Thursday, September 8, 2011

Game Critique - Neverwinter Nights 2 and Expansions

Game Critique - Neverwinter Nights 2 and Expansions
This post is just some of my thoughts and critiques on Neverwinter Nights 2 and the Expansions.

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- There really isn't any true "roleplaying" involved here. You have choices to make which can slide you along the Law/Chaos Good/Evil continuums, but you can move back and forth a lot because the consequences aren't particularly severe for several reasons:
  • Although some careers (character classes) require a particular outlook/alignment, the majority do not.
  • The shifts are very inconsistently applied and sometimes seemingly random (and fortunately, they are also generally very small). e.g., At the Weeping Willow Inn, there are three reward interactions: Asking for any reward at all was +1 Evil; a different instance of asking for a reward resulted in no alignment change; and asking for a larger reward is +1 Chaotic.
What would help is more consistently applied alignment changes. Since we can't always guess how the scripter is thinking, more cues like [Chaotic] or [Good] prefacing conversation choices would be helpful. Also, religion could play a useful role by letting you donate (increasingly large amounts of gold) to shift back toward the alignment of the deity you worship.
Something else to consider might be to bring back global consequences of a good/evil reputation, such as was used in the old Baldur's Gate game, where being evil meant you were hunted by city guards and things cost more; and being good meant things cost less. These could be game-stopping choices, though, so you could make characters pay for consistently anti-social choices by having to do good deeds or donate to good temples to fake a temporarily better reputation so people will speak with them again. In any case, this is a tricky case that is highly dependent on how parallel you want the good and evil quest paths to look.
+ The game world looks very good at a reasonable processing power considering you can aim the camera in almost any way you want. Improvements in the models and density of items in the game world continued in Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir, and the shaded Shadow World in Mask of the Betrayer also had really good atmosphere.
The ability to customize your character is also quite high. The only criticism here would be that facial expressions are generally very wooden, but at least NPCs feel alive because of generally very good voice acting and characterization there.
The character models and outfits look great. Armor is especially good because the basic components are generally of high graphical quality, plus the various components you can add and mix allow you to have an asymmetrical look if you want. These factors, combined with a broad colour palette, can result in many stylish combinations for what is not a lot of artwork. The better games will have customized artwork for each suit, but Neverwinter Nights 2 proves this isn't imperative. In having a fairly big toolbox, it does better than, say, Oblivion, which as high quality models but far too few to be able to convey variety.
- The weapon models need a lot of work, and are generally considerably inferior to clothing and armor. On the other hand, they are quite small on the screen when you zoom out for an overview of combat, and there's little point in spending computing resources on it.
- The XP table continues to look stupid and with little rhyme or reason to it. A holdover from the original Neverwinter Nights 2.
- Experience Points (XP) in the Original Campaign are a non-renewable resource until much later in the game. In the early game, you are occasionally competing with NPCs for significant XP from kills. For much of the time, killing your way through an encounter will net you more XP and loot than any other choice. Since there are often no real repercussions to wanton violence, this drastically influences your choices in an artificial from-mechanics-point-of-view way. Storm of Zehir made task-completion rewards more prominent, and I think that is the best way to go. No matter how you solve a situation, as long as you solve it, you get XP. How easy or hard you make it for yourself is a character build and roleplaying choice.
The possibility of grinding through random encounters to get loot and XP is one that I think should still be open, like in Storm of Zehir. Bethesda's Oblivion had the idea of scaling enemies on quests, and that could be a partial solution, especially if you put reasonable caps on the scaling (not too low and capped at a certain level).
The introduction of epithet and history feats is an awesome idea, one that I hope gets carried over to the pen and paper version. It enforces the consequences of choices and rewards epic deeds -- and thereby overall adds commitment, immersion, and atmosphere to the game.
The introduction of random encounters in Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir, and the expanded amount of loot available, make violence less imperative because character development and the acquisition of gear is less difficult. Roleplay is still extremely limited, but now you at least have more choices.
Violence as the best option was reduced in Storm of Zehir. Not only does killing not necessarily give you the best outcome in both XP and loot, but not all encounters drive inevitably toward combat.
Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir introduced certain quests where the consequence lasted throughout the game. This adds some true replayability if done properly, and Mask of the Betrayer did quite well in this regard.
- Most games have "Fedex" quests where you get item A from faraway location B, then return it to quest-giver C for reward D. Storm of Zehir has this in spades and in a very irritating way because you often have to go very far away (especially for some quests later in the game) and through chokepoints instead of having a teleportation option; plus, there are a lot of tedious encounters on the overland map along the way.
- Silly mounds of treasure just lying around sometimes in Mask of the Betrayer. They could have just increased gold or loot from kills (like in Storm of Zehir).
The companion Influence system is quite interesting in that it gives you a sort of reverse roleplaying. In trying to get good influence with your companions, you will have to understand how they think and how they would be influenced by what you do or say. In this way, you are not so much roleplaying your own character, but instead roleplaying your companion. Also, you are somewhat forced to do this (to gain high Influence) because of ongoing rewards (e.g., Mask of the Betrayer history feats) and critical tests of Influence (e.g., in the Original Campaign during the Trial and at the final encounter with Black Garius when your companions' loyalty is tested and you may have to fight those who defect). The mess of too many companions in the Original Campaign diluted the experience because the companions turned out quite shallow, but Mask of the Betrayer had much more interesting and complex companions.

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