Monday, January 16, 2006

First impressions of Neverwinter Nights

So I got a copy of the Mac version of Neverwinter Nights for Xmas this year, and I finally managed to sit down and play it last night.

Despite the fact the game's title reminds me of the TV Show Baywatch Nights - heh - I've always been interested in this title, if only to see how they would accomplish a literal translation of the pen-and-paper RPG to the videogame format and still remain faithful to the rules. The thing that has always struck me about the difference between pen-and-paper RPG's and computer RPG's has been the difference in depth and pace. When there's a human adjudicating, the plots that can be constructed, and the complexity of the player's response to them, is much higher. As a result, the game becomes more contemplative, and involves a lot more planning and strategy than the Diablo-style run-in-and-hack-em approach.

All in all, it's an impressive translation. Basically, it's an engine for managing the rules of 3rd edition D&D inside scenario pieces, and it works rather well. And it's a fairly faithful translation - it even tracks alignment shifts for character classes.

But I did encounter a real problem with the game at one point. For some reason, the "hot paladin of Tyr" who gives you your missions and heals you when you're wounded, at one point decided that I was evil, and when I went into the temple, everyone was attacking me for no apparent reason. This was halfway through the first mission, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't a plot element, because I reverted to a (painfully much earlier) previous saved game and played through the first mission again and didn't have the same trouble. Near as I can tell, I must have accidentally tried to attack someone in the temple or something, and they had flagged me as hostile. And unfortunately, the Neverwinter Nights engine is not sophisticated enough for you to explain that it's all a misunderstanding.

This is one problem with engine-level games. Yes, it's a fantastic implementation of the D&D rules, but the game isn't "smart" about the plot. Somewhere, an environment flag gets tripped wrong, and the whole scenario gets out of whack, something that doesn't happen in the plot-driven console RPG's. But the flexibility of Neverwinter Nights, I suspect will make up for that deficiency; as an engine, it allows the player to repurpose the game for new scenarios, and even running their own games, which is a compelling benefit. It just means you have to keep more saved games further back in time, I guess, in case something gets screwed up.

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