Iron Tower's Vince D. Weller has posted an interview he did with Obsidian's Tony Evans and Kevin Saunders about some of the design decisions they made with Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir, as well as how the expansion pack was received by the gaming press.
9. According to GameSpot NWN 1 is a fantastic masterpiece worthy of 9.2 score; NWN2 is a good 8.6 game, Mask of the Betrayer is a decent 8.0 adventure, and Storms of Zehir is a 6.0 game (even though the readers rated it much higher). It sure seems that if Obsidian wants to get high ratings, it should forget about 'xperimenting and stick with vanila fantasy. Any thoughts on this situation in general and GameSpot's Storms of Zehir review in particular?
Tony Evans: GameSpot's review of Storm of Zehir was reminiscent of the original 1-Up review of Neverwinter Nights 2. 1-Up realized shortly after publishing the review that it wasn't very good journalism to have someone review a Dungeons and Dragons role playing game who was neither knowledgeable of nor a fan of Dungeons and Dragons or role playing games in general (the author actually admitted this in his review). The situation was rectified by Editor-in-Chief Jeff Green (whom I have enormous respect for dating back to his Greenspeak columns in Computer Gaming World) when he re-reviewed NWN2 himself, giving the game a higher score.
The main reason GameSpot's rating for Storm of Zehir was so low was probably because of who they assigned to review the title. Neverwinter Nights 2 was reviewed by Greg Mueller, a veteran reviewer who left GameSpot in 2007. Mask of the Betrayer was reviewed by Jason Ocampo, another veteran, who left GameSpot and went to IGN, where he reviewed Storm of Zehir and gave it a pretty good rating. Storm of Zehir was reviewed by a freelance writer, whom I won't name because there are enough negative remarks about that poor soul floating around on the internet. Now, some freelance writers are very good, and I certainly don't mean to dis the entire lot of them. I think it is fair to say though that, in general, it's very difficult for to verify the amount of time a freelancer spends on a game. A few years ago GameSpot actually had to retract a review for an online strategy game after the developers discovered that the freelancer assigned to the review had only been online for half an hour. Unfortunately, it would be easier to know what exactly went on during the Dark Ages than it would be to know for certain how long the reviewer spent playing Storm of Zehir. Most of the new screenshots with the review seem to have come from the first hour or so of gameplay, but that doesn't prove anything. And to put myself in the shoes of a struggling freelance game reviewer. if I was paid the same amount of money to review an 6-hour long action game as I was paid to review a 35+ hour computer role playing game, I'm not sure if I would go the extra mile to thoroughly review the role playing game, especially if I was not a fan of computer role playing games.
Kevin Saunders: You are right in that the market can be punishing to experiments. Better then to experiment with a second expansion than a huge next gen console title. =) You get to learn a lot and appeal to a new audience. Lessons learned in Storm of Zehir will be applied to future Obsidian games. In this case, I think we executed well, so I have no regrets in our experimentation. I can certainly understand why some gamers wouldn't enjoy Storm of Zehir and I don't discount those opinions.
All I'll say about GameSpot is that I've always liked them and have a lot of respect for that site. They helped make my career by giving the first significant game I led (Shattered Galaxy) awards in 2001 for Most Innovative Game and Best Multiplayer Strategy Game (and runner-up for Best Game No One Played =P ). Though now in the distant past, I bet that recognition helped me get at least one of my later jobs. So it makes me sad that they gave Storm of Zehir such a poor score.