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Good to see that 2002 is still alive and well!

Dungeons & Dragons is a game that is powered by the imagination and creativity of those who play it. It’s a board-game that has stood the test of time and continued to get many new iterations, while inventing the whole “RPG” genre. As you can tell, I am a huge fan of “D&D”, despite not playing much of the game myself. I never really had the patience to sit down and play a complex board-game, but I was always up for partaking in various adaptations of the game!

I loved that silly and weird Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, that overtly campy live-action film, and those downright hilarious D&D parodies made by the “Deadale Wives”. While those are all great, I prefer video-game adaptations of D&D the most! D&D has had many game adaptations, such as the extremely popular “Baldur’s Gate” series.

Set in the “Forgotten Realms” world of D&D, Baldur’s Gate was an attempt to bring the popular board-game to life in a whole new way. It was an RPG based heavily upon old-school D&D, drawing upon its many rules and mechanics to help build the experience. As a result, Baldur’s Gate felt like a worthwhile adaptation of both classic D&D and The Forgotten Realms.

Baldur’s Gate was made by Bioware, who was a brand new company at the time. They’re work on Baldur’s Gate propelled them into the limelight, making them a household name in the process. Baldur’s Gate did so well that they cranked out a fantastic sequel, right before following it up with an amazing expansion pack. Naturally, people loved the Baldur’s Gate games and wanted more.

Bioware was eventually handed the D&D license once more, but decided to make a completely different game this time around. Instead of doing a third Baldur’s Gate game, they ended up creating a spiritual successor to an older D&D game. Before Baldur’s Gate was released, there was a game called “Neverwinter Nights”. The game was unique in that it was the first ever “MMORPG”, paving the way for similar games like “EverQuest” and “Ultima Online”.

While the game itself shut down its servers in 97, Bioware decided to revive it in a way that nobody was expecting. Bioware brought us a new “Neverwinter Nights” game in 2002; one that was completely unrelated to the original. This game was unique and touted by trailers as a “Multiplayer Revolution”.

Neverwinter Nights 2002 set itself apart from the original by being a game with a single-player campaign, which could also be played entirely with friends. The new Neverwinter Nights was originally built to be another MMORPG like its predecessor, but Bioware had run out of time during development. They decided to make a rather formulaic story mode instead, while also adding in multiplayer and releasing the development tools to the players.

The game was a head of its time, as it was one of the first to embrace player-made content. In fact, the game was mostly known for its fan-made content. It was revolutionary in helping develop the game-modding scene, and really broke ground when it came to how such content was made. It also helps that the community who helped make these great mods were allowed to work on “Premium Modules”, which were essentially miniature expansions you had to pay for.

The system worked, and Neverwinter Nights enjoyed success for several years. However, this didn’t stop the server list from getting removed, or support for the game being discontinued. This all changed in 2018, when the game studio known as “Beamdog” decided to release a newer version of the game that runs better on modern computers. This version of the game was called “Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition”.

This is the first version of the game I ever played, due to having never found the game in stores. It also doesn’t help that most of the older versions of the game are incompatible with modern computers. Thanks to Beamdog, I was able to properly experience this game for the first time!

So, what is this game like? Well, it’s certainly a grand experiment in game design, that’s for certain! While the game’s story mode is lacking, its endless amount of user-based content and premium modules make up for it. The Enhanced Edition comes with “Steam Workshop” support, which allows for the easy usage of various mods. Using mods with Steam Workship is as easy as a simple click of the mouse, making the installation of said mods a simple task.

On top of this, all mods and modules are treated as separate “campaigns”. What this means is that since almost every mod is its own thing, so you don’t have to worry about installing too many mods and causing the game to break. The game itself plays like your typical MMORPG, CRPG, or Dungeons & Dragons game. You click the enemy to attack, can use potions or abilities in battle, and can level up at your leisure.

It’s a pretty basic system, but the wide array of skills and abilities available make up for the simplicity. There are several classes and races to choose from, some of which have an impact on how you interact with NPCs. For example, choosing a “Half-Orc” as your playable character will give you “dumb” dialogue choices. On top of this, various characters in the game will often react in hilarious ways to your unintelligent dialogue.

I really wish modern games had this level of creativity when it comes to creating interesting characters. Speaking of modern games and how they do things; Neverwinter Nights is certainly lacking in some areas. I don’t just mean the horribly dated graphics, which I still find to be rather awesome after all these years! I’m talking about how the game’s mechanics are handled.

One such mechanic is the “Teleport Stone”, a magical stone that’ll warp you back to the temple. Once you’re back in the temple you can heal up, sell some stuff, and then teleport back to where you left off. The problem? The stone can be easily abused, so you can warp in and out of combat with no consequence!

The cost to teleport back to your starting location is a measly 50 gold, so most combat situations quickly become trivial. That’s not to say the game is easy, since there are certainly some tough battles here or there. On the subject of toughness, let’s talk about that story I keep harping on.

You play as a graduate of “Neverwinter Academy”, which is a school for would-be warriors and adventurers. After an attack by an evil cult, you are given the task of hunting down a bunch of creatures in order to cure a plague. From there, the game extents into a much grander quest and its up to you to set things right.

It’s the same story we’ve seen in most fantasy games, though it does benefit a fair bit from being set in a D&D universe. The setting allows for some great monsters and encounters, as well as some interesting characters. In spite of its lackluster story, it does at least provide an engaging world to explore.

Thankfully, the expansion packs and Premium Modules make up for the lackluster story mode. They include many interesting stories and activities, such as entering a jousting tournament, becoming a pirate, or even escaping from the underworld itself! Couple this with a cavalcade of interesting party members and you have a game that elevates its quality with each new addition.

The main goal of Neverwinter Nights was pushing the envelope of what the engine was capable of. This is why all of these expansions and modules are so ambitious, it’s because they wanted to see what could do with the tools they had. The “Aurora” game engine used to power the game is old, but is variable enough in nature that it allows for some amazing things to be made.

The last thing I want to touch on is the multiplayer servers, which are the real draw of the game. There are so many custom servers made by fans, all of which allow for some fun and epic adventures. Most of said servers are essentially miniature MMORPGs, and allow the players to interact with each other and have adventures. While the game’s expansions and main quest all allow for multiplayer; it’s the MMO servers are the true pull of this game.

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Gary Gygax: Gone but never forgotten.

One such server I’ve spent a lot of time is “World of Intiquity”, which is an awesome MMO-like world. It had a ton of quests to do, items to collect, and adventures to go on. The drop rate for rare, unique, or magical items was also pretty high. This meant that I would often be rewarded with something nice and shiny after playing for a measly 10 minutes. The way Intiquity doled out rewards kept me engaged, even if I found myself dying quite a bit.

I know this gets said a lot about many games, but Neverwinter Nights feel less like a game and more like an “experience”. While its main story isn’t all that good, all of its supplementary content is truly interesting and engaging. The base game has hundreds of hours worth of content, while the player-made content helps expand that greatly.

There’s just so much to love about this slightly updated version of Neverwinter Nights, in spite of how old and outdated the game feels at times. I highly recommend this game to those that want to try a unique take on the MMO genre, or those who want to experience one of the first games to thrive on community-made content. It’s not a revolutionary game, and its certainly past its prime. Regardless of this, it’s still a fun time for those with the time to invest into it!

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