By luck on Facebook, there was an ad that mentioned a free download of a game for 48 hours. The site, GOG (used to be known as “Good Old Games”) hosts that and many other PC games from relative antiquity.
One of the desktop promo shots, showing the lovely, poised and eventually traitorous Aribeth de Tylmarande.
This game, however, I could not resist downloading. It was “Neverwinter Nights,” the original 2002 Bioware game. This was the “Diamond” release, which included the original campaign, the first expansion, “Shadows of Undrentide,” and the last major expansion, “Hordes of the Underdark.” It also included three smaller modules I could not play on my Mac as they were released for the Windows code base only.
Lord knows how many times I’ve actually purchased the game for both platforms. So I saw this free opportunity to download it for Windows play as a blessing. Too bad I didn’t think of switching to Mac mode to download the Mac binaries at the time. At least I know where to get it. On second thought, the NWN Mac port, unless rewritten, will not work with current Mac OS versions because the software engine requires compatibility tools long since removed from Mac OS. So given that my iMac is mostly in Boot Camp (native Windows) mode 90% of the time, the Windows version was a better plan.
NWN was the game I began to play as my “Diablo II” high finally began to recede. It was my first venture into D&D official game mechanics and campaigns (several attempts to enjoy the original “Baldur’s Gate” ended with crushing confusion and failure).
Because hope springs eternal for me, I even had saved my “localvault” character saves folder. Thankfully the character files are text-based files that worked fine if switched between the Mac and PC clients. And now I can copy the installer to a USB stick so I’ll never lose the damn media again.
Everything I learned about basic D&D mechanics I first learned from NWN. That’s especially true for the Monk, of which I played a lot. No surprise there for you.
NWN was a single-player game that supported player-based campaigns with larger parties, as well as even a Dungeonmaster driven campaign. I rarely tried to go multiplayer; at the time I wasn’t inclined to try them after the cluster-frakking I experienced in “Diablo II” multiplayer mode, with player killing rampant and cheating abundant.
Shield Guardians. These guys were beautiful.
NWN used the D&D 3rd Edition ruleset for much of its foundation. It’s this design that gave me enough confidence to enjoy a sequel game, “Neverwinter Nights 2” and then to buy the Monk class on joining DDO–without playing a single second in-game.
One thing that DDO could still improve is its opening tutorial quest. The Original Campaign begins by you, an adventurer out to help the city of Neverwinter, besieged by a plague, in the Neverwinter Academy, a training building for all classes.
The tutorial allows you to experiment and understand all elements of movement, camera, combat and spell casting very quickly I became very comfortable with the rules and mechanics quickly.
The Character Sheet looks more familiar now than ever. This is in an elven crypt in “Shadows of Undrentide.” Great graphics for its time (if you had a PC that supported them).
Like DDO, NWN has a great dialogue engine with PCs. Unlike DDO, NWN allows Evil-aligned player characters and presents dialogue responses that reflect your choice. Also, non-player characters improve or adjusted your alignment, which is measured from 0 to 100 based on your actions. So if you entered with a Lawful Neutral character, continually rescuing people that you could otherwise leave alone will eventually change you to Good aligned. Attempting to kill certain people, especially if innocent, will send you down the Chaotic and Evil paths.
You can move your player character (PC) using the WASD keys but the mouse option to click a spot ahead to move your character was much more natural. I missed this.
NWN also supported henchmen, the counterpart to hirelings. Much like our DDO brethren, you had limits on the number of them in your party, you could adjust their combat and other behaviors, and there were various classes you could select to complement your PC class. While the original campaign did not support adjusting the inventory of the henchmen, the two major expansions did, allowing you to really trick out your guys to meet every need. All three games also allowed romance or deeper relationships (with loot often as a reward) by chatting more with your henchmen or other NPCs.
Aribeth joins my NWN incarnation of Lynncletica in a curb-stomp battle against dozens and dozens of devil minions.
NWN allowed you to boost the game’s difficulty as well so that care had to be taken for area-of-effect spells that could hurt yourself or the party if carelessly used, or to make enemies deal far higher damage to you than normal, similar to Epic Elite nastiness.
The original campaign is pleasantly long, allows you to pause the game and save as you desire, and provided all the D&D pleasantness as you chose.
The first expansion, “Shadows of Undrentide” (SOU) could be played with a new character or with one you imported from an original campaign. This campaign introduced kobolds (in particular, a notably fun NPC named Deekin, who could join you as a henchmen in the second expansion). SOU told of a mysterious attempt to find the ancient ruins of the floating cities of ancient Netheril and return one into the sky.
Does that sound familiar? It should. These floating cities were powered by D&D’s magical plutonium, mythallar. You saw a big ball of it used to fly a glacier as a war platform in the quest “What Goes Up.” My NWN experience helped me prepare for the dangerous mages we find in DDO.
The second and last major campaign was “Hordes of the Underdark” (HOTU). You can also import a level 15 character or higher (new characters get XP boosted to reach 15 if desired). This expansion loosely connects your PC as the same that completes SOU (neither expansion sees your original campaign character as connected to the their events) so you’ll already have a reputation as a hero that gets stuff done. In HOTU you’re also reunited with the Original Campaign’s henchmen.
HOTU was remarkable for throwing you into the city of Waterdeep, besieged (since when is a city not besieged when you show up?) by the Drow of the Underdark, under the leadership of a matron mother self-appointed as the “Valsharess”, or “Queen”. Taking advantage of a sudden and unexplained disappearance of the goddess Lolth (maybe Ana Brabener decided to take her butt out), the Drow society is thrown into chaos and new factions are formed.
To discover the mystery behind the Drow attack, you’re tasked with discovering why the buffer zone of Undermountain, a series of dungeons-from-hell maintained by the crazy wizard Halaster, is allowing the Drow to pass from the Underdark through Undermountain to the surface.
HOTU allows Epic characters up to level 40. You can choose to continue leveling in your class (so a level 40 Monk can happen) or you can add in prestige classes very similar to our Epic Destinies, such as Shadowdancer, Assassin (evil Rogues only), Champion of Torm, Purple Dragon Knight and so on.
Leveling in all three campaigns is familiar enough with skill points and feats that are similarly named with similar functions. With my DDO Monk experience, however, I’m amused by differences in NWN Monk feats over their DDO counterparts. One, “Empty Body” gives you 50% Concealment in NWN–a very powerful defense because there isn’t a countering power in NWN to bypass concealment.
Another feat at level 20 gave you immunity from mind-affecting spells, something I’d love to see in DDO where not for the fact that DDO reflects the NWN importance of high saves and spell resistance to ward off such things.
The Underdark is filled with the usual denizens and a small pack of good-aligned Drow that you assist. But more sinister forces held by the Valsharess are moving everyone around like chess pieces for an endgame that will lead you face to face with a king of the hells with no tolerance for heroes and a tendency to turn your henchmen into enemies.
Still a Great Buy
I’ve never played D&D tabletop, but thanks to my enjoyment and experience from DDO and NWN, I’m much more likely to try it someday. Just so happens there’s an annual gaming convention in my town when I’m ready to dive in.
The complete 2002 Neverwinter Nights game with expansions and 3 modules is only $10 from GoG.com. You’ll also find “Neverwinter Nights 2,” another enjoyable adventure with a sequel or two on the site. You should be able to ramp up the graphic settings to their maximums for full enjoyment.
Why not give yourself a old-school Christmas present?