Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark Impressions

We sit down with the second expansion pack for BioWare's Dungeons & Dragons game.

At a recent Atari press event, we were able to take an up-close look at Hordes of the Underdark, the second expansion pack for BioWare's 2002 role-playing game, Neverwinter Nights. The expansion pack will make numerous additions to the original game, including the new epic character rules that will let players take their characters from the already high character level of 20 all the way up to 40. In addition, the expansion will add five new advanced prestige classes your character can attain (in addition to the five that were introduced in the previous expansion pack, Shadows of Undrentide). These prestige classes include the powerful and highly requested red dragon disciple class; we saw a sample character in this profession that was human but had already sprouted a pair of reptilian wings from its back.

The expansion will also feature an improved camera that can zoom in very closely onto the action onscreen, as well as new tilesets for enthusiasts who wish to create more of their own custom adventures using the game's map editor, including a tileset for the Underdark, the subterranean section of the Forgotten Realms universe that houses the evil dark elves, beholders, and mind flayers--and these and other enemies will benefit from improved monster AI that will cause some enemies to use more-detailed tactics such as immediately casting an improved invisibility spell when they detect your presence, then following up with a suite of protective spells and queuing up a powerful offensive spell when they sight you.

We watched a brief tour of two different modules, each of which ended up in the Underdark. The expansion will allow for increased polygon counts and improved textures, which will result in more-detailed characters and environments so that you can expect to encounter the original game's umber hulks and drow elf warriors alongside the new illithid monsters in all-new environments that include the gold-flecked, marble-lined architecture of the drow elves and the bizarre, filigreed metalwork of mind flayer cities (some of which bear a passing resemblance to some of the later areas of Baldur's Gate II). In drow elf society, powerful creatures such as beholders and mind flayers have an uneasy truce with each other, so they'll act as neutral characters and merchants in the game.

In the single-player campaign, you'll start your adventure in the Yawning Portal, a well-known tavern from the fiction of the Forgotten Realms universe, just after an evil and powerful drow elf matron has foreseen defeat at your own hands. You'll awaken with an empty inventory, since the drow elf assassin who has barged into your room and is attempting to kill you has already made off with your belongings. After you defeat the assassin, you can descend to the ground floor of the tavern, where you'll be reunited with some of the hireling characters from the original Neverwinter Nights, such as Daelan Red-Tiger, the half-orc barbarian, and Linu Lanaeral, the elf cleric. You'll also be able to recruit Deekin, the kobold henchman from Shadows of Undrentide, and fortunately, you'll be able to choose two henchman to accompany you on your journey (rather than just one as in the original Neverwinter Nights) to the Underdark via the infamous caverns of Undermountain. Hordes of the Underdark is scheduled for release later this year.

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