A Bastard In Neverwinter: Part One – Bastardly Beginnings

When it comes to reeling off the great RPGs, names like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment and Dragon Age: Origins are likely among the first to come to mind. Ask again and you’ll likely hear Pillars Of Eternity, Diablo II, Knights Of The Old Republic, Mass Effect 2… For some reason it takes far too long before the name Neverwinter Nights 2 gets a mention. But is that right?

Written by Chris Avellone, and created by Obsidian, the hugely ambitious sequel to BioWare’s Neverwinter Nights decided to not only redevelop the tools for allowing players to create their own D&D stories, but to put enormous effort into creating a unique Forgotten Realms tale of their own. I remember it as being a triumph. In fact, it’s one of three games I ever gave 90% in a decade on PC Gamer. But that was 2006, and it seems so forgotten now. How does it fair in 2015? I needed to find out.

Returning to it nearly a decade on, I decided the best approach would be to experience its tale of silver shards and evil invasions from the King Of Shadows in a very different way than before. I’d be evil.

It’s my inclination to play RPGs as the most goody-two-shoes force for good imaginable. It brings me the most pleasure. But a few years back, when replaying Knights Of The Old Republic for Eurogamer, I learned that there’s great cruel entertainment to be found when being a baddie. And since NWN2 offers such a broad range of character types in its splendid character creator, it seemed like it was time once again to don my black hat and sinister moustache. I am going to be a bastard in Neverwinter.

I’ve created a Yuan-Ti Pureblood Warlock by the name of Ophidia Serpentes. The Yuan-Ti are a race of humans descended from some sort of dreadful sexing of snakes, this borrowed reptilian DNA lending them a nature of evil cunning, and “dark agenda”. With an emphasis on malevolent charm, the Purebloods are those who can pass as humans, for their nefarious ends. The perfect choice for a bastard. Warlock was the only real choice for class, their power drawn from an internal darkness in their souls. A Hellfire Warlock, to be specific. And then when it came to alignment, Lawful Evil best suited the choices.

Neutral Evil is too bland an evil, too short-term, grasping. Chaotic Evil lets emotions rule, and certainly doesn’t suit the grimly charming nature of Ophidia. But Lawful Evil is methodical, based in a twisted notion of honour. It’s more careful, more deliberate, and therefore altogether far more awful. A worshipper of Bane, and with a background as a Tale Teller, Ophidia Serpentes, is all set to be quite the arsehole.

Which makes the game’s parochial opening a little… odd. Set in the town of West Harbor, it’s the village fete! You’re taking part in the competitions (a handy tutorial) to win the Harvest Cup! How delightful! How peculiarly un-evil for a character like mine.

Along the way, as I learned to fire crossbow bolts at bottles (better than anyone else in the village, first time!), beat up some locals (beating the unbeaten champions, first time!), and shamed a man who cast a spell on a piglet, I could choose to be rude rather than polite. And most of all, I could choose to be a dick to the two oh-so-obviously temporary companions foisted upon me from the start. Both have “DOOMED” stamped clearly on their foreheads, and one of them’s dead within minutes. The other you can dismissively leave behind. But so far, my outlets for evil have been rather limited. I nicked some stuff out of my foster father’s bedroom, that he then said I could have anyway. Bah!

After you’ve stunningly won all four events in the village fete – the first time anyone’s done that since Andreas Madeupname! – the tiniest attack of all time takes place as about twenty beasties rush all eight people who live in the village. But in these provincial realms it’s quite the battle, apparently, although easily won. Except oh no, Lady Magic-one is dead! Your dad then sends you off into the swamp to recover a silver shard he’s neglected to ever mention before, and you and Weedy Temporaryman blow up a few lizardy folks to recover it.

Gosh, it doesn’t start well. But I do remember things being a little shaky before you reach Neverwinter. With shard in hand, daddy sends you away, alone, to head to the big city, rebuilt since burning down in the first game. And mercifully, it’s at the start of this journey that you first meet Khelgar Ironfist the dwarf.

I remember Khelgar being really good. I also remember his being Scottish, but it seems he’s Irish. I’d forgotten he was a goody-goody behind all his dwarvish big-talk. A lady in an inn wants me to rescue her husband from upstairs, and I’m all, “No way lady, why would I bother?” and Khelgar’s all, “Oh, come on, kittens and puppies.” Bah. In the end I agreed to do it for 25 gold, and then got the husband to hand over 50 when I rescued him, and her another 25 after. 100 golds! ALL MINE!

I’d also forgotten how clumsy the camera is. Goodness me. I think, in 2006, it was this sublime step forward for such games. But now it’s as unintuitive as they get. Three different camera modes all have contradictory controls. There’s the sort-of third-person view, where you steer your character like a broken shopping trolley (Exploration Mode). Nope. There’s the overhead Character Mode, that’s much more useful for, um, exploration. And then Strategy Mode, which is how you want to play RPGs, letting you select squares on the ground, nudge the camera by moving the cursor to the screen edges (once you’ve picked your way through the million options to find how to free it of your character), and click to move about. But it’s clunky, for some reason still restricts the camera from getting too far from your team, and maddeningly resets to a completely useless top-down zoomed in view every time you change location. Goodness gracious, what were they thinking?

But I’m off. I’m out of Three Building Village, and on the path to Neverwinter, where I remember the game really gets to its peak. And I’m going to be a git all the way.


  1. Lars Westergren says:

    I quite liked NWN2 original campaign, even though it was railroaded and artificially padded. Heaps better than NWN1 OC which was basically just a tech demo. But both games really hit their stride with the expansions which improved a lot both on story and mechanics.

    I have tried many a times to play through various RPGs as an evil bastard, but the guilt is always killing me and soon I’m back to my “of course I’ll put saving the world on hold so I can find your puppy!” ways. I’m looking forward to someone else doing it, so I can see some of the content anyway.

    • piedpiper says:

      I prefer NWN to NWN2. It did much less things but it did them much more better. At core NWN was D&D’s hack’n’slah and it was great. NWN2 tries to be Baldur’s Gate and fails a lot. Plotlines suck in both games

      • geisler says:

        You really should try Mask of The Betrayer. To me every NWN game is shit (mainly because of combat), but at least that had the writing going for it.

  2. Eiv says:

    The Mask of the Betrayer was the better campaign but I quite like the original too. I always play as a complete and utter bastard. I really wish I could take joy in being nice, its just not fun :)

  3. Ross Angus says:

    To use his full name, ” Chris ‘The Human Stretch-Goal’ Avellone”.

  4. Dorga says:

    The camera was already hell in 2006

    • K_Sezegedin says:

      Yeah, 3D camera mechanics were pretty thoroughly worked out in 2006, NWN2’s was an outlier of weird awfulness. NWN’s was fine, 2’s actually threw me out of the game, – I couldn’t see enough redeeming qualities to put up with constant annoyance.

      • Flopper says:

        Exact same reason I never made it more than an hour in to the game before uninstalling.

      • Flopper says:

        And I loved the first one. Played through multiple times. Good/evil and diff classes.

        Why the F can’t I edit posts so I don’t have to make 2 separate? >.>

    • drygear says:

      It was much worse when the game was first released. I don’t remember the specifics but it was a lot less playable before they patched it.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Hey, it’s not Obsidian if you don’t have a love/hate relationship with what they do.

    • Arglebargle says:

      The horrid UI was just too awful to continue the game. Combined with the skills inspired by the murky, haphazard D&D rules, it was just too much BS. Devs, don’t make your game a pain to use at every moment.

      That, and the original NWN had some really inspired world mods

  5. Prosper0_cz says:

    Well, I played the game when I was a student with plenty of time on my hands and I remember I had to drop it once I entered this valley where was I slaughtering orcs due to sheer boredom. I was a huge RPG fan, having BG saga, Torment, both KoTORs and many others on my belt and loving all those dearly but I just couldn’t bear the bland generic fantasy-ness of NWN2, endless boring combat, story going nowhere…

    However, I am curious to read this series to see if the story actually does get anywhere. Also, I keep hearing that Mask of the betrayer is basically on par with Torment if not better. Might give it a try one day…

    • piedpiper says:

      I felt boredom like 4 hours in the game. But I beat it nevertheless. I would say 75% of this game is really boring but it has some bright moments. Still if you ask me I won’t recomend beating 100+hours of NWN2 original campaign to check out those great moments. Not worth it.

    • drygear says:

      It’s definitely got its ups and downs, the low points being long stretches of going through caves filled with orcs.
      It has its high points as well. The best is a trial sequence that gives you lots of roleplaying options. There’s a good screenshot lets play that presents the game in a good way: link to lparchive.org

      What you’ve heard about MotB is true. There’s only one part that I remember being bad, and it’s a long dungeon where you’ll want to turn off the sound because it has an unbearable ambient sound.

      • DrMcCoy says:

        Bite off the bone, suck the marrow!

      • JazzTap says:

        Lt. Danger’s LP of NWN2 (and MotB!) is thorough, insightful, and makes it easy to skip past the boring bits. Oh, and all with a Lawful Evil PC. (I think it might’ve spoilt most other LPs for me. Even screenshot ones, hard as those are to find these days.)

        I didn’t know what I was in for until I got lost in that dungeon.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      The good thing about MOtB is that you can really just skip vanilla NWN 2 altogether because the entire story only references NWN 2 like three times. It’s even set in an entirely different part of the Forgotten Realms world, so if you really need to know what happened in the first campaign you can just read the plot synopsis somewhere and skip all the boredom of endless orc caves and dull characters (I remember the demon-kin thief, the dwarf John talks about in the article, a very annoying halfling bard, and… ummm…).

      MOtB, now there’s an expansion done amazingly right. Hopefully the coming Pillars of Eternity expansion will be just as awesome (but I’ll settle for a little bit less awesome, it’s OK :P).

  6. Valkyr says:

    “How does it fair in 2015?”

    … Fairly?…

  7. Dave Tosser says:

    The NWN2 OC was an absolute bore, just like the first one. Far too generic to even be interestingly or memorably bad, just another miserably trite CRPG campaign cobbled together from all the inoffensive and safe cliches, with a dreadful 3D camera and so much filler combat that had to endured with yet another fucking awful RTwP combat system.

    Now, Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir? If it weren’t for their combat system I’d call them some of the best RPGs of the last decade. The former is a stunningly original adventure in the vein of Planescape and the latter is a brilliant Icewind Dale-esque romp. Both of those are far more deserving of a diary series, but maybe there’s some decent stuff I’ve forgotten about the OC.

    • Asurmen says:

      Never understood the hate of RTwP.

      • suibhne says:

        NWN2 is a poster child for bad RTwP. One of the major inherent issues with RTwP is that it exposes the game’s interface latency every single time you fight, and that’s pretty much a death sentence for fun in this game – due to the absolutely *execrable* camera, poor mouse control, lack of support for effective formations/positioning, etc.

        Could NWN2’s RTwP have been great? Sure, maybe, if all of the game’s many interface problems had never existed. But those problems would have been much easier to work around in turn-based/phase-based.

        • DrMcCoy says:

          What do you mean about latency? That they don’t immediately attack after you gave them an order in pause mode? That’s because internally, the game is still rounds-based, with 6 seconds mapped to one round. What you perceive as latency is your character waiting for their round to come up.

          • suibhne says:

            “Interface latency” is a useful concept to describe any delay imposed by the interface between the player and the game – essentially, the slowness of control. It’s essential for RT games that this be as low as possible; it’s much less of an issue in TB, where UX is actually the more important concept. The interface latency in NWN2 is massive, due to the issues I cited along with many others. The 6-second round helps to diminish the importance of interface problems, but it doesn’t come close to eliminating them, especially once you control a party against multiple enemies.

          • DrMcCoy says:

            I’m aware of the term latency, thank you very much.

            What I am not aware of is where exactly there is any latency in the interface in NWN2. That’s why I asked. For me, the interface in NWN2, every when running on GNU/Linux in Wine, is very responsive (*). No latency at all. That’s why I assumed you might be talking about the delay between giving an order and the character acting upon them.

            You haven’t actually cited anything that shows interface latency. So I’m still perplexed about what you mean. Just to check, I fired it up right now, and yeah, I don’t get what you mean.

            Frankly, I don’t quite understand the hate on the camera either. I’ve put hundreds of hours into NWN2 (still way less than what I put into NWN1, though), and the camera was never something I had a problem with. I did have massive problems with the camera in the KotOR games (how I hate not having a top-down view), and in the Dragon Age games as well (no way to zoom out far enough to my liking, even in Origins; Dragon Age II makes it even worse).

            (*) Yes, the renderer is slow and badly optimized (especially when enabling enviroment shadows, but that’s a different issue.

          • suibhne says:

            You may smugly reply that you understand “latency”, thank you very much, but you’re not actually responding to the definition of “interface latency” that I outlined. “Latency” generally describes “time delay”, even in engineering, and you’re looking at it from one narrow definition. I’m not talking about ms of delay for a specific electronic signal; I’m talking about the UX perspective on any and all issues that interpose themselves between a player’s decision to take action and her ability to effect that action within the game. I already cited several issues that contribute directly to that phenomenon, and others in this thread have listed additional issues. Here’s yet another: the default interface panel positions/layouts and camera controls require a high amount of mouse travel distance during the course of normal combat.

            To put it more generally, RT combat is highly dependent on the game’s ease-of-use. TB combat is vastly less so, because “actual time elapsed” is not a metric for the player’s performance (or a predicate for it). E.g., mouse travel distance is a much less consequential interface consideration for a TB game, because combat performance doesn’t depend on control speed (or even the user’s perception of control speed, really – which isn’t to say that a bad interface might not be irritating in other ways, of course).

            It’s fine for you to think that NWN2’s camera is perfectly acceptable, but the camera seems to be the most cited issue in this comments thread. In fact, player reaction was so bad at NWN2’s release that Obsidian patched it almost immediately, so bear in mind that almost all of the users here are probably reacting to the patched, improved camera behavior.

          • DrMcCoy says:

            but you’re not actually responding to the definition of “interface latency” that I

            threw about in the wrong context, without defining it in any meaningful way.

            I’m talking about the UX perspective on any and all issues that interpose themselves between a player’s decision to take action and her ability to effect that action within the game.

            …such as? Like I said, please give a specific example.

            I already cited several issues

            You continue to claim that you already cited specific issues, without actually giving an example when I specifically asked for it. This is very annoying.

            the default interface panel positions/layouts and camera controls require a high amount of mouse travel distance during the course of normal combat.

            Finally something specific. Thank you.

            First of all, this is nothing I would, in any way, call latency. But okay.
            And yeah, this is nothing I every noticed, never had any problems with during the hundreds of hours I played NWN2. Then again, I play with both mouse and keyboard, using hotkeys for the quickslot entries, etc. I can select the player character to command, the enemy to target and the action completely with the keyboard, without having to move the mouse at all. Though I do use the mouse (+ middle mouse button) to rotate the camera a lot, to get a better view on what I’m doing. When there’s lots of action, I pause more too, to think about what to do and how, and I quite like that. This is in fact nearly exactly how I play NWN1. YMMV.

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        RTwP done right has every bit of planning/strategy/tactics from board/war games with the advantage of the computer handling all the complex calculations impossible in analog games, making it possible to replace arbitrary turns with every action using time instead.
        Both have their merits but I think it’s a question of design rather than system A >> B talibanism.

        • suibhne says:

          While I generally agree that “RTwP done right” can be satisfying, and can accomplish some things that TB/PB cannot, I don’t buy your claim that RTwP it can stress “planning/strategy/tactics” just as much as tabletop – especially the “planning” part. But hey, I’ll bite. What RTwP implementation do you feel has accomplished this?

          The usual answer seems to be “BG2”, but I can’t agree. The original BG’s combat was pretty poor, with lots of RT-related cheese, and BG2 was better largely due to mid-to-high-level magic and mage battles – which worked well because they included planning and pre-designated triggers that would’ve worked just as well in TB and were, at best, ancillary to the combat structure.

          As far as that goes, I think DA:O’s and PoE’s RTwP are both better than BG’s. But they’re still great examples of the potential problems with RTwP. Take PoE: the game’s significant interface problems (terrible positioning in combat, super-noisy and hard-to-parse visual effects, bad enemy and party AI) would be mitigated or eliminated in TB.

          Again, I’m not arguing that TB is inherently superior – only that, given a sound game/combat system (which is required for either combat structure to succeed), it’s easier to deliver effective TB combat because the dependencies on game interface and player interaction are much, much lighter.

          • Asurmen says:

            Can you accept X-com:Apocalypse as an answer?

          • suibhne says:

            Well, I haven’t played it, so I’ll have to. ;) At the very least, I can accept it as a recommendation. I’ve played the original and Terror from the Deep, but I had no idea Apocalypse game offered RT.

      • aircool says:

        Because you may as well just make it turned based with all the pausing you have to do.

        • Asurmen says:

          I’ve never had to spam pause, only used it when it was needed. Meant I could let filler fights play out by themselves.

          • welverin says:

            And this is why RTwP is infinitely superior to TB, you don’t have to handhold your characters through every bloody fight.

      • Dave Tosser says:

        Good RTwP exists. Freedom Force and 7.62 come to mind, though the latter combat system is far more intricate and original than the systems usually bolted onto singleplayer RPGs, and a world away from the rubbish in NWN2. (Although 7.62 is far from a great game)

        Personally I hate RTwP and always point to the combat of Temple of Elemental Evil, Knights of the Chalice, Silent Storm, Prelude to Darkness and Age of Decadence as examples of how excellent turn-based combat completely outclasses any other sort when it comes to tactics. Those games all have really good encounter design though and aren’t stuffed with trash mobs and filler combat. Some people really like the combat in KotOR etc, mind. Age of Decadence especially makes combat one way of dealing with situations, but it’s not essential like it is in most RPGs. You can play a non-combat character and progress the same.

        RTwP inevitably leads to a mess of micromanagement and I’d argue the inclusion of the pause in the first place is an admission that a turn-based system would be superior.. If it’s modelled in D&D you might as well just put together something that resembles the original rules instead of bastardising it. So many excellent RPGs are crippled by bad RTwP (Darklands especially, which is a shame cos it has a really good ruleset that inspired Pillars of Eternity)

        • suibhne says:

          I haven’t played 7.62, but fair point on Freedom Force. Still, part of what made it work so well was that Irrational really nailed the combat pacing and the game’s interface – timing never got too frenetic, and you were never controlling too many characters at once or fighting a terrible interface. Those are prerequisites for decent RT combat, and other RT games mostly haven’t learned from FF.

      • Turkey says:

        TWaP always makes me feel like I don’t have full control over my party. I’m always afraid the AI path finding is going to spaz out or that they’ll get hung up on attacking the wrong target.

    • malkav11 says:

      The NWN OC could not possibly have been more rote and badly designed. Encounters that are nearly impossible with some classes. The Bioware standard “do these three-to-four tasks in any order” setup over and over. No real meaningful characters. Nothing interesting or original about the plot, really. Some really stupid forced-plot shenanigans. No meaningful moral decisions or impact of morality despite having a morality system. And it’s clear Bioware knew it, too, because the first expansion was a completely separate starting fresh from level 1 affair (done by someone else), and the second (actually done by Bioware) is 95% a continuation of the campaign that Bioware didn’t make with a few references to the OC.

      NWN2’s OC is relatively bland next to Mask of the Betrayer, but it’s a massive improvement in comparison to NWN1. And it remains one of the few instances where an evil character can take a very logical step outside the confines of the “I’m evil but I’m doing the same thing the good guys would be doing for…reasons” straightjacket almost every RPG with a morality meter goes with. I’d go into more details, but seeing as the whole point of this is for John to experience it, I shan’t spoil.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Is it fair to say that if I want to play through MotB, I should just set the game to the easiest difficulty? I’ve tried playing on Core Rules a few times and been annihilated, but I refuse to play the original campaign on account of overwhelming amounts of boring and the shit camera.

  8. Syt says:

    I liked the game a lot when it came out. Yes, it has the typical “orphan raised by wise mentor who will rise to save the world plot,” but what made the game for me were the group members and their dynamics with one another.

    Also, the trial somewhere midgame was rather well done, I thought, and blindsided me a fair bit. And I recall a few twists and turns along the way.

    Alas, I never finished the game because the last boss battle was bugged for me. :(

  9. lanelor says:

    “How does it fair in 2015?”
    … Fairly?…
    Fairly poorly.

    Constantly fighting the terrible camera, bland combat with thousands of enemies to grind through, story is a solid meh. The evil options are there because they had to be, so they are just a gimmick. Create a Chaotic Evil priest of Talos and most of the evilness will be asking for reasonable efing money for services rendered.

    TL;DR: Stay away.

  10. djim says:

    Neverwinter Nights 2 is actually the game that got me into RPG’s. I especially remember the banter between the dwarf and the tiefling. Also Shandra’s death still irritates me after all these years. I also remember that it seemed a bit rushed at the end, which was a common thing among Obsidian titles at the time.

  11. Barberetti says:

    Well you made it past the village fete. That’s further than I ever got.

  12. Zephro says:

    I remember the ending just being a total let down and ruining the whole thing for me. In fact I really can’t remember much else about it now. I never played the expansions either, probably as the ending just left me grumpy.

  13. Itdoesntgoaway says:

    Sadly, lawful evil in NWN2 wasn’t really written in at all. Best that can be managed, from recollection, is being a bit of a dick (especially to Neeshka and friends) and/or pantomime evil Thief and/or psychopathic moron. MOTB far superior in this regard since the central plot centers around the lust for power/resistance of temptation type story arc. But the high level campaign in that one can be tiring. Story wise, I would play a well raised but extremely troubled chaotic good drow mage in nwn2 who goes a bit screwy when the soul sucking of MOTB kicks in and flip flops to their inherently lawful evil nature and embarks on planes domination.

    Only caveat is that while writing this up you can always make ‘good’ decisions as a lawful evil character because you are claiming to be playing the long Machiavellian game. Why stab them in the back when you can befriend them and then stab then in the front kind of thing. Waiting for the best moment to seize the most power.

  14. Solidstate89 says:

    It never makes the list of best RPGs despite my great love for the game (I’ve probably finished it like 8 times or more) but Jade Empire was always the fun game to play as an evil bastard. The amount of ways and times you can be a complete evil fuck, as well as the ways you can psychologically influence and change the opinions of some of your followers to more and more believe in your evil doings is just absolutely fantastic.

  15. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I always have had a problem with D&D’s alignment system because it doesn’t lend itself well to drama. In drama, as in reality, even the most cold and methodical bastard can lose his shit at times and act on emotion. Even the most principled priest can have moments of cruelty. Under duress, we sometimes act in a way that’s out of sync with our everyday personalities, without foregoing them altogether. These are the most interesting parts of dramas, because they tend to produce crises of conscience and add a huge amount of depth to a character who is otherwise a simple archetype.

    But when it comes to D&D-based CRPGs (I only ever played pen and paper D&D once, so I can’t speak to that) I’ve often felt that I get punished, or at the very least am discouraged, from straying from my proscribed alignment. That’s a boring oversimplification of how humans work – we’re not unmoving dots on a spectrum of personality types; we’re constantly learning, growing, and adapting to our circumstances. In many ways I prefer the Pillars method of reputation (though I don’t claim that it’s perfect), since it only dictates a pattern of behaviour, not a code.

    • Asurmen says:

      I can’t say I ever remember being punished by straying from alignment (except classes like Paladin).

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        True, that may have been a bit of a stretch, which is why added the bit about being discouraged. Still, as you say, classes like Paladins and druids and clerics were definitely locked in. It might make some sense, seeing as they actually have sworn to uphold a certain code of morality, but swearing to live by something and actually doing it day to day are two very different things.

        • Myrdinn says:

          Don’t forget that in the D&D world there are actual gods and stuff which these priestly/paladiny orders are based around. I wouldn’t fuck with a god either, especially not after he initiated you into his order.

    • aliksy says:

      Yeah, there’re reasons why most (pen and paper) rpgs don’t use alignment. Unfortunately, most people don’t really know anything other than D&D.

      Unknown Armies for example has you pick three things that are critical to your character- one you’re afraid of, one that enrages you, and one you legitimately care about. It’s a lot more flexible, interesting and believable than ‘lol chaotic neutral!’

      • Asurmen says:

        Alignment has nothing to do with those things though. An alignment is a guide, not a rigid process every person of the same alignment must follow. Being lawful good doesn’t stop you from being an ass for example.

        • aliksy says:

          I’d say it’s not even very useful as a guide. It’s often poorly understood and people don’t agree on what it means. it encourages people to think of their characters in very simplistic ways.

          • Asurmen says:

            Not sure how it encourages that at all. Maybe people who can’t role-playing.

          • Phasma Felis says:

            Ah, yes, the classic last line of defense for bad tabletop mechanics: “It’s only a problem because you aren’t roleplaying properly!”

          • Asurmen says:

            Pretty sure that calling something the last line of defense for an argument you don’t like, rather than forming an argument of your own is the actual last line of defense.

            Simple facts my friend. No amount of gameplay mechanics, whether as flexible or restrictive as you like, can make up for someone who doesn’t know how to roleplay. More simple facts is the alignment system doesn’t restrict you at all. It represents what or how you’ve acted in the past, or the ideals you place upon yourself. It doesn’t represent your future and doesn’t represent character flaws. Being lawful good doesn’t mean you can’t have a character that occasionally slips into selfish behaviour, but in fact can be used to roleplay someone who is changing or fighting against their own flaws but still has the desire to do good for all within the bounds of the law.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        That Unknown Armies system sounds fun, and I’m trying to imagine a way it could be implemented into a CRPG. Can you give an example of what a character’s traits might be? Like, take the “thing you fear” one. Does it necessarily have to be a monster type? Or can it be something like “being alone”?

        • aliksy says:

          Some people might have specific critters as their fear passion (like spiders. or dogs.) but there are other examples. From the book:

          (Helplessness) Fire. Fire claimed your house, and with it your wardrobe, your record collection, not to mention all your photos and yearbooks. It’s bad stuff, not just dangerous and painful but unpredictable as well.

          (The Unnatural) Possession. You don’t like to talk about the exorcism. You don’t like to say the creature’s name. You know it’s still out there and calling it could bring it right back.

          It would probably be a significant amount of work to implement. I imagine a crpg could tag scenes with attributes and check against what passions you picked, but doing it well would be tricky.

          Some examples of the anger one are “back chat”, “stuck up assholes”, “those fat cats in politics”.
          Some noble examples are “entertainment”, “teaching”, “taking care of the elderly”.

          It’s a really cool system that forces you to think more about your character than just “how do i kill things”.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      Alignment made a whole lot more sense in its earlier forms when it was more about picking a team to be on (good guys vs. bad guys), in a simple wargame about going underground to steal gold from monsters.

      When RPG’s (very early on) started telling more personal stories, alignment turned into a proxy for morality and personality, and that’s when it fell apart completely.

      Now it exists as a kind of cargo-cult sacred cow of “REAL D&D” and as a way for bad DM’s to police your character’s decisions, and for bad players to excuse disruptive gameplay because “it’s my alignment to kill all these puppies!”

      • Arglebargle says:

        There are tons of bad design decisions ossified into the D&D rules. Alignment is one of them.

  16. NathanH says:

    I remember I enjoyed playing NWN2 for a while, despite the dreadful camera, but eventually it got too tiresome because the encounters would be relatively trivial if pre-buffed and relatively horrible if not, and without pre-buffing macros, it lead to a lot of resting and spellcasting over and over again and eventually I got fatigued. I remember the same thing happened to me in IWD2, so perhaps 3rd edition doesn’t work so well for video games at higher levels.

    I also remember that the enemies liked to attack spellcasters who’d hit them with spells, and the game didn’t have any method of drawing their attention away, so combat often became a bit of a mess. Eventually I avoided throwing AoE attacks with my spellcasters, and AoE attacks with spellcasters are just the most fun, so that was disappointing.

  17. Michael Fogg says:

    Played this directly after BGII. Was hugely dissapointed.

  18. Foosnark says:

    I recall intensely disliking NWN 2 for some reason. Maybe the camera.

    I also seem to recall wanting to play a ranged fighter/rogue type and having that option completely taken away from me because I couldn’t get arrows anywhere, or something like that. But that could have been a different game from around 2006-ish.

    I really loved NWN 1 (aside from some tedium in the first part of the original campaign) in its day, though trying to play it a few years later was pretty painful.

  19. suibhne says:

    “I’d also forgotten how clumsy the camera is. Goodness me. I think, in 2006, it was this sublime step forward for such games. But now it’s as unintuitive as they get.”

    No, John, the camera was always terrible. Many of us found it to be the game’s chief problem right on release day (before we discovered the incredibly ho-hum campaign narrative), and Obsidian rushed to patch in a higher camera position and better controls (and it still sucked, even then). One theory was that Obsidian developed NWN2 with the intention that it primarily work like KotOR2, using the behind-the-back camera, and they were mightily surprised when most players complained about the terrible overhead view instead. (Indeed, this theory is supported by the fact that the KotOR2-like camera is the only way to see the full range of art in the game.)

    Bungie absolutely nailed the problem of tactical-camera-in-combat-oriented-game-with-3D-terrain way back in the ’90s, with the Myth series. If anything, cameras have gotten worse rather than better, and NWN2’s implementation stood out – even at the time – as one of the nadirs.

    Overall, I agree with the suggestions to ditch this NWN2 OC diary and go straight for MotB and SoZ instead. Both are fantastic in their own ways (even if SoZ is a bit more divisive), and MotB in particular stands out as one of the best implementations of evil in any game, ever.

  20. aircool says:

    It was buggy and had an absolutely awful camera. I tried it again a few months ago and the camera just put me off again.

    • aircool says:

      I can remember the review reflecting a completely different game to the one I was playing. 90% was being incredibly generous, and there’s a reason as to no-one really talks about it, at least in a positive light.

      • Apocalypse says:

        NWN and NWN2, the games that reviewers loved to much and quite a lot of players could not stand at all.

        Others totally got into it minecraft style and started building there own little mmos and that seems perfectly logical at the time.

  21. arioch says:

    I was always a big believer in overlooking a games slight technical quibbles when considering how enjoyable it was.. (hell I played all the ultima games to death and they were buggy beyond belief!) But I just couldn’t cope with the camera in NWN2.. I tried to go back to it a few times but it really just ruined it for me.

    Shame because I probably missed a good game hidden under the annoyance – I loved the first one.

  22. PsychoWedge says:

    Am I the only one who always thought of the NWN2 singleplayer campaign as a parody? Basically every single trope imaginable is there…

    I mean I don’t know but I imagine they wanted to do something cool and then WotC stepped in and said ‘No, no, no, this is the big game to introduce the 3.5 edition to videogames so it’s gotta be for EVERYbody. Don’t you fuckers dare to make anything interesting! Make the utmost basic fantasy thing that everyone can instantly recognize!’ And Obsidian said ‘You want generic fantasy? Just wait and see, dude. Just you wait and see!’

    Because, given Obsidian’s and Black Isle’s track record with really interesting stories and characters, I simply cannot imagine they went into this with the intention to make exactly what they made, that this is what they had in mind when considered making the successor to NWN. Especially if you take into account what they did directly after that with Mask of the Betrayer, which is genuinely some kind of spiritual PST successor (maybe even much more so than inXile’s Torment could ever be…) And we also know how they talk about the generic fantasy stuff and what a turn off that is.

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      That theory certainly sits nicely next to my knowledge of the game, which more or less is restricted to this article:

      link to shamusyoung.com

      • Nixitur says:

        Ah, yes, the stupid plot door that everybody can get through except for you. Frankly, that’s basically all I know about NWN2 as well and it doesn’t make me too excited about the rest.
        Also, asking for rewards for doing some random task is apparently evil because this is a video game.

    • drygear says:

      I’ve read suggestions that the campaign is intentionally meant to simulate the experience of playing with a bad DM.
      The biggest point in favor of that idea is that the ending is literally “rocks fall everyone dies”

      • malkav11 says:

        It’s funny. I think part of why I seem to have liked NWN2 so much better than a lot of people here is that I did what John’s doing on this run – I played a bad guy. I shan’t say more as to why that matters, but it apparently does quite a bit.

    • Veracity says:

      It definitely comes across that way a lot of the time. Player character is special because you’re darn near literally born with a magic sword up yer bum. Creepy elf lady who’s been stalking you since birth wants to sleep with you out of nowhere on the eve of a climactic something-or-other for no perceptible reason besides “we’re channeling Bioware, better get elf sex in there”. I doubt it was anything so irresponsible as a concerted effort to take the piss, though. Oh, and the warlock bloke’s cameo in MotB includes a not remotely subtle dig at NWN2’s load-bearing boss.

      Aside: can Obsidian release anything without Avellone being accused of writing it in a “Warren Spector, creator of Deus Ex” sort of way? To questionable recollection I’m too lazy to verify, this was led by Sawyer and MotB, while more obviously Avelloney in preoccupations, was mostly Ziets’s.

  23. SanguineAngel says:

    “I’d also forgotten how clumsy the camera is. Goodness me. I think, in 2006, it was this sublime step forward for such games.”

    Nah, the camera in NWN2 was totally horrible the day it was released. It was so frustrating it turned me off the game for months.

  24. piedpiper says:

    This game is ridiculous in many aspects and platinum edition is still buggy as hell. Combats are boring and main story is straight and bland which is very odd if you rember who developed the game. But it has some redeemable qualities as interesting companions and character development/progression. And Mask Of Betrayer, the best part of NWN2.

  25. Jimbo says:

    It’s better than Dragon Age but not as good as The Witcher.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      It’s better than black licorice but not as good as jellybeans.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Earl-Grey says:

    This is brilliant, I’ve been longing for a good ol’ gaming diary.

  27. Det. Bullock says:

    Oh, boy, the camera, I HATE it, clunky, clumsy and often gets in the way of the game, hugh, the main reason it still sits there on my hard disk without being touched since months while I’m playing Gothic 2 Night of The Raven obsessively.

  28. Monggerel says:

    The original Neverwinter Nights 2 campaign is such a cardboard-cutout vacuous snoozefest that even Mask of the Betrayer stoops to actively mocking it.

    Which is understandable. Mask of the Betrayer is fucking excellent. Easily some of the best Vidyagame RPGing ever created by anyone. Above Torment, I’d say – the setting is admittedly not quite as novel but the core concept behind the plot is mordantly bitter (and how! Mask of the Betrayer makes sure to actively hurt the player – there’s not a fucking inch of mercy in it) and executed with great confidence. It’s a lovely, lovely thing.
    Shame it’s stuck to something as clunky as NWN 2.

  29. DrMcCoy says:

    I’m surprised to see the second Neverwinter Nights as a jump-in point, when I would have assumed the first one to be more fitting.

    In either case, as good a post as any to shamelessly plug my FLOSS project xoreos, which aims to reimplement the BioWare 3D games, including the two NWN games. In fact, earlier this year, I implemented basic NWN2 area loading: link to xoreos.org :)

    Right now, I’m procrastinating from writing a similar blog post for areas in the two Dragon Age games… In fact, all targeted games show areas in xoreos now.

    • malkav11 says:

      For being evil? No, the original NWN campaign is completely pointless to play in any sort of alignment specific way.

  30. Laurentius says:

    I tried to like it, playing it for a first time a couple years ago and sink like probably 6 or 8 hours in but camera and controls were so horrible that I gave it up as soon as something different shows on my game rader, never went back and uninstalled it eventually.

  31. Rumpelstilskin says:

    Also, the editor was pretty good. Not nearly as buggy as one might have expected it would have been.

  32. Gibs says:

    I don’t remember all that much about NWN2 main campaign, but I remember the keep…you ended up with your very own keep, to upgrade, recruit for the grey cloaks (was it?) and was awesome idea that could’ve more depth. I don’t really remember the story, thats not a good sign for a rpg. But overall it was ok. Didn’t play the expansions.

    • Gibs says:

      It’s worth noting that the feeling of getting the keep was a lot better than the way you get the keep in PoE. You dont just find it and take it… you earn it and it’s unexpected, or at least I didnt know about it so it was for me, which made me feek super awesome, that coupled with the fact that you basically became a lord and had responsibility of the surrounding land/people.

    • drygear says:

      Yeah, the keep was awesome. There were a few scripting issues with it where not everything worked but it was still great. It’s also where you can get the classic message “xp granted for befriending a giant magical spider”

  33. Andy_Panthro says:

    I much preferred NWN1 to NWN2, in almost every way. Storm of Zehir was good though, made a lot more use of your party and their abilities than most other campaigns.

  34. pringles says:

    The Neverwinter Nights games are a dilemma for me. I like the type of game, but I don’t like having to play or micromanage characters other than my own. The same goes for the Dragon Age series etc. I liked the NWN1 OC in that respect, because it was possible to complete it with minimal-to-no henchman micromanagement. It’s not partying I mind, but I’d like to play MY character and that’s it. I gave up on NWN2 very early on, which is a shame, because I wanted to like it.

    The other issue I have with NWN games is that while it’s commendable to stay very close to D&D mechanics in theory, in practice sometimes it limits character building more than I’d like.

  35. drygear says:

    I’ve heard that the development of this game was troubled and that probably explains a lot of the problems. The lead left during the project and when the new one (I believe Josh Sawyer) joined he found it to be in disarray with the different teams working against each other instead of together.
    It’s kind of funny that the ingame party is similar with the NPC party members making up one of the most dysfunctional RPG teams I’ve ever seen with how much they bicker.

  36. MadMinstrel says:

    Uh, um. God help me, I can’t remain silent. I just can’t.

    Fare. Not fair. How does it fare.

    Forgive me.

  37. Holderist says:

    Oh good, nobody else mentioned the math “got the husband to hand over 50 when I rescued him, and her another 25 after. 100 golds! ALL MINE!”

    50 + 25 = 75.

    My friend has said that Mask of the Betrayer is Obsidian’s Magnum Opus.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      You’re forgetting about the original 25 gold John was promised when he took the quest in the first place.

  38. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Ah, I’ve been playing NWN1 for sooo long. It’s many beautiful community made modules, dozens worth playing hundreds of hours while the original campaign was rather boring. Mod makers were so creative, you never knew what came next, asian campaign, medieval europe, planescape setting, Ravenloft, Dragonlance, LOTR-remake, LOTR-clones, horror, murder mystery, puzzle dungeons, modules customized for thief play, for mage play, about Necromancy etc (and there’s still the multiplayer).
    Then NWN2 came out and it was… disappointing, not at all next generation, lack of character customization compared to 1. Few voices, portraits and mesh models.
    Clunky camera, even though you got to control all characters at last it didn’t feel great and also there was less community content as I remember.
    The story wasn’t that bad, instant classic had the game came out before BG, IWD, PS:T, KOTOR, JE and the others. As it was it wasn’t popular even in the settling depression time of CRPGs.
    Also had the upgraded D&D 3.5 ruleset with Tieflings and stuff and the obligatory player stronghold.

    John, you should try mask of the betrayer as well. I remember the story was quite nice and “multi-planar”. Module’s short unfortunately. (also the add-ons added patches to the main story supposedly, quest-breaking buggy as the game is)

    • Rumpelstilskin says:

      Full party control was a *gigantic* improvement. Like a x6 improvement, since you could play 5 more characters now. The ‘henchmen’ system belongs to action-RPGs. Also, outdoor areas were way better in NWN2. They actually looked *good*, not like NWN1 “ok yeah it looks shit, but it’s because we had to use tiles, give us a break”.

      • malkav11 says:

        Yeah. I really wish NWN2 had gotten the mod support that NWN1 did (I get that there were reasons it didn’t, but still), because NWN1 was ugly as sin and D&D breaks hard with single character play the way NWN1 pretty much forces (even when modules provided henchmen, which a lot of them did not do, you had little control so you couldn’t rely on them to fill the roles some classes needed to be viable). Plus NWN1 has some kinda dumb implementations of the rules/shit they made up out of whole cloth that doesn’t make the game better. Like there is literally no reason for monks to have Concentration as a class skill, and they didn’t in the tabletop.

        Oh well. By the time it came out I didn’t really have time to play mods to the degree I did with NWN1 anyway.

        • Rumpelstilskin says:

          I think NWN2 had enough modules as well. I myself made twice as many NWN2 modules as NWN1 ones:) It did require more investment to make a competitively-looking module, but this also meant that there was less disposable trash.

  39. laggerific says:

    My late friend LOVED the NWN series of games, and NWN2 was no different. But the game that we played together the most was Storm of Zehir, which we believed to be the most refined of the series.

    A couple of key things I’d like to highlight:

    -The overworld was a great step in the right direction for this series. It really brought a lot to the game.
    -The dialogue system is the best I’ve ever seen. I love that your entire party appears to be a part of the dialogue, and if your wizard has something particularly wizardly to say, an exclamation mark appears by him so you can choose him and his unique options and he can chime in with his unique stat related dialogue option. No one has done it better before or since.

  40. E_FD says:

    Mask of the Betrayer really is phenomenally good, a worthy successor to Planescape: Torment that deserves a similar level of acclaim.

  41. Winterborn says:

    Neverwinter Nights 2 is a favourite of mine: according to steam I have 89 hours played. Most people are all about Mask but for me the Storm of Zehir expansion was where it was at, being able to build your whole party, exploring freely on the world map. Fun well written side quests. Just so much goodness. Sadly it seems that by the time it came out most people had written NWN2 off. It barely got any coverage anywhere. I’d love to see someone from RPS go back and give it a look.

    The original campaign is weak but it does have some really fine moments. Also if you can get your hands on it still the ‘Mysteries of Westgate’ premium module was well worth the $20 or so.

  42. LuNatic says:

    John: I seem to recall a part in the first battle where you can get your token evilness on by slitting the throat of the annoying token rival. Did you miss this part?

    Also, basically what everyone else is saying. NWN2 was a generic tropey cookie cutter campaign rather ran far longer than it actually had content to fill. MOTB is hands down the best storey I’ve ever encountered in a video game.

    Addendum: I really hate how they take a system(3.5) that is specifically designed and balanced for a full party of role based characters and then force you to only use a few characters at a time. The cleric NPC(arguably the most essential class in 3.5) is only unlocked at the very end of the game, forcing you to make do with the poorly implemented healing of the druid or the paladin. I mean, really Obsidian, learn the system you are working with!

    • malkav11 says:

      Any party-based RPG with more NPCs than party slots tends to screw you over by limiting how and when you acquire key roles. Mask of the Betrayer’s decision to make the only NPC you get for the entire starting area a wizard (and I think an illusionist, of all bloody specializations) was particularly awful for my wizard PC. I mean, seriously, guys.

      But hey, still big strides from NWN1’s taking 3.0 D&D, which is still very much designed and balanced for a full party of role based characters, and forcing you to solo the whole thing with maybe one unreliable AI partner.

  43. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Lol if you don’t play every RPG that supports it as a short-tempered spiteful corrupt arsehole.
    So few games put any effort at all into “bad” options, that I feel obligated to go into full Simon Evil mode whenever i see one that tries to pull it off.

  44. HotSoapyBeard says:

    Anyone notice the irony of a Pureblood being the perfect choice for a bastard?

  45. Xetelian says:

    My NWN 2 retail box is sitting on my desk, I too was going on this adventure again, but this time all the way through.

  46. Fenix says:

    I loved the hell out of the first Neverwinter, playing the vanilla campaign (no multiplayer, no mods, no nothing) upwards of 4 times.

    Now there’s 2 theories I have as to why I liked it so much:
    1) Everyone on the internet is a liar, including all you guys and NWN.
    2) I had very low expectations and let my mind fill in the several gaps in the NWN campaign.

    In fact I was really excited for NWN2, but it was so buggy and annoying to play that while I beat it I didnt have a super great time and forced myself to play it at times. I don’t know, maybe I’m just allergic to Obsidian, as I adored Fallout 3 and really couldn’t get into New Vegas.