Genre : Role Playing Game
Developer : Bioware
Publisher : Atari
Release Date : December 2, 2003
Buy 'NEVERWINTER NIGHTS: Hordes of the Underdark': PC
The world is ignorant. Most will sleep away the blackest night and awake to welcome the new light of dawn secure that the light always returns. Not for all. Deep under the crust of humanity and civility is a place where nightmares never rest. Where the light of day cannot shine and slithering horrors dwell in the pits only seen in the visions of a madman. An entire world waits to be explored. An entire world waits for a bringer of light. The Underdark waits.
Hordes of the Underdark is the second official expansion for the game Neverwinter Nights. As many a role player knows already the first expansion for NWN, Shadows of Undrentide was a little of a disappointment. Not a bad expansion, just not up to par for a Bioware release many gamers have come to expect. This is a company that has put out some top notch roleplaying experiences such as all the games in the Baldurs Gate series. Also, you couldn't help but compare many of the modules that have been made in the community to even the original NWN chapters. Neverwinter had a decent solo play adventure but it really didn't pick up until the second half of the game. If you have played any of the top rated modules you found that the first expansion Shadows of Undrentide, (SOU), was not even as much outright fun as some of the free modules in the community. SOU was not developed by Bioware. It was developed by Floodgate Entertainment. Floodgate Entertainment is made up of some former Looking Glass employees so the expectations were high. After all these are some of the same people that brought us such great games as Thief I and II and System Shock I and II. Those who have played these game remember how well they were done and how much ground they broke. They were groundbreaking at the time and still have not been duplicated in many of their accomplishments. On a side note you can find some of the those folks working with Warren Spector on the just released Deus Ex II and the yet unreleased Thief III at Ion Storm. Even with the Looking Glass folks working on it, SOU was good enough to play through but failed to hit the mark of a fan base with high expectations. Some felt that, "well, it wasn't Bioware so I will overlook some of the discrepancies and just enjoy." Others felt, "why would I pay money for a module that Bioware didn't develop and is outdone by the community?"
Well, all that is history as Bioware decided to show their fans that they haven't lost the magic touch of creating an exciting game with a story that has some engaging facets to it. As I played through Hordes, it's almost like you could see the developers saying, "let's bring back some magic and let them know we are still here." Hordes was developed in-house so there wouldn't be any question of the quality of the final product. If it was good enough, they would also boost confidence for their next game release.
Hordes is a single-player only adventure. This was a little disappointing because the only reason Neverwinter is still popular is because of the strength of adventuring co-operatively. There are many who enjoy a good single player romp, me included, however the lack of a multiplayer option was a little disappointing. The community will take the new tile sets have a heyday so that will certainly fill the gap. And, that's probably just what Bioware is banking on. Some of the new features include 6 new prestige classes, 4 new tilesets and 16 new creatures. Oh, I forgot to mention 50 new feats, 40 new spells, some fabulous new music by Jeremy Soule and more. Jeremy Soule is the highly rated composer that worked on the original NWN music, Total Annihilation, Morrowind, Dungeon Siege, and the 2003 MTV Movie Awards just to name a few. His compositions for Hordes are really good and very fitting to the game play. This expansion is chock full of goodies.
Hordes is designed for characters that are level 15 or higher. If you are bringing a new character in he/she will be leveled appropriately for you if they are not already there. The prestige classes are available at level 21 so you won't be able to start off a new character as a prestige class. More on that later. The game starts off with a video that reminded me, some may snicker, of the Westwood action rpg Nox. Nox was Westwoods attempt back late 90's to try and grab some the fans of Blizzards overwhelming successful action rpg, Diablo. The main boss in Nox was a woman that even has a similar voice as the main boss in Hordes. As evil as she is supposed to be in Hordes, I couldn't help but grin as the game Nox never took itself to seriously and there was a lot of tongue in cheek humor. Anyway, the opening vignette sets up the game pretty well and even lets you see the character you have selected hovering in front of the boss and her minions as she eyes over the supposed enemy that the prophecies say will destroy her. She laughs in your face as you appear to her in a dream, and I in turn laughed as well. There my character was, this overweight bald guy that looked a lot better when I chose him with his clothes on. I certainly didn't look very foreboding in all my bald, overweight glory wearing nothing but an undergarment. She says, "this is who will defeat me?" I in turn looked at my character and though, "yeah, this is who is going to beat you?" But I digress.
I like how the game sends you right into battle. You don't have much time to loose before you wake up from your dream and find someone looting your room. You engage in battle and find yourself off on your quest very quickly. As you begin to dwell through the first few areas, the first being a dungeon, I couldn't help but stop and look around as I saw a lot of artwork that made it feel like I was playing Baldurs Gate, not Neverwinter Nights. I stopped in a room where a beholder attacks in the beginning of your quest and thought it was Baldurs Gate. You get the feeling very early on with the quality of sounds, music, textures and a story that's interesting up front, that the level of development here was not going to disappoint. This is a well made game and Bioware is reasserting its prowess as a heavyweight in quality RPG experiences. On a side note if you look into some of the early reviews of NWN, you will find ok ratings but not great ones. Most reviews said the story and game play was ok, but after years of development the experience was a little disappointing to some. Now, if many people were to go back and change their rating it would be higher. This is simply because of all the tools and support that were built into the game for mod makers and dungeon masters to make worlds of their own. If the game play and story in the original were on the level of Hordes I think initial reviews would have been higher. This is important because Bioware is busily working on it's next alchemy and creating a good single player experience is probably going to boost consumer confidence for their next outing.
Hordes re-introduces puzzles on a higher level than the first two games had. The puzzles, for the most part, are not to irritating and can divert you're blood lust just long enough to give the game some added dimension. Puzzles are interesting because if there are two many or there to hard, this can lead many to put a game down and not even finish it. Bioware seems to have made the right balance here because I didn't find myself getting too frustrated in trying to find the right puzzle piece. For the most part they are laid out for you to find them easy enough.
How are the new prestige classes? Well, you have all the ones from SOU plus, as mentioned above, 6 new ones to pick from. The new classes are: Dwarven Defender, Red Dragon Disciple, Pale Master, Champion of Torm, Shifter and Weapon Master. Each of the prestige classes are available at level 21 and are exclusive to the base classes they are drawn from. They offer some nice additions to spells/skills and feats for the base classes and even change the appearance of your character. Some cool transformations are the Red Dragon Disciple as he grows wings and the Shifter as he is able to shapeshift into many different forms. Outside of needing to be a level 21 character, you also need to fulfill certain obligations to become a prestige class. For the Red Dragon Disciple you need to be either a Sorcerer or Bard, have 8 ranks in lore. Once you fulfill your requirements you have a host of new abilities and modifiers at your disposal. Some of the abilities for the Dragon Disciple are increases to natural armor, darkvision, immunity to sleep and breath weapon of a red dragon just to mention a few. The prestige classes definitely add some more fun and lots of new options to explore.
Another nice addition is the ability to have 2 henchmen. There will be times when you can have 3 but they will not all be hired, just tag along. With the ability to manage your henchman's inventory thrown in this does help the single player experience feel more like a role playing experience. If they are going to take away your multiplayer questing, it's nice at lease having another party member along for the ride. This was a major complaint of some when NWN came out. This along with the ability to summon and cast different companions can feel more like a party. I did find my henchman either charging way ahead of me too often or standing there right next to my while I had to tell him to engage. I don't know what happened because I felt my henchman was fine in NWN. I'm sure upcoming patches will help resolve some of this because I found some complaints on the message boards as well.
Graphically the game looks a little better than the original. Some polygon counts seem to have gone up. I have heard some complaints before about the NWN engine starting to show its age. This may be true to some extent but I still find it hanging in there just fine. If you have a high end card with anti-aliasing turned up at a high resolution and the features set up high, the game still has a great look and feel. Down at lower levels it can start to show its age a little more and tend to look a little blocky. The review system was a P4 3.2 with a Radeon 9800 and 500 meg or ddr ram. There were some areas where the engine slowed down a bit when there were multiple creatures and actions taking place. I have heard this can be a problem on lower end systems.
Most of the story takes place around what is called the Drow. So, you will find quite a bit of your questing taking place in dungeons with certain types of monsters devoted to certain levels. This is all pretty typical and works ok because the new tilesets help give some variance in your visceral experience. The story itself, without revealing too much picks up in the beginning and really hits a good pace not too far into the game. There are several twists and turns and forks in the road as you continue on. And, the pace seems to pick up throughout the game to keep you adequately involved. You'll find several interesting companions and people that will help guide you through Hordes. As you speak with them the voice acting is of good caliber. Something that can just ruin a good game is coming up and speaking to an ominous character just to hear he sounds like one of your friends trying to do a bad imitation of Conan Obrien. You'll find none of your friends here. Well, I guess if you do they are good at voice acting anyway. The game also has more of an epic feel than the last expansion and that really helps to draw you in. Something else to note is the difficulty level of many of the monsters you will fight. You start out at level 15 and you will find plenty to test your mettle. Make sure and save your game often as you will find that some of the boss monsters, dragons, golems and others will take you out rather efficiently. I found Hordes to be much more difficult than the original or SOU. This is a good thing because you will be thinking of things strategically and tactically instead of slashing your way through anything in your way ala' Dungeon Siege.
This is a quality expansion pack. It is a better adventure, in my opinion than the original game and definitely a level up from Shadows of Undrentide. The story is good and keeps you engaged. The textures and tilesets are well done and give enough variety in your dungeons that they don't get too stale. The difficulty of puzzles seems to balance the line of not being too hard so as to deflate the experience, but provide adequate distraction from hack and slash. The monsters provide a good challenge and you will find yourself running and resting just to get through some of them. The additional prestige classes with new abilities and spells are all enough to serve up a highly recommended game. The only drawback I see is some difficulties with the henchman. Knowing Biowares commitment that will be resolved a patch soon. Highly recommended.