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NWN is the first game that utilizes BioWare's new Aurora engine. It did have its share of issues and complaints, but that is to be expected with all new engines. When I initially loaded up the game, though, I was let down relatively quickly. I was expecting the rich, textured details, like those of the previous Infinity engine. While the color and lighting effects are well done, it still seems somewhat pale in comparison to other games released around the same time. Granted, the game was in development for five years, which does give it a good reason to have somewhat outdated graphics. The camera itself has three options: Chase, Directional, and Top-down. After experimenting with each, the one that hindered the game play the least turned out to be the top down view. However, by choosing this option, I felt the detail that was present in the characters and environment in the other two options was then almost unnoticeable. Even though the engine seems outdated, NWN is not without its graphical benefits. As I had said earlier, the lighting and other special effects are some of the most impressive I've seen in a game to date. No matter what type of environment the character is in, the lighting is appropriate, and sets the atmosphere nicely.
As always, BioWare did an outstanding job on the sound. The opening score for both the cinematic and game itself sets the mood and compliments the story. Once in the game, the environmental sounds are clear and add an extra bit of depth to the game. During the introduction chapter, it is clear by the ambient noises and music that there is a sense of urgency. Both facets of the sound adjust to the situation currently being faced, and imply the correct mood - something that is very lacking in games these days. Also, as is with all of BioWare's previous games, the voice acting is very impressive. For every bit of text that is spoken, it only does more to draw the player into the story. From the simple voices of random NPCs, to that of a stalwart Paladin, each voice suits the speaker which greatly enhances the story-telling aspect of the game.
The gameplay in Neverwinter Nights is simple to get into. Upon initially starting the game, you will move through a detailed (but swift) tutorial brought to you through the guise of trainers at an academy. The movement is very much like that of Baldur's Gate - you point and click to where you wish to go. From time to time, the limited camera angles may cause some navigation trouble, but nothing too major. The integrated combat system is rather impressive, with the 3rd edition D&D ruleset making for some interesting combat options. The number of attacks is based on combat rounds, making it a step up from the Diablo-esque hack and slash combat system. The animations for combat are also pleasing to the eye. During a battle, your character will take a new stance, and will move around the enemy, occasionally dodging an attack and making an attack of his or her own. This alone makes the combat more detailed and visually appealing than that of other CRPGs.
The online play is definitely where Neverwinter Nights shines, and where it puts many similar titles to shame. The interactive Dungeon Master ability allows for players to enjoy a vast assortment of fan-created adventures online with ease. Each online character is unique in its own way - from feats and skills to stats and appearance. While the multiplayer aspect of NWN is not persistent like MMORPGs (EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, etc.) are, it is still capable of sixty-four simultaneous players and of tracking the progression of everyone's character.
Even though Neverwinter Nights boasts many strong qualities, the original release did have its issues. At the time of release, many people who originally purchased this game were plagued with glitches - some serious, others minor. Bugs like these are what turned some people off from the game initially (myself included). Luckily, however, BioWare has done an outstanding job at releasing many patches since the game's release that have cleared up a vast majority of the bugs.
Neverwinter Nights is a game of epic proportions, but one that fails to draw me into the single-player story. Although the graphics are fully 3D and produce some spectacular special effects, they do not compare to those of recent CRPGs like Morrowind. However, it does have compelling online components, which allow for virtually unlimited replayability, and the dynamics of the game are well thought out and implemented. Although it may not appeal to all gamers, I would definitely recommend Neverwinter Nights to CRPG and Dungeons & Dragons fans.