Thursday, September 20, 2007

Maximus reports on his trip

Maximus has posted a report of his trip over to Obsidian a week or so back to check out Mask of the Betrayer. He also links to one by the tileset gurus at Robinson's Workshop, though I haven't had a chance to read that one just yet.

Interestingly, Rogue Dao studios also had a chance to demo their upcoming module at this meeting. I've long been a fanboy of the Planescape setting, and from Maximus's description, and everything else I'd seen from it, it really sounds amazing. I'm actually much more excited about playing their module than the actual expansion campaign... In fact, I'd probably be willing to hold off on purchasing the explansion to see if I could snag the expansion as a Christmas gift, except that Rogue Dao's module will require the expansion!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Night Howls in Nestlehaven

Below are my comments on Nestlehaven. It's clearly among the best modules yet produced for the Vault. If the sequel can fulfill the promise of this first effort, we could be in store for something very, very special. It's exciting to see content like this coming out for NWN2--it shows much of the tremendous power of this modding engine while living up to the rich history of story and setting than we have in the NWN community. It most certainly falls into the "must have" category of NWN2 mods, and I've only said that about one or two other modules...
My Vote: 9 - Outstanding, A Must Have
Character: lv. 9 human neutral good cleric from Keep on the Borderlands, advanced to lv. 13
Module Version Played: jul20a6

Night Howls in Nestlehaven borders on groundbreaking, at least for the still-young NWN2 modding community. The crowning accomplishment of this module is the realization of Nestlehaven as a living and breathing town. Jackyo123's Nestlehaven has a rich history dominated by two ruling families, the Boroldi (who wear blue) and the Bellerose (who wear red). The two families are evenly matched and have an arrangement to share power within the city. But it is an imperfect arrangement between two very proud houses, and the result is a history of tension that periodically boils over into genuine feuds. Now is one of those times, and the player character is invited by Nestlehaven's constable to help solve the mystery behind a series of gruesome murders that nearly have the ruling families at each others' throats.

The Capulet vs. Montague-esque split between the families dominates almost every aspect of the town of Nestlehaven. Most residents are allied with one of the two families, and they wear their affiliations on their sleeve--literally--by wearing their family's colors. In fact, in what I thought was a masterful stroke by the author, the citizens go so far as to paint the roofs of their homes to match the colors of their chosen families. The result is a town that feels divided, yet at the same time, tied together by their richly intertwined history.

Much of the first half of the module has the player exploring the streets and buildings of Nestlehaven, which feel alive thanks to a tremendous amount of detail. Commoners, many of which are customized well beyond the level we typically see in modules, move about the city muttering their opinions about current events. Many, if not most, buildings are enterable despite being unrelated to any of the various main quests and side quests (as an aside, while my character felt right at home in this mod, I think it would actually be best played as a chaotic mercenary-type, rather than a do-gooder, so that one would feel liberated to explore/plunder all the various private residences that one can explore). And there are wonderful variety of interesting minor encounters, both violent and pleasant, that one can experience while one explores the town. There are only a few modules for NWN1 that were able to create such a palpably alive city for you to explore...and they often were among my favorite modules, including Cormyrean Nights, Threat of Dreams, and Almraiven, among others. And there's nothing else like it available for NWN2, official campaign included.

All that praise actually leads to my primary critique of the module. While the setting of Nestlehaven is fabulous, and sets up a wonderful opportunity for political intrigue and espionage, it ultimately felt a bit tangential to the main storyline. In fact, while the first half of the module will have you exploring the many interesting locals within the city, most of the second half of the module has you either fighting baddies in the surrounding forests or trudging through the many dungeons underneath Nestlehaven fighting all manner of demons and undead. The only time one has a serious encounter with the leadership of one of the ruling families is during a bizarre mandatory fetch quest, which felt a bit tacked-on. Furthermore, what starts as a very open-ended module becomes almost railroaded in its linearity near the end. The main story itself isn't bad by any means, and is generally well-executed, but it seemed a bit generic...especially when laid in contrast to the potential richness of the feud between the two ancient houses. It's not the case that main story has nothing to do with the families. It's just that it feels like more could be done to take advantage of the fabulous potential conflict that the author created.

There is a LOT of fighting in this module. It's not really repetitive, because the author does a brilliant job of creating customized enemies--not just his customized and creative monsters, but even the various "thugs" and "guards" that you'll meet have individualized equipment, looks, and character descriptions, with few duplicate individuals to be found. However, I thought that most of the encounters "felt" like boss battles, often with 6-7 foes that one has to cope with at once...and this resulted in my party spending a bit more time in combat than I found enjoyable, especially during the last hour or two of gameplay. Furthermore, many of the actual boss battles felt a bit anticlimactic, probably because of the elaborate fights against the various squads of minions.

Fortunately, my party of 5 was always up to the task. I found combat to be well-balanced for my lv. 9 cleric, though I did play on normal difficulty most of the time to offset her low level. Blasting away with lightning and fireballs without friendly fire may be cheesy, but it makes combat a lot more fun for me--and makes fights go by a lot quicker. There were only one or two times when it probably made the combat easier than the author intended.

Critiques aside, this is a fantastic module. And as first modding efforts go, this is among the most impressive I've ever seen. The attention to detail here is mind boggling, the setting is fabulously realized, and I can't wait to see what happens in the sequel. After all, this is just the first chapter in the story, and the author clearly has a plan for where this is going. Many of the encounters in this mod, for example--especially those with the ruling families--clearly foreshadow more interesting encounters and plot development still to come. I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks for the great module!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Back in the Saddle...

Tonight I finally got back in game! I needed a bit of a break, and my gaming time has been filled with Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VII, Super Paper Mario, and a healthy dose of Out of the Park Baseball '07. They all offer something different...but like I always do, I'm finally back to playing Neverwinter mods! :)

Anyway, I spent a good couple of hours with Nestlehaven tonight. I think I'm finally approaching the end of this module. It's strange--jackyo's module is among the best I've played for NWN2, and is ranked the highest of any NWN2 module by public voting. And yet it was while playing it that I decided I needed my break! :) I don't think that reflects on the module, actually, but more was a chance bit of timing--I'm prone to the impulsive and compulsive whims, and when the Wii bug hit, there was no resisting it until I got my fill. It also didn't help that we had relatives visiting for a week, and they stay in the computer room...

The good news is that there are a ton of new modules out to play! Here's my rough gaming schedule as of right now:

1. Finish Night Howls in Nestlehaven ~2 hrs left(?)
2. A Corpse, A Vote by Christian Mayr (I may take the Vault review of this one if it's still unclaimed) ~ 3 hrs
3. The Zelbross Affair by seryn ~4 hrs
4. Pool of Radiance Remastered 2 by Markus "Wayne" Schlegel ~6 hrs
5. Dark Avenger by Wyrin ~3 hrs
6. Tomoachan by Enoa4 ~4 hrs
7. Moonshadows, Ch. 1 by Hugie ~10 hrs
8. Conan Chronicles by John McA ~4 hrs
9. Tears of Ilmarid 1 by Hohiro Kurita ~4 hrs
10. Corruption of Kiahoro by human_male ~12 hrs

And then we'll see. :) That alone is ~40 hours of gameplay. Who knows when I'll work in Mask of the Betrayer! And there's still the matter of updating the character creator at some point as well.

As I've been saying for years, so many mods, so little time! But this fortunately means that I'll have lots to write about here in the future. Thanks for hanging in there folks--I've finally got my urge to play back, so I should start being able to produce some of the content I used to be able to do on a more regular basis.

Update: I forgot about Pool of Radiance 2! That's actually a pretty high priority one for me, so I stuck it just ahead of some of the most recent releases.

Friday, September 14, 2007

MOTB / Subtlety of Thay

In what was a surprise announcement to me (at least), Maximus posted tonight--after what apparently was a special Obsidian event for key community members--that Mask of the Betrayer has gone gold! Ship date in the US is scheduled for October 9th, which is less than a month away! I really had no idea that it was so close at hand. It really is pretty cool that Obsidian allowed folks like Maximus to get the word out prior to the official announcement.

With Mask comes a host of new monster models and other toolset goodies that should be a real boon for our community, which continues to churn out excellent-looking modules--including Enoa4's recent release of Tomoachan, and Hugie's soon to be released first chapter of Moonshadows!


Also, in what was a freaking massive oversight, I neglected to highlight the induction of dirtywick's Subtlety of Thay into the Hall of Fame. SoT is among the top three or so modules available for NWN2, so he deserves all the kudos in the world for his induction. Here's an excerpt from my comments about his module:
Subtlety of Thay is a tremendous module that is easily among the top two or three mods I've played thus far for NWN2. It has a wonderful story. What begins as a simple fetch and retrieve quest becomes a problem of epic consequence, ultimately causing one's character to play a pivotal role in a conflict between two nations. That might sound a bit generic, but the details of what happens are very creative and engaging. There are a variety of interesting and well-developed characters that are deftly interwoven into the story as you progress through the module. Several of them become companions, at least for a time, and there is a great deal of well-done banter between party members, as well as between the PC and these NPC's. The plot is executed very well, with excellent pacing and good justification for almost everything that happens. The story is generally linear, especially once you get past the initial quest. That said, I almost never found that it felt railroaded, because the need for an urgent course of action was always justified by the story.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Arcane Scholar

The main feature in this week's update at Rob McGinnis's NWN2 blog is a feature on the arcane scholar prestige class. Here's the lowdown on the requirements/features of this class:
  • Skills: Spellcraft 8 ranks.
  • Feats: Empower Spell, Skill Focus (Concentration), and Skill Focus (Spellcraft).
  • Spellcasting: Able to cast 3rd-level arcane spells.
Class Features
  • Hit Die: d4.
  • Base Attack Bonus: Low.
  • High Saves: Will.
  • Weapon Proficiencies: Arcane Scholars gain no weapon proficiencies.
  • Armor Proficiencies: Arcane Scholars gain no armor proficiencies.
  • Skill Points: 2 + Int Modifier.
  • Class Skills: Appraise, Concentration, Craft Alchemy, Diplomacy, Lore, Search and Spellcraft.
  • Spells Per Day/Spells Known: When a new Arcane Scholar level is gained, the character gains new spells per day (and spells known, if applicable) as though he had gained a level in whatever arcane spellcasting class gave him access to 3rd-level arcane spells. If the character has more than one applicable arcane spellcasting class, he must pick one to improve.
  • Bonus Metamagic Feats: At 1st level, the Arcane Scholar gains the Maximize Spell feat. At 5th level, he gains the Quicken Spell feat.
  • Spell Knowledge: At 2nd Level, the Arcane Scholar and any party members gain a +1 bonus to their saves versus spells. This bonus increases to +2 at 8th level.
  • Improved Empower Spell: At 3rd level, the Arcane Scholar becomes especially adept at empowering spells. Empowered spells now only use a spell slot one level higher than the spell's actual level.
  • Improved Maximize Spell: At 7th level, the Arcane Scholar becomes especially adept at maximizing spells. Maximized spells now only use up a spell slot two levels higher than the spell's actual level.
  • Improved Quicken Spell: At 10th level, the Arcane Scholar becomes especially adept at quickening spells. Quickened spells now only use up a spell slot three levels higher than the spell's actual level.
All I can say is wow. There's usually some sort of disadvantage that goes along with becoming a particular prestige class rather than keeping your "pure" class, but I'm not really seeing one here aside from the requirement of taking those skill focus feats. And the payoff is huge. "Free" maximize and quicken feats at level one make up for the "lost" skill focus feats, but the improved empower, maximize, and quicken spells are an enormous advantage--especially for blaster sorcerers. I'm sure this will be a popular prestige class, probably more so in the long run than the Red Wizard of Thay.
(Portrait by wyldcat)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

1.07 Patch Preview - Premonition

The big item of significance in Rob McGinnis's post this week at the official NWN2 blog are the patch notes for 1.07. This is the first "named" patch, and it will be interesting to see if that's a new trend that we see moving forward. If nothing else, the time delay in getting this one out the door justifies treating it in a special manner. Since 1.03, the patch by which all others must be judged, Obsidian has been operating on an approximate 2 month timetable for its patch releases. Nevertheless, it looks like 1.07 is going to come closer to three months since the release of the 1.06 patch.

I usually avoid doing this before the actual release. But things have been a bit slow around my house lately in terms of nwn2 activities (or gaming activities, period--everything else is busy!!), here are some of the highlights of the upcoming 1.07 patch, at least from my perspective:
Character Mode and Strategy Mode – In advance of the release of the Mask of the Betrayer expansion pack this September, we’ve included one of the major new revisions we’ve made to the camera and control modes. Now, the four camera modes (Top Down, Chase, Driving and Free Camera) have been consolidated into two modes that are more configurable and clearer to use than the old modes – Character Mode and Strategy Mode.
This was something none of us really expected to see until the release of Mask. But given how much grief Obsidian took with regards to its camera systems in the initial release, it makes sense to roll this out early and work through any issues before the expansion is actually subjected to evaluation by review magazines.

Overall, this feature seems more like a streamlining of the options for less experienced gamers than a real change in feature set--I have a feeling that my experiences in game will feel absolutely identical to my current camera scheme (Top Down view). But I do like that there are additional customization features available, which might let me optimize things a bit better. I'm also hopeful that some of the "jumpiness" of the camera near some placeables -- especially walls a buildings -- will be less of an issue with the new camera. But I won't hold my breath.

* Marquee/Multi-Selection Revamp – Marquee and Multi-selection have been dramatically improved to make controlling a full party much easier. You can see the new improvements to Marquee and Multi-selection in the new Strategy Mode.
I'll be interested to see what happens with the multi-selection stuff. I'm pretty happy with just having my companions follow my selected character. But it might be nice to occasionally have a party control style that is closer to that from the Infinity games.

* Party AI On/Off Button – There is now a button on the main game UI, next to the rest button, that will toggle the entire party’s AI on or off.
This sounds like a great little feature. Every so often, especially when setting up for a big fight, or sometimes even during big fights, I have to "disable" AI by telling everyone to stand their ground so that I can set people where I want them. My hopes is that this will make this process a bit easier. Not a big deal, but it could be something I use every five hours or so when playing.

* Bronze Dragon - New Creature! The Bronze Dragon creature has been added to the Toolset, so expect him to show up in new community content as well as Mask of the Betrayer.
This isn't new, as we've already seen screenies of this beastie--and I still think the mantra about there not being enough dragons is way overblown given our ability to tint the models we already have--but I'm always a fan of new monsters being added to the toolset.

* A Creature Appearance Wizard has been added. This will allow you to change the appearance of spawned creatures and creature blueprints, including race, gender, armor and armor attachments. This feature can be accessed by right clicking on a creature or blueprint entry. NOTE: This feature is currently in Beta, and there are plans to improve its functionality.
This is a big deal, and patches a major hole in the default toolset. It is true that Grinning Fool's plugin was a fine alternative, but there was no excuse for this not existing in the stock toolset from the get-go. I'll be interested to see how many features it currently has, and how their development of it goes over the next several patches.

* A new custom skydome system has been added to the toolset, allowing users to replace the NWN2 skies with skydomes of their own creating.
Skydomes were mentioned in a previous news posting, but again this should be a great feature that really improves what modders can do with the exterior areas.

* The distance a DM can zoom out has been greatly increased.
I'm not into multiplayer, so it's hard for me to know how much the DM improvements really extend the DM client. But this one is interesting, because one thing I often would like to do is zoom out further as a player. I realize this might make me take a fps hit, but I'm hopeful that I'll nevertheless have that option with the new cameras.

* Pasting encounter triggers with spawn points no longer crashes the Toolset.
This sounds like one of the bugs that I know several builders have had trouble with--not just the crashes, but the resulting corruption. I'm hopeful that this will solve that particular problem. Toolset crashing and module corruption continues to be perhaps the biggest problem with Neverwinter Nights 2.

Overall, this is one of the meatier patches we've had since 1.03. I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl once it's released...assuming that life has slowed down a bit by then!!