After creating one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and some would argue one of the greatest games of all time, in the shape of Baldur's Gate 2 the next step taken by Bioware was always going to be closely scrutinised. Neverwinter Nights is that next step and a bold one it is too. Unlike the legendary Baldur's Gate series, where you controlled upto a party of six characters, Neverwinter Nights gives you control over just one. It is possible to hire a henchman (or henchwoman) but the control you exert over them is very limited. As you probably know by now, the game has been released to global acclaim but how good is it and how accessible is it for deaf gamers?
The most obvious difference from Baldur's Gate is the new swish 3D world that Neverwinter Nights places you in. Unlike Bioware's previous offerings there is no intricately pre-rendered backdrops to marvel at and initially this comes as quite a shock to the system. Not for long though because as you begin to spend time with the game you begin to marvel at the 3D game engine. The highly detailed environmental textures and the out of this world lighting effects are superb. The first time your character lights up a torch when you are in a corridor, you will marvel at the fantastic shadows that are cast onto the floor and wall. Most people will have seen screenshots of the game and wondered if their PC is going to cut the mustard with this game. Well I was surprised to find that on an AMD Athlon 900 the game plays superbly at 800x600 with Quincunx antialiasing enabled and with the textures turned up full, the whole thing looks gorgeous.
This is the first Bioware title to feature the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition rule set. This allows for far more versatility, especially in terms of character development than Baldur's Gate 2 had. If you're new to RPGs then Neverwinter Nights is the ideal place to start. Of course there are the usual ream of stats that you'll find in any other RPG titles but Neverwinter Nights allows so many functions to be carried out automatically if you so desire. You don't have to create a character as the game already has a decent amount of pre-made characters. If you do decide to create your own character and you get to a point where attributes need to be assigned there is always a recommended button to click on that makes a sensible choice for you. This 'recommended' button is also available when you level up and skill points etc. need to be assigned. I came to the genre with Baldur's Gate and it took me a while to get used to things. If this had been my first RPG then I would have been up and running in no time at all. Bioware deserve high praise for thinking of newbies and allowing the game to be as comfortable for them as it is deep for RPG veterans.
Much has been made over the fact that Neverwinter Nights has been designed from the ground up for multiplayer action. Whilst this is true, Bioware have not forgotten the single player and indeed you can expect 60 hours of pure enjoyment from the single player game alone. This is only a third of what Baldur's Gate 2 gave us but what other games have you bought recently that offered so many hours of entertainment?, not many I'll bet.
Neverwinter has been thrown into turmoil. It's population under the grip of a plague that has become known as the Wailing Death. The Lords of Neverwinter decide to quarantine sections off and this means that the infected and non-infected are penned in. This action was taken to prevent the Wailing Death from spreading all over Faerûn. Lady Aribeth declared that whoever steps forward and helps in finding a cure will be richly rewarded. It is thought that extracts from four Waterdavian creatures can be used to formulate a cure but in an attack on Neverwinter the creatures are set free. After you've completed your training it will be your first task to recapture the four creatures. Although the story is not as deep or as drawn out as in Baldur's Gate 1 or 2, it still is good and satisfying to play through and like all Bioware's RPGs it will be a different experience according to what class your character is.
Should you be interested in the multiplayer aspects of the game then you are going to think that it's Christmas when you see what the game has to offer you. You can play co-operatively through the single player game if you wish or you can get together with friends over a LAN or the Internet and play as a Dungeon Master. The game also comes with a very impressive and easy to use tool kit that allows you to create your own levels for single or multiplayer use. It is possible to design your own game with these tools, in fact they are the tools with which the Neverwinter Nights single player story was constructed.
As we mentioned before the 3D game engine is superb. The textures are brilliant too. If there is any criticism to be made on this front it is that the characters are not quite as detailed as they might be. The animations are superb though and you'll find yourself zooming in to watch the combat. The sword fights are truly a work of art and the parries and dodges look life like. Bioware really have excelled themselves with attention to detail such as this.
The interface has been wonderfully crafted. Bioware obviously liked the action menu that you got if you right clicked on a character in Planescape Torment as they have implemented a more detailed version of their own. The radial menu appears when you right click on a character. With this you can give orders to your character or your henchman. You can pause the game any time you want and give orders. There are 12 quick slots at the bottom of the screen. Each of these quick slots is bound to F1-F12 keys. By using the F1-F12 keys in combination with the shift and control keys it is possible to have 36 quick slots in total. These quick slots can contain spell, items, potions and anything else it pays to access quickly.
Bioware's previous games have been very deaf gamer friendly and Neverwinter Nights is no exception. One change that has been made is that when you have a conversation the dialogue and the answers you can select are now placed in the top left of the screen. This doesn't seem as comfortable as having it in the lower middle of the screen, as in the Baldur's Gate series. You can't move this conversation panel either. Previous messages can still be accessed from the chat window that is in the lower middle of the screen. The game journal is superb and never allows you to lose track of what you're meant to be doing. The games manual is again a work of art and answers any questions that you might have.
Neverwinter nights is slightly different in style to the Baldur's Gate series. However, underneath the gameplay changes and graphical revolution lies a rewarding RPG experience that you can't help feel has moved the genre forward a few notches. I have been glued to this game since it came in for review a little over a week ago. Whilst certain elements have changed the addictive nature of Bioware's software it has, if anything, become even stronger.
Overall Game Rating: 9.4/10 A truly outstanding RPG experience.
Deaf Gamers comment: Absolutely perfect for deaf gamers.