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Developer:
Obsidian
Publisher: Atari
Platform: PC
Release Date: October 31, 2006

by Nimish Dubey




They may guarantee advance bookings, but developing sequels to cult games can be quite a thankless task. Three years ago, the folks at BioWare sent the gaming community (particularly classic RPG lovers) into raptures with the staggeringly successful Neverwinter Nights. Obviously, a sequel was necessary. And as BioWare was too busy to handle it this time around, it fell to Obsidian to develop the game. Incidentally, Obsidian seems to be cultivating a habit of developing sequels for BioWare hits – the company had handled the sequel of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, too, and had made a decent fist of it, although it had not been able to recapture the magic of the prequel.


Well, the same can be said of its efforts with Neverwinter Nights 2.


Don’t get me wrong, Neverwinter Nights 2 is not a bad game. Far from it. It is, if anything, quite a compelling experience, and has the traditional elements of a classic RPG – strange evil, heroes and his/her friends battling it, decent storyline with lots of twists, and typical D&D rules gameplay. The problem is – a lot of it is pretty much similar to what one saw in Neverwinter Nights. It does not even look significantly better than its illustrious predecessor – and that is criminal considering the kind of graphics people have come to expect in games these days, thanks in no small measure to that latest ruler of the RPG kingdom, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.


But if you can tide over your initial disappointment over the game’s appearance, Neverwinter Nights 2 has quite a lot to offer. The storyline is simple – you are leading your simple life in your village when, suddenly, along come the bad guys and thoroughly disrupt the local carnival (which also serves as a tutorial, incidentally). After having a go at the enemy, you are then asked to troop off to the town of Neverwinter to find out just what on earth is happening. Of course, things get rather complicated once you get there, and that means plenty of missions and lots of roaming around with your companions.


Incidentally, note the word “companion” because that is the biggest change in the game. Unlike in the original game where one picked up the odd person to fight alongside one, Neverwinter Nights 2 gives you full-fledged companions that you can control almost totally (there is even a ‘puppet mode’ for control freaks). Party size is limited to four, which is just about right, although I sometimes kept it to three, as I found it easier to keep track of them. You can even control their character development to an extent and build relationships with them, depending on how you treat them and their goals (oh yes, many of them have their own quests too!).


The environments are pretty vast and as each mission inevitably comes with its own set of smaller quests, there’s plenty of dungeon crawling to do. Enemies are, in best RPG tradition, plentiful, and none of them too tough. So one can actually hone one’s (and one’s party’s) skills as one goes along. The ‘party’ factor adds an element of strategic planning during battles as you can actually control how your companions behave in battle – allow them to run amok or tell them to preserve as much of their resources as possible. And if you are an item collector, I guess you will be holy ecstasy barely a third of the way into the game, for goodies abound. From swords to cloaks to wand to sundry items of a hero’s wardrobe -- you will find them hither, thither, and just about everywhere. And as you have plenty of inventory space (just like in the original game), you can lug most of it around. The problem, unfortunately, is that you seldom get a chance to use most of the items you pick up and generally just end up selling them to the first person who offers you a price for them. In fact, I even stopped looking at the kind of items I was picking up midway through the game because I simply wanted to get a move on, instead of sitting making inventory records! Shades of Revenant (EA’s Diablo-esque action RPG of the nineties)!


But if the items tend to overwhelm one to the point of boredom, the characters one comes across almost never do. In fact, for me, the most interesting part of the entire game were the conversations that one had with different people. As always, one has to choose from a number of comments or responses that one can make, varying from the rude to the cringingly courteous. And in best D&D tradition, the way in which you talk inevitably determines the way people (including your own party members) respond to you. I frequently found myself saving games just prior to what I considered a key conversation and then following different paths – a rude and a polite one. Vastly entertaining.


And of course, an essential part of the Neverwinter Nights 2 experience is the immense control one has over one’s character. The developers have refrained from giving character portraits of readymade characters this time around, but if one opts for building one’s own character – well, there is pretty much anything one can do with him/her. Apart from mucking around with appearance and wardrobe, there is also the little matter of choosing from 16 classes, 12 base classes, and a series of classes that get unlocked only after certain conditions have been met. Characters go up a level whenever they accumulate a certain number of points, and there are plenty of feats and skills to choose from. Incidentally, if you are not a regular D&D game player, I would recommend allowing the game to recommend level ups. It saves time and is a darn site less intimidating (I remember being staggered by the options in Baldur’s Gate 2. The ones on offer here are much, much more!). This feature also gives Neverwinter Nights 2 phenomenal replay value. No matter how many times you finish the game, there will always be the temptation to try it out one more time - with a different character, attitude, and companions.


The voice acting and music are superb, although the cut scenes could have been better. The graphics are, unfortunately, one of the game’s few let-downs, but would have been acceptable had it not been for the rather high system requirements demanded by the game. My PC met the recommended requirement, but the game still staggered along on it, forcing me to turn down most settings.


If you are looking for a radically new and innovative gaming experience, steer clear of Neverwinter Nights 2. This is very much like a second helping of Neverwinter Nights, albeit a tad longer and more complex.


Which, come to think of it, ain’t such a bad thing after all. There’s something to be said for deja vu. Play it again, Obsidian!


Final Grade: 80%


System requirements:
Minimum: 2.4 GHz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent processor or equivalent; 512 MB RAM; 6500 MB HDD space; ATI Radeon 9800 or NVIDIA GeForce 6600 or higher Recommended: 3.0 GHz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent processor or equivalent; 1024 MB RAM; 6500 MB HDD; ATI Radeon X800 series, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 series or higher.




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