Say what you will about the history of "Dungeons & Dragons," poke fun at its stereotypes and the imagery of geeks eating bags of Cheetos while arguing over minute rules; it still makes for a terrific computer game. With this in mind, Neverwinter Nights 2, developed by Obsidian Entertainment, published by Atari and ported to the Mac by Aspyr, goes the distance.
Directly modeled after the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition rule set, Neverwinter Nights 2 builds upon the original title, allowing players to create and customize a character according to class, alignment (how likely they are to be law abiding/good, neutral or evil to serve their own ends), and appearance. Once initial choices have been made, players can assign points to traits such as constitution, wisdom, dexterity, intelligence, etc.
After a character has been created, the game moves into a tutorial mode, an audible narrator now guiding the player as to how to move, control the camera, open chests for items and interact with non-player characters to advance the story. Unfortunately, the first 30-45 minutes of the game is where the train wreck seems to begin.
Despite the titleis good intentions inherent in having the character be required to participate in their local villageis autumn festival in order to learn basic skills and features (such as fighting, spell casting, recruiting party members and thieving), the frame rate slows to almost a slideshow crawl on even the most powerful Macs. At this point, there are simply too many characters on screen at the same time and what should be an inviting segment of the game feels like a chore that must be hauled through until the festival is over and the story can progress.
Once the tutorial segment wraps up, the game leaps into its core strength; the story. As night falls, mysterious assailants attack the village and the player is sent on their first series of quests to discover the identity and motives of the attackers.
Like most role-playing titles, players can purchase weapons, items and armor, add party members, interact with characters around them and level up as time goes by. Neverwinter Nights 2 adds some interesting elements in that players can not only level up their chosen class (such as a druid or barbarian character increasing the core strengths of that class), but also learn traits associated with other classes that can help round out the character. For example, a standard druid character may be decent in a fight, but players can add barbarian traits to help increase stamina in battle or pick up magic-using traits to become a better healer for the party theyire with. This feature, known as "multi-classing," wonit make all the difference in the world in the short term (a slender thief character wonit be able to lead the charge against a dozen armored warriors), but it can help round out a character and makes the game fun.
Neverwinter Nights 2 allows for party building and this becomes interesting quickly. The Dungeons and Dragons rule systems allow for intra-party relationships to form and the game holds true to this. During a conversation, a player can choose multiple responses, some generic, other more hostile, devious or hopefully persuasive. Responses and reactions are closely tracked by the game and as the story progresses, players can curry favor with or push away party members, altering how likely they may be to help you or back one of your decisions in a pinch.
Other cool features include a new crafting system wherein players can take items and components gathered from slain enemies, find a crafting workbench within a village and create enchanted or augmented weapons to use later. When in doubt as to what a certain stone or item is used for, hang on to it. It might become part of something useful later.
For players looking to avoid the long travel times between towns, villages or quest location, world map transition points provide a cool shortcut. Simply travel to the transition point, access where you want to go and youire there. The option to take the scenic route remains for those looking to kill lower-level enemies while traveling to the next town, but players who simply want to get on with it, thereis something to look forward to.
The Balduris Gate and Neverwinter Nights games (i.e., those set in the D&D universe) have always been marquee titles and Neverwinter Nights 2 lives up to this reputation, Good graphics, great sound and effective music and solid voice acting draw the player in while the story grabs the player to the point where an "Iill just play for 20 minutes" philosophy becomes "Let me just finish this quest, no matter how long it takes."
The first Neverwinter Nights title was considered a terrific party game and the sequel delivers the good as well. LAN modes are easy to set up and players can jump in and out of the party, helping friends take on larger enemies and sharing experience points. While multiplayer gameplay and its assorted modes function well across the GameSpy network, this is a sparsely populated realm and the better bet seems to be to get some friends together, set up a quick network game and have fun this way. Thereis plenty online, but it may take some digging to find.
There are always some bugs to chase down within a game and Neverwinter Nights 2 is no exception, although none of these bugs proves to be a showstopper. The biggest caveat remains the frame rate slowdown inherent when far too many characters are on screen. Other shortcomings include a lack of a feature that allows for players to port their characters from the original Neverwinter Nights over to the sequel. A lack of the much-anticipated editor toolkit is surprising, especially considering Appleis 2006 port over to the Intel hardware architecture and Mac OS X users will have to play user-created modules made in Windows and use the gameis included server utility to host.
Finally, players will really have to either glance through the manual (an electronic version is included within the install ? nice touch), or take a few minutes to map their own keys to control the gameis camera, as theyill be using it to continuously zoom in, out, tilt up and down and pan around to get the best angle on a given situation.
The Bottom Line
Even with these caveats and a lack of a tool kit/level editor, Neverwinter Nights 2 is everything a role-playing game fan could ask for. The story is there, the game is fun and Aspyris updates have created a product that runs cleanly and plays nice with Mac OS X, even if the hardware requirements may run a bit steep.
One of the best RPG titles is here on the Mac in fine form, despite needing a few kinks worked out and for anyone whois craving a good adventure, the D&D goodness is back.
MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:
- Operating System: 10.4.11 (Tiger), 10.5.1 (Leopard)
- CPU Processor: Intel Chipset
- CPU Speed: 2.0 GHz
- Memory: 1 GB
- Hard Disk Space: 6.5 GB Hard Drive Space
- Video Card (ATI): Radeon X1600
- Video Card (NVidia): Geforce 7600
- Video Memory (VRam): 128 MB
- Media Required: DVD Drive
- Internet(TCP/IP) or LAN play supported
- Internet play requires broadband connection
RECOMMENDED SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:
- CPU Speed: 2.33 GHz
- Operating System: 10.4.11 (Tiger), 10.5.1 (Leopard)
- Memory: 2 GB
- Video Memory (VRam): 256