Neverwinter Nights 2 (OC)
After abandoning it halfway through some years ago due to exhaustion and my graphic card dying on me, I started from scratch and finished it this time. I'm not really sure what to think of it. It is much better than NWN in some aspects, much worse in others, and then it sometimes feels much too close to its predecessor for my taste, too.
The most notable improvement is that the game allows you full control over your party members (provided you completely shut their AI off). And in part your companions are much more memorable and enjoyable than in NWN, they even have Infinity-style banter dialogues; half of them are still somewhat bland and unfinished though. But along with the different graphic style and quality, all of this made it feel very much like playing one of the old Infinity game, and I loved that. Sadly, it also felt like the Infinity games due to its horrible pathfinding. Navigating your party through narrow corridors and tactical positioning in small rooms can quickly become a challenge in itself. And talking of tactical positioning - all of that is gone when you load a savegame, as the engine will only remember the position of your active character and then move all of your party members to that spot, regardless of where you carefully placed them before. If you save the game at the start of a battle, with your opponent on the other side of the room, it can also happen sonetimes that on loading the savegame, he's suddenly standing right behind you, happily slashing at your character already. And while you do have better control over your party members, you still need to keep a close eye on them and double check whether they're actually carrying out your orders or just canceled them for some reason (pathfinding issues, character condition etc.), because the game doesn't give you any warning feedback if they do.
The engine can generally feel a bit unresponsive and glitchy at times, a bit less polished than NWN, rubberbanding is a frequent occurency, and the most challenging battles I was fighting with the camera. Despite the game offering three different camera modes with lots of options to configure them, including "free" camera movement, I still didn't manage to find a way to handle the camera that really felt free and comfortable. Even the "free" camera gets constantly locked and doesn't allow you to scroll away or zoom out too far from your characters. I felt the camera was always a little too close to the characters to get a good overview without having your view obstructed by corner buildings, roofs and such. So I constantly had to scroll and turn and zoom in and out. The best camera perspective I got when I climbed up a hill so that the camera focussed on that higher terrain and then moved the party back to the valley below. The camera would stay in that zoomed out position and give me a better overview until I zoomed in - which would then lock the camera again and prevent me from zooming out that much another time. I thought the tactical mode was the most comfortable for handling battles, but on top of not allowing you to zoom out enough to get a good overview, it also doesn't allow you to lower the camera enough to see up a hill, from your characters POV. So if there's a steep road up a hill with a party of opponents waiting on top of it, in order to get them into your field of view, you need to switch to a mode that's close to first person view (which is inconvenient for moving by mouse clicking and for tactical positioning). Ironically, I noticed that if you use the "free" camera option, the camera gets locked even more often because it's buggy, and if you move up a hill, it frequently occurs that the camera zooms in even further so that you can only see the road directly in front of your characters' feet and not an enemy who's standing just a few steps further from them. A mod to completely free the camera from those shackles would have done wonders to make NWN2 feel so much more natural and enjoyable, but I didn't find one, so I had to adapt and live with its inconveniences.
I thought the story was more involving than the one of NWN (which I hated), but it also felt a bit patched together, with too many inconsistencies, too many factions and too many distractions from the main plot, in an effort to make it totally epic but IMO rather achieving the opposite and making it feel more random and silly. I thought all in all the campaign was too long for its own good. Some parts of it were awesome. I especially liked the ones were you had several exploration missions outside of Neverwinter, in different landscapes and dungeons, and of the dungeons I liked those best that had a good mix of varied combat encounters and puzzles. During those times I felt like I was playing a modern version of Baldur's Gate 2. But there were also long stretches of linear city questlines with unimaginative filler content which were pretty tedious, like slogging through a big but boring warehouse with nothing in it apart from the same group of pesky rogues and bandits over and over again, around every corner (and after fighting thieves for the umptieth time already). During those parts, the game did not feel like Baldur's Gate 2 at all, but like the worst of NWN's OC. Some parts of the story also felt unintentionally funny to me due to the discrepancy between the gameplay mechanics and the story-telling: *MILD SPOILERS* If your companions fall in combat, it doesn't really matter as long as one party member survives the battle, after which everyone will be up on their feet again, even if they had -120 HP shortly before; and you can always raise or resurrect them during combat anyway. But if the story requires one character to be dead, it's final, and noone even talks about the elephant in the room. And there was a hilarious moment when all playable characters were assembled and I had maybe eight companions or so in the party, and the story required them to stay together, and one of them would say "we can't be separated now", and one second later the engine asked me to limit my party to four of them (while the story continued to act as if all of them were still with me). Why?!? :D Especially considering that later you get to have all of them in the party, so that restriction wasn't due to the engine but only due to balancing and felt hilariously detached from the story-telling. */SPOILERS*
The economy in NWN2 was quite alright though. With the funds gained from selling all the superfluos magic loot I had collected, I managed to buy some very expensive equipment for my character that I liked, and the game offered enough options to relieve me of the rest of the money by having me invest in (ultimately meaningless but somewhat rewarding) flavor stuff (I'm not going to spoil it here, but I haven't seen a lot of RPGs do something like this). Although, are there any other packrats like me who wonder why so many RPGs choose to still dump that much mediocre but profitable loot and money on you during the linear finale without giving you a chance to sell it afterwards and exchange it for something of worth? It all feels so pointless that they even increase the loot during the parts where you least need it and should be most focussed on story instead of looting, especially considering that the next expansion will probably strip me of the inventory contents anyway ... Oh well.
Before I played NWN2, I've also played through Mysteries of Westgate. It was okay; as above, some good parts, some bad parts. Much less voice-acting, and the dialogues sometimes reminded me that this is more akin to a community module than a fully professional effort (although, to be fair, even Bioware's and Obsidian's writing can be cheesy and fourth-wall-breaking, and some members of the NWN community are excellent wordsmiths). One problem with MoW is that the choice of companions is badly balanced. I thought a rogue might fit the setting, but it's actually the worst choice, since it means being stuck with two rogues in the party for the most time, while more useful classes (for combat) are missing. Another problem is that it's mostly a city adventure, and those are the parts that I liked the least about NWN2, because it often means running to and fro through the same locations over and over again, fighting with the camera in the streets between high houses obstructing your view, and having to deal with the pathfinding issues when trying to position your characters tactically in narrow rooms and corridors.
And speaking of MoW, I noticed that both the OC's and MoW's story had some of this silly adventure game logic going on: *SPOILERS FOR BOTH* In the OC you have to join the City Watch (or the thieves) and then do a ridiculous amount of quests for them, just because you need to speak with one guy on the other side of a locked gate?! In MoW you have to do all kinds of quests to raise a ridiculous amount of money that some guy asks of you for a passage on his ship, just because he can?! I mean compare that price to the cost of all the unique treasure items you could buy with it; some NPC even rewards you with like 1.000 gp after a quest and says you could buy a small kingdom for that, so I guess that Nigerian prin- er, ship's captain can now afford to buy half Faerun with his 60k or something, after he found himself an adventurer gullible enough to amass a fortune for him? :D *END SPOILERS*
Well, now that I've finished the OC (and now that I've finished to write down this wall-of-text that probably won't be read anyway :P), I'm finally ready for Mask of the Betrayer, which I expect to have the best story of all the official NWN products, from what I've heard.
Post edited August 14, 2015 by Leroux