Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide
Aah Neverwinter Nights, certain memories come back when I think back of the release of this crpg. Longed for it for months, been in a guild and nestled in the community only to see that this game wasn’t what I expected from it. Just like so many people, they had that same feeling then; the expansiveness en the length of a Baldur’s Gate II was gone, the party of six had been replaced by a henchman of which the AI still gives me nightmares, the somewhat cliché story and the powerful toolset for which the community itself had to make the manuals. Now, after nearly a year and numerous patches later Neverwinter Nights looks quite different. Bioware releases in coöperation with Floodgate Studios the first expansion Shadows of Undrentide which at first sight doesn’t add too much to the original. Did we had too high expectations again or is this expansion a winner? Read on for the answer…
The single player campaign entertains us with a completely new adventure which is appropriate for level 1 characters (playing with a higher level makes the game too easy). You are a student of the dwarf-sorcerer (a strange combination in the Forgotten Realms but heck:)) Drogan. Near a small snowy village called Hilltop, Drogan tests you so you can become a true adventurer. While the player prepares himself for the final test, Hilltop gets attacked by a large group of kobolds. They steal four important artifacts which Drogan seemed to have hidden within his home. Before you know Drogan is knocked on the floor, the kobolds are gone with the artifacts and you need to go after them. The real adventure begins.
The campaign of Neverwinter Nights had its mistakes, Shadows of Undrentide tries to solve these as good as possible and as a decent expansion should do. Most of the time that is the case. There is more variation in quests and it’s just more amusing. You really have the feeling that there are multiple ways to solve a quest, the roleplaying aspect is really better because of this. Now you can also see what’s in your henchman’s inventory and put the heavy items in there so you don’t need to carry them anymore. Still present though is the henchmen’s weird AI. The non-playing characters are really well worked out and have a lot to say (same case with the henchmen which tell a lot more). The three new tilesets en the 16 new monsters also play a big part. Especially the tilesets (Winter, Desert and Ruïns) make the game better, although one can ask himself why these weren’t already in the original game? Even now I would have appreciated more tilesets but apparently there wasn’t enough time (and money) for. The new monsters are all nicely designed and match very well with the new tilesets.
Further we also see new weapons (acid-, fire- and poison-’grenades’ etc.), feats, skills and a completely new addition: five prestige classes (a class which you can take without losing experience points). The feats are the perks like we still know them from Fallout, you chose one and you have it for the rest of your character’s life. With more than 30 new feats it will become even more difficult in chosing one because every one of them can come in handy. Only three other skills are present in SoU but again all of them are useful; Appraise will get lots of points from the traders amongst us while the Craft Trap is very amusing and ideal to handle large groups of opponents. Just like the aforementioned skills is Tumble (rolling away to avoid an attack) good to exercise. Then the prestige classes… depending of race (sometimes), alignment, feats and skills you’ll get to chose one more than probably. As Arcane Archer you can enchant arrows, the Assassin honors his/her name with the Death Attack and invisibility spells, the Blackguard is the best prestige class an evil fighter can get, the Harper Scout is more for the all-round player and Shadow Dancers are masters in disguising themselves.
By looking at the graphics we can’t do something else besides saying that these look ‘dated’. A hard verdict for a 3D engine where Bioware worked on long time but on the otherhand the mediocre quality is explainable: because of the toolset the game has its limitations and that’s something everyone should understand. So SoU isn’t more beautiful than NWN although some details were added; tracks in the snow and new placeables are some of these welcome additions. One of the things where NWN was at its best were the light effects of spells and such, in SoU new spells are also very pretty. The Bigby’s Hand-spells are a good example of that.
Qua music, new tracks have been recorded which are very nice to listen to but they are also too small in numbers, if this number was doubled it was more acceptable. The voice-overs are good though some npc’s still suffer from the ‘over the top’-speeches (Ayala’s voice f.e. makes me think of the irritating Aribeth voice of NWN) but it isn’t that disturbing. The monster sounds all sound great, for the rest unfortunately there haven’t been much other soundeffects added.
The toolset is better than ever with the 1.30 patch and now with the new tilesets, placeables and new traps of the expansion modulemakers have lots of goodies to work with without having to create an own hak or 2da-file or to download something from the Vault. Despite this good news again I can say it should have been more, especially if you see what the community has done in that one year (camera hak, some really nice tilesets and scripts, the tutorials, …). For documentation about the toolset you don’t need to buy SoU because that’s not included. On the official site Bioware has put some tutorials but these don’t even treat half of all the possibilities of the toolset. A pity we need to rely on other modulemakers to create full tutorials instead on Bioware. The toolset still has its mistakes and limitations but the Bioware Live team keeps on working. No complaint can be given about their support.
The rich multiplayer experience that is NWN holds the the same high level with SoU. This clearly is what the game was made for, no MMORPG can compete with a multiplayer session with Dungeon master and comrades. The magic of this part of the game remains addictive and so good that one could buy SoU only to play with all those SoU-owners (if you don’t have SoU you can’t join with modules which contain SoU-elements).
Shadows of Undrentide is a decent expansion which builds further on the path that was laid out by NWN; the outstanding multiplayer-options and gameplay, the real-time party-less way of playing, the small and easy interface and the toolset-possibilities. With a bit more than 20 hours of playtime and numerous improvements the singleplayer is definitely worth it (though still too short for 30€) and you can easily place the campaign next to some of the best custom modules out there. But the feeling of the limited gameworld and the fact it’s only a module made by a limited toolset remains and makes that other singleplayer crpg’s always can bring up that bit more. This expansion is worth the money if you have always (and still) like(d) Neverwinter Nights in multiplayer. Bioware deserves something back for all the support they’ve given in the past year (a designer like David Gaider which still gives feedback on the forums even when he’s on vacation is what I call a good attitude:)). Now where’s that second expansion (Hordes of the Underdark)?:p