Neverwinter Nights: a Pre-Review

I have verified this with a few people now -- one fucking character per person? What the hell is going on here?

Longtime followers of Robb Sherwin, Ice Cream Jonsey and/or the "Jolt Country" conglomerate are probably painfully aware that he is seriously into games with a squad based tactical feel to them. While others perhaps engage in such things as "having relationships," "starting families" or "opening the door to the outside when the doorbell rings" at the ripe, old age of twenty-eight, I get mine in the following two ways:

1) By moving a bunch of Jonsey-created pixelated blobs around the screen that engage in melee and missile-based combat with either aliens, ants or orcs.

2) Lighting cigarettes and attempting to burn my flesh with them in order to symbolically burn the more flaming parts of that new New Found Glory video out of mine. Kee-rist, guys. America wants to love you; try to make it easier for them.

It's that first part that I'd like to discuss in detail here, especially as it pertains to Neverwinter Nights, the recent release by Bioware.

But before I can do that -- what the fuck is the word "Atari" doing being slathered around the NWN intro? As an esteemed and valued member of the Atari community, I'd like to say in no uncertain terms did any fucking Atari game ever have graphics that looked anything like those in Neverwinter Nights. I know that the name has been passed around like the slightly tubby cheerleader at the post-game party for a UAB football game for the last ten years and I'm sure that the crack marketing squad at Infogrames realize that anyone who even remotely recognizes the word these days is either a hardcore gamer and thus wholly immune to their backwards "branding" attempts or else pushing forty and worried more about their second mortgage payment than impulsively buying a computer game. But still.

Anyway, Neverwinter Nights follows the fine line of D&D games thrust upon the gaming community in recent years. These games are:

o Baldur's Gate. A great game, but you can never go back to it after playing one of the later games because the characters all walk like molasses doing an impression of playing Thief up a hill

o Planescape: Torment. A game that is on virtually everybody's top 50 list. A game that apparently transcends the genre and approaches, for a little bit, that elusive tag of "art." Of course, I don't know for certain because I'm mentally retarded and didn't buy this game when it came out and in fact have yet to play it to this day. What the hell is wrong with me?

o Icewind Dale. Hey, it's cold out, the shit has hit the fan and it's up to you to kick the living crap out of every other single moving pixel on the map. Individually and in concert. This is Diablo for people who don't the Koreans and it's a gem. (The game, I mean, not disliking Koreans.)

o Baldur's Gate II: The Shadows of Amn. Actually, I can't remember if it's "Shadow" or "Shadows" even though, due to two annual hard drive crashes, I've played the first few chapters of this game approximately three dozen times. It has one of the worst names in the history of computer gaming (can... feel... acne... rising... just... typing... it... uhhhnn!) but it's also one of the best games, period, ever made.

o Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter. Didn't play it because, as someone who buys Ephedra rather than the games he knows he will like, I support a network of terror (at least, as soon as they ban Ephedra I will) and not quality and positively-reviewed expansion packs.

o Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. Do you have any idea how much balls -- how much frigging NADS -- it takes to release a game with the word "throne" in it? The negative reviews involving the angry reviewer inserting his own "I took a shit on the Throne of Bhaal and out came this game" practically write themselves. Except that they didn't because this is one of the finest expansion packs in the history of... well, right, expansion packs.

I should note that in all of those games except for Torment you're able to develop a party of six wholly custom-tailored characters and go to work. This is cool -- this is *essential* -- because there are a dozen different "classes" (read: professions) in D&D and you're of course going to want to play a few of them. Sure, there are some sheep who go through in "single player" mode and fill out their parties by using a bunch of hirelings and NPCs, but this is probably also due in part to the fact that the NPCs / characters that the devs make can "say" more.

Only the thing is... (and this is my Text Adventure Mode fully active, aware, flashing the fourth directive as "classified" on the screen for about fifteen seconds and thinking back to when Red from "That 70s Show" put a bullet in my brain) the content there isn't that good. Not to knock Bioware or Black Isle or anyone, but their dialogue is substandard and not worth the tradeoff you get when you put the game in multiplayer mode, create six characters, assign them all to yourself and then play the game that way. More, everything I've read on NWN indicates that playing the thing through from the start with a NEW and DIFFERENT character than the one you originally chose doesn't exactly equal mega replay value. I haven't played through NWN for more than a few seconds, but I can totally understand this -- exploration is really great in a D&D game, but having to do it a second time (and I did, at least, in BG2 due to the aforementioned crashes and due to the fact that I had advanced in single player mode before hooking up with my friends in multiplay) really starts to grate.

But, yes, apparently you can control one character at a time in NWN and if you want to use more it's HENCHMEN time. Look I have no problem with henchmen, and I have certainly used a few in the D&D games I've played but:

o You can't decide on their class
o You can't decide what they look like
o They advance at a rate less than or equal than your "main" dude's
o They probably -- and this is a guess -- won't shut the fuck about the stuff that is going on in the game. I mean, sure, it was great when Jahierra started complementing Imoen or whoever on their gorgeous red locks in the middle of a filthy sewer, but the only difference between the average built-in BG character than that fucker who said "Heya!" all the time is that the average BG character spreads out their limited number of lines more.

So, I'm stunned. Oh, also, and the time I spend writing these kind of things directly translates into having less friends, so it's unlikely that I'm going to get six people together to play a single game, much less SOLVE THE GAME THAT WAY.

Not to get melodramatic, but this may be one of the worst decisions ever made in the whole of computer gaming. I'm just floored that they decided to do things that way. Plus, nobody else seems to give a good goddamn. Forget locating the outrage -- where the hell is a workaround to this?