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As one of the few games to adapt the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition rule-set to PC gaming, Neverwinter Nights remains one of the classics in the PC Role playing genre. Originally released in 2002 by Infogrames and developed by Bioware (of ‘Baldur’s gate’ fame and not new to D&D adaptation for PC) it is mainly centred around the original ‘Forgotten Realms’ pen-and-paper campaign featuring the same locations, deities, some characters and generally the same persistent world.
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Something about Bioware
Based in Canada, Bioware already reached fame in the world of PC Role playing with the first release of ‘Baldur’s gate’ in 1998, paired with expansion packs and its sequel some time later. This wasn’t their first game however, and although they are mostly famous for role players (even for consoles such as ‘Knights of the Old Republic’), their first release was ‘Shattered Steel’, an action game based in space.
The company is also famous for having developed the ‘Aurora’ engine used in NWN or the next version of the 2D engine used in ‘Baldur’s gate’. The engine features an isometric perspective based on tiles, and an almost exact adaptation of the original D&D rule-set: behind the scenes you will see die-throws to determine reflex and will saves or things like DC (difficulty class) in most game objects.
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You are brought into the city of Neverwinter to discover the cause of the devastating plague which has afflicted this once great city. What was a thriving community has now become barely habitable; all respective city quarters are isolated by guards and former residents are scattered across the city centre, with little hope of returning to their homes. There are however rumors of a cure, as the council and local clerics have gathered to try and understand the ‘Wailing Death’.
Starting from Neverwinter’s academy you can start by training in the area your character is focussing on, i.e. combat, and then move onto your adventures.
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As you first start the game you are invited to create your character. The game includes a variety of races, such as humans, half elves or custom races where you can set your own attributes. You can then move onto your character class: you might choose to play a mighty wizard and follow the path of ‘Boccob the Uncaring’ or just hack your way through the dungeons with the belligerent barbarian. As in the pen-and-paper game your character also has a beginning alignment which can change during your adventure depending on your actions related to your character.
The game interface is quite intuitive. You can simply click on a tile for your character to move or keep the left mouse-button pressed away from your character to run. Things like inventory, quest-book and map management are made easy by icons on the upper-right side of the screen. You can also use keyboard short-cuts to bring up things like your inventory (a quick-reference card is given with the manual) and you can quick-save just by pressing G on your keyboard (hence my worn out G key). Just in case Tymofarrar decides it’s time for toast...
Graphically the game does look good, baring in mind it’s a 2002 release. Much of the spell-casting effects and blood and gore of melee combat are well executed, and the locations and settings really give a good feel of a D&D campaign. The voice acting is convincing if a little cold at times ('Festiliard' was a favourite of mine though) and Jeremy Soule’s orchestral soundtrack helps convey the various moods with an evocative main theme.
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Figthing and quick-slots
A helpful feature of NWN is the many quick-slots accessible by pressing F1 to F12 (add the ctrl-key or shift-key for more). You can put any item which you might find useful in your inventory, for instance a torch which you can access quickly, or weapons which you can draw as the fighting begins. This comes in handy, as you won’t find yourself having to search for your weapon when those pesky goblins decide to attack. Quick-slots can also contain useful spells or ‘feats’, or special abilities which your character might have (i.e. stealth or hide).
The fighting system is quite simple, you just point at your enemy and your character attacks automatically, although bare in mind there are turns so it's no use continually pressing ‘attack’. You can choose special fighting actions via the radial menu, by clicking on the sword icon and then picking what’s the most appropriate to your current fight. You might want to unleash some barbarian rage or a special melee attack, which all depends on the kind of character you built originally.
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You can play online by accessing the ‘Multiplayer’ panel right at the beginning. You need to have an account on the Bioware site (http://nwn.bioware.com/) and need to have registered your game. Once connected, you can either choose to play via the Gamespy servers (there are some good ones) where you can choose a pure action, role play or other types, or you can connect directly if you know the servers address.
The community still has a lot of content being developed, hence the servers are still very much alive.
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In conclusion, this game has anything you might want if you’ve played the original D&D board games and for new players to the genre. Being quite easy to pick up, you can just enter the realms without knowing much about them. Immersive environments, customisable characters and a thriving community still make ‘Neverwinter nights’ very much a relevant RPG despite being released some time ago.