After nearly a decade, Bioware's classic fantasy RPG reappears as a DRM-free download at Good Old Games. Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition is a single or multiplayer experience set primarily within the Forgotten Realms, a fantasy world created using Dungeons and Dragons. With massive replay value, a toolset to create your own adventures, and the ability to play alone or with a big group of friends, this is one game you can come back to time and time again despite its age.
Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition comes with three large campaigns to play, as well as three standalone adventures: Kingmaker, Shadowguard, and Witch's Wake. The first campaign sees you stuck in the great city of Neverwinter as a plague runs rampant through the streets, and might only be the start of something much more sinister. The second campaign, Shadows of Undrentide (meant to be played with a new, first-level character), begins with you as an apprentice in a remote mountain village who finds that ancient trouble comes looking for your master one day. And the third campaign, Hordes of the Underdark, is meant to continue the adventures of your hero from the previous campaign, and finds you answering the call for heroes in Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, where the dark elves who live in the nightmarish realm below the surface of the earth are plotting an attack.
Never played tabletop Dungeons and Dragons before? That's okay, neither have I. What's great about Neverwinter Nights is how easy it makes the dauntingly complex source material. You don't have to worry about keeping track of statistics, rolling dice, forgetting to take skills into account or explaining to Barry why he can't be a half-elf Jedi priestess. The game does all that for you. All you have to do is keep track of your hit points, spells, and equipment. Everything is handled with either hotkeys, which you can set yourself, or with mouse clicks. Click on a spot to move there. Click on a dude to talk. Click on an angry dude to cast Bigby's Emasculating Buttocks. And then click on his corpse to loot it.
In Neverwinter Nights, you are always the hero, and you always get to create your own character. Want to play a halfling barbarian, or a boisterous dwarven bard? Go nuts. You can choose your gender, your race, your class (wizard, paladin, rogue, etc), and choose which skills to develop so you tailor the experience to your style. And if you're thinking "RPG" automatically means "static turn-based combat with random encounters", you're out of luck. Combat takes place in real-time; you control your characters and are responsible for everything from movement to healing to attacking. There isn't a tremendous demand for skill, of course, since the system is what decides whether your attacks hit or miss based on numbers, but it does make the game exceptionally easy to get into.
And when you're done with the main campaigns, you can sample some of the excellent adventures out there called "modules". Modules are simply self-contained stories you can download and play for free, created by players like yourself through the use of the included Neverwinter Nights Toolset. Installing a module is as simple as downloading and extracting it to the proper directory. Creating one is a bit trickier, although Neverwinter boasts what is probably by far one of the most accessible toolsets out there. In fact, it might be a good idea for you to crack open the toolset and fiddle around with it a little bit. Whether or not you actually want to make something, it will give you some perspective on how much time and effort it takes to make something good even with a toolset.
Just, y'know. Something to keep in mind the next time you feel the urge to start complaining about how long it's taking your favourite developer to finish a project.
Analysis: Bioware makes good games. Bioware makes great games. While perhaps a little rigid, all three main story campaigns are well-written, long, and tremendous fun played alone or with a buddy. It's almost enough to forgive them for creating Deekin, who, despite his inexplicable fan popularity, really needs to be dropped down a well somewhere. Of course, these days the game is going to look a little dated visually. It's not ugly, but you have to remember this comes from another time... a time when characters had blocks for hands and pointy polygonal faces. (And particle effects were when we paid someone to stand behind us blowing glitter at our monitor.) You also might want to save yourself the heartache and ignore the included Witch's Wake module, since all it does is provide the tantalizing first taste of a promising series that was never actually finished. You broke my heart, Bioware! Why, baby? Why?!
Fortunately, what's also great about the game is that while it's fun to play alone, it's even better with friends. Neverwinter Nights allows you to easily set up a server to play privately with a group of pals, or jump right in to someone else's. Some of my best times with this game involved running through a short, one or two hour adventure with a few friends, only half taking things seriously as we sassed short-tempered dragons, stole ale from clueless barbarian hilltribes, and argued over who should get the magical glowing green dwarven battleaxe that dripped corrosive poison. (So what if my wizard can't lift it?! That's mageism.) Of course, to play with someone else, they need their own copy of Neverwinter Nights, and they also need to download any user content and modules you want to use.
There is a ridiculous amount of high quality community created content out there available for play, ranging from short hack-and-slash adventures, to lengthy story-centric tales designed to take hours or days to complete. Adam Miller's epic Shadowlords, Dreamcatcher, and Demon campaigns combine to form a massive tale that will take you upwards of thirty hours to experience, alone or with a friend. Stefan Gagne's Penultima and Penultima Re-Rolled series offers a complex fantasy narrative in a unique setting that parodies and pays tribute to beloved stories and icons. Heck, there are even servers out there functioning as persistent worlds, which lets you log in with other players and adventure whenever you want like an MMORPG. If you want a comprehensive list, you should check out IGN's Neverwinter Vault, which is a great place to download as well as upload the best user created content.
There's a reason Bioware's classic endured as long as it did, and regardless of whether this re-release sees a revival, you'll still find a ton of longevity in not only the main campaigns, which offer a lot of replay value based on everything from your character type to the decisions you make, but also in the plethora of user-created modules available for free. If you have any interest in fantasy gaming at all, or if you've always wanted to try Dungeons and Dragons but have been intimated by the source material, or even if you just want something you and a group of friends can play for a few hours at a time, for its new ten dollar price tag Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition is an absolute steal.
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