Graphics & Sound
NWN is clearly getting on in years, we’re a bit surprised to see how clearly it has aged. The most glaring weaknesses are texturing on characters and the utter lack of any sort of facial expressions. Consider – three years ago, Daikatana was criticized for not having moving lips to go with the speech. To see that problem in 2003 is shameful.
In terms of special effects and lighting, Neverwinter is still quite impressive. As always, spells make the strongest impression here, with their streaking magic missiles and exploding fireballs. Weapons and armor have their own effects, but none are new from NWN. Swords will glow various colors, drip acid/venom as they always did, and armor still has the shiny luster effect. There may be some new armor and weapons designs, but if there are, it's not something we could notice.
The new tilesets are really quite nice and round out the NWN collection; gamers should be able to recreate almost any setting now. The various new dungeon tiles are especially nice, since so many modules take the player into underground areas. Hordes of the Underdark has Beholder caverns, a Drow city, the Underdark of course and other new zones.
Hordes of the Underdark comes with a whole new musical score, 30 minutes according to the BioWare PR folk. It’s relatively good music too, though the standard NWN themes seem to cycle in all too often, especially during loading screens and other such standard menus. Fortunately, the songs are relatively identifiable by filename and the offending ones can be removed. On the other hand, they are stored in an odd .bmu format which likely means that you can’t simply replace them with your favorite MP3s.
Speech, however, is the big difference. NWN had a fair bit of it, Hordes of the Underdark is overflowing. While everyone is accustomed to the occasional comments of your party members, though perhaps not the savage cries of your talking sword, it was the number of in-game cutscenes and the quantity of speech that took us by surprise. This surprise is elevated because there are no new CGI scenes of any sort, not even an intro movie! Maybe we’ve just been playing too many user-made modules.