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Neverwinter Nights plays out from a third-person perspective that highly resembles Dungeon Siege. You begin in your bedroom at the Academy, and are greeted by another student. The entire beginning process at the Academy is designed as a tutorial session to familiarize you with the sometimes complicated Neverwinter interface. As you move from room to room, trainers give you crash courses in things such as your journal, inventory, and combat systems. After the basic combat tests are complete, you are sent off to special rooms to learn your class-specific abilities, such as wizard and cleric spellcasting or thief skills. There is even a zoo maintained at the Academy where you can check out some of the larger creatures you will come across later in the game. After your training is complete, the Academy is attacked, and your greater role as assistant to Lady Aribeth in her search for a plague cure is revealed. The plot spirals out over several chapters from that point, to include all the twists, turns, and intrigue one would expect from a great RPG.
Probably one of the most significant changes to the single-player portion of Neverwinter Nights from the Baldur’s Gate series is that you can only have direct control of a single character. That’s not to say that there’s no party system to speak of, however. Throughout the campaign, you’ll run across NPCs of every profession willing to join you for a small sum. You can only have one of these mercenaries in your group at any time, though. Try and hire another one, and the original tips his or her hat and returns to where you found them. Aside from NPC hirelings, mages can summon familiars as permanent party members (Rangers and Druids can summon animal companions), or other summoned creatures as temporary party members. With the exception of a mage’s ability to possess his or her familiar, at no time can you control these other party members directly. You are limited to give them simple commands such as “Attack the nearest enemy,” “Guard me,” or “Stand your ground.”
The Aurora toolset is the part of the game that has probably received the most hype, and it’s easy to see why. The tools are the same as the developers used to craft the single-player campaign, and allow anyone willing to put in a little time to craft their own adventures, referred to as “modules.” The toolset operates on a tile-based system, making it very simple to create new areas. You simply load up a brush with a certain landscape or architecture type and then click, drag, and watch as the program creates an area to your exacting specifications. If even that’s too much of a chore, there are help wizards available to automatically create areas just by inputting some simple information such as area type and size. From there, customizing is as easy as dropping in whatever monsters, clutter, and loot you want, connecting it up to other rooms if you choose, and loading it up to play either alone or with online friends.
Combining the toolset’s powers with the DM client is where players have the most power to customize the game’s experience. The DM client allows a player to enter the world as an ordinary character. The difference is that the DM character is invisible to standard players by default, and also has a tremendous amount of powerful options at his or her immediate disposal. Whoever mans the DM position can do such things as spawn monsters anywhere he or she desires, possess NPCs and monsters, and provide custom dialog on-the-fly to the player, and trigger scripts and special events. Bascially the DM has complete and total control over the gaming environment, just as in the tabletop game.
Death is handled in an innovative way with Neverwinter Nights. Since it is intended to play primarily as a multiplayer game, Bioware took that into consideration when designing death. Instead of simply dying and being given the option to load a previous save, you can now respawn back at the closest Temple of Tyr. Doing so incurs both an experience and a gold penalty, however. Once resurrected, you have the option of returning to your party leader through the magic of the temple leader free of charge. You also are given an item very early on in your quest called the Stone of Recall. Anytime you use it, you’re whisked away to the temple, where you can heal and resupply. A magic portal can take you back to where you were, but it requires a fee in gold. Bioware seems to have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into Neverwinter Nights, but do all these options add up to a good gameplay experience?
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