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.