The first Neverwinter Nights did not exactly live up to the hype, though it was far from being a poor game. However, Atari apparently was not impressed enough to let the developer of the first game, BioWare, work on the sequel. Instead, it has contracted BioWare's peer, Obsidian, to do the job instead.
Unfortunately, although Obsidian is not always terrible at delivering promises on projects that it works, it is not reliable at meeting every one of them satisfactorily enough. Neverwinter Nights 2, for better or worse, was a halfway-there result.
As is typical for a game that has been made by folks who have much experience with zero-to-hero stories, the game's story involves an otherwise ordinary villager who lived an otherwise ordinary and mundane life. Typically, things turned terrible one day – which is of course an attack on the village. Predictably, the protagonist has to leave on an adventure to sort things out, as well as discover a thing or two about murky pasts and hidden powers.
To jaded veterans of high-fantasy RPGs, the intro would have seemed clichéd or at best standard-fare. However, the appeal of the story would be the journey to its end, during which the protagonist encounters interesting characters and uncover other intrigues on the side. More would be described about this later, though not too much would be said for fear of spoilers.
It is however worth noting there that the story in the sequel has nothing much to do with the events in the previous game, though important characters and locales do return, namely the city of Neverwinter and its ruler, Lord Nasher.
As with many Dungeons & Dragons RPGs, the player is given the choice to customize the looks and traits of the player character in Neverwinter Nights 2.
There are choices for the protagonist's facial features, skin color, hair color and such other aspects, though these are ultimately inconsequential cosmetic options; the story will never acknowledge these choices in anyway. Some players may want to fiddle around with them anyway, but others would recognize the pointlessness.
The same can also be said of the voice-overs for the player character. Some of the voice-overs have been recycled from the previous game, including many campy ones that would make just about any player cringe at the cheesiness. The new ones, such as a set of voice-overs that belong to a rational person, are a lot more pleasant to listen to, though. On the other hand, the player's choice of voice-over ultimately does not matter in the story; the player character will never audibly utter a single line in conversations and cutscenes.
Of more import are the race choices for the player character. In addition to affecting the player character's appearance significantly, the player's choice of race also matters in some parts of the story; after all, Neverwinter Nights 2 is not one to shy away from themes of racial tension, though to elaborate more is to invite spoilers.
In addition, the race choices may impart properties on the player character, such as Half-Orcs having the Night-vision trait from the start and Elves having immunity to sleep-inducing spells. Furthermore, the more powerful races, namely the Tiefling, which has many beneficial traits, have setbacks on the level of their experience thresholds; they generally take more experience points to achieve a level than the other races.
Next, there are the choices of classes and perks, though these will be elaborated on later as they are too sophisticated to be in this section.
Players that have experience in earlier Dungeons & Dragons games would be quite familiar with the aforementioned choices, though others would not be left out as there is enough in-game documentation to help them, if the manual is not convenient enough.
The professions that any player character can pursue are drawn from edition 3.5 of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), so the player that has experience with that would be quite familiar with the choices available. There is a range of fundamental classes, one for just about any playstyle.
For example, players who prefer to dish out as much damage as possible in the shortest amount of time have the mundane but reliable Fighter, whereas those that want a tough tanker can always pick the Barbarian. Healing, buffs and de-buffs are still primarily the specialty of the Cleric and Druid, whereas the primary spell-slingers are still the Wizards and their very close contenders, the Sorcerers. Paladins, Rangers and Monks fulfil the strategic gaps in between these classes.
The one class that would stand out from the rest, at least at first glance, is the Warlock, which is a relatively new class when compared to the rest. Unlike the other spell-slingers, the Warlock can cast his/her very limited range of unique spells as many times as the player wants, without having to rest. This effectively makes the Warlock a reliable, if limited, magical damage-dealer. Players who want tactical variety from their spell-casters may want to give up the Warlock for the more traditional choices.
A perk is a bonus trait that a player character can have, usually granting benefits such as increments to saving throws and more exotic goodies such as new attack options.
Generally, every class gains a perk choice every three levels, with the exception of the Fighter, which gains one every two levels in order to make him/her less mundane (though he/she is still quite dull to develop anyway). This perk choice, of course, does not include the class-specific perks that are automatically gained as they progress up the levels.
Some perks necessitates that the character meet certain requirements before they can be picked. These perks are usually upgrades to earlier perks, but sometimes the requirements are so elaborate that the player would have to plan for them. This is made somewhat easy thanks to the documentation provided by the manual and in-game listing of perks that the character cannot yet obtain when the player goes into the level-up screens.
Perks matter a lot in character builds, as they make up a lot of the capabilities that characters have. Although the documentation, in-game and otherwise, is very satisfactory, the game could have helped make planning even more convenient by giving the player access to the level-up screens without having to have characters obtain levels first, so that the player can look up the requirements for perks in-game without having to refer to the manual.
The documentation of the game informs the player that the player character can work towards meeting the requirements for expanding his/her career into specialty classes known as "prestige classes"; followers of AD&D would be quite familiar with this.
Prestige classes can be considered as supplementary classes, as they provide special abilities that may not be available to fundamental classes, even at high levels. These advantages make spending levels on prestige classes more lucrative than spending them on fundamental classes.
For example, the Weapon Master would be very lucrative for players who start with Fighters and then specialize in a specific weapon. Although this would irrevocably set the player character on a very narrow path of advancement, the fighting capability that this prestige class offers would be very difficult to give up on for players that prefer to engage in combat with weapons.
Unfortunately, there is a missed opportunity to have prestige classes matter more in the story of Neverwinter Nights. Regardless of whatever prestige classes that the player may have taken for his/her player character, no NPC in the official campaign would acknowledge it. The player character can also enter a prestige class without jumping through any story-based hoops, making prestige classes seem more like nonchalant upgrades.
Moreover, the party members in Neverwinter Nights 2's official story do not appear to be able to gain levels in prestige classes, unless they already have them. This is another missed opportunity, as this would have made their characters a lot more sophisticated.
(That is not to say that there are no characters that would change classes somewhere in the story; however, to elaborate more would be to invite spoilers.)
CAMERA & CONTROLS:
There are several camera options, but it is more than likely the player would choose the strategic camera option, which allows the player to order party members around with the mouse, not unlike what had been done for many of Obsidian's earlier games.
The other options sets the camera above or behind the player character while he/she can be moved around with the keyboard, but this is often troublesome as the camera is not smart enough to compensate for the inclusion of visual obstacles in the player character's way.
Speaking of player characters, the player can switch control from party member to party member, which is a change from the first game, though not much different from many other Western RPGs with parties.
Players who have played the previous game would not have trouble understanding the gameplay designs for this game, because they are actually just extensions of those in the first game, or more precisely, adaptation of the rules for combat in AD&D.
Anyway, the combat in Neverwinter Nights 2 is a pseudo-real-time affair. Combatants appear to fight in real-time, but what matter more than the ultimately cosmetic fighting that occurs between them are the calculations that occur behind the scene. The results of these calculations determine the progress and outcome of battles.
Most of these calculations depend on the output of fickle digital dice, meaning that really bad luck can have the player's party wiped out in short order or forcing the player to expend more consumable resources that he/she would like. Conversely, good luck may make some battles seem rather unsatisfactorily short.
The most immediate control that the player has over battles is giving orders to characters to have them perform actions in battle. For example, if a party member is getting in trouble, the player can attempt to have him/her/it run away, or direct other party members to help them, among other decisions that would be quite familiar to players that have played Dungeons & Dragons video games before.
Otherwise, calculations such as the exact damage that characters can inflict on their targets are completely out of the player's control, among other statistics that are dependent on the roll of the game's "D20" random number generators (RNGs).
Fortunately, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) is a rule-set that has many designs which prevent fickle luck from being a strong factor in gameplay. This has been so for the brand for a long, long time, and Neverwinter Nights is fortunately not an exception.
One of the main appeals of AD&D games is that the player can prepare for battles, or at least initiate battles, by having characters cast spells, drink potions, perform rituals and such other actions to grant them temporary bonuses. For example, there would be no need to worry about how much damage that a fiery enemy would inflict on the party if the player has foresight to cast elemental protection spells on his/her party members.
Of course, such gameplay has been in games far earlier than Neverwinter Nights 2, so it would not be doing anything particularly refreshing for its combat designs. Its visual designs for combat are something else, however, which would be described later.
Purist RPG enthusiasts would know that there is so much more to RPGs than just combat; Neverwinter Nights 2 would not disappoint when it comes to offering opportunities of adventure that are not about blood-letting or killing the next monster.
Most of these opportunities involve interaction with NPCs and party members. The player character's literal communications skills, namely Diplomacy, Intimidation and Bluff, are the most important assets that the player has for these moments. Coincidentally, every character class has convincingly understandable innate talent for at least one of the skills mentioned; even the dull Fighter has Intimidate as a Bluff skill.
A lot of hassle could be prevented if the player resorts to dialogue to overcome problems; this also lets the player listen to more of the voice-overs in the game (more on these later), as well as experience the writing for the game. Most importantly, non-violent solutions offer virtually the same reward as getting into and out of fights.
In fact, sometimes the reward from non-violent solutions may be even better, either by design or the game's balancing measures. To elaborate, some rewards grant gear or even perks that could not have been gained through violence.
Furthermore, the experience points that may be rewarded may actually be more substantial than that which could have been obtained from killing enemies. This is a consequence of the game's deliberate discouragement of fighting enemies with characters that are relatively overpowered, which results in significant reductions in the experience awards that these enemies offer when slain.
There are non-violent solutions that do not involve talking, such as sneaky activities that include picking locks and figuring out solutions to puzzles. For solutions that require the use of skills, there is the very much appreciated convenience of the game applying a roll of 20 (the highest result) for a D20 roll for actions that are performed using these skills. This convenience is only there when the player is not engaged in battle, which is an understandable advantage as the characters are expected to be able to concentrate on what they are doing instead of being concerned about fighting.
The solutions that involve puzzles and obstacles often require the player to go through the game's dialogue system, selecting the text options that would solve them instead of actually having the player character going through the animations to perform what has been described in said options.
For these scenarios, the player character and his/her skills tend to be the only assets that the player has, unless he/she has obtained items that can solve them outright. These scenarios give the impression that the designers have forgotten that the player character has companions that may be better suited for the job.
There are a few scenarios where companions offer their help or the player can ask them for help, but these are so far and few in between, disappointingly enough. There will be more elaboration on their significance to the relationships between them and the protagonist, but it has to be said here that they do not figure much into the gameplay for these non-combat scenarios.
There are other puzzles that are more fulfilling though, such as the ones that require characters to cast spells on objects; any spell-casting character can do, which is convenient if the player did not pick one as his/her protagonist.
Neverwinter Nights 2 has a built-in crafting system that lets the player create items from certain materials, such as traps that can be fashioned using hazardous ingredients. However, if the player is looking for crafting as sophisticated as that seen in Hordes of the Underdark, one of the expansions of the previous game, then he/she would be disappointed; the crafting system of Neverwinter Nights is very limited by comparison.
Instead, most of the crafting that the player would do is performed via dialogue scripts that are associated with objects in the game world such as workbenches and alchemy stations. The player only needs to provide the necessary ingredients and have characters with the necessary skills, as well as sufficient level of skill, interact with said objects to fulfill the conditions before the game triggers the creation of the desired item. These crafting stations can only be accessed at specific locations and in specific acts of the story, which can seem very limiting
On the other hand, there are surprisingly many recipes that allow the creation of many objects, which allay the impression that the designers have not spent much time on designing the crafting system. However, it would have been exciting if the effort that has been invested went into creating a built-in system instead of what are actually mere scripted content that would not work outside of the official campaign.
The very convenient and imbalanced resting mechanism in the previous game has been replaced with one that is more appropriate. There are locations within most maps – usually near what looks like fireplaces or camps – that the party can rest at in order to recover health and rememorize spells.
It would take more trial-and-error than logic to know where safe resting spots are though. Although some places, such as the aforementioned camps, would be understandably safe to rest at, there are nooks and crannies that the player can find by having the player character move about here and there and tapping the button for resting to see if that spot is safe; if it is not, the game simply prevents resting.
This suggests that the design of maps in Neverwinter Nights 2's official campaign has not been very tight.
Anyway, a lack of resting places is used as a method by the designers to increase the challenge in a map, which would typically be an understandably dangerous place, such as the lair of ferocious creatures. This is nothing refreshingly new of course, but it is an improvement over the porous challenge in the previous game.
Firstly, it has to be said here that the official story of Neverwinter Nights 2 would be very difficult to describe without including spoilers, so most of the statements here would seem vague to most except those who have already played the game. Secondly, the previous sections would have described enough about the designs of aspects of the game that contributes to the story, so this section would concern the themes, settings and development of the plot(s).
It has been mentioned already that the premise is a clichéd one, specifically a "zero to hero" story. However, the furnishing details are the main appeal of this otherwise mundane setting, namely those that concern the protagonist's journey towards the conclusion. However, not all of the details actually contribute to the story's sophistication as much as they offer amusement.
One of the most notable designs of the story is how many characters there are that contribute to the story. There will be more elaboration on them later, in a more appropriate section. Nevertheless, a long-time follower of Western RPGs may note that there are a lot more choices for party members than in the previous game's official campaign, almost comparable to the likes of Baldur's Gate.
Each of them offers a side plot that somewhat ties into the main plot, typically but understandably enough. Only a couple are truly pivotal to the main plot, however, and these make the rest seem like tag-along companions than people who are genuinely interested and vested in the protagonist's journey. Fortunately, their characters would develop such that they become more than these, as will be elaborated later.
The player character's past is typically murky, yet there are only a handful of characters that would remind the player of his/her protagonist's past. The writing for encounters with these characters is splendid, though in execution, much of their voice-over does not seem to deliver the dramatic brevity that should have come naturally to these moments.
For example, one of the characters that the player meets early on is one that should be important to the player character. Yet, this character is astonishingly stoic, if his voice-over is intended to portray such a personality. When confronted with a question about the player character's origins later in the story, he remains stoic, even when the player has managed to pass dialogue checks that would have him figuratively spilling the beans.
The other characters are fortunately a lot better voiced though, especially a pair of characters that seem so diametrically opposite in personality and intentions.
The story will eventually develop to more epic proportions than just having the party adventuring around. The final acts of the game gives the player a base of sorts to manage (or pilfer from), with merchants that are conveniently in one place along with script nodes for the advancement and completion of many quests.
It is unfortunate though that this "base" has not been implemented earlier in the campaign, the early acts of which are not that much more different than the usually linear traipse from problem to problem.
However, that is not to say that these problems in the early acts of the game are all dull. Among the usual monster-clearing and MacGuffin-fetching quests are ordeals that are very, very rare in Western RPGs.
One of these figurative gems is a very memorable courtroom proceeding. In this scenario, a tremendous number of skills can be used to advance, including those that are not the usual trinity that are Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate. In fact, unlikely skills such as Perform and even some combat skills can come into play, making sure that even the most linguistically unsophisticated of characters can have an edge in the proceeding.
On the other hand, there is always the risk of bungling in this scenario, which ends in an understandably dismal game-over. This is an appropriate design though, as the danger that this scenario poses is refreshingly different from the usual risk of having the entire party fall in battle.
The theme that is best described with the proverb "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" pervades the backstory, though not much in what the player would do and the decisions that the player would have to make, unfortunately.
Any choices that the player would make to solve current problems would solve them anyway, with the direst consequences of these decisions working their way into the campaign's system of relationships with party members and any rewards that the player would get. There are decisions that would come back to bite the player's behind, but the consequences for these would seem as little more than opportunities to get some loot or challenges that could not have been obtained otherwise.
In other words, a new player should not expect decisions to result in consequences that hobble him/her in the long-term, or pervert the protagonist's cause into something else entirely. If there are any bad decisions, these tend to result in straight game-overs and trips to the game-reload screen.
CHARACTER DESIGNS – PARTY MEMBERS:
There are many characters in the game, and appropriately enough, the long-term party members are the best-designed, though first impressions may make that seem otherwise. There are short-term party members, but they tend to be filler characters, as will be described later.
Long-term party members are conveniently introduced during moments in the game when the player is handed another problem to solve, at which they (somewhat) offer to lend a hand.
Initially, early on in the campaign, the player would welcome this help, as the party would be wanting for new members. However, a problem arises when the player has obtained more than enough party members to fill up the slots: the player has little choice over accepting offers of help. These offers tend to be pressed upon the player anyway, regardless of his/her reservations, usually with excuses/reasons that are difficult to counter. This usually means having to give up one slot in the party for each of them, which can be an annoyance.
Moreover, once the problems have been resolved, the would-be party members would come up with excuses to tag along can seem cheesy, though the rest offer better reasons.
For example, there are more than a few characters that utter aloud that they are tagging along because they knew that the adventure that they would have would be exciting or a lot less mundane than what they were doing before.
These introductions tend to make bad impressions to players who do not like story elements being imposed on them in a linear fashion.
However, sometime into the story, when party members realize that they may have bitten off more than they can chew, they become a lot more interesting. They start to question why they followed the protagonist in the first place, and this is when the player's decisions in dealing with them prior to these moments come into play.
Every party member has a favour rating that can be raised by having things go the way that they like, or lowered by decisions on the player's part that they have reservations against. This favour rating can be mostly manipulated by having certain party members absent or present during certain scenarios, though knowing which ones that they would raise their voices in is a different matter, as these occurrences are heavily scripted and may not come naturally, thematically speaking.
For example, a certain Dwarven party member would almost always want to have a say in matters involving dwarves, though he might inject an opinion or two in unlikely ways in other scenarios, such as objecting to helping certain people or objecting when certain people are not helped.
The player may notice that party members may not become so disillusioned as to leave the party outright, which somewhat defies story-telling tropes. This gap in the plot would be filled much later however, with consequences that the player may find very nastily surprising (but very amusing indeed).
For a few certain party members that have developed significant trust in the protagonist, there may be opportunities for (somewhat) romantic relationships. There is one involving a love triangle of sorts, where two party members with diametrically opposing personalities would verbally spar with each other, one of them being deliciously bitter, the other astonishingly firm. The other possible romantic relationship, however, is relatively bland in comparison.
Then, there is a party member that is the stereotypical comic relief. He can seem terribly clichéd by the time of this game, but there is some refreshing value to be had from his personality designs, namely when he is faced with a hard question or dilemma that reveals chinks in his emotional armour that mostly consists of forced uppity optimism.
That is not to say that the others are no-nonsense characters. Many of them, including even the most restrained such as an otherworldly sage, have amusing remarks to say at opportune moments. This is, of course, a hallmark of Obsidian's games, though it is nevertheless pleasing that Obsidian continues one of its more appealing traditions.
CHARACTER DESIGNS – VILLAINS:
The villains would initially appear as the usual archetypes: narcissistic and ruthless. There are the otherworldly invaders early on in the campaign, and then politicking schemers later on. Like the party members, they give bad first impressions.
As the story develops though, there are more details revealed about their motivations, such as bitterness that bothers on religious fanaticism, and skills, such as the viper-tongue that a villainess has and which she uses to deliciously hate-worthy effect in one of the game's best scenarios.
They may also turn into something else entirely; for example, there is one dastardly character that would seem like the usual backstabbing power-hungry villain, but he turns into an even nastier character whose ploys would be revealed very late in the game, often to the unsuspecting player's dismayed surprise as this encounter can actually affect the difficulty of challenge that would come and the outcome is tied into the player's past decisions.
CHARACTER DESIGNS – SIDE CHARACTERS:
There are side characters to flesh out secondary plot lines and deliver the next advancement in the main plot, if they are to act as allies or as representatives of neutral factions. For the most part, they are given satisfactory lines and voice-overs, such as those for Lord Nasher, who returns from the previous game and who remains the firm and uncompromising ruler of the city-state of Neverwinter.
Unfortunately, some side characters are just there as fillers, such as a childhood friend that the protagonist knew but the player would not likely know much about, unless he/she cares enough to learn more about her during the tutorial segment, which is the only part of the campaign where she is significant in any way.
Another example is a party member that is included for such a short period of time that any relationship that may be nurtured is ultimately inconsequential, regardless of how much the player tries to stretch this period in order to see if there is anything substantial to be gained other than a foregone conclusion to this chapter of the story.
These characters are set up as plot devices to inject more drama into the story, and although they are a lot more sophisticated than typical "Red-shirt" characters, they are no less clichéd.
The remaining side characters are forgettable NPCs of the obligatory sorts, such as this-and-that persons in distress (i.e. quest-givers) and the vendors.
It should be noted here that the first game, the game prevents the player from outright attacking non-hostile characters without triggering hostility in them first.
The game is packaged together with the toolset for the Electron engine, which is a re-built version of the Aurora engine that was used for the previous game, albeit completely written in C# to suit Obsidian's needs. This is a pleasant addition of value, especially when one considers the improvement in user-friendliness that Electron has over its predecessor, such as the option to dock windows.
It also marked the continuation of a much appreciated trend from the likes of Obsidian and BioWare, at least when they were focused on creating Western RPGs.
Anyway, the Electron toolset allows the use of modules on individual computers or servers. This allows the design of modules that can be used as one-off adventures, or modules that can persist on servers by creating instances, at least in theory. However, the toolset was used for the creation of the former kind of modules; coding for the latter was not the focus of Obsidian.
As with the Aurora engine, Electron uses invisible polygons known as "triggers" and "encounters". These, upon having other polygons colliding into them, execute scripts that enact occurrences, such as the releasing of traps. For its official campaign module, Obsidian has created triggers and encounters with satisfactory hitboxes, though the same could not be said, much less guaranteed, for user-made modules.
The script editor shows the breadth of customization options for each object that the user can place in the level that is being designed. Almost all of the options from the first game's toolset have survived the transition to C#, though they now benefit from object scripts that the user can create using C# development tools and convert them for use in Neverwinter Nights 2.
Perhaps of particular worth to AD&D followers is the toolset's library of configurations for the game's AD&D-based rules. These can be edited to their liking, if they feel that the default version of the rules is too far removed from what they consider genuine and/or fair.
The story campaign could be played from the beginning with multiple player characters. The game supposedly introduces them as the multiple protégés of a certain mentor and caretaker that is introduced early in the game.
However, the story does not have much in the way of alternate dialogue scripts to reinforce this plot device. Much of it still seems to be oriented around the setting of a single protagonist with a great destiny.
It is more likely that players would use the game's multiplayer component to play campaigns and scenarios of their own creation, which the component supports quite well.
Unfortunately, Obsidian stopped its support for the game's multiplayer, specifically at the end of 2012, thus requiring players to find other ways to seek out other players online. There have been tools that some dedicated fan have designed to allow for this, though it would have been even better if Obsidian had released more of the code for the multiplayer options of the game, if it had at all.
Unfortunately, Neverwinter Nights 2 was ridden with bugs. Some of the severest of these affect the completion of secondary quests, such as bugs that prevent these quests from being completed in certain ways and thus forcing the player to reduce his/her options. There are also bugs that clutter the player's logs with unsorted entries.
These are not as numerous as the issues with the dialogues in the game. In addition to many typos in the subtitles and written lines, there are dialogue options that are associated with game-crashing glitches, which comprise some of the quest-breaking bugs that have been mentioned earlier.
There are also bugs that corrupt game-saves, as well as some that crash the game when the player is trying to reload a game-save. The quick-saving function, in particular, is affected by this problem.
The static cameras used by Obsidian for the in-game cutscenes also sometimes fail to take into consideration any movement that on-screen characters may make due to constraints of space or the movement of other characters that walk into view. Sometimes, characters that are supposed to be shown on-screen may walk out of the camera's view, or turn about such that they are facing the wrong way.
Many patches that would come later fixed many of these problems, but an embarrassing number remains to this day awaiting official fixes that would never come.
VOICE-OVERS & WRITING:
As mentioned earlier, the protagonist does not have any voice-overs. This absence can seem acute when the voice-overs for other characters are considered, especially those for party members. Many characters are given voice-overs for dialogues, which makes it all the more peculiar that the protagonist is not given any during these scenes.
Anyway, most of the other characters are voiced satisfactorily, especially during in-game cutscenes. There are some characters that do not come off as having convincing voice-overs, such as the aforementioned stuffy and stoic character that is important to the protagonist and is introduced almost at the onset of the official campaign.
One noteworthy nuance of in-game cutscenes is that the subtitle for the previous line that has been spoken by any character is placed above the filming window, which somewhat helps the player track a dialogue. Another nuance is that if the character picks the dialogue options that amount to "let us go" or equivalent, the game (or rather, the official campaign) often conveniently loads the map that the player has to go to.
Some dialogues are not given voice-overs or cutscenes, thus requiring the player to look at boxes to the left of the screen (by default) to read whatever lines that characters are delivering. This is not unlike the previous game, but the text and boxes are by default rather small when compared to the rest of the screen. This would not be a problem to most players, but those who pay attention to detail would notice that there is little else occurring on screen, at least until the player selects the dialogue options that trigger occurrences.
There are a few minor hiccups that betray the game's lack of satisfactory quality control. For example, the first two party members have different sets of voice-overs for in-game cutscenes and any other occurrences. These two party members are of course temporary and are only there for the purposes of the prologue (which also doubles as an extended tutorial), but one can't help but feel that the developers did not bother enough with them to have their voice-actors provide lines for the latter occurrences.
It would be impossible to doubt that Neverwinter Nights 2 is a lot more visually sophisticated than its predecessor, though its graphics could not be said to be cutting edge at the time.
The environments are perhaps the first aspect of the game's graphics that would impress on the player, if he/she has played the previous game. There are plenty of objects that can be crammed into a level to make it look much more interesting than any of those in the previous game. The levels are also much more geometrically believable, e.g. they are not obviously grid-based like those in the previous game.
However, if one too many objects are anything but static, the framerate may chug when the camera moves, especially when other things are occurring on-screen. If the camera stays still, then many things, such as combat, can occur on-screen without much of a frame-rate drop. Yet if it does (and it will if the player is using a melee-oriented player character), the game can stutter and even crash on certain computers.
This is an especially severe issue at launch, though it has been somewhat fixed with patches. Nonetheless, it strongly suggests lack of testing on Obsidian's part.
If the player doesn't have any problems with the frame-rate, he/she would be dazzled by the amount of animations and particle effects in the game. Spell-casting and ability-invoking, in particular, have plenty of these.
For example, there are more than several variations of animations for the casting of arcane spells. Wizards/Sorcerers may do the usual twirling of hands, or they may flail their arms above their heads in an ominous manner before throwing a spell, like how one would sling a rock. Then, of course, there are the magical fireworks that spells would unleash, and these do not disappoint.
Another example is the casting animations for Paladin spells. The Paladin does not resort to prayers and such other ritualistic gestures as Clerics are wont to do, but instead the spells pour out of their being like a sudden burst of strength. This is impressive, if somewhat cheesy.
Most of the game's more impressive animations and particle effects are for purposes of combat and casting of spells, unfortunately. Outside of these moments, animations tend to be recycled for many occurrences, especially scripted moments. For example, a character's animations for interacting with objects are the same as those for him/her/it handing objects over to other persons.
Sometimes, animations are missing when they should be there, such as the opening of doors without anyone appearing to be touching them at the least. There is also a noticeable lack of body language in many in-game cutscenes.
Lighting and shadowing is an option that is best left to much stronger computers. Although these create believable shadows for their time, they put a surprising burden on computers, especially considering that the shadows are created from static lighting sources such as lamp posts and not more dynamic ones such as spells being thrown across the air.
The models of characters in Neverwinter Nights 2 are much better than any models that Obsidian had made for its previous games; they are better detailed and sport more facial animations, to cite some improvements. However, they appear to be still lacking in expressing emotions, much of which are performed via having their faces switch to another set of stretching scripts and gestures that are made using their bodies and limbs, not unlike what had been done for Obsidian's earlier games.
There are also mismatching contacts between models for items and body parts. The most glaring of these is the connection between torsos and heads; there are no visible collars, as if textures had been draped over the head and shoulders of characters. Characters also hold any weapons with the same grip, sometimes causing their hand polygons to clip into the handles of weapons or leaving gaps between them.
Speaking of textures, Obsidian does not appear to have jumped on the normal-mapping bandwagon so much. This should have reduced the need for computing power, but that the game takes a lot of computing power to run anyway suggests that Obsidian has done a poor job at resource optimization.
Where the previous game recycled a lot of sounds for many occurrences, the sequel has a much bigger library of sounds, comparable to if not more than those of other Western RPGs of its time. Spells, in particular, have sound effects that are as varied as their particle effects. There are also more variations of metal clashing against metal and weapons striking flesh than in the previous game, which make combat much more aurally entertaining than the previous game, if not most other Western RPGs at the time.
Outside of combat, there are few sound effects to be heard, especially if the environment is mostly static. Where it is not though, such as in places with running water (or lava), there are some appreciable sound effects, such as the streaming of creeks and the gurgling of lava.
The music would be the most entertaining aspect of the game's sound designs. Almost all of them are orchestral, with little if any discernible artificially produced music.
The game does recycle some of the previous game's soundtracks (which were composed by Jeremy Soule) for certain levels, such as the taverns (especially these), but the rest of the game's soundtracks happen to be fresher and perhaps even more exciting to listen to.
The latter soundtracks are composed by David Fraser and Neil Goldberg, who are relatively unknown, or at least not known to work with video games before this game. This did not stop them from creating some particularly memorable tracks, such as the hauntingly melodic and inspiring main theme (which incidentally, was used for many scenes in the game).
The prologue also has some interesting soundtracks, though the combat in it is not deserving of the more exciting soundtracks as the challenges in the prologue are too easy. Otherwise, the soundtracks in the prologue help a lot to reduce the impression that the campaign uses a run-of-the-mill setting for its introduction.
Although Neverwinter Nights 2 looks to be so much better than its predecessor, and it is in many ways, it comes with many of its own problems. First impressions of it being yet another run-of-the-mill AD&D-based RPG with overused plots would be the most glaring problem, because it promised to offer an epic tale via its official campaign.
The game does not have cutting edge graphics, yet it can take a lot of computing power to run smoothly and if the player lacks that, the frame-rate dives very often and the game may even crash. The glitches that affect the game, from launch to present, also detract much from the game.
Yet, Neverwinter Nights 2 would be worthwhile to play if the player can overcome or tolerate the abovementioned problems, thanks to plot and character development and refreshing scenarios that help make a journey with a foreseeable conclusion at the least bearable, if not entertaining. The Electron toolset, which has been revised over its predecessor, and new epic soundtracks also add value to an otherwise flawed game.