The resurgence of BioWare’s back catalogue continues with Beamdog’s most recent conversion to console of 2002’s 3D Dungeons & Dragons based role-playing game: Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition.
Following on from its smash-hit series, Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, BioWare dropped another classic in July of 2002 by shifting their storytelling prowess into 3D for the first time and injected a friendlier Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition ruleset to attempt to attract a wider audience.
Originally released only on PC and utilising the standard Keyboard & Mouse control set; Neverwinter Nights saw numerous patches, additions and expansions (both official and unofficial thanks to the bundled Aurora toolkit) which continued well past the games original life and up to as recent as 2006 with a semi-premium module created by former BioWare developer, Alan Miranda.
Many of these modules improved on the original game and many of those improvements were added into the older original modules via officially supported patches released by BioWare. The Enhanced Edition thankfully bundles many of these together for one of the most complete RPG collections from the early ’00s
Neverwinter Nights story campaign was supplemented shortly after release by Shadows of Undrentide & Hordes of the Underdark released in 2003 & 2004 respectively. Both increased the maximum player level (from 20 to 30 and then 40) as well as adding prestige classes for high-level customisation, with players having the ability to fast track their character to a predetermined level if they wanted to start one of the expansions without playing back through the original campaign.
In addition, a digital store from BioWare offered new Premium module which were less grand than the expansions but increased available story content considerably. Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition thankfully rolls the best of that bunch into a package that should be hard to resist for RPG aficionados.
For those who missed it the first time around, the game takes place in the Titular city presided over by D&D legend Nasher Alagondar. Kicking off in the tutorial academy, you can learn the nuances of the control schemes as well as a few minor class-specific mechanics before the game starts for real. Neverwinter is in the midst of a crisis with a plague locally known as the “Wailing Death” crippling the populace. It’s not long before intrigue, deceit and mystery set in and the quality of the writing from the BioWare shines through in its branching storylines and dialogue trees allowing players to realise their characters traits in-game.
With a large number of available classes, traits, skills and spells on offer there a lot of detail in Neverwinter for those with the patience to dig into its mechanics, those wanting to smash through as a Warrior / Fighter and utilising the recommended level up options will still enjoy the story and can supplement their skills with the companions on offer but the crafting of a uniquely skilled avatar is where the engine really shines.
The original game came bundled with a manual whose section on skills and spells is sorely missed here as it’s more difficult to find that information in-game although today is likely easier found through a quick search on your phone. Planning ahead on your build, sacrificing certain attributes early on but knowing your investment and forethought will pay a dividend later is the core of Neverwinter Nights. The Hordes of the Underdark expansion as mentioned before allows you access to a fresh character with 20 levels worth of points to spend allowing you to experiment instantly. Saving a character out at any point also allows you to restart any campaign with your existing leveled character.
The game however, has aged by today’s standards, the quality of the narrative shines through for those who are not as fussed about AAA graphics though. It’s still very clean and takes obvious advantage of today’s brute force on yesterday’s engine but some elements just haven’t been polished enough. The opening FMV and chapter-opening /ending cinematic are pixelated and poorly stretched onto current 32” plus monitors/TV. The text options display in an odd fashion even with the “HD Text” option selected and the lack of voices on character interaction whilst impressive for the time tell a tale of compression and storage challenges on game discs before blu-ray.
Controls; whilst functional; simply don’t match up to the keyboard & mouse combo due to the complicated nature of hotkey combos and shortcuts available that simply won’t work on a pad. The point and click movement is replaced by the analogue stick and whilst camera control is improved, area of effect spell casting or trap laying can be somewhat clunky along with anything which required drag and drop functions the first time around (inventory and shops). This somewhat gives the Nintendo Switch release an edge but only in Tablet or handheld mode since it won’t work in docked mode.
The Sound is clear, the music is suitably epic, graphics are clean and the story characters are engaging and well written if not a little over-dramatic (Aribeth for example). It’s a great game missed by a new generation that would otherwise have been left to the annals of history. There are only so many times you can listen to a 4ft, Cockney Halfling Thief shout “Okie Dokie” but thankfully you can change your sidekicks as needed.
A massive package of complete RPG goodness, Neverwinter Nights is a great addition for anyone who loves BioWare’s back catalogue but only if you can forgive a few translation issues, adapt to its context based control schemes and its initial release price.