Extensive and engaging, Neverwinter Nights 2 incorporates all the elements that make it a definitive D&D experience.
johnnyb47 wrote this review on .
It is that very system that makes Neverwinter Nights 2 really shine, and lends this game the complexity needed to be hard to truly master, while still being easy enough to get into for newcomers to the D&D rule set. This is because while custom creation of a successful character may require extensive knowledge and pre-planning, you can always select the sure-fire "Recommended" character development settings, which will provide you with powerful, if somewhat generic character builds. Neverwinter Nights 2 brings a host of new races and classes to choose from, while also tweaking the existing ones and repairing a good number of flaws present in past iterations of the game. You can now pick from a host of powerful subraces, and even level in a number of new prestige classes unique to this game. All choices are well explained, so you're not wading in the dark when it comes to character development – should you take the time to read the details. Moreover, the game offers such a wide choice of character builds, and so many paths to take based on how you level your game avatar, that one play-through may not be enough to get the most of this game.
The combat system follows the tried-and-true formula used in the original Neverwinter Nights, based on dice rolls, character skills and allowing you to pause at any time to give orders to members of your party or even take direct control of any of them. Character AI however, is a mixed blessing, as even though you won't generally have to babysit your companions all the time, as they are fairly self-sufficient, there will be moments when they will take the wrong decision, or worse yet, no decision at all, simply standing and watching you get beaten to death. Nevertheless, you'll be able to fine-tune these behaviors through a set of options for each companion, or set them to puppet mode, should you prove to be a micromanagement nut. All in all, combat will turn out to be a minor, mostly manageable headache, on normal difficulty settings. The hardest setting, however, will practically require you to micromanage everything, as your companions' splash damage spells will hurt you as well as your enemies.
Two glaring flaws mar this game, one being the camera, the other being pathfinding. Details aside, it's safe to say that none works as intended. The camera, in spite of having a ton of options and modes, will never be in the right place, and the objects that need to be visible will generally be obscured either by your companions, or by the scenery. You'll have the option to play from a top-down, isometric perspective, as well as third-person view, but you'll always have to incessantly move around to get a direct line of sight to the objects of interest. Coupled with this is the mostly broken pathfinding, which will even freeze or slow down your game at times when you have more than the usual 3 companions along with you. Characters will often take detours to get to the right spot, assuming they'll consider it's possible at all, nevermind the clear path ahead. This will lead to the enemy hitting your companions in combat, while they run around apparently aimlessly, and even to them sitting back and not helping you at all.
Graphics-wise, Neverwinter Nights looks good, but doesn't stand out too well compared to other games. On the plus side, the textures look sharp, models are generally well detailed, everything is bump-mapped, special effects are flashy, colorful and varied, and the lighting, when turned to maximum, really manages to transform the game, but also to bring anything less than a top-of-the-line PC to its knees. The really bad part is that all animation in this game looks to be a real immersion breaker. Besides being choppy at times, character animations are rather few, and get overly repetitive, leading to characters which have the appearance and movement of plastic puppets.
As for sound, there isn't very much to it, apart from the sporadic clinging of swords and spell effects that are generally heard in battle. This doesn't mean that they are badly done, but rather that they don't give the necessary audible cues of a living, breathing world. Music is also by and large negligible, though varied enough and adaptable to the situation you'll find yourself in. There just doesn't seem to be any spark of genius to the music, and thus it is easily ignored.
The dialogue, however, is worthy of any AAA title, being superbly written, long, varied, offering real choices and unlike the original Neverwinter Nights, featuring professional voice acting. Each character has his own sound, reflecting his personality, and has a lot to say about himself, you, the world around him, and even about the other companions. They will even make fun of one another or argue over the necessary course of action and have you choose between settling the matter or taking the side of either of them. The main character's skills are also tied into dialogue, as at times you'll be presented with the option of taunting, bluffing or demonstrating your diplomatic skills in ways which frequently alter the course of the game, or the standing of your companions towards you.
The story of Neverwinter Nights 2 is a long-winding saga of saving Faerun from yet another impending doom, filled with a good number of (somewhat) unexpected twists and turns that keep the story engaging throughout the entire 50 or 60-odd hours of play required to see the single-player campaign to an end. Following the classic peasant-to-hero line of storytelling, Neverwinter Nights 2 will have you progress through all the stages in-between, including rural savior, unwitting chosen one, servant to the king, and even owner of a castle. While the main events that drive the game are fixed, your choices will bear enough significance to alter the playing experience, and even the end result of the story, making you more than an avatar that wades through one scripted event after another before confronting the final boss.
Due to the presence of the easy to master Toolset, and of an active community, the game is bound to have a long life, even disregarding all the multiplayer options and the upcoming add-on(s). There already are a host of user-made MODs and campaigns freely available on the Internet, with the promise of more to come. Consequently, you can create your own custom adventures and share them, as the Toolset includes rich content and a flexible and user-friendly interface.
Multiplayer consists of on-line play with up to three other players, and you'll be able to play the single-player campaign in cooperative mode, with some customization options, as well as any other user-made campaign that is enabled for multiplayer.
The bottom line is that Neverwinter Nights 2 is more than worth your money, featuring solid production values, an engaging story, good graphics and the intricate D&D ruleset to hold your attention and test your mastery. Even after you're through with what it offers out-of-the-box, you'll always find more content on-line and through add-ons, so at least until the next sequel rolls out, which isn't likely to be anytime soon, you'll have a ton of fantasy RPG-ing to do.