Neverwinter Nights is a 3rd-person single-player RPG from BioWare based on the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons and the lore of Forgotten Realms and basically teaches us all that BioWare was no-holds-bared about killing characters from the beginning.
History and Development
Once, in the distant past of 2002 (wow, that was nowhere near as long ago as I thought it was, good news, I am not as old as I was worried – no, wait that was thirteen years, holy shit when did the early 2000’s become a middle school student ago?) BioWare decided to make a game based on Dungeons and Dragons.
There’s not a lot out there on the development of this game, but on the surface, this seems like a stellar plan. And it kind of was a stellar plan. There was, apparently, a Neverwinter Nights MMORPG from 1991-97 (it’s my age and if that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is) that was mostly text based but does hold the record of first MMO ever so that’s pretty cool. The designers at BioWare took a look at it and wanted to recreate that with like, graphics and stuff. They took out most of the multiplayer ideas and instead made a single-player RPG. I mean, you can host games and whatever, but we’re gonna be looking at the single-player aspect because I honestly do not give a flying fuck about the multiplayer.
I bought this game at the age of 12 or so (around 2003 so this was fairly new). It was my first big game, my first RPG. I did not know anything about D&D at the time so I had no clue what was going on with the mechanics. I didn’t know anything about video games either because I was raised by hippies and books and had never touched a gaming console in my life. But Neverwinter spoke to me in a certain way that no other game had. And part of that way was fireballs.
To this day, Neverwinter is the only game where I prefer to play a mage rather than a warrior.
In my later days of college, I picked it up again. It was pretty much just as much fun as an adult, except I had the added benefit of now knowing how D&D worked so I was like, suddenly the master of Neverwinter Nights. And I’m playing along one day in my friend’s room when she comes over and looks down at my computer screen and goes, “Whatchu playin’?”
“Wow, that game holds up pretty well graphically.”
“Oh, no, wait for it.” I zoom in as close as I can get.
“Oh my god, the polygons.”
“Yeah, bro. It’s rough.” I zoom out again. “Looks great from back here though.”
Zoom out! For god’s sake, zoom out!
Literally, it’s D&D 3.5. Like, straight up. Same races, same classes. Same abilities based on each. Same tired elf druid and halfling rogue clichés. Same min/maxing, power gaming bullshit.
I shouldn’t be so hard on it. I only say that now as someone who has played too much D&D and found every little thing about that system that pisses me off. It’s not bad. It’s really not. But if you know how to make a D&D character, you know how to make a Neverwinter Nights character. Fighters in this game are the most boring crap out there. Just like D&D.
The two expansions for Neverwinter Nights, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, add in some other classes, specializations, that kind of thing, but the basics stand. I’m not going to list everything you need, just look up D&D if you have no idea what I’m talking about (there are too many classes for me to happily list).
As for the physical aspect? Like, seriously, I am concerned about how boob-y the armor is when you are like basically a trapezoid with a head. I didn’t realize this as a child, but it’s clear as an adult. Those are not sexy boobs. Those are like early Tomb Raider Lara Croft boobs. Which I guess people who are into girls think are sexy? Mmmm, yeah, gimmie that single triangular prism attached to your chest.
On the other hand, it’s one of the few games to this day that has an option to not be totally skinny.
Also the portraits are beautiful.
Focus on these and ignore the polygons.
You play a recruit at like, Neverwinter Adventurer School during a giant plague. A hot elf paladin chick named Aribeth, whom you will grow to love dearly and be generally upset about as the game goes on, tells you to find some critters that have escaped into the city in order to use their hair and hearts and shit to cure everyone. When you do this, a douchey cultist turns out to be the dick you always thought he was, a different elf is totally given the short end of the stick, and you have to go find a cult.
That’s part one. Of four.
Yeah, Dragon Age: Origins is making a lot more sense right about now, huh.
The game is long. Very long. Continuously good, but there are like, four parts and each one has like, four-ish large areas to do a lot of stuff in, plus a million side quests. This game is the king of side quests. The second part is about finding a cult and then you go to another city and I don’t actually remember all of this because I was twelve the last time I finished this game, but there was something about time traveling lizards and yeah it’s just generally massive.
So remember that whole D&D thing? Yeah, this is where it doesn’t shine.
See, D&D makes sense in a tabletop setting. You can’t have people screaming stuff at each other all at the same time. You can’t have your DM getting totally overwhelmed. There need to be rules and structures. The dice need to stand in for actually being able to hit each other. There are reasons for things in D&D because it takes place in the real physical world.
In a video game, that’s a real problem. Neverwinter is slow as balls. Because it IS turn based, but not like Final Fantasy is turn based, where you chose each action, like your basic attacks are turn based. It just takes forever to get anything done. Like, fights happen and you just SIT there and wait to win. There’s not a lot of strategy and it can get tiring after a while. It’s like that John Rhys Davis quote about his fighting style in LotR: “You will come at me, and I will hit you, and then you will come at me, and I will hit you…”
The level up process and the “character sheet” that goes with it are great though. It’s confusing at first but even 12-year-old me picked it up pretty quickly. It’s well explained and open to a lot of customization. It talks you through all the stuff that confuses someone the first time they play D&D and so when I did start playing, it made a lot of sense to me.
Also if you play a sorcerer, get a panther because panthers can sneak attack. From the front. Sneak Attack Panther too OP.
The plot. BioWare is famous for their plot, their character, and their storytelling, and they don’t let anyone down on this one. In general, they’re a company that know that no RPG can stand on its murder factor alone. Okay, so some gamers think that I’m sure, but they’re wrong. That’s what first person shooters and the like are for. RPGs are for story and boy does BioWare get the story right here. Sure, it’s a little convoluted and it just keeps going, but that’s a good video game story, honestly. Do you want everything handed to you in a game? Well, you might, but I know I sure don’t.
The characters and henchmen are great too. Every henchman has a story and a quest for each section of the game so you get a real feel for them and usually people seem to keep the same one for the whole game even though you can switch it up. Aribeth, the elf who kind of leads you through the game, is really well done and has some seriously tragic shit going on, which she will tell you about if you ask the right way. They know how to write people. You have to do a lot of reading in this game, but it’s really worth it because they’re damn good at dialgoue.
Also ARIBETH. The armor is stupid, but she was one of my first badass video game ladies.
Character creation. It’s hard the first time because there are a damn lot of numbers, but you can push through it and get along pretty okay. It can get a little grind-y after a while and you have to remember never to resurrect because it costs you XP. There’s not a whole heck of a lot to hate on here. Oh and also there are a ton of quests that are like “Bring me the head of Steve the ogre” or “Bring me the heart of that lady over there” and so if you don’t like having a lot of body parts in your inventory, this is not the game for you.
It’s so slow. Sometimes I play with a book just so I can read during the fight scenes. Or like, I wish I could, but it’s not that kind of slow, it’s just…god, hit the stupid zombie already.
Okay, this is a good game. A solid game. You have to look past graphics and just generally the age of the game – it ages well, but still – but let’s be real, you’re looking at this blog and the usual writer on this blog writes about the oldest games known to man. So like, I think you’ll all be able to handle it. It’s a solid game, good writing, good play. If you like Forgotten Realms, I think it’s a really good one for people just because it’s got some characters and things you’ll recognize. If you like D&D, give it a try just to see how it works.
Besides, don’t you want those sexy polygons?
Next Month: Dragon Age: Origins, a game close to my heart and the continuation of what is looking like a major BioWare binge cycle, which I make zero apologies for.