Friday, December 9, 2011

Neverwinter Nights 2, part 2: Going through the OC

The road to Neverwinter

I hope by the time I get to Neverwinter this constant fog starts clearing up. There's a pale blue fog that always makes the outsides look chilly. For a place that's supposedly warm enough to call it "never winter", I would expect a warmer feel to the place. If the fog is absolutely necessary for performance reasons, a different colour of fog would go a long way toward eliminating the perceived chill. It does look nice at night, though.

Like in Baldur's Gate 1, I've been playing for a good while without having reached the titular city. I did encounter my third party member after leaving the first quest hub outside of the starting village, and it turns out she's a druid like me, named Elanee. So perhaps my choice of class wasn't the best one for this group. I don't know how many recruitable companions there are in this game, though, so perhaps I'll find someone else that will take her place. I have been finding a number of bard-only items, so I'm setting them aside in case I find a bard companion somewhere in the game.

I see we have in this game a companion influence rating, similar to the approval system in Dragon Age. Expressing certain opinions in dialogue can raise or lower the influence over various party members. This is such a mixed group, I've already encountered a conflict.

Design and abstraction

The town of Highcliff is the first place in this game so far that's really noticeable as unfinished or unpolished work. Aside from the TARDIS house (which is how I describe any house that's substantially larger on the inside than on the outside), there's also the situation with the tavern(s).

I was told by a dock worker to go to the tavern in town to get information on the local problems that need solving, and so I did. Well, there are actually two buildings in this tiny village with tavern signs on them, but neither of them can be entered. Instead, the drunks are all standing around the village, but still claim to be drinking in a tavern. One rowdy group standing outside also accosts the party, going as far as to make a joke about a dwarf, a tree-worshipper, a demon, and a harbourman (all referring to my party) walking into a bar, and Khelgar agrees that we did, even though it wasn't possible to do so.

I might also point out that the fields have cornstalks growing in them, except the maize is growing without husks, with the kernels exposed to the air! Is this some bizarre magical D&D maize, or did the designer have no idea what a cornstalk actually looks like? They also have ferns growing deep inside caves. It's pretty, and I like it, but not even the torches they have inside would cast enough light to grow plants.

Later, I came across more examples. There's a tavern or festhall of some kind called the Moonstone Mask, which is an extreme example of a TARDIS house. On the outside, it's a rather small and nondescript house, which really could have used more ornamentation or indication of the building's purpose beyond the little sign, considering what an upscale place this is supposed to be. But on the inside, it's a sprawling complex which would be more appropriate to call a convention centre. It's so extreme, I think I have no choice but to interpret the exteriors as abstract representations of dwellings that have no bearing at all on how large the interiors are.

Abstraction is fine. I don't need absolute realism to immerse myself into a game. The entire fighting system is an abstraction, as well as various things like those large glowing circles on the ground that mark transitions to other areas. But it wasn't really clear at all that that's what they were intending from the beginning, and it really doesn't seem like it would have been more trouble to just place extra house pieces together to make a larger structure, so I don't really care for the way it was implemented here. If nothing else, an exterior should give a good impression of what to expect on the inside so that the player can estimate how long it might take to explore that building.

One thing I do like in the design is that the NWN2 cave entrances (and the ones in NWN1, from what I've seen now) usually don't have doors on them! In Oblivion and Morrowind I had to get used to the strange fact that every cave and mine entrance was equipped with a sturdy wooden door, instead of being open as I would expect a cave to be. They had done it that way because the entrances were transition points and not seamless passages, but the Neverwinter Nights games show that you can have an open cave entrance serve as a transition point just as well as a closed door.

The inside, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily match the outside, as in this example pictured here. The entrance had no door, but once I got inside, it had not one, but two doors leading back outside. I'm guessing that there was some kind of lack of communication between the designers of the exteriors and the designers of the interiors to which they were supposed to be connected.


"Prejudiced? I'm not prejudiced! By the Nine Hells, I even travel with a back-stabbing tiefling of all things, and you know how her kind are!"


There's been quite a bit of comedy in this campaign, which was unexpected at first, but very welcome! Most of it involves interactions between the companions, but it started moving into sight gags in one of the conversations in Highcliff. While I was talking to a local farmer named Shandra, a group of lizardmen suddenly ran by in the distant background. It was so sudden and strange, I thought it might have been a bug, until I saw that the conversation made reference to it. I picked, "I think you should look behind you."

"Why?" she said. "What's behind..." [cut to shot of barn on fire] ""

Khelgar's story of the time he learned about the world of kung fu monks when he picked a fight with a trio of them in a bar was good for a laugh, too.

Once I got into Neverwinter, there was more comedy at the tavern, both during an insult contest, and during a cut-scene involving the MacGuffin of this storyline. When the wizard Sand tries to divine the properties of a silver "shard" (a strange word choice to describe a malleable substance), it cuts to a long view where we get to see everyone take an unexpected pratfall! Ah, slapstick! It works when it's not expected.

Other features

Something that I discovered partway through is that many items and characters have descriptions that you can see if you right-click on them (or middle-click if you're using Kornstalx's control modifier, like I am) and choose "examine". It took me a while to remember to do this, as it's not a feature I've seen in other games. Items in other games often have descriptions that can be examined, and it's sorely missed when a game doesn't include that, but I can't think of any other games I've played where characters and other items like doors and chests (in fact, any item that can be interacted with) can be "examined" to get a written description of them. I like this feature very much. Besides being nice flavour text, doing this before a conversation can reveal some helpful insights about a character's appearance or demeanour, which might not be evident from just looking at the character's model. Doing it before a fight can be helpful in determining which enemies to focus on first, based on their challenge ratings. What would be more helpful, though, is if there were an option to make these descriptions pop up just by hovering over an item (if it's in the inventory), or by hovering over it while holding a modifier key.

When you detect a trap, you have the option of either disarming it, or recovering it (this is the same as in NWN1). Recovering it seems to be slightly riskier and prone to failure, but if you succeed, you get a free trap kit! You can then reset the same trap, whereupon it becomes harmless to you and your party, but hurts enemies, or you can sell it later for profit. Failing in disarming or recovering a trap is usually safe, unless it's a critical failure, in which case it sets off the trap. This still is generally safe, since as a rogue/thief, the character usually has enough dexterity to avoid the trap's effects.

So far, I haven't seen any practical advantage to setting traps for enemies, since I have yet to see an enemy get killed from my traps -- even if it triggers three of them in a row, and even if I'm using the "strong" or "deadly" variety of trap. The time it takes to set the traps and then pull the enemies across them could be more efficiently spent having my whole party attack the enemies, doing around 5x as much damage per round. I still do it on occasion, though, both to get more acquainted with various class abilities, and for RP reasons.

Under the character's "feats" tab there's a section called "history feats", which are awarded based on your actions throughout the game. Some seem to bestow bonuses, others may affect faction relations, and others seem to be simply flavour. I like the way this is set up. Arcanum has something similar, in the form of a "reputation" tab in the log book, but this has nice little icons and descriptions that actually remind me a bit of "achievements" in Steam and elsewhere.

These "history feats" are also the only ones in this game where I'd say the word "feat" is being accurately used, since "feat" is not properly a synonym for a skill, talent, or ability as they're using it here in this D&D system (which they started doing in 3rd edition, I think), but refers to a specific notable instance of using one's talents. In other words, by its actual meaning, a "feat" is a "deed", "exploit", or "achievement".

There are torches in the game, but they aren't really necessary, except perhaps for role-playing purposes. Dungeons are generally lit well enough to see in anyway, and any magic user can cast a "light" cantrip without losing any useful spell slots (at least in my opinion -- there don't seem to be any really otherwise useful cantrips). But even casting a light spell is generally unnecessary as the game progresses, because so many pieces of gear come with enchantments on them to emit differently-coloured lights! Without even trying, or indeed without wanting to, my adventurers are walking around lit up like X-mas trees. It's not bad in and of itself to do that, but all those lights sometimes seem to interfere with an area's lighting. I think there must be a limit on how many light sources there can be in an area, because in Blacklake, when my party all comes together under one of those street lamps, the area fill light fades out, and black, harsh shadows appear under the lamp and on my characters. Either that, or there's some setting that's gone awry in my configuration.

Another problem with illumination enchantments on items is that they take up an enchantment slot. Gear has a limit of 3 enchantments (except at epic levels), and sometimes I find a piece of gear that would be better than my current gear if I could place one more enchantment on it, but I can't because it has 3 already, one of which is the "light" spell that I don't want.


Contrary to my hopes, the city was in fact as foggy as everywhere else.

The city was predictably under some kind of contrived lockdown to make me deal with some local problems first, as has been the pattern throughout the game so far, and in many others. This one offered a choice between joining the City Watch or joining a group of gangsters terrorising the waterfront and extorting money from the business owners. Guess which one I picked?

To my dismay, near the end of the City Watch quests, I got a warning message stating, "If you continue your current course, you will no longer be able to advance as a Druid," because my actions kept shifting my alignment away from Neutral (toward Lawful). But this is just bad for druids all around, because if I had sided with the gangsters, surely that would shift my alignment just as far away from Neutral, in the opposite direction (toward Chaotic).

I'm not excessively concerned about it, though, and don't plan on modifying my playstyle to game the system. If I shift too far away from neutral to take more druid levels, I'll just add Wizard levels to my build. Hmm...or maybe I should look over those Prestige Classes and see if I want to work toward one of those. Obviously, I'm not min/maxing here, and just learning as I go, but I'm sure I'll be able to get through regardless.

About the weather and clothing design

I'm listening to the Neverwinter Nights Podcast from the beginning, and I've just gotten to some information that both illuminates certain design decisions and also obscures them. In episode 15, from some time in 2007 before the first expansion was announced, they had an interview with Annie Carlson, who was asked why the clothing in NWN2 looked "so unisex" compared to NWN1. She said that the designs were affected by the media panic about game nudity that had just happened at the time, surrounding GTA San Andreas (Hot Coffee) and Oblivion (female painted-on underwear replaced with shirtless texture from the male model), which in both cases resulted in the games having to change their ratings, and costing them time and money in recall and package changes. It made their distributor "nervous" (which I read to mean they handed down an ultimatum for Obsidian to dial down any potential sexiness) and so they covered everything up.

Also, she said, "It's up in the north, where it's cold." Cold?! So the name Neverwinter is an ironic name? Or was this just an ill-conceived piece of post-hoc rationalisation? This game offers an explanation that the name doesn't actually mean "never", and it was just named after a man named "Never", but that conflicts with the other official explanation that says it's literally "never winter" because the river is kept at a high temperature by fire elementals, creating a permanent warm climate there.

I have to say, the fire elemental explanation sounds like the better one.

I've installed a mod called Always Summer from the Vault, which edits most of the clothing to be more suitable for a warmer climate (short sleeves, etc.), though I wish there were more interesting and exotic items to wear. I think this may have been made before the 3D model import/export tools for NWN2 came out, so they had to work with the existing 3D objects, and did what they could with transparencies on the textures.

I'll have to scout for some good-looking armour pieces made from non-vanilla meshes.


  1. "It's up in the north, where it's cold." - This is actually true. Aside from Neverwinter city itself (which has the heated river and formerly the Source Stone to keep it warm), NWN2 takes place far enough north to claim it's usually cold there. Plus, we've got Nerevar or whatever his name was, which is what the NWN games claim the city was named after.

    I had more to say, but I forgot what it was... maybe I'll post it later if I remember it.

  2. Nerevar's from the Elder Scrolls series. The "man named Never" I mentioned above (which is what I was speculating was a post-hoc rationalisation) is Halueth Never.

  3. Ah, that's what his name was. Shame on me, Halueth's tomb is visitable in both NWN games, I should have remembered that...

  4. Well, anyway, I'll go with the chilly north thing as far as the fog goes, since I wasn't familiar with the geography of the region, but for the clothing factors, I do also believe what Annie said about the executive meddling.

    That, and if the game explanation meant to get rid of the heated river origin of the name by replacing it with the "Lord Never's Winter" explanation, then it no longer matches with other towns with names that describe themselves, like "Highcliff", "Westgate", and "Waterdeep".

    So, I mark it as a bit of game lore that I don't like. :)

  5. Maybe the game says differently, but like I said in my first comment, I think the city itself is supposed to be warm year-round. It's the area around the city that isn't warm, and unless people are staying right up against the Neverwinter River they might want to dress appropriately.

    Of course, if you think of it that way, you'd expect some of the nobles to have summer clothes all the time, having never left the city (and thus not needing winter clothes)...

  6. As far as I can tell, the game doesn't address Neverwinter city's temperature at all, aside from the fog and the way people are dressed. I could have missed something, though.

    I do concede the bit about outside the city. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

  7. Been playing the game very slowly after work (yay for the Steam sale!). Now that I just made it to Neverwinter I came back here and read this post. It is nice to see how you notice different things.

    My character is a Chaotic Good ranger, but I've been thinking on trying as a rogue on a second time, since I end up preferring to control the tiefling girl. When I played table games of D&D, I'd always go as a bow ranger, so I am trying to keep on that path at least on the 1st play through :)

  8. That's a great thing about games like this. I like that you can get a feel for other classes you might never have tried on your own, because you can fully control the companions. I played through the whole OC without using one of the mods that allows you to multi-class the companions, though. I should have done that. It would have been nice to simply have the option to build them into prestige classes. There are several to choose from on the Vault.

    Maybe we could try doing a co-op play session! I've seen footage of people playing together through the original campaign, along with the usual AI companions.