many sniggling gameplay issues. Am I really going to have to fight nearly exclusively convicts and zombies for the first chapter? Wow, we’ve actually possibly found something more boring than killing giant rats – for a quarter of the game. Is this chest with the 200 point fireball trap really going to contain nothing but a 3 gold piece gem? Is there really no time sensitiveness to any quest? (I must save the world! But first, I might as well find Joe, and give him the lunch his wife made for him). Will the game really refuse to ever give me any of the elements needed to make the one magic weapon I actually want to make? And while we’re at it, what’s with making the game so god damned easy? WIth the difficulty jacked up, my henchman monk was capable of taking out most battles while I opened chests. Near the end, I took out two dragons without a henchman, just my bear pet. I almost never bought a potion and still ended up with double digits of most of them from what I found. The fact that getting a henchman back from the dead was so cheap and gold was so plentiful, letting him die was an afterthought. Death itself almost never happened to me without the occurrance of a bug or a particularly vicious trap. Why aren’t searched bags and chests drawn a different color? And why are they so hard to see? Why do people store their precious gold and magic items in unlocked crates out on the street? Why aren’t monsters described as ‘impossible’ difficult to kill?

Anyway, this is not to say I didn’t like the game. I played it fairly obsessively, and really enjoyed it once I got past the 1st level story and the frequent crashes. Perhaps it’s just been that long since a decent RPG has come out, and perhaps the designer bone in me constantly demands perfection. I do give the game high marks for its flow, and I do like several of the quests. And while the D&D rules aren’t the best, I loved exploring their depth and experimenting with new characters and character types.

And the editor. Oh. My. God. The editor is a marvelous dream. Anyone outside the industry has no idea how rare tools as smart, effective and easy to use the NWN editor actually is. And since you can go beyond the editor and modify the script language that controls the game, I predict some great stuff to come out of the ‘mod’ community sooner or later. I don’t know if persistent worlds will ever truly exist and be as good as people seem to think they will, but I do think it has a chance to be the first RPG with freely exchanged content between players.

So overall, despite all of my bitching, if you like RPGs a lot, you probably owe it to yourself to pick this title up. Just please, don’t be fooled into thinking that the game can turn your water into wine.

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