Neverwinter Nights was closely watched throughout its development because of what it promised: the ability to play old-fashioned D&D games, with powerful dungeon masters (DMs), through linked computers. For everyone who missed the pen-and-paper role-playing games of the seventies and eighties (lots of people), Neverwinter sounded like a dream come true; all the fun of the interactive D&D games, skillful DMs, and computers to handle the complex statistics. Of course, with lofty expectations all too frequently come high standards, disappointment, and mediocre games. To Neverwinter's credit, it is a solid game with strong gameplay, innovative aspects, great multiplayer options, and a powerful level creation tool. It is not, however, the nearly perfect game that many expected -- a humdrum story mars the experience.
These are picayune faults, however, and the good aspects of Neverwinter outshine its problems. The DM mode is revolutionary, allowing cyber-dungeon masters to create episodes, dialogue, characters, and monsters, then manipulate everything in real time. The only real fault of the system, as it was with the old pen-and-paper RPGs as well, is that the quality of the game depends almost entirely upon the skill of the DM. Of course, the real fun of having a DM is generally getting together a group of friends. In this sense, Neverwinter allows far flung comrades to join up via the Internet and adventure together, again. However, random games with unknown DM's are likely to be frustrating, especially if you get a sadist DM. This, however, is a problem with most online games; playing with friends is very important.
The character creation process includes plenty of options - races, genders, classes, attributes, etc. - including the ability to import face photographs. As usual in RPGs, character creation dictates gameplay style, and it's entirely possible to create ineffective characters. However, Neverwinter's henchman feature, which allows every character to hire an assistant, allows players to complement their character with a suitable warrior. Archers can hire swordsman, and many players will be well served by the trusty halfling Tommy who earns his keep by disarming traps and opening locked treasure troves.
Neverwinter's story is mediocre, sadly. Sure, the tale of mysterious plagues and hidden powerful enemies is interesting, at least initially. But interest wanes during the second and third chapters, when the story moves north and loses steam. Neverwinter's story -- already overshadowed by the impressive DM abilities -- is something of an afterthought.
Gameplay is good, with smooth animations, intuitive controls, good graphics (though very reminiscent of Baldur's Gate), and the solid 3rd Edition AD&D rules. The biggest complaint is the brief pauses during combat. The game feels laggy because each combat move needs several rolls (attacking, defending, etc.), and keeping track of each attack can be confusing. The game engine is not exactly real-time, but not entirely turn-based either: it's a hybrid. Game decisions are made in real-time, but all character and NPC actions take place according to D&D rules. In practice, this means some characters can act more often than others, and it frequently feels like the player-character is waiting in line. Everything works well after an initial adjustment period, but it's annoying when you make occasional strategic mistakes because of the gameplay delays.
The module creation options are impressive. Users have access to the families of tile sets used in creating the single-player game, and creative players will have no difficulty in creating unique levels filled with just the right amount of monsters. The staggering array of options available -- the monsters, NPCs, stories, environment, and more -- makes Neverwinter a DM's dream. Level creation is an involved process, and DMs should plan on taking hours to rush through the basic module, plus a few hours of tweaking to finish a good scenario. There are a few concerns with the tile sets; players will wish the forest set, for instance, had a few more options. However, as any D&D player knows, the success of the best games has little to do with graphics. Neverwinter provides good graphics and outstanding customization features for creative DMs. It's a pity the single-player story mode isn't a little more engaging, because it's the only thing keeping Neverwinter from getting the maximum rating.
Graphics: Similar to Baldur's Gate, the graphics get the job done, but are not outstanding.
Sound: The voice acting is handled well with crisp deliveries and interesting voices. However, listening to the dialogue can be time consuming. Gameplay sounds are interesting, but repetitive.
Enjoyment: Though the story mode loses steam, this game is as fun to play as you make it, especially with the plentiful multiplayer options.
Replay Value: The extensive multiplayer, DM, and level creation options give this already excellent game almost unlimited play potential. People may be playing Neverwinter many years after its release, just like Starcraft.
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