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Despite being around for a fair old while, fantasy role-playing games for the PC have perhaps never been considered cool by anyone other than those who also indulge in the paper-and-dice format, but it now appears that games within the genre are shaking loose their 'anorak' image and appealing to the mainstream.
Neverwinter Nights 2 is a prime candidate for the top honour in this particular genre of PC role-playing games and is based on version 3.5 of the popular Dungeons and Dragons game. Graphically, it can't hold a candle to the current crop of first-person shooters such as Bioshock or Crysis, or even it's main rival in this particular genre, Oblivion. That's not to say that it looks poor, however, as it is a good-looking game in its own right but what it lacks in the graphics department, it more than makes up for in gameplay.
The game itself centres around the player as a character within the game. The character is fully customisable before the game starts, so players can choose their character class, statistics, appearance, etc. before being thrust into the action. The game starts in the player-character's home village of West Harbour on the morning of the village festival, setting the scene for the tutorial levels. Throughout the tutorial, the player-character is joined by two NPC (non-player characters) who aid the player throughout the early action, as the player learns the game controls and gains vital experience which allows the character to develop. Unlike the previous Neverwinter Nights game, the NPC characters can be controlled, equipped and customized as the game unfolds, and there are several NPC characters scattered throughout the game with which to interact and form alliances with.
Each NPC has their own set of attributes, characteristics, alignment and how the player interacts with them determines how they will act and how they view the player character, which can affect such in-game factors as monster and NPC reactions, the information which can be extracted and the quests you can undertake.
After the tutorial levels, the player must make his way to the city of Neverwinter, where the action really kicks off as various adversaries are introduced and unmasked, while several different paths through the gameplay are available to move the story forward. However, with numerous side-quests available in addition to the main plotline, don't expect to complete this game quickly as the single-player game should take around 50-60 hours to complete.
However, it is in multiplayer where Neverwinter Nights 2 really excels. This allows players to form adventurer parties with family and friends and tackle the single-player version as a group, while there are customized adventures online, ready to download for added play. This provides for extensive re-playability from the game.
The game is interspersed with cut-scenes which are well done and enhance both the action and the storyline, while the excellent voice acting and narrative is supported by a superb orchestral soundtrack which encompasses the battle scenes, and throughout the gameplay. The screams of vanquished enemies and casting of spells crackle across the speakers and the screen to further lend atmosphere to the game.
The biggest drawback to the game is the fiddly camera controls which accompany the release version of the game, although this has been addressed in a later patch that can be downloaded. However, from out of the box, the camera requires constant attention, is extremely sensitive and is easily knocked away from the desired perspective.
Although the game requires some serious resources from the player's PC, anyone looking for a lengthy, atmospheric role-playing game really can't go wrong with Neverwinter Nights 2. From the engaging single-player game through the seemingly-limitless multiplayer options, there's plenty of fun to be had, and with the recent release of an expansion pack to further complement Neverwinter Nights 2, the fun and adventure continues.