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Neverwinter Nights - The Diamond That Awaits Every RPG Gamer

Author: 
V Patel

I wrote this article after realising just how misunderstood Neverwinter Nights was and continues to be but the fact remained that many many players would find a nirvana in this package if only they know the possibilities that await them two and a half years after release. So I hope you find this short essay informative and a door to new horizons.





The Release



Just over two years ago, BioWare released Neverwinter Nights to the masses and memories of Baldurs Gate danced in the minds of many that purchased it - perhaps BioWare should have made more of an effort to indicate the distinction but none the less, the situation provided deeply problematic. Gone were the party aspects that provided numerous opportunities for tactics as was quite the epic feel of that series and many gamers criticised the official campaign harshly - perhaps a lot more harshly than they would have if they didn’t have these preconceptions in their mind.



Years on one can look back and realise that most gamers these days admit that they quite enjoyed the original official campaign but they had wished for perhaps a little more. The biggest way a developer can make up for their mistakes is for them to listen to what their customers ask for and BioWare did just that - two more expansions were released and the official campaigns made the changes the players wanted. Now Hordes of the Underdark is widely acclaimed as a very enjoyable campaign and in truth the original official campaign is still enjoyed by those that purchase the new Platinum edition. They find their experience getting better and better as they make their way through the hundreds of hours of entertainment to the climax of the second expansion. One should also not forget the great variety of customisation available with the list of classes, spells and skills available in the 3rd edition D&D that is used in NWN. There are whole threads focussed on created perfect character ‘builds’ and some players take great enjoyment from this and that is on top of the story experience.



Unfortunately for many gamers, their experience of Neverwinter Nights ends here leaving it as a cRPG that was ‘pretty good’ - however this is the great tragedy for the above aspects only touch on what Neverwinter Nights is truly about. One would have little choice but to experience nothing more than the official campaigns if one did not have internet connectivity - what percentage of gamers these days don’t?



The Official Campaigns and the Toolkit



One of the biggest misconceptions tied with Neverwinter Nights is just what the package is - many feel it was an official campaign with a toolkit attached to it. It was however quite the opposite - it was a toolkit with an official campaign attached to it. This was the source of much dismay on release since Bioware made a huge gamble - NWN would on release have a toolkit that the community had not quite embraced and an official campaign that may not satisfy - would gamers realise that NWN would mature like the finest of wines? The answer is that it seems not, but if the true RPG fan would look in their wine cellar to the changes that have occurred in this bottle, they will most likely never look at another cRPG again. Years on, the toolset has been perfected, mastered and the talented members of the community have created stories and worlds that would make BioWare themselves proud.



A few people argue that Neverwinter Nights should be judged straight out of the box and the community creations is not part of the package - but is that truly fair? BioWare put all of their time and effort into a toolkit to allow the community to create countless experiences so in truth it is a part of the ‘NWN experience’. After all whenever you will play any of these creations, it is the Neverwinter Nights symbol that you will see flash first. But what has been created with this toolset?



Single Player Goodness



If you are the type of gamer that only ventures online to download and not to interact with any other people, Neverwinter Nights is more than happy to accommodate. At Neverwinter Vault, the hub of the Neverwinter Nights community, there are hundreds of hundreds of single player modules to download - but most important of all, the quality now is astounding. One only has to look at the list in the Hall of Fame to see the best builders and writers creating adventures that rival those that Bioware’s own talent put out and the reason is the ease of the toolset.



As a writer myself, there is a great deal of satisfaction from seeing the reaction of a satisfied reader but the one thing better is to see the reaction of someone that has ‘lived’ the adventure.



And so the builders continue with their hobby with creation being their pleasure and the players have literally hundreds upon hundreds of quality gaming just a few clicks away. The variety is there too cross genre from fantasy parodies to horror, encompassing a huge variety of settings, and even including custom content so you see new environments, creatures, models and so on. Simply, you have hundreds of hours of free cRPG gaming just sitting there beyond the official campaigns and unlikely to disappoint anyone but the most jaded of gamers.



Multiplayer Goodness - Dungeon Mastered Immersion



If one ventures online however to also experience the aspects that come with playing alongside other players, the true beauty of this package emerges. One of the biggest advertised features of Neverwinter Nights was the Dungeon Master interface - simply one could play a game online and another player could make it come alive for you. Pen and paper gaming brought online so people from around the world could play together. These mostly take place through a community site called Neverwinter Connections where games are scheduled and the players and DMs connect at a pre-organised time.



The result is that you experience the pinnacle of roleplaying - to give an idea, one can simply compare to a Baldurs Gate 2 session offline. You may enjoy the wonderful company of Minsc, his hamster Boo and the delightful Viconia via their scripts but what if these characters was played by talented players bringing them to life? What if you could have a real conversation with Viconia beyond simple scripted choices? But it doesn’t end there - all the non player characters such as shop owners etc are possessed by the dungeon master, and using his talents would allow you to interact with anyone in game! Everyone is alive, no need to tangle with scripts - and if you thought this wasn’t enough, the dungeon master would allow out of the box thinking. Would you like to lean against a door and try and listen to what’s on the other side? Simply indicate so in game and the DM would roll some dice and tell you what you can hear! Imagine the possibilities and the immersion and then you can understand why games that I have played in at Neverwinter Connections have been the best experiences of my RPG life.



I loved Planescape Torment as much as the next guy but when you are in a world with a top class DM and players swallowing you up for a few hours in an alternate world where there is little limit to your actions, there is no comparison. One does not need to play games with a dungeon master present however - just as one could play the NWN official campaign online with other players, one can organise times to play many of the huge variety of modules online. Even without a DM, this can be a wonderful experience if choosing likeminded people to adventure alongside.



The choices don’t end with just playing - one can dungeon master and the Neverwinter Connections community is so newbie friendly that they have regular classes that not only teach how to play online and even start getting used to the basics of role play. And if you wish to learn how to DM, classes exist that teach you just that.



To take a group of players into another world and breath life into it this way is indescribable and even more fulfilling is to build your own story with the toolset. There is no need to learn scripting as in single player modules because you will be possessing npcs and if you are of a creative mindset you can experience the same thrill as those that create the single player modules. The difference here is that you witness the enjoyment first hand while you shape their experience.



Multiplayer Goodness - Persistent Worlds



The possibilities of the Aurora Toolkit do not end here - there have been people that have balked at the idea of stopping with just creating stories and have created whole worlds. Persistant worlds are the equivalent of mmporgs such as say Everquest except in this case they are free, have smaller tighter communities and most importantly the large number allow you to choose the type of world you want. Just as the quality of the player made modules have reached amazing standards, so have the best PWs, and now you have the choice of playing in the most intense roleplaying ones. These allow complete escapism only found in the text based MUDS of old but this time providing a visual aspect without any sacrifice. The opposite end of the scale shows hack and slash worlds where you do what you do in main stream mmporgs, kill monsters and level and quest - but once more in smaller more friendlier communities. There are PWs in the middle of this scale too that offer both and as indicated previously, the best ones offer very high quality gaming, superbly addictive and no fee whatsoever.



Multiplayer Goodness - Competitive Modules



No it still doesn’t end here - BioWare have allowed the spotlight to shine on many different aspects of this community in their BioWare Wednesday articles and one rarely known (yet loved very much by those that participate) aspect are the competitive modules. Great pains have been taken to create the balanced competitive modules - one that comes immediately to mind is a game called Neverwinter Tactics which can be compared closely to the Half Life module Team Fortress Classic but of course your classes this time around are D&D ones. Interesting to say the least, and many more such games exist such as Good vs Evil, The Light Reboen PvP Quest (which has a team of good players trying to rescue a maiden from a tower protected by evil players - strategy and tactics dominate) and many others. If this is your poison, a community exists that plays the game and welcomes you into their world. The perfect build described previously come into play in competitive modules as one experiments with class, skill and spell combinations that deliver maximum effect for the job in hand.



Neverwinter Nights - Evolution Continues



One may ask how Neverwinter Nights stays fresh - after all with the same tilesets and models for the monsters, even with different stories and adventures everything will look the same after a while right? Wrong - Neverwinter Vault has a huge amount of custom content pouring in daily that add new tilesets such as Elven cities to Forest Top villages and anything else you can imagine. A huge community expansion released recently (called the Community Expansion Pack of course) added a huge deal of content of all types from furniture to skyboxes etc. There are huge projects underway at this very moment to add even more content and allow the community to embrace new D&D settings - Dragonlance Adventures is one such group recreating the first Dragonlance pen and paper module and releasing a huge amount of content. Another is the City of Doors Project allowing adventures to begin in the Planescape setting (made famous to cRPG gamers by the widely acclaimed Black Isle cRPG Planescape: Torment).



It doesn’t end there - can you believe I have taken part in an online game where I participated in an adventure in the Firefly universe (TV series)? I walked around a spaceship, landed on a foreign world straight out of an episode and even stared into a futuristic LCD monitor. All of this due to the talented minds behind the D20 modern project allowing you to have adventures in modern and futuristic setting. It doesn’t stop with standard fantasy and there are projects set in the Warhammer Universe (with superb Marine models to boot).



BioWare intend to release digital download content in the future which will mean you pay for new BioWare created/assisted modules that will help with funding for continuous support for this amazing community and in turn be treated to well crafted stories and additional content. NWN can’t look old when it’s constantly treated to more and more ‘goodies’ - the mountain now of considerable size.



Neverwinter Nights - Conclusion



So now the question remains - did you as the reader know all of this awaits you? Whether you wish to play and experience the worlds others have created for your enjoyment, or whether you want to be the creator and shape the worlds or be a DM storyteller (or both), it is all here. I sometimes hear people saying that NWN is rather old now because it is over two years old and players migrate away but the question arises - to where? The only players leaving were the ones that stopped playing NWN after the first section of this article - the end of the official campaigns.



But there is simply no other cRPG can do all that Neverwinter Nights can and has as much to offer as this community. So really, if you are into any of the other aspects of this one, you are here to stay. Now with the announcement of both Dragon Age and Neverwinter Nights 2 in production which both aim to continue the needs of this community, there is little question of NWN fading into obscurity.



So if you were to ask me how Neverwinter Nights will be in one years time, my answer is simply this: NWN was finding its feet one year after release as quality content starting appearing in larger amounts as the toolkits potential was realised and the expansions added improvements. Two years later the databases bustled with quality worlds and modules as a whole list of creators started adding their star creations to the list and Dungeon masters perfected their arts. In three years we will have the release of Dragonlance and Planescape content allowing people to take part in these settings as well as more modern content and BioWare will start their Digital Downloads allowing many possibilities. Neverwinter Nights simply gets stronger every year and it lies hidden to many after they abandoned it shortly after release not realising all it needed was time.



This diamond glitters now - would you like to see its beauty that simply is not found anywhere else? A roleplaying nirvana to me and I hope it is one for you too.

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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