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Review by: Gavin Carter
Published: July 12, 2002
The PC role-playing genre owes everything to its pen-and-paper brethren. Even before Richard Garriot first dreamed up the world of Brittania, groups of players regularly gathered together to become wizards and warriors, scribbling crude maps onto graph paper and rolling oddly shaped dice late into the night. The experience of taking on mythical personas together with ones’ friends is what drew players to games like D&D and Shadowrun then, and why those games continue to be popular. Despite the years of technological advancement in the gaming industry, there has yet to be an RPG that truly recreates the pen-and-paper experience on the PC. All that is set to change with the release of Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights. From the title’s announcement over three years ago, the famed developer of the Baldur’s Gate series made it clear that their goal was to recreate as much nuance of tabletop D&D gaming as possible.
Technically speaking, Neverwinter Nights is actually four components rolled up into one package. The first is the single-player game, which can be most succinctly described as akin to a 3D Baldur’s Gate. The second is the Aurora toolset, a very powerful editing tool that allows players to construct their own adventures. The third piece is the multiplayer component: Anything you create with the Aurora toolset, as well as the full single player game, can be played online with others. Finally, there is the DM client, a powerful set of in-game tools that lets a player simulate the experience of dungeon mastering a tabletop game of D&D.
Single player is where most gamers will begin their Neverwinter Nights experience. The title opens with a cinematic consisting of hand-drawn graphics with a minimum of animation, much like the cinematics of Homeworld. A plague has begun ravaging the city of Neverwinter: Referred to as the Wailing Death, the disease began in the Beggar’s District and spread throughout the city. Eventually a quarantine of the entire city was necessary, and now chaos rules the streets as the remaining city guard tries its best to keep order. In an effort to defeat the plague, Lord Never issued forth a call for champions to come train at Neverwinter’s elite Academy in hopes of finding and eradicating the source of the Wailing Death.
You play the role of a character personally invited to the Academy by Lady Aribeth, a paladin famed throughout the land, and the woman in charge of dealing with the Wailing Death. Character creation is handled through a system of menus. The process should be familiar to anyone who’s played AD&D before, especially those familiar with the 3rd Edition rules, as all of Neverwinter Nights is based upon them. For character creation, this means the removal of artificial race and class combination restrictions. Want that half-orc sorcerer? He’s yours. For those not totally familiar with AD&D rules, the character creation process is well-documented with helpful tooltips and description boxes at every step of the way. There is even a “Recommended” button, for when you just don’t want to mess with distributing ability scores or picking spells.
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