Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From the Archives: My NWN2 Official Campaign Review

Following the demise of IGN's Vault, I thought it would be good to pull a few things from for safekeeping.  The first has to be my review of NWN2, which ran not long after the game came out.  Because this is old content, I'm running it below the jump:

NWN2 Official Campaign Review

Created by Obsidian
Reviewed By Berliad
Review Posted on 2007-01-22

Summary (No Spoilers)

Number of Players: 1
Hours of Game Play: 81
Character: Berliad Gein, Neutral Good Aasimar Cleric of Deneir
Companions: Choose at least 4 from 11 available (eventually)
Start Level: 1
End Level: 20
Module Size: n/a
Hak Size: none
Death: So long as one party member survives the fight, all party members are revived afterwards with 1 hp
Resting: Usually unlimited, though in some areas there is a risk of a hostile encounter
Requires: NWN2 :)
Module Version Played: Started with 1.01, patched to 1.03 by the end.

Waiting for Neverwinter Nights 2 (NWN2) was a lot like the experience of waiting for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. I desperately hoped for brilliance, but at the same time I feared complete disaster. Neverwinter Nights (NWN1) is arguably the most important computer roleplaying game ever developed, particularly in terms of how it facilitated the creative efforts of an enormous modding community over the past half-decade. Therefore, Obsidian's task of updating the game to modern technological standards, as well as improving its interface and rulesets, all the while preserving what was so wonderful about the original game, was no small task. Like Jackson's films, the result of Obsidian's efforts is by no means perfect (yet), but for all my high expectations, I'm very pleased with what we have received. NWN2 looks to be a worthy sequel to the original, with a good single player campaign and, more importantly, a game engine that offers incredible potential for our modding community. If Obsidian and Atari continue their active support of the product, there is little question in my mind that the NWN2 community will rise to, and perhaps even surpass, the lofty heights that the NWN1 community has experienced over the past 5 years.

Review (Spoilers)

While the bulk of this review will focus on the official campaign, I first want to discuss the NWN2 game engine itself. The game still operates on the same basic code as the original, but there are a number of significant improvements. First, there are now genuinely controllable companions. This is probably the biggest improvement in the new game. No longer are you required to fumble with commands like "attack nearest target" and "stand your ground" to keep your companions alive (although those commands are still available if you wish to use them). You now have the option to switch between characters and assign specific tasks to each of them. While initially I expected that I'd want to take complete control of my characters while playing (NWN2 calls this "puppet mode"), I actually found that a hybrid system of relying on the AI for my melee fighters (most of the time) and assuming direct control of spellcasting classes during combat resulted in the best experience. It is far more fun to direct a party of adventurers through combat now than it ever was in NWN1.

Closely following the companion system in the improvement list is the new Electron graphics engine, which completely replaces the graphics engine used in the original. As someone who has spent the last two and a half years playing through Neverwinter Nights modules, I have to say that I find the graphics to be nothing short of spectacular. I purchased a new computer with the specific purpose of running this new engine at a high graphics setting, and I have rarely been disappointed--especially since the 1.03 graphics optimizations. Character models are wonderfully detailed, to the point that you can actually see pores on the skin of some of them if you zoom in close enough. The outdoor areas, which are now composed of height-mapped and textured terrain instead of tiles, are truly a sight to behold. Given sufficient effort on the part of the builder, it is possible to create areas that are genuinely jaw-dropping and unique. One can create almost any design one can imagine, from rolling country hills, to swamps, to mountains, to bizarre pocket planes. Add the gorgeous reflective water and the real-time animated shadows to that mix, and we have a real visual treat on our hands. It does take some high-end hardware to get the most out of the engine, of course, but that problem will gradually become less of an issue as the game matures (optimizations have already helped a great deal) and as the community's hardware gradually catches up.

The implementation of D&D 3.5 rules seems to, by and large, be a nice improvement over the NWN1 rules. For example, there are some changes that affect equipment selection. Among the most significant is that +attribute bonuses (e.g. +strength) on items no longer stack with each other, making it more difficult to send one's primary attribute through the roof with items. Similarly, some of the buffing spells (e.g. bull's strength, eagle's splendor, etc) have reduced duration from 1 hr/level in NWN1 to 60 sec/level in NWN2. They are still useful, but in early levels one might think twice about casting them right after resting and instead opt to save them for when you really need them. Other little changes can be found here and there, like the revised rules for knockdown or the revised damage capabilities of Isaac's Greater Missile Storm. As a whole, these changes should result in more balanced gameplay than we had in NWN1.

There also a number of changes that relate to character creation. Some classes, like bards & rangers, play quite differently than in NWN1 thanks to changes and expansions on how they are implemented. There are also a host of intriguing new prestige classes, as well as the new Warlock class. Furthermore, character creation options have been enhanced via subraces for most of the major races. These add a huge amount of replayability to the game, as there are now many more good options for each character class, allowing more unique character types. Some of these new subraces are structured such that they encounter penalties to advancement. I played as an Aasimar in the official campaign, and as a result, I was always a full level behind my companions (even so, I did still make level 20 in the final area of the game). This did impact how effective my character was, as he was always a bit behind others in terms of his spell progression or attack bonus. Whether the special bonuses my subrace received made up for that is debatable. Nevertheless, because the bulk of the campaign is played at higher character levels, this turned out to not be a terrible penalty--things might be different if I were playing a low-level community-made module, of course. There are more severely-penalized classes in the game, such as the Drow or the Deep Gnome; I expect that players of those races feel the advancement penalty quite a bit more than I did with my character.

There are a variety of other new features, one of which is the quick-cast menu. This is truly a life-changer for spellcasting classes. Gone are the days of having to re-organize your hotkeys every time you need to change your spell selection, or of clicking through the multi-tiered radial menus to find your spells. This menu makes it easy to see all the spells you have available, select them, and cast them. I was particularly impressed with how the system handled spontaneous casting by clerics and druids--just click the spontaneous cast icon and you can view the complete set of options available to you. I also really like the new drop-down menus that have replaced the old radial menus, and find them much quicker and easier to navigate (tip: going to the options menu and reducing the hold-time necessary for the drop-down menu to open really helped this system feel more natural to me). Finally, though I haven't experimented with it much yet, the ability to customize the appearance of much of the user interface appears to be extremely powerful. Already, there are a host of UI adjustments on the Vault that do everything from change the size of inventory icons to completely reorganizing the heads-up display. There is the potential for modders to create custom interfaces for their modules, which really takes the ability of modders to change the feel of the game to a new level.

Nevertheless, among the new features there are some that may need some work, or that just don't work that well for me. First on the list is the new targeting system. While you can still select an action (like a spell) and then select a target as in NWN1, you also have the option of right-clicking on a target and then selecting an action. While this new procedure is useful when buffing up a character with spells, or when attacking a single target with multiple spells, it has some significant drawbacks. First, there is only one target available at a time for the entire party. I often wish to have different party members attacking different targets, and this requires me to change new targets every time I switch between companions--there is no "memory" of which target was selected the last time I possessed each companion. Second, it is very easy to forget that you have a target selected, which can sometimes cause you to cast a spell at the wrong target. While you can cancel casting the spell, it often wastes a valuable round of combat. I would just ignore this new targeting system altogether, but it is now the only means by which you can assess enemy health in the game--the option to mouse-over foes and see their health status was not re-implemented in NWN2, unfortunately, and it is badly missed.

Another change I don't like is Obsidian's decision to change the inventory system such that all items take up the same amount of space, eliminating the "inventory tetris" that one often had to "play" in NWN1. While this, in principle, is fine, it has had the result of making inventory items more difficult to tell apart. Even after playing this game for 100+ hours, I still have to mouse-over many objects to be able to tell what they are. This problem could be remedied, at least to some extent, by adding improved inventory management features, like sorting or filters, to the game. Unfortunately, this has yet to happen, though it apparently is something that is under consideration by the developers.

There are also some improvements that could yet be made with the companion system. The artificial intelligence for spellcasters remains fair, at best. My warlock, for example, if left to his own devices, would cast Devour Magic (a spell breach-like spell) at certain enemies over and over again, even though they didn't seem to have any magical protections. Other problems exist with the text feedback during battles. While it's just like NWN1 for the character you are controlling, you receive noticeably less text feedback about the actions of other characters in your party. Also, some of the difficulty-level rules only seem to apply to the character you currently control. For example, even though I was playing on normal difficulty, I found that companions who I was not controlling could receive critical hits from enemies. There were also rare cases when area-of-effect spells would still impact other party members if cast by a companion who I was not controlling. Finally, it would be nice to be able to select multiple party members and give them all commands at once. For example, I'd like to have the ability to select all my melee characters at once and tell them to attack a single character--this is not possible in the current version (1.03).

While the new graphics engine is extremely powerful, there were some aspects of the visuals that could use improvement. For example, at least as displayed in my graphics card (Radeon X1900XT), under some lighting conditions, the skin of some of the character models would get over-saturated. Their skin was effectively rendered as entirely of one color, rather than showing the shadows and imperfections that are normally offered by the texture mapped skin. This contrasts with the armor and clothing models, which never have this problem. I haven't been able to determine precisely the conditions when this happens, but when it's present, it is very noticeable. Also, while the customization options for each of the available character heads is impressive, the different heads do look very similar to one another in shape and overall appearance--particularly when you first start playing the game. I have found that they do each look more different to me now than they did at first, so perhaps it is just a matter of getting used to the new character models. Also, I have to say, while the open-faced helmets are wonderful, some of the "social" headwear looks positively ridiculous. The mask of persuasion, for example, is a feathered mask that looks like it came straight out of Eyes Wide Shut, while the swashbuckler's hat (+1 diplomacy) is an absurd looking fedora that seems particularly out of place on anyone wearing armor.

Finally, another important feature that was present in NWN1 (though recently became possible to turn off), but is absent in NWN2, was the ability to get information about the status of targets via the Examine window. This is particularly problematic when using spellcasters, because many of the disabling spells do not have persistent visual effects associated with them so that it's clear when they are still in effect. For example, the Bigby-series of spells, many of which hold a foe over their duration, only show an obvious visual effect (the big hand) when the spell makes contact with the foe. For the rest of its duration, it's very hard to tell whether the foe is actually being held by the spell, as the foe will dance around like they are still actively involved in combat. There is also no way to diagnose whether an enemy has particular immunities except by trying out spells or abilities and having them fail. I guess there's certain realism that comes with not being able to have this information, but I still would prefer to be able to get it somehow.

Overall, however, I'm very pleased with the new gaming engine offered by NWN2. I've played both the official campaign as well as ~5 short modules by the community, and I am now every bit as comfortable in the new game as I was in the original--and in many ways, I like it much better. The rules seem honed, the companion system is wonderful, and, of course, the graphics are beautiful.

So with that evaluation of the engine in mind, let's turn our attention to the official campaign.

Gameplay: 8

I found that the official campaign itself played reasonably well most of the time. While some have complained that the campaign seemed too linear, I thought it represented a nice balance between exploration and focus on the story. There are some substantial side-quests and side-areas available for play, some of which are quite interesting. A number of the best ones help create backstory for the companions that you encounter and travel with in the game. While several of these could have been greatly expanded upon, they were a welcome break from the often-intense main path through the campaign.
One of the major gameplay features of the official campaign is the stronghold. Roughly half-way through the story, you are assigned the task of renovating a dilapidated keep and preparing it for war. The resource management mini-game that ensued was a lot of fun and, though still somewhat simplistic, did a great job of simulating the sorts of challenges a commander would encounter when placed in that situation. Much of it is handled through the dialog system, though there is a custom user interface window that pops up with the actual stats of your keep (funds, number of troops, keep repairs completed, etc). It really is exciting to think about what an ambitious modder might do with such a system.

Another interesting feature in the official campaign is the new crafting system. Using a combination of various materials, as laid out in recipe books that you can find throughout the game, you can craft extremely powerful items--probably the most powerful weapons and armor in the game. Doing so requires a skill point investment in crafting skills to make the base items, as well the selection of feats to enchant these items with magical effects. Fortunately, different characters can specialize in different aspects of crafting, allowing you to spread the investment in crafting around your entire party. As a result, mid-way through the third act, I had given all my melee-oriented characters +5 adamantine weapons with enhanced fire damage, as well as +5 armor with spell resistance. Fortunately, some of the key crafting items are somewhat difficult to come by, so one isn't able to make every item one could possibly desire--this keeps combat balance from getting too out of control. Furthermore, I expect that one could absolutely play through the entire campaign without crafting and still have sufficient equipment to perform well in the heated fights near the end of the game. Crafting will just give you a bit more control over your characters' items, allowing you to really optimize your equipment.

For all the good, there were some substantial problems to gameplay as well. Most notably, while acts two and three were very engaging from start to finish, the first act seemed badly neglected in terms of both effort and design expertise. Despite a good start, the story in the first act progresses sluggishly (at best), while you are required to go on a series of grueling "dungeon crawls," often fighting repetitive sets of enemies who spawn more or less right on top of you. And there are other problems during this part of the campaign, ranging from substantial plot holes and poor atmosphere to polish problems (see below sections for elaborations). This made it a real chore to get through the first third of the game. Fortunately, the latter parts of the campaign were dramatically better. It was not surprising to see in the credits that the different acts of this game had different design teams.

Storytelling : 7.5

As mentioned above, the official campaign varies tremendously in quality between the first and second acts. Act one does manage to set up the overall story, and in all truth starts off quite well. Your character was raised by a foster father in the small village of West Harbour, which is located in a swamp known as the Mere of Dead Men, south of Neverwinter. The story begins when your village is inexplicably attacked by bizarre creatures from another plane. After fighting off the initial assault, your father sends you to Neverwinter to seek answers--and, given that the creatures seem to be targeting you, your father seems to think that sending you away might help prevent another attack on the village (nice guy, eh?). What follows is an adventure that builds slowly, but eventually places the character in a key role defending Neverwinter against a near-invincible and mysterious power.
Obsidian wanted the player to have to build up his or her reputation in the world gradually to make the climb to a hero of Faerun a more realistic process, rather than handing the player the key to the city in the first half-hour of gameplay like in NWN1. This sounds good in principle, but the result, at least as it was executed in this game, is that the epic story doesn't really progress for most of the first act. For me, this was 20-25 hours of game time, and for a while it seemed like anything that was done to improve matters would be too little, too late. Further compounding these problems were a series of glaring plot holes and consistency problems in some of the quests along the main path of act 1, which were frequent enough to become really frustrating.

Act two, however, kicks off with a really inspired sequence of events that instantly got me back into the game. To be frank, it was astonishing how much better the story was structured and executed in the second act. It's hard to not expect more consistency from an experienced set of people like those employed at Obsidian. Act three was even better, with a series of major plot twists that kept me on my toes, ultimately climaxing in a fantastic series of battles and, in my opinion, a fine end to the story. Therefore, my recommendation to players is to smash your way through the first act as quickly as you can and then settle back to enjoy the latter two acts--they're definitely worth experiencing.

A major emphasis in the writing of the official campaign was on the party members. In the original game's official campaign, it was not only the case that you had limited control of the companions, but they played a fairly limited role in the story as you moved forward. In nwn2, on the other hand, several of the characters that join your party are absolutely essential to the story. Others, while more tangentially related, have interesting backstories and undergo some character development throughout the campaign. A few of them were also quite memorable and were genuinely a pleasure to have in the party. There are a few characters that I could personally have lived without, as I thought they were rather 1-dimensional and annoying (it should be noted that one of these seems to be a favorite of many players). Most of the companions, however, were very well written and add a lot more to the experience of playing the campaign than the henchmen ever did in NWN1.

One of the important new features of the Neverwinter Nights 2 engine is enhanced support for cinematic cutscenes. These were used to great effect throughout the campaign, both to add a sense of drama to the conversations and to depict more elaborate, action-based scenes. I found that the direction of these sequences ranged from adequate to very good. There were a few times when there seemed to be over-long delays between camera changes, but most cutscenes were effective, if not occasionally spectacular. The writing was generally solid from an artistic point of view (there were polish issues though), with some wonderful little flourishes worked into some of the side-quests and events. For example, your character has a series of encounters with an amateur, clueless, wanna-be adventuring band that are positively hysterical. Nevertheless, there isn't much of the introspective analysis of human nature that made Planescape: Torment or (the good parts of) Knights of the Old Republic II so compelling.

Finally, journal entries were used effectively throughout the campaign to keep the player on task. They were generally very concise, yet had just enough information to help the player remember what had happened, and what they needed to do to finish up any given quest. That said, they weren't a particularly memorable part of the game.

Atmosphere : 8

While the latter two thirds of the campaign maintained believable and even, at times, deep atmosphere, the first act suffered a bit in this regard due to poor (or just neglected) design. A prime example is Highcliff, a medium-sized coastal village you encounter early in the first act. It does have a nice layout, including dramatic cliffs that lead down to the docks that keep the town alive. Unfortunately, it is entirely cosmetic: only one building in the entire village is enterable, and that's due to a very minor side-quest in that man's house. As a result, the town feels like it belongs in a more action-oriented rpg like Diablo, because all the townspeople just stand around outside their respective buildings--the town elder, merchants...even the town drunk stands around outside the tavern! The result is that the whole area felt rather hurriedly put together. In contrast, some areas in acts 2 and 3 were nicely detailed, to the point that even the cats roaming the grounds of the player's keep have names.

The new graphical engine is capable of brilliant things, and in general the official campaign is very attractive to explore. The swamps are rendered beautifully, with just the right amount of mist, vines, and water to give the feeling of a murky, wet, dangerous place. Conversely, the city of Neverwinter is a very attractive, well-designed town with a variety of stunning buildings, both inside and out. There are also forts, graveyards, crypts, ancient ruins, rural towns, mines, and even a hidden valley shaped by the death of a great creature in some long-forgotten battle. All of these are wonderfully designed, with careful use of placeables, lighting, textures, and tinting to bring them to life. The one thing I found lacking were wide-open, large areas awaiting exploration, like those in Baldur's Gate or many of the community's NWN1 modules. This latter issue is presumably a limitation of the new graphics engine, because such areas require extraordinarily large file sizes to render the height maps. Even so, I'm sure we'll see areas that push the envelope a bit more as community members masters this new toolset.

Sounds are not as revolutionary. Many of the inventory sounds are identical to those from the original game, from the "ding" you hear when handling gems, to the creak-and-thud of a closing chest, to the incantation sounds as traditional spellcasters invoke their spells. Furthermore, many of the old ambient music tracks are used in low-key places throughout the campaign. Nevertheless, this wasn't as much of a problem as it might have been. There are new sounds that have been added. For example. the warlock's spellcasting is accompanied by guttural growls that really set apart his spells from those of other classes. I also thought that the voice of a particular female dragon was particularly well done. There is also a very nice set of new music ranging from opera to marches to ambient compositions. This new audio all blended seamlessly with the previous material, and kept things fresh enough that I rarely noticed those cases when I was listening to recycled material.

Among of the new "sounds" of this game is a significant amount of voice acting, with roughly 60 actors contributing their talents to help bring the dialog to life. I would estimate that at least half of all dialogue lines are acted, including all major conversations associated with the plot. Most of the talent is quite good, and some, such as Milton James (Aldanon, a Neverwinter sage) and Steven Scott (Duncan Furlong, owner of a Neverwinter saloon) to name a few, were outstanding. Like many games with relatively low acting budgets, there were some individuals who either under- or over-acted their parts, though rarely to the degree that often plagued the NWN1 official campaign. There is also a set of new voicesets for player characters on top of the original offerings, and I've found that several of these have immediately become favorites, though some (like in the original) will probably go unused.

Roleplaying : 8.5

I'm going to preface this section by emphasizing that I'm evaluating this from the perspective of my neutral good cleric. I have seen reports (including those of my fellow reviewers) indicating that some of the dialog is a poor match for the personalities and actions of less savory characters.
Nevertheless, I thought Obsidian did an excellent job with roleplaying in their campaign. In the most obvious case, social skills checks for diplomacy (which replaces persuade from NWN1), intimidate, bluff, and even taunt are sprinkled throughout the game, and can play a critical role in interactions with both friends and foes at key parts of the story. More subtly, in many spots throughout the campaign, dialog will shift based on one's class. For example, my cleric sometimes had the opportunity to use dialog options that reflected his divine nature, such as being able to invoke a position of moral superiority in certain conversations.

Furthermore, there is an interesting influence system for one's companions. Your actions, whether directed at your companions or not, will change how your companions view your character. Gaining influence with your companions can sometimes cause them to make changes in their perspectives, which can allow you to learn more about them or even influence whether they'll continue to fight for your cause. Furthermore, while in other party-based D&D games of the past you often had to (by necessity) stick with the same party for most of the game, the NWN2 official campaign will often require you to adjust your party composition depending on the task at hand. This gives you the chance to get to know most of the characters, at least for a while. Even so, you will almost always have some options about who is in your party, and therefore will most likely maintain a core set of companions for most of the campaign. Given how these companions tend to chime in on conversations and talk amongst themselves, I expect that a different party composition would result in a somewhat different feel than what I experienced my first time through.

There are other aspects of the game, beyond the dialog, that enhance the feel of roleplaying. The stronghold mini-game makes for an outstanding roleplaying opportunity. At the start, not only was the keep in shambles, but it had a very small contingent of unequipped and untrained soldiers tasked with protecting the keep and the surrounding lands--which, as it happens, were full of bandits and monsters. You're immediately forced to make some hard decisions. Do you focus on recruiting more soldiers, or do you train those you have? Or, do you try to get things under control around the keep by patrolling the nearby lands? And when your soldiers are already stretched to the limit, will you answer the cries of a nearby village desperate for protection? Furthermore, to what extent do you levy taxes on your impoverished people, or invest your own finances into keep renovations or equipment for your men? You'll have to make all of these hard decisions as you manage your keep.

Also, even though I've been pretty hard on the first act, there is a major portion of that act in which a player must choose between two entirely different, parallel paths. While the path I followed was fraught with design mistakes and seemed incomplete, it's not often that a game of this sort allows that sort of divergence--I applaud Obsidian for trying it.

The main marks against roleplaying that I encountered were consistency problems that pulled me out of character and sometimes had me scratching my head. For example, all too often, NPC dialogues are often not updated following major changes in the world that should greatly affect those individuals' outlooks on life--or at least their answers to the set of questions I'm allowed to ask them. This sort of thing was particularly pervasive among the companions. They rarely get updates to their non-spontaneous dialogue options, even when it's obvious that they should have been updated based on the events that had occurred. I also was not terribly plussed with the romance plot for male characters, though I did not aggressively cultivate it, and therefore may have missed out on some parts of it.

Action : 8

Combat is very interesting in NWN2 thanks to the existence of a true controllable companion system. Much like in the Inifinity game engines, you can now pause the game, take complete control of your party members during combat, assign commands to them, and unpause the game to see them launch the coordinated attack you prescribed. If you do not want to manage your companions and just want to focus on your own character, you may allow the game's artificial intelligence to control your companions like in NWN1. I found that the AI worked well for melee classes, but not as well for spellcasters. So, I opted to primarily let the AI control my melee companions, but to take direct control of my spellcasters and manage their spell selection during battle. This worked very well for me and was quite enjoyable.

In terms of the official campaign, action, like the story, varied greatly in quality between act 1 and the following acts. In act 1, most of the combat consisted of long dungeon crawls in which my party faced repeated encounters of identical spawn groups, most of whom would spawn very close to the party. Almost all the fights were against between 4 and 6 foes at a time, usually consisting of no more than two npc blueprint types. By and large, combat in the first act was repetitive, boring, and uninspired. There were a few great moments, such as the battle in West Harbour that starts off the main story, but those events were few and far in between.

In contrast, acts 2 and 3 operated under a very different principle. Almost every encounter had meaning, and rarely would you fight the same spawn group more than once. Boss fights tended to be spectacular affairs, particularly as I approached the end of the game. One of the greatest sequences involved a series of battles for control of your keep, one of which features a fight on the walls in which you defend against invaders attacking with siege towers. Combat in acts 2 and 3 is varied, interesting, and most of all, fun. Maybe not quite as strategic as the brilliant mage duels of Baldur's Gate II, but not far from that mark either.

Combat balance was pretty good throughout the game. There were some times when it became a bit easy, but never to the point that I was completely unconcerned for my party's well being. Other times, particularly among fights that "should" be tough (i.e. "boss" fights, or fights vs. large numbers of enemies), I found myself scrambling to achieve victory. I was very pleased with the selection of companion classes available for my party, though I did encounter some regrettable overlap with some "required" characters near the end of the campaign. Also, there was also only one companion who was capable of picking locks and disarming traps via skills, which means that if your own character is not a rogue, you will pretty much be obligated to take her with you on every mission in the game.

One aspect of the action that seemed a bit neglected in the game was stealth. There are a few areas, mostly in relation to side-quests for the rogue companion, in which stealth can be of great benefit. Nevertheless, I generally found that the main advantage to putting my stealth-capable characters into stealth mode was to slow them down and prevent them from rushing into battle before my "tank" characters could get the attention of most of the enemies.

Polish : 6

Prior to its release, there was considerable pessimism in the community about how polished this game was going to be. The original NWN1 was notoriously buggy upon release, which seems to be the result of the immense complexity of this sort of game. Furthermore, Obsidian's other major release, Knights of the Old Republic II, had a lot of merits, but suffered from being released when its campaign appeared to be only about three quarters complete. Finally, several much-desired features were dropped from NWN2 prior to release, such as mountable horses and the Dungeon Master client (though to their credit, Obsidian released the latter feature in the release-day patch), causing fear about what else might not make it into the game, or what would actually be functional. Given all this bad news, many feared that NWN2 would be released as an unplayable mess.

Fortunately, this is not at all the case. To be sure, there were significant issues that needed correcting in the first few patches, and there are still some important features that have yet to be added (especially those having to do with the toolset). Overall, however, the game itself was mostly playable upon release, and was in very good shape with the release of the 1.03 patch a month later.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the official campaign, there are still a series of problems. I myself encountered two game-breaking bugs during my play-through. One of these was fixed by the 1.02 patch, but the other required me to look around on the message boards for a work-around (it has to do with a particular companion being in stealth mode when an area loads). I also encountered a number of smaller bugs, from crafting recipes not working properly (e.g. giving the wrong item) to scripting errors that made side-quests impossible to complete. There are also still a series of glaring consistency errors as you progress through the various quests, both along the main path and among side-quests. For example, npc's will sometimes claim that events have happened in one place when they instead happened elsewhere, or not at all. Or, sometimes my character would claim to know things he could not possibly know. Furthermore, there were a surprising number of really flagrant typographical errors. Not just misspellings (though those were present here and there), but missing words and strange added spaces in between sentences that, along with missing capitalizations, speak of fairly sloppy editing. It's not something that you'd expect to see in a professional product of this sort, even with what must be a massive word count.

Therefore, while the game engine itself is now in good shape, and the official campaign generally is very playable, there is still a substantial amount of work to be done before the game would feel like a polished package to me.

Fun : 8

As you can see, I have mixed feelings about the official campaign. I had a great time in the second and third acts, but the first act was, at times, hard to sit through. But even the first act had some great moments, which made it worth playing. Furthermore, the game engine itself works well, offers spectacular visuals, improved rules, and the toolset provides opportunities for our community modders to take their craft to a new level. As a whole, I'm thrilled with the product Obsidian has delivered, and very encouraged by the support that they and Atari have been able to provide the community thus far. With ongoing support from a team of programmers and designers dedicated to this product, there's every reason to think that Neverwinter Nights 2 will be an outstanding platform around which our community can thrive for years to come.

Final Score: 7.71

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