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Page 2 of 2To allow players to take full advantage of the new prestige abilities, the experience cap has been raised so that characters can now reach level 40. Of course, you won't be able to do that within the regular game (unless you cheat, you naughty monkey), which is only a 20 hour adventure. Starting at level 12 I was able to get to about level 25 (I missed out on the Beholder quest somehow, though), but importing a level 20 character should allow you to max out a regular class and a prestige class before getting into the epic levels. The designers see this as extra incentive to go online, where you can max out your character and experience all of the epic feats in the multiplayer environment.
In another attempt to give HotU's multiplayer aspect the feel of a MMORPG, your character is now able to craft weapons, armor, wands and potions from odds and ends you find lying around. Once you get to the Underdark, you can use your surplus gold to enhance the weapons you make at Rizolvir's smithy. I have to admit that I didn't really take advantage of this aspect the first time through, especially potion brewing and wand crafting. Each time you use these skills, you have to give up xp, which is something that I'm very stingy with. Crafting weapons and armor only takes gold, though, and I love that there's a whole new facet of the game I haven't explored yet.
Part of the reason I didn't craft weapons is that I enjoyed weilding Enserric the Longsword. In the tradition of Lilarcor (the talking sword from Baldur's Gate II), you can find an intelligent sword in the first chapter that will make pithy comments like "I love the taste of elf blood in the morning. Oh yes!" If you found Lilarcor annoying, you won't want to pick up Enserric. I thought the idea of an effete mage trapped in a sword was funny, though, and I especially liked his +5 vampiric regeneration enhancement. Whether or not you like that kind of humor, Enserric is yet another example of the pains BioWare has taken to enhance your experience by making the game environment that much more interactive.
I'm not as big into sound and graphics as some gamers are, but I found both to be of the same quality as NwN and SoU. As mentioned, the new tilesets and clothing textures look good, and great pains seem to have been taken to make sure the characters appear very lifelike (such as the Valsharess' voluptuous figure and fluid movements). The music and voice acting are still solid and much of the goofy humor that came out in the voice packs of Baldurs Gate II has returned. At one point you can actually overhear Deekin singing the theme song to Fame, which to me was one of the funniest sound bites I'd ever heard in a game.
Seeing that kind of humor, I felt like the designers had more fun making Hordes of the Underdark than they did making Shadows of Undrentide, which made Hordes much more fun to play as a result. If you have Neverwinter Nights, owning Hordes is a must as it will greatly enhance the replay value of the original title as well. Where will the franchise go from here? The end of Hordes still leaves things open for further expansions, so Torm only knows where the adventure will really end. If the designers continue to put this much effort into expanding an already great game, though, I'm not sure I want it to.
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