Release Date: September 2006
Obsidian managed a successful debut with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, despite having to face the Herculean task of crafting a sequel to one of the finest licensed games ever made, and by a developer no less than Bioware. In light of that, it suddenly seems a bit more understandable that they're now tackling the unthinkable challenge of crafting the sequel to Neverwinter Nights, perhaps the single most popular Dungeons and Dragons game ever. With NWN, there is not only the challenge of crafting a successful single-player game, but of creating the campaign-writing software that made the original game such a perennial favorite among gamers. Long after you finished NWN, you could still spend hours playing through campaign modules for the game developed by other players. As with KotOR2, Obsidian has the full support of Bioware in creating Neverwinter Nights 2, complete with access to original game code and design assets.
NWN2 is trying, right out of the gate, to preserve everything players enjoyed about the first title. The Forgotten Realms setting is back, and players can choose from sub-races (moon, sun, wood, or drow) as well as the major D&D races (elf). As in the first game, there are no gnomes and no psychics, so everyone hoping for psychic gnomes in NWN2 will be going home disappointed. The full alignment system is also back, as are all of the ways in which it affects your class abilities, your reaction to magical spells, and which sidequests in the game are open to you. Characters are generated with a point-buy system rather than pure D&D random rolls, so players can better control what sort of character with which they play through the game, and you can still pick a particular skill package to help shape how you choose to play your character class. The random name generator is even back to help players who aren't feeling too creative, so they can quickly cobble that last detail onto their characters.
The graphics code for the game has been entirely rewritten to support full 3-D visuals. The developer who demonstrated the game took great pride in showing all of the different angles to which players could move the camera in the game, including a shot of the ceiling in the underground dungeon area he was showing off at the time. Obsidian couldn't give us details on system requirements yet, but they did say that the game would require Shader 2.0 graphics cards. The aim will be "mid-level" machines, similar to the target demographic that NCSoft has been pursuing with City of Heroes. Obsidian still wants to make sure NWN2 is a truly beautiful game despite its modest system requirements, with particular effort going into crafting extremely impressive, beautiful spell effects. Even in the pre-alpha build being demonstrated, the flashes of light from fireballs or exploding poison spheres illuminated the entire area around your character in a truly spectacular fashion.
The new 3-D character generator allows plenty of options for customizing the flesh and hair tone of your characters as you create them, as well as costume and body appearance. Character creation includes a new phase – the backstory, which describes what your character was like before becoming an adventurer. A pious character might get wisdom bonuses, while a character who was a farmer might get physical stat bonuses. Your backstory also affects what kind of alignment your character has, and how NPCs react to them. If your guy was the town idiot, then you'll get a suitable reaction, instead of just a reaction that reflects your alignment.
As in KotOR2, conversation trees can now influence alignment as well as choosing whether or not to take particular actions. Characters now have the ability to command other characters, including using NPCs to fight off enemies or solve puzzles. The combat system has been completely overhauled to reflect the new 3.5 D&D rules (in contrast to NWN's use of 3.0 rules) and introduces new mechanics, like group attacks. Spellcasters can organize their spells into a convenient hotbar, so that the most useful and frequently used spells are available at the click of a mouse button. Fighting classes will have a similar hotbar to help them organize their feats and other class abilities in the same fashion. Characters can eventually acquire their own fortresses, called Strongholds, which can be customized in the game.
Module creation tools for NWN2 are going to be almost completely different than the original game's tools, simply because of the new 3-D graphics engine. To give the players maximum power over the adventures they create, Obsidian is simply going to make the game-creation tools available to the players. This will allow players to directly control everything from the timing of event triggers to the type of lighting they want in their level. All of the game's original levels will be editable, and players can fashion entire new areas from scratch, if they'd like. It will also be possible to create customized armor sets and new items by combining different armor pieces with custom-made stats.
The development tools will include full model and animation viewers, and in theory, players with the right 3-D graphics tools and programming abilities could make their own models and animations. Even ordinary players can customize many of the game's monster models to create their own monsters as they see fit. Movement paths and scripted events of all kinds can be created using the game's monsters, most requiring no skills more demanding than dragging the mouse from one point to another. Similarly, creating huge armies or imposing custom Strongholds requires little more than being able to copy and paste monster models into the environment. At the moment, Obsidian doesn't plan on supporting the inevitable NWN2 modding community directly with servers or extra content releases, but this probably won't hurt the game's popularity any. If anything, the fact that you can't directly import NWN modules into the sequel without essentially rebuilding the campaign from the ground up might.
Even with all of the emphasis on matching the original game's powerful campaign-creation tools, Obsidian still wants Neverwinter Nights 2 to deliver a top-notch single-player experience. They've set their sights on directly competing with Oblivion, trying to create an experience that feels more story-driven and offers more in the way of unique characters with whom to interact. The single-player campaign is being designed to take about 30 hours to complete with a single character, and of course, most players are probably going to want to replay the game to see the changes for various alignments and to reflect different gameplay decisions. So even before a player begins playing with the campaign-making tools or downloading new campaign modules, NWN2 can easily deliver 60-90 hours of solo gameplay. The original Neverwinter Nights is a game that leaves a sequel with very high expectations to meet, but Obsidian may have it in them to do it again. We'll all find out for sure when the game hits this September.
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