Oddly in line with the release of Neverwinter, I've been replaying one of my personal favorites, Neverwinter Nights 2. It's a title that I had feared I'd find unbearably clunky after playing the Dragon Age games, but you know what? It's better than either.
I could go on and on about the campaigns, but let's talk about interfaces. So many PC games obsess over hotkeys and nested submenus. The Dragon Age: Origins interface was all about that handy little hotbar. Unfortunately, DAO's hotbar would get absolutely crammed full of odds and ends, especially for mages, to the point that at level 20 it was essentially useless, the videogame equivalent of a hoarder's nest. NWN2 has the potential for the same thing, except they wisely included the Quick Cast menu, a tiny, transparent box containing all of your spells, neatly organized by level, with additional filters for different modifiers (such as Empower Spell). This handy little tool makes life so much easier for Sorcerors, Wizards, and other spellcasters that it makes the contention from other titles that spellcasters need to be trimmed down ludicrous. It just works.
Past that, the interface displays absolutely everything you could need, from different modes to a hotbar (when you really need it) to a quick toggle for turning off party AI. And individual, grid-based inventories for each party member should be mandatory. NO MORE LISTS. It's been a while since I played a game that had a really great PC interface, but they provided it here.
Unfortunately, the engine powering all of this goodness seems to be constructed from string and bubblegum. Weird glitches, crashes, and quest problems abound (I'm pretty sure I missed out on the best ending for Mask of the Betrayer because a side quest didn't trigger appropriately), and not even the console possesses the power to fix things. Throw in the translation of a tabletop ruleset to ensure you can't ever keep good track on what's going on and I can see how some people could loathe the title.
Actually, the tabletop conversion is pretty interesting. While the pace doesn't translate in the least, one thing I truly love is that the rules, while sometimes needlessly complex, are always understandable by a human. The numbers used aren't being plugged into some secret equation buried deep within the game code (well, they are, but you know what I mean) but are instead displayed proudly for anyone to understand. I know what 2 points of Strength gets me in NWN2. I have only the faintest clue what 2 points of Strength gets me in most other titles. This is why I don't mind developers using d20 systems in their games. Is it clunky? Yeah. But it's comprehensible.
At the end of the day, Neverwinter Nights 2 is one of my favorites. I'll probably come back and put up posts about each campaign, as they deserve to be treated individually, but NWN2 is what keeps me from going back to the original NWN. Oh, I played the original first, and I envy its superior mod scene. But I like NWN2's class selection far more, I like the added feats and spells, and I find the campaigns to be superior (well, I can't speak of Hordes of the Underdark; I only played about half an hour of it). If someone knows of any mods that add in the new classes and spells (and I know that there is a spell icon mod, if nothing else), I'd love to dive into the original, with it's more numerous mods and official add-ons. Until then, I'll have to be satisfied with Obsidian's output, and hope that Project Eternity somehow manages to equal it. And if you are wondering if Obsidian can actually do right by a party-based RPG, then NWN2 is the benchmark.
What about everyone else? Any opinions on this?