When it arrived on the PC in 2002, Neverwinter Nights was nothing short of a revelation. The single-player game balanced depth and accessibility with incredible aplomb. It totally nailed the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rule set, and the ability to create your own custom adventures gave the game incredible legs. Now, Jamdat and developer FloodGate have brought the world of Neverwinter Nights to mobile, and though it doesn't have quite the scope or ambition of its PC forebear, it's one of the most fully realized mobile games to come along thus far, and it seems likely to stand as one of the more significant milestones for mobile gaming.
Neverwinter Nights: Mobile takes the whole Dungeons & Dragons business pretty seriously, and as with any half-decent role-playing game based on the seminal pen-and-paper fantasy game, your first step to becoming a powerful and renowned adventurer is to create a character. There's the option to play with a "pre-rolled" character, but that would rob you of the opportunity to customize your mobile digital avatar. When you roll your own, you have to choose the race and character class for your character--the former of which has a rather indistinct impact on the gameplay, and the latter of which basically determines what types of weapons you'll be able to use. From here you will "roll" for your basic character abilities, though interestingly, you can re-roll an infinite number of times until you're satisfied with your starting stats. Finally, you'll get a pool of points that you can distribute among 10 different skills. It can be difficult to determine which skills are best for your character class right off the bat, so the game offers to automatically distribute your skill points for you, and generally speaking, it does a good job of putting the points where you'll need them down the road. Once all the hard stat stuff has been settled, you get to choose from a selection of really tiny painted portraits for your character--all of which are pulled from the PC version of Neverwinter Nights--give your would-be adventurer a name, and begin on your quest.
Regardless of what sorts of choices you make during character creation, the game itself always kicks off the same. You start as the foster child of a druid living in the Kryptgarden forest who asks you to investigate some mysterious black smoke that is turning the forest creatures mean. To make a long story short, you end up playing intermediary between your mentor and a stubborn dwarf who is mining for ore in the forest, fetching various magical artifacts to appease the dwarf and curb his mining efforts. As players who have played other D&D games might be able to predict, your adventure eventually becomes more than just a string of simple gopher tasks, but it seems as though you spend most of the game simply trying to keep the druid and the dwarf from murdering each other. The actual tasks you'll undertake are fittingly heroic--facing off with kobolds, thieves guilds, the undead, orcs, and tainted fire elementals--but the overarching motivation seems a little petty.
Once you have your specific quest at hand, which is usually along the lines of "go to this place, fight these bad guys, retrieve this special item," you'll head out into the world. When you aren't in a specific area, such as a dungeon or a town, you're given a broader view of the world as you travel to your destination. You'll randomly find yourself ambushed while traveling in the overworld map, though interestingly, you always have the option to simply retreat from the battle. The combat itself doesn't require a lot of interaction, as your abilities are pretty much limited to a ranged attack and an up-close melee attack, and the hit rate and damage done are stat-based. Considering that most handset controls aren't great for twitch-based action, we generally consider this simplified interface a good thing.
The game is, for the most part, one big dungeon crawl, and you'll spend the majority of your time cutting through hordes of enemies, cracking open treasure chests, selling off any excess goods at the game's plentiful vendors, and keeping the good stuff. It's a sizable adventure, and even if you keep your eye on the prize and don't bother exploring any of the game's ancillary dungeons or towns, the main quest will easily take up five or six hours of your time.
The most intriguing aspect of the technology behind Neverwinter Nights: Mobile is its clever use of the network. Rather than loading all of the game data on your phone at once, it streams the information to your phone on demand and then discards it once it's done with it. The impact this has on the overall game is fairly profound, both in positive and negative ways. On the positive side, it allows the game to include a lot more content than your usual mobile game, and it opens up the possibility for future adventures with your established character. The downside is that this network dependency introduces a lot of load times that otherwise would not exist. These load times generally aren't any more than 15 or 20 seconds, but it's enough to take you out of the experience. It's also worth noting that, because a lot of the data for different locations does not live on your phone, the game is unplayable if you are in an area where you cannot get a network signal.
The visuals are not the strongest suit of Neverwinter Nights on the LG VX7000, but they are, above all else, functional. You'll notice that most of the towns look about the same, most of the dungeons look about the same, and most of the random encounter areas look about the same--but you can tell that they are towns, dungeons, or random areas in the wilderness. The character sprites also recycle quite often, which has a more noticeably negative effect on the experience, such as when a human thief and an orc chieftain are indistinguishable.
For sound, the game uses a handful of simple tones to indicate actions such as melee and projectile attacks, which aren't great but are close enough that you understand what they're supposed to signify. Though some of the in-game sounds seem a bit too angular, the music that plays over the menus and while you wander about the various townships provides a nicely synthesized flute and harpsichord accompaniment, and it captures the quasi-Ren-Faire feel of the whole game.
Most mobile games are fairly modest in scope, which makes Neverwinter Nights: Mobile a significant game, simply because of its size. There really isn't anything else out there quite like this for mobile phones, and aside from being legitimately enjoyable on its own terms, it is an important step in breaking the perception that mobile games are simple, shallow, and only suitable for the most casual players.