The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Partly Cloudy

GAME REVIEW

Neverwinter Nights

D&D on the PC Never Looked so Good

By Chad Serrant

staff writer

Neverwinter Nights

Published by Atari

For the PC

$54.99

Dungeons and Dragons has entertained for several decades, and hasn’t changed much from its pen-and-paper application. Many computer games have tried to create games that use D&D rules. Neverwinter Nights manages to create a very enjoyable game, but it is not flexible enough to satisfy the hardcore D&D addicts.

Because Neverwinter Nights uses D&D’s third edition rules, character creation is very flexible. Each race has an advantage, even the humans. Character classes can be easily mixed and matched, too. Magic blasting, trap finding wizard/rogue? No problem. Fighting and healing fighter/cleric? Easy. Of course, just being a monk or a paladin is fine.

The game’s interface is easy to navigate. Right-clicking the mouse brings up context-sensitive menus that let you talk, unlock, examine, or attack. To reduce the number of clicks, one can set commands to the function keys. If that’s still not enough, holding down shift or control reveals another twenty-four commands available. Great for spellcasters. Maps are easy to look at, although I would like to move the map view around the screen. Sometimes the map blocks part of the action.

Luckily, the game’s graphics engine is strong enough to avoid this problem. The game uses 3D all the way and allows camera rotation and zooming options. The view always points toward the ground, so viewing the ceiling is impossible. But besides that minor point, the camera couldn’t be better.

The game does a decent job with the graphics. The shadow effects are great, as multiple lights will create multiple shadows that stretch and fade with distance. The models are a bit on the low detail side, but they get the job done. The requirements aren’t too steep, so I’m not complaining.

The sound is fantastic. The music definitely fits the fantasy setting, and battle music starts and ends at the appropriate moments. The voice acting is very good. While they couldn’t cover every line of text, they cover a lot. The monster sound effects are sparse, though.

The single-player experience is a bit misleading and betrays the spirit of D&D. A plague spreads through the city of Neverwinter, and it’s up to the player to find a cure. There are a few turns here and there, and the story is very satisfying. The gameplay has a few flaws, however. First of all, the mission is played as a single character. D&D is usually played in parties of at least three. Next, the player can hire a henchman and can use a stone of recall to teleport to the temple for healing and supplies. Diablo II anyone? Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to play as a single character. They should make the game a little easier for one character to go through, or allow the player to hire more than one henchman. While they’re at it, they should make the AI better so they don’t try to cast spells right in front of the enemy (provokes an attack of opportunity).

Of course there are other parts of D&D that Neverwinter Nights does not implement at all. There is no concept of multiple heights, making jumping and flying impossible. So aerial combat is out the window. There is no mounted combat either, so paladins lose their mount (in exchange for more remove diseases spells.) Transformations and summons are limited to specific creatures. Power Attack is limited to either +5 or +10 bonuses (you need a feat for each of them). My personal gripe is the inability to play monster races as player characters. Hardcore D&D fans will notice details missing from the game, so don’t expect this to replace the pen and paper experience anytime soon.

The multiplayer aspects are great. GameSpy’s game matching lists current games and lets you search through them. People put in their custom areas and let player characters have fun. I entered several areas that weren’t complete but were gradually improved on a day-to-day basis. The multiplayer aspects form a nice community for everyone. As for cheating, well, boosting stats is ridiculously easy if you’re the DM, so there’s no fun in cheating, and it isn’t very wide spread.

The Aurora Toolset is included with the game. It is very powerful, as it allows you to use the built-in game art to draw your own worlds. To do anything complicated, though, people have to know the scripting language, which is in C. Luckily, there is a huge developer community that roams the forums, so information spreads quickly.

Neverwinter Nights manages to prove something: Some things shouldn’t change. Hardcore D&D fans who thought that this game would end pen-and-paper RPGs are wrong, as it doesn’t implement all the rules. But for those who don’t mind not playing the mind flayer psionic, or those who don’t even care about D&D, this game provides a highly enjoyable experience that should last for quite a while.