Sunday, 8 February 2015

Neverwinter Nights Retrospective - Part I



The following random remarks pertain to BioWare's Neverwinter Nights original campaign (OC), which I'm currently playing through as a female Gnome Sorcerer of Chaotic Evil alignment - basically just for shits n gigs.

As the title suggests, this won't be a recounting. Just some random remarks as I play.

Rules: 1.69 Critical Rebuild, D&D Hardcore rules. I'm a Max Hit Points=1 retard. Please forgive me.

Mods: Nothing game-play changing is installed. I'm using the Creatures Override Compilation to de-uglify the animals and monsters. I would have used Project Q, but I can't fix the portrait glitches it causes and Q Campaigns is bugged out (e.g, Boddyknock floats in the air in Chapter Three, and his crossbow floats alongside him, separately.) I would have also used NWNCQ, but overly dark and blurry textures made without respect to original aesthetic can take a hike. I also use this cam hack for extreme zoom-out and first-person view. Very cool.


Just a few brief remarks on two important concepts, now, before we venture into the exciting Prelude! 

Experience

There are two types of experience point reward in NWN: quest experience and kill experience; the latter being tailored to level and party size. Basically, defeat an enemy stronger than you - as per Challenge Rating - expect lots of XP; defeat one weaker than you - expect little or even none.

Further to that, defeat an enemy without help from a companion, summons and familiar; expect even more XP; defeat an enemy with them; expect much smaller yield. Note that you cannot manipulate XP by "level squatting", as in Black Isle's Icewind Dale II, because the game considers you as having leveled before you even "click to level-up", but you can easily control your party size.

"Soloing" might be difficult or impossible for some players; it depends largely on gaming aptitude and foreknowledge.

Quest XP is static; that is, it doesn't change with your level or party size. This is the XP you receive for completing quests and returning to the quest-giver.

With what I've said about XP scaling, you will get more XP if you don't return to the quest-givers until after you've killed all the monsters.

Treasure

I distinguish between three types of treasure: randomized, static and tailored.

Most treasure is randomized and looted from generic enemy corpses and receptacles (chests, barrels, crates etc.). Randomized treasure is ubiquitous, normally trivial or of questionable utility and looted mostly to sell off for gold, but there can be surprises.

Static treasure is hand-placed by the designer, it can always be found in the same place in every play-through, without fail.

And tailored treasure is what you sometimes find in "boss chests". Put simply, if you have Weapon Focus: Katana then expect to find a katana in your bedroom trunk when you start off, and expect to find a Katana +1 in the first boss chest you loot (which will probably be in the Devourer's lair).

It isn't always this cut and dry, but the point is that you will find useful stuff for your build as you adventure, it just sort of falls into your lap.

The OC's various areas contain way too many receptacles. Entering a room and being confronted with five crates, seven barrels and two or three locked and trapped chests is facepalm-inducing after a while.

Introduction 

The Frozen North: the name given to the stark and unforgiving frontier that lies beyond the High Moor of Faerun...


A bleak wilderness where barbarian clans and tribes of giants roam the land and fierce dragons rule the skies.


But amidst the frozen savagery stands a bastion of civilization: the city of Neverwinter, Jewel of the North.


Behind the city's high walls those both hardy and brave carve out an existence from this bleak land under the guidance and protection of the legendary hero Lord Nasher Alagondar.


Yet there are some things that all the courage in the world cannot stand against.


A virulent plague swept the city, a terrible affliction that began in the Beggar's Nest. Soon all of Neverwinter could feel the touch of the Wailing Death.


The disease could not be cured. Panic ensued; the streets erupted into violence. The Jewel of the North was brought to its knees.


To save Neverwinter, Lady Aribeth de Tylmarande, Paladin of Tyr, and Lord Nasher's right hand, put forth a call for a champion.


A rush of would-be heroes answered her call: some drawn by promises of grandeur and glory, others by the lure of gold.


Those with the greatest potential were initiated into the Academy to train and study under the greatest minds of Neverwinter, all in the hopes a champion might emerge to save the city from the Wailing Death.


... And whatever sinister force might be behind it.


The intro is undeniably suitable, setting the stage with austere narration and an animated slideshow in sepia tone. The following Prelude couldn't be in more opposition to that tone, however.

The Prelude Snoozefest 

The adventure begins in the Neverwinter Academy, in the city of Neverwinter. 

You have trained long at the Academy, and today is your final day. To begin your adventures in Neverwinter, speak with each of the instructors in the complex. All will be able to give you tutorial information about basic skills. You will need to complete one last lesson depending on whether your main focus is combat, rogue skills, divine magic, or arcane sorcery. Bards will be able to complete any one of these tests, while most other classes must report to the expert in their chosen field.

Left: I awaken in my quarters Right: Pavel aka Mr. Nice Guy

As you can no doubt glean from reading the above journal entry, the Prelude is a bit of a drag, serving as a tutorial for totally new players. I'm talking extremely low level of gaming aptitude, "never played an RPG before" sorts.

BioWare were somewhat considerate in allowing veterans to "cut to the chase" or Esc-key-out of tons of mind-numbing dialogue, but it still feels obnoxious for an exit door to stay locked until you tell the NPC in question that you're not a total retard, at which point it's promptly opened for you. This happens four times before the player can finally leave Fort Knox. I mean, really?

Open the door before this Chaotic Evil Gnome loses her patience!

The actual training segments are mercifully short, the arcane sorcery lesson requiring you to fire a cantrip into a statue. That's literally it. My reward is a Rod of Frost (Ray of Frost, Unlimited/day).

Great, let's get on with this!

Check out the arms on that gnome! Umberhulk much? Fixed in CPP

I receive my blessing from Aribeth in the Graduation Chamber, after which the Academy is suddenly attacked by four mysterious mages who are in search of the Waterdhavian creatures. Having slain the mages, Aribeth entrusts me with protecting the creatures.

Aribeth is an amazing character, and beautifully voiced.

En route to the creatures, you might feel compelled to kill all the goblins and skellys for the XP, but don't be overly concerned. You see, the guy who gives you a tutorial on how to level up (no, I'm not kidding), and later Fenthick, will raise you to the next level when you talk to them regardless of how many or how few you've killed. This ensures every player is hand-held to reach third level before they step out into "the real world".

One could ignore the enemies entirely (ie, run past them), raise yourself to third at the level-up posts, then backtrack through the Academy and Training Halls killing scores of one hit point enemies at 75 EXP each, thereby hitting fourth level before meeting up with Aribeth in the Halls of Justice. But really, you'd have to be keen.
 

Left: Training Halls Right: The Academy

Note not only the size of these maps, but also the slowness with which you move through them as you play. I'll never forget my transition from Baldur's Gate to NWN, all those years ago, when I went from Baldur's Gate's 60 AI updates to this slo-mo jog. It really shocked me.

The uninspiring corridors and chambers of both areas (pictured above) are infested with weak-ass goblins and skellys, all of whom my Gnome Sorcerer effortlessly poked to death with her measly dagger. Many a receptacle may be looted for randomized, trivial treasures. Mr. Nice Guy (Pavel) acts as a temporary companion (basic Fighter build), but it isn't necessary to bring him along.

Blocking entry to the stables and the Waterdhavian creatures is a Mysterious Mage, the Prelude's boss. His corpse supplies the player with their first tailored treasure drop. I received a Wand of Sleep (50 charges).

Upon entering the stables the Waterdhavian creatures are whisked away from the Academy.

Left: The Mysterious Mage Right: Waterdhavians - Nymph, Devourer, Yuan-ti.

There is now a dialogue segment which skilfully introduces Desther and Fenthick, after which the player is auto-leveled to 3 and the Prelude comes to a close.

See how I'm bumped up to Level 3?

Looking back on it, the Prelude really isn't quite as tedious as I remembered it to be. It takes all of 6-7 minutes to run through, but new players may take a good 30 minutes if they explore, kill and loot everything, which I still think is far too long.

I guess experienced players could simply begin in Chapter One and use the console to level up to 3... I personally would have no qualms in doing that since no quest, choice or anything but trivial loot carries over from the Prelude into Chapter One, it's just a "Baby's First" area tucked away from the real game and somewhat immersion-breaking in that it sort of feels that way, too. For this reason, I'm a firm believer in separating spoon-feeding tutorials from the game proper.


Chapter One 

The End Times are nigh! Ours is deserved Damnation!

9 comments:

  1. "new players may take a good 30 minutes if they explore, kill and loot everything"

    Eh. I actually don't think it's so bad. I think you're so used to being good at RPGs for so long that it's hard to imagine what it's like as a brand new player. You might be trying out different weapons, ranged versus melee, different spells. It's kind of nice to have a low stress environment to experiment in initially...and like you said, if you know what you're doing in takes <10 minutes.

    "I personally would have no qualms in doing that since no quest, choice or anything but trivial loot carries over from the Prelude into Chapter One"

    I would disagree with this. If you're a mage, you'll get a robe of fire resist (which either helps versus the Fireball sorcerers later or can be sold for a lot of cash) and the Rod of Frost which gives you the equivalent of an auto attack at least.

    A fighter type will get Half Plate from the mysterious mage -- that would normally cost 1000g or so from a vendor so simply starting in Chapter 1 proper would leave you far more vulnerable.

    Are those awe-inspiring items overall? No, but it's a significant bonus compared to basically starting naked in Chapter 1 with 75...then Aribeth gives you another 100g. I'm not even sure you can buy a Breastplate, Large Shield, and weapon with 175 -- let alone actual heavy armor and tower shield...and theoretically you're using her gold to hire a henchman too!

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    1. "Eh. I actually don't think it's so bad. I think you're so used to being good at RPGs for so long that it's hard to imagine what it's like as a brand new player. You might be trying out different weapons, ranged versus melee, different spells. It's kind of nice to have a low stress environment to experiment in initially...and like you said, if you know what you're doing in takes <10 minutes."

      Those were my also thoughts AS a new player, though. I remember despising the Prelude/tutorial, the slowness of Aurora and especially the OC as a whole compared to the Infinity Engine and Baldur's Gate. Until NWN, I had never played a RPG that spoon-fed you so much. I see your point that current gen players might appreciate this kinda tutorial, bless them. :P

      Your points about skipping the Prelude are noted. Perhaps it isn't wise, even for veterans. Unless you're gonna also console in the cash and items you should "by rights" have, you might spend several minutes in the City Core trying to make up the cash to buy the items, in which case you should have just run through the Prelude in the first place...

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    2. "Those were my also thoughts AS a new player, though." + "compared to the Infinity Engine and Baldur's Gate." = ???

      You weren't a new player :P Not to RPGs, which is what I was saying.

      Imagine if your only game experience was, say, Halo. And then you wanted to try this NWN thing. *Slightly* different.

      Or even if your experience was Star Fox 64, Perfect Dark 64, Donkey Kong 64, Ocarina of Time...NWN would again be *slightly* different.

      "in which case you should have just run through the Prelude in the first place..."

      Pretty much. And like you said, you can easily speed through it.

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  2. NWN was my first D&D experience and as a kid i must say i really appreciated the tutorial. At least it showed you how spellbook works. I remember it being the most confusing part of D&D. But the whole way they presented it to you was indeed quite unispiring. Honestly i'm not a fan of tutorials being any part of the story and i always pretended that thing at the academy never happened to my PC

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    1. Hi Bonzai, I agree that spell-casting is the most complicated (and rewarding) part of most D&D RPGs. I think the NWN series made being an arcane or divine spell-caster much more interesting than other RPGs (e.g, meta-magic). I really liked familiar system that offered many different kinds of creature, and how you could possess your familiar, who would level up with you and bring utility to the party.

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  3. Oh my, evil character in Neverwinter OC? That idea was doomed from the beginning. The Path of Evil campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 is waiting for you! This one was created with an ultimate goal in mind: to make enjoyable experience playing an evil-aligned character, not screwing up the game world in process. Some quests there are some kind of a parody to 'sweet' Neverwinter 1 OC ones, there are many references to this in dialogues, and they a very funny to read. Actually when you play, the module makes you feel not evil by nature, just a little opportunistic and cynical, maybe, in an evil (by default) world around you. NPCs look like deserving some extra punch most of the time, and if you decide to check it yourself, you'll understand what I mean. So not a noticeable inner conflict with your conscience, but continuous fun instead.
    I wish you make a review for it!

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    1. Not sure if you noticed yet, but some of the evil dialogue choices are covered at the end of the next post:

      https://lilura1.blogspot.com/2015/02/random-remarks-on-neverwinter-nights-oc_9.html

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  4. I like the Prelude as a noob or vet. No matter. It has a real PnP feel to it which quickly dissipates as +1 gear becomes easily accessible in Ch1, the uber hench rewards are gathered and crafted gear becomes available for bargain prices. Level 1 encounters are always the most challenging due to such low HP especially for mage types. A lucky hit/crit by a single foe (and no way to bypass the threat) can be fatal compounded by limited healing. Level 2 is also somewhat challenged, though significantly less. The "insta-escape" transport artifact is not yet part of standard inventory. Pavel makes it much easier, of course, so I bypass his help. Early game should really not offer a diluted combat experience since players should (IMHO) be spending time getting oriented and learning their limitations rather than standing by and watching an ally control the action. I just think the option to provide an ally so early was a bad call on the part of Bioware. Hench help in Chapter 1 is early enough.

    From PC Level 3 on, however, character levels dominate over the majority of encounters with especially lucrative items available to magic types and UMD users, powerful gear for warriors, elemental ammo for ranged attacks and unlimited resting. Hence... NOT PnP anymore, unfortunately.

    One misunderstanding of many of the new players from around 2005 on is that all those prestige classes, powerful feats like Expertise and Blind Fight, skills like Tumble and overwhelming spells were never rebalanced in the series. The result is a PC that, by design, has been empowered beyond all NPC threats. But I suppose they had their hands full designing SoU and HotU and addressing all those issues rather than revisit legacy content placed in their rearview mirror.

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    1. Great points there, Iconclast. I remember ILMS and IGMS being obscenely OP in Hordes of the Underdark, let alone in the OC.

      Of course, it isn't uncommon for expansions to unbalance their OCs: I seem to recall Baldur's Gate 2, Icewind Dale and Morrowind being easier after their expansions were installed, too.

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