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Review by: Rob Beschizza
Published: July 8, 2003
Faerun is an enduring fantasy world, loved by fans ever-hungry for more novels and games set amid its borders. While writers like R.A. Salvatore gave us memorable characters such as scimitar-wielding Drizzt Do’Urden, it wasn’t until Bioware gave us Baldur’s Gate that gamers got a top-quality invitation to the lands he calls home. After three outings in that series, last year’s Neverwinter Nights arrived with a new game engine to massive critical and commercial success. It’s strange, then, that it took publisher Atari about a year to release an official expansion pack, Shadows of Undrentide.
That said, those twelve months saw thousands of player-made additions generated using the title’s bundled Aurora toolkit. The developers, however, have a few tricks up their sleeve that their enthusiastic fan community doesn’t: Shadows of Undrentide features not only an entire single-player quest, but also four new character classes, a grimoire of unseen spells, and a cohort of fresh villains to meet in battle. There are even three new types of locale, illustrated by snow, desert and ruined city tilesets that are also available in the construction kit for amateur quest designers to toy with. All this, of course, is in addition to the expansion pack extras, like high-level weapons, bug fixes and tweaks to the game system.
First things first, Undrentide is designed to be embarked upon by beginner characters, set as it is in a place distant from the original game’s action. The Silver Marches are a wild place, far from the shadows of Neverwinter’s spires, but they are home to Master Drognan, a retired dwarf lacking his former drive for riches and adventure. A master magician, Drognan has no interest in slipping away, but instead serves as mentor to the Forbidden Realm’s finest students. Cast as his eldest protégée, you’ll begin the game as a young wannabee with a long way to go before matching the master’s exploits
As is usually the case in these things, however, nasties arrive to rough up Drognan and leave him near death. Worse, four magical artifacts are whisked away, and it’s up to you to reunite them with their proper owner. You’ll venture through the pastoral wastelands of the march, whose harsh climate and equally harsh beauty only leads to greater dangers beyond. Such as the city of Hilltop, founded by unemployed soldiers from a much-reduced nearby empire who struggle to keep control of their anarchic new home. At least this place is natural – the immense Anauroch desert being the result of a magical battle that left the hitherto grassy plains as dry as bone, as well as a great excuse to deploy the attractive new “sandy” tileset.
At the risk of revealing too much, you’ll find that the magical battle was more than legend, as the perpetrators of the ecocide in question are very much alive and still living in the “floating” cities from which they turned fertile farmland into the main ingredient of concrete. You’ll also find them the victims of poetic justice, as whatever magics kept these buoyant towns afloat abandoned them after the they tried to work over the gods themselves. Thankfully, the resultant plummet left their homes attractively ensconced within the shifting sands. But sands, especially magical ones, can have tidal forces as strong as any oceans, forces that might easily be used to restore these ancient evils to their former glory.
Assisting you in your hunt will be any of a selection of new henchmen, drawn from the pool of students at Drognan’s adventurer’s academy. The spell-slinging Xanos Messarmos’s rakish wit compensates for his greasy hair, green skin and inch-long fangs. Deekin Scalesinger is a “good” kobold and a bard, with aspirations of overcoming his race’s dismal reputation for rape, pillage, and being the easy, first-level monsters that always get killed with one hit. As a female dwarf, Dorna Trapspringer would normally not be in the running for Miss Faerun, despite her lack of facial hair – Deekin and Xanos, however, make the choice easy. Dorna’s not the world peace type, keeping true to her clan’s inclination toward physical combat.
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