Is it simple human greed that makes us want more than one life to live? Whether escaping into books, movies, or video games, we as a species spend an enormous amount of time absorbed in fictional realms. Neverwinter Nights became the stuff of user-modification legend, offering an arduous main quest, retail expansions, and innumerable top-drawer community-created adventures. By all rights, its sequel should be a controlled substance.
Like the Dungeons & Dragons v3.5 modules it emulates, this slab of latent addiction is crafted as elaborate forking fiction rather than free-roaming alternate reality. While there are plenty of optional side quests, travel is restricted to markings on the world map. There’s tremendous freedom in building and leveling your avatar, thanks to an array of races, character classes, and abilities, but the world your party is thrust into isn’t so easily manipulated. What you lose in freedom, however, you gain in meaning. The main story might begin too traditionally—a foster child raised in a small burg becomes the unwitting target of powerful unseen forces—and it takes its time gathering a head of steam, but the authorial control that guides more than 60 hours of gameplay gives your actions weight, whether you tirelessly serve justice, exploit the weak, or vacillate from one extreme to the other. Every character has its own attitude, ambitions, and approach; and keeping the gang happy is sometimes more challenging than keeping everyone alive.
FaerÃ»n’s landscape and spell effects are lovely, with trees that wave in the wind, fireballs that explode in brilliant flashes, and a menagerie of nasty beasts to cut down in intricate real-time combat that can be paused at any time. Interiors are still based on tile sets, but the variety of fixtures and detritus that litter the requisite dank tombs and inns keep locations from feeling prefabricated, as they did in the previous game. Unfortunately, for all the barrels, chests, and crates piled about, precious few are interactive, sapping some appeal from exploring every corner of the world. When a mage lets loose a fiery inferno in a troublemaker’s home, the invulnerable surroundings damage the world’s credibility.
As good as it looks, and as enjoyable as it is to craft your own armor, weapons, potions, and other goodies, the equipped items could be more visually interesting. Even powerful items often look plain and unexciting, and seeing only your shoulder pads change color when equipping new armor takes some of the thrill out of collecting loot. This might be a more realistic depiction of medieval flavor, but it’s just not as satisfying seeing a lowly Harborman grow from barely clothed newbie to gleaming engine of destruction.
At its core, Neverwinter Nights 2 is interactive theater: Nobody can act in contravention of the script’s predetermined branches, and the scenery has to survive for the following show. The single-player experience is long and satisfying, a slew of multiplayer options ensure your friends can get in on the action, and you can bet your enchanted long sword there’ll be countless first-class adventures constructed with the powerful free tools included. It’s not without flaws, but the sheer gameplay value here is enormous, and if you’re a fan of old-school RPG story-telling, Neverwinter Nights 2 will keep you adventuring for a good long time.
+ LAWFUL GOOD: 60-plus hour campaign; excellent creation toolset; huge replay value.
- CHAOTIC EVIL: Largely sterile non-interactive environments; minor camera and cohort management issues.