We brave the frigid Edmonton tundra to bring you new impressions of this anticipated RPG.
The lounge at BioWare looks just how you'd imagine a developer's rec room. In addition to the foosball tables, blue-felt pool table, and coin-ops, a large wooden table holds just about every gaming console you can imagine. Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube games are stacked on the shelves and strewn on the table. But even with all this cutting-edge technology around, BioWare's Chris Christou and Tom Ohle are engaged in a heated match of NHL 96 on the Sega Genesis. "Reee-diculous," Ohle says as he misses a shot. Greg Zeschuk, cofounder of BioWare, thumbs through a black binder, holding pages and pages of notes. It's the company's NHL 96 tournament record. "It's pretty nerdy," Zeschuk says.
This statement is ironic, considering BioWare's excellent Baldur's Gate games have made the company synonymous with the nerdiest of licenses, Dungeons & Dragons. But the scene bodes well for the rest of the day--a handful of people are here to play BioWare's highly anticipated Neverwinter Nights. As indicated by their obsession with NHL 96, the employees of BioWare are clearly more concerned with gameplay than flash. This theory is confirmed for the remainder of the visit, as we explored a limited amount of the single-player campaign, participated in a demonstration of the multiplayer options, and fiddled with the robust toolset, which lets you create your own modules and campaigns.
Neverwinter Nights begins in the city of Neverwinter. Your character is a recent graduate of the city's prestigious academy, run by the esteemed paladin Aribeth de Tylmarande. All is not right in Neverwinter, but the students, secluded in the fortress of the academy, have experienced nothing but rumors about the trouble brewing outside the walls.
You begin in the academy, and talking with the teachers and fellow students acts as a tutorial. You'll be introduced to trading with shopkeepers and conversing with nonplayer characters. Conversations follow your typical dialogue trees, with different options for responding based on your characters' intelligence and skills. Melee characters go through brief introductions to the ranged and close combat systems, while spellcasters learn the basics of casting. The interface is quick to learn: simply click on a character or object, and a circular menu will appear, allowing you to attack, cast a spell, or converse. A wide variety of hotkeys and shortcuts give you plenty of additional options for interacting with the world around you.
The tutorial comes in handy quickly. It's not long before the problems of Neverwinter come crashing through the academy walls, with strange creatures occupying the hallways. You'll fight your way to an initial encounter with Aribeth, who confirms the rumors you've heard as a student: Neverwinter is victim to a terrible plague, the Wailing Death, and the city's healers are helpless against it. A cure is being devised from a group of rare Waterdhavian creatures, and Aribeth charges you with finding and protecting them from the interlopers.
Soon you'll be out on the streets of Neverwinter, and it's here that the game really begins. The moment you leave the academy, you are beset by the harried citizens, asking you for all sorts of help. A prison break has caused one sector of the city to be overrun with ruffians and bandits. Another sector has been overrun by the undead. We were given a few hours with the single-player game, and we barely made a dent in the first chapter. Putting an end to the plague and those who want it to continue is the primary story, but it's clear that Neverwinter Nights gives you plenty of side quests to keep your character occupied and leveling up.
- Release Date: Jun 28, 2002 (EU)
- Release Date: Aug 12, 2003 (US)