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Neverwinter Nights Preview
game: Neverwinter Nights
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Infogrames
developer: BioWare
date posted: 09:10 AM Mon May 20th, 2002
last revision: 04:58 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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By Paul Cockeram

The only thing that\'s unclear about BioWare Corp\'s hotly anticipated Neverwinter Nights, an RPG based on the 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules and set in the good old Forgotten Realms, is when it will be released. The latest announcements predict release sometime this summer, and even though summer has already begun, there\'s not much reason for doubt. The build presented at this year\'s E3 looked highly polished and nearly complete. One thing, however, is perfectly clear: Neverwinter Nights is an obvious contender for RPG game of the year.

Besides being as rich and complex an experience as anything in the Baldur\'s Gate series, Neverwinter Nights is at the forefront of a trend that will probably revolutionize the PC gaming industry. The Neverwinter Aurora Toolset, which allows gamers to build their own modules with a powerful, user-friendly interface, provides a potential for game play limited only by the fans\' creativity.

The toolset includes a series of wizards that, according to BioWare, will enable the average user to create a satisfying dungeon crawl within one hour, while more advanced users can enrich their mods with narrative depth by using a flexible conversation editor and NWScript, BioWare\'s C- style scripting language. But here\'s the best part: the Dungeon Master client promises to bring all the advantages of pen and paper RPGs to the computer, allowing Dungeon Masters to actually inhabit the worlds they create. The DM can adjust game difficulty in real time; place and remove items, creatures, and characters within the game world; possess NPCs and monsters in order to speak or act through them; and use a variety of other tools, like the ability to resurrect fallen players, to enhance game enjoyment.

The worlds that players can create are as rich and diverse as anything in the single player game, with tile sets for environments including castles, forests, wilderness, villages, dungeons, and caverns. Non-player characters are fully customizable with hundreds of different appearances, and they can be predisposed to dislike certain character classes or types, or made to attack after certain dialogue paths. BioWare will provide support for module makers by creating a forum for the mods to be shared, a la Unreal Tournament\'s PlanetUnreal where players post and download one another\'s maps. BioWare plans to ship the game with some modules and begin posting more on its site immediately.

For more casual gamers or those who prefer to play rather than program, Neverwinter Nights will offer a character creation system with pre-made characters, as well as a button for Recommended settings for attributes, name, and other characteristics to speed up the creation process. More in depth players can eschew the Recommended button and take advantage of a wide range of customization options like 200 character portraits and billions of different looks. All seven races and eleven character classes explained in the AD&D 3rd edition rule books are available. Player characters can climb to the twentieth level, a ceiling imposed not by the game but by the rule books from which it\'s adapted. BioWare reports that they\'re happy to increase the experience cap if TSR makes rules for higher levels.

Neverwinter Nights harkens back to Planescape: Torment in that gamers create just one character and bolster their party with NPCs. This magnifies the game\'s pen-and-paper feel, as the multiplayer mode brings together parties of individually controlled characters under the guidance of a DM. Since each gamer plays only one character, BioWare made the options for infusing personality into this character vast, offering customizable hair, head, body tattoos, outfits, and voices. Even character control has more options, as players can now steer with the keyboard as well as the mouse. The third edition rules also make characters more powerful by allowing mages to wear armor, fighters to specialize in various combat styles, and all characters to choose from an additional number of skills. Players will become more attached to their characters, resulting in a richer, more immersive gaming experience.

The story and game play are characteristically magnificent. On offer are at least sixty hours of solid play time, with a ceiling for more explorative players of as much as 120 hours. A plague has broken out in the northern city of Neverwinter, and the city has been quarantined. Help arrives from Waterdeep in the form of a caravan of magical creatures to serve as reagents to a cure. Neverwinter is betrayed when the caravan is ambushed and its creatures are stolen. Adventurers must recover the animals, find the cure for the Wailing Death, and get to the bottom of the mysterious betrayal.

They\'ll look great doing it. The BioWare Aurora engine presents full 3D capability, rendering some of the most beautiful and dynamic graphics of any RPG. Features include fully animated characters and monsters that draw weapons as they\'re equipped, plus wonderful touches like shadows that fade over distance and react to multiple light sources. Spell animations are gorgeous, illustrating individual spells\' effects in vivid color. This is sure to be the best-looking BioWare RPG to date.

For fans of the genre, Neverwinter Nights is obviously a must-buy. But BioWare has done enough work shortening the learning curve that more casual gamers who are interested in role-playing games can feel safe using this title to introduce themselves to the genre. The only potential drawback is that other RPGs are sure to pale by comparison.