Estimated Release: June 19, 2002
Neverwinter Nights official home page: http://nwn.bioware.com/
D&D without the dice
Neverwinter Nights is Bioware’s upcoming new Dungeons and Dragons RPG. This isn’t just another Baldur’s Gate-esque game however. NWN sets itself apart because it’s the first PC RPG that allows for a human dungeon master to control events and direct the game for other players. In other words, it’s the closest thing to pen and paper D&D that has ever been done with a PC game. NWN also uses the newest 3rd edition ruleset.
At the Bioware conference room, press were treated to a hands-on play session with Neverwinter Nights. A custom module (set of levels) was created for the occasion, and players were given pre-made high-level characters. I chose the cleric, which proved to be useful, because the module we played had our party descending into a dungeon filled with undead monsters. The cleric’s anti-undead spells came in quite handy for the journey.
Lots of fire
Our party started outside in a graveyard, where an NPC is telling us of strange disturbances and noises coming from within. We descend into one of the tombs where we begin our battle to the bottom. The game gives individual players a lot of freedom – we can walk wherever we want, and fight together or on our own within the levels. There are no artificial constraints placed on any of us. Of course, with the sheer number of monsters and other nasties thrown at us, it was beneficial for us to party up, stick together, and help each other out with spells. My cleric’s healing power came in handy for keeping up the health of the Fighter and Barbarian in our group, who took the brunt of the frontline combat duties. Having the Rogue in our party helped us to spot traps ahead and avoid unnecessary damage.
One semi-annoying thing I noticed is that it’s hard to rest your character if you’re in a party. If you try to rest and someone else in the party gets into a combat situation, you’re immediately taken out of the rest state, even if that battle is going on somewhere offscreen. It seemed as though everyone in the party had to find a safe enclave and all agree to rest before it would work.
A closer view
I was impressed with the graphics – some of the monsters we encountered, especially the dragon at the end, appeared to be huge on-screen, giving a great sense of scale compared to the size of your character. Each of the monsters and characters are well animated, and all pieces of armor and weaponry show up perfectly on your character when you equip them.
The interface was well designed, considering the incredible depth that is needed to allow for all that 3rd edition rules have to offer. You can assign frequently used abilities, items or spells to the function keys. Although I had a bit of trouble navigating my spell book to find other spells as I ran out of charges for the default hot key spells, I attributed this mostly to my unfamiliarity with this particular character, and not flaws in the interface. Obviously if I had leveled up my character to get so many spells instead of having them all given to me for the demo, I’d have a better idea of what I was doing!
After the play session, we had time to fiddle around with the Dungeon Master interface. With it, you can watch over the players in the game, communicate with them, and use simple menus to do just about anything – spawn monsters, drop items, cast any spell in the game, teleport the players around, etc. There are even pre-made encounter groups so you can quickly spawn in a handful of similar monsters instead of madly clicking, trying to throw in several monsters one by one. To do any of this, you simply select what you want from a menu, then click into the map to drop in the monsters/items or cast a spell in that location. DMs can also possess NPCs within the game and speak through them.
The only thing that the DM interface can’t do within a game is create new areas or geometry. That has to be done outside the game, using the also easy to use toolset
which has already been made available by Bioware. All of the art, models, and geometry used in the pre-created modules, along with the scripts, sounds, and music are included with the toolset. Everything the level designers at Bioware used to create the included modules in Neverwinter Nights is available with the toolset. If you wanted to import your own sounds, skins, and such, it is possible with the toolset. Anyone with rudimentary programming skills will be able to program their own scripts (i.e. if player touches this item, spawn these monsters, etc.), and all the scripts within the Bioware made modules will be available for users to study and learn from.
With Neverwinter Nights, the excitement is not so much around the story or game that Bioware has created – it’s the fact that they’ve created a fully extensible and easy to use framework on which users can create their own stories and their own games. For those of us are aren’t quite up to the task of making our own D&D experience, NWN will ship with a long 100 hour campaign, broken up into several non linear modules. There’s still plenty to offer within NWN for the single player gamers, and there are sure to be hundreds of single player user-made campaigns available for download and play over the course of the game’s lifetime.