NWN2: Storm of Zehir

According to Chris (Celem/Meleca):

I just finished playing it through for the first time.  Overall, my take is positive, assuming you know what it is intended to do and not intended to do.  (I will play it again myself).  It is an expansion pack that supplements the other NWN2 games; it won’t replace them.  I read a couple other on-line reviews and generally they hit the high (and low) points.  My big point is that it is tough to say a game is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without taking into consideration who the player is and what other stuff they liked.  Some people will like this game more than other people, no question about it.

 

The overall strong points: 

The big reason to play the expansion is they go back to the old school of gold box/Wizardry/Bards Tale et cetera type adventure where you actually make the party (or most of it).  This gives a lot of freedom to create specialty parties if you want (including some that take advantage of the teamwork benefit quests).  It lets you have a party where everyone has prestige classes, or multiclasses, etc.  Full mix and match.  If you are an alt-aholic like I am, this is the big draw; you can make four different characters and play them all at once as a group, instead of the previous NWN2 games where there is just you and then all the preset minions (fyi- when I say “prior games” below, I am referring to NWN2 and NWN2 MoB).  As an added bonus, even the minions you locate can be leveled up however you want.   

 

The other feature hyped as a selling point is the overland map, which is the other big change (but not without some downsides, see below).  (SMAKEN EDIT: Sounds sort of like the old SSI Gold-Box series) In the other Nwn2 games you pretty much have a linear storyline and places to go are preset.  Here you can wander around looking for lairs or special locations (indeed you should or else you won’t level up).  This of course is how they make the previous ‘useless’ skills much more important (the first two minions you meet are a druid and a ranger so if you want to have either of them fill that role your core four PCs do not need to go that way).   

 

The other change that gets a lot of hype is that finally your other party members can do the talking when they have the relevant skill that would help.  So if you have the right people you can choose who says something each time (and you can change in mid-conversation) depending on whether you want to be diplomatic or intimidating, etc.

 

Despite its weaknesses, the engine itself does have a very pretty and detailed look to it.

 

Overall weak points: 

The biggest weak point (for me) is the constant loading/zoning.  This was always the weak point in the previous NWN2 games, but it is worse here because all the zones are small (there are no really large dungeons for some reason) and every time you switch from the overland map to an encounter (or a location) you get the loading screen.  From a gameplay standpoint that is the big drawback.  Hopefully NWN3 will fix that…

 

Hopefully they also fix a couple other mechanical issues, I did crash at least three times (save often) and on one or two smaller quests I think I may have hit a bug (or maybe it was a feature, hard to say after only one play-through).

 

It is not wizard-friendly at all.  (I saw an online review that made a similar point).  For some reason, all buffs end when you switch to the Overland map (even those which should be of long enough duration to last hours).  (SMAKEN EDIT: If they upped the D&D ruleset to 3.5e, those buffs that were 1 hour/level are now 1 min/level) Because of this and the small dungeon size, buffing is seriously nerfed.  I will be the first to admit in the other NWN2 games with big dungeons I am a big offender of over-buffing and then just rolling through the dungeon.  In this game, that won’t work.  You can buff up, but your doing it when the other group is charging you and then you lose the buffs after one fight.  Resting on the map is not a sure thing anymore, because wandering mobs can interrupt you.  This makes the game harder and more challenging (which for some people might be a plus), but for wizards it is particularly annoying (and my main character was a wizard).  They further the problem by making spell drops and scroll selling merchants rare.  For instance, there is only ONE merchant that sells higher level mage scrolls and you have to do a quest series to open up higher level scrolls and items (a six part quest, at each part you can buy another level of scrolls, with the first three spell levels being listed on the merchant at the beginning).  I suspect this might be deliberate to showcase the new hellfire warlock class.

 

 

Changes. 

The other ‘weak’ points tend to hinge on how you like to play and could even be positives for some people.  One that the reviews always mention is that the storyline/scope of the game is deliberately small scale.  If you are someone who needs your character to be the ‘Chosen One’ and the whole world revolves around your every action, then you will be happier in the other NWN2 games.  Here, you are just on an adventure for gold, levels, some fame, etc.  Part of that is driven by the team nature of the game. 

 

Another mixed blessing caused by the team nature of the game is that since most of the party is your own characters, there is no interpersonal storyline going on like in the other games.  For some people, they may be happy with that, but for others they might miss the immersiveness and the cut-scenes (other then beginning and ending there aren’t any).  Even the minions you do find are a quiet bunch (though I only used one minion most of the time.  They occasionally say things, but you don’t talk to them or gain faction with them at all (you also do not get any faction hits or alignment hits of any kind no matter what you do, that is not part of this game even though it was a big part of prior games). 

 

In order to keep it as open and flexible gameplay as possible, the storyline is pretty simple and you have a lot of ability to ignore it or follow it as you might like (I tried to follow it on my first time through).  The basic storyline that drives everything involves your going to the Chult peninsula as escorts to Volo (who has the only good voice acting in the game, but there isn’t much there to compare it with) and then working for a merchant company (eventually running it if you do well).  The one real ‘plot twist’ is something you will figure out in the first hour of playing but isn’t revealed until the last hour or so (there is a secondary plot twist with it, but it is never explained very well which is odd because it deals with who Zehir is).  Again, the draw of the game is making a unique customized party and seeing how they do in a variety of combat situations; this isn’t a linear ‘chosen one’ storyline with a lot of exposition. 

 

Game playing overview: 

You start at level 3.5ish (you create a lvl 1 and are spotted 8k xp) and spend until around level 10 in the southern jungles, then levels 10 to 16 (or higher if you xp more) in the Sword Coast, then the finale is back in the jungle (in a new section you couldn’t access before).  At the end I was level 17.8-ish; if I spent more time hunting mobs I certainly could have ended with a level 18, 19, maybe 20 (or higher if you really kept grinding).   I took longer then the 20 hours advertised, but I was moving at ‘tourist speed’ and reviewing stuff, reading everything, etc.

 

The quests are generally what you might expect, there are a few twists, including an interesting one where the quest giver actually screws you over on the reward (see below on hints if you want the spoiler).  Playing these games you get so used to being paid outrageously to deliver packages and clear out rats from basements it is a funny joke to not have that happen (paraphrasing Order of the Stick) (SMAKEN EDIT: Good reading if you haven’t read it yet, do so! Order of the Stick).  Some are serious, some are humorous, the usual mix (I liked the bit about having to save West Harbor from a pair of Black Dragons who had become addicted to the Harvest Mead and had taken over the town to force the inhabitants to work brewing it for them as tribute).

 

Fights on the overland map are done in a ‘battlefield’ manner; each side starts a far distance from each other and moves or acts accordingly.  The enemy AI is much smarter now about using abilities too: intelligent enemies are frequently mixed class; for instance, when you encounter a group of bugbears their warriors will charge you while their archers spread out and shoot from a distance while their casters stay back and cast (fyi- your party AI is as idiotic as ever).  This change along with a couple others makes this game harder and more challenging then the other NWN2 games.  It also means having an archer of some kind is more effective then in the other NWN2 games as you fight a lot more overland battles then you do dungeon crawls where you kick in the door and everyone starts in melee range (I didn’t have a archer specialist this time, but next time I may use one to see how it goes).

 

While Wizards get the nerf bat, Clerics (and similar) get a big bonus from the new death system.  In previous NWN2 games people just got up after a fight if they take ‘lethal’ damage, now they die and need rezzing (unless you stabilized them as they were dying).  This is another example of the game being more challenging.

 

Characters: 

I played it through with a human wizard who took all the Fey heritage feats, an elven swashbuckler (to try the class, I liked it overall), a human cleric/doomguide (trying that one as well, good but there aren’t that many undead in this game, it might be more interesting to use a doomguide in the original campaign), and a tiefling rogue (who actually lead the way on the overland map most of the time since that toon had the highest Hide skill and I didn’t want to have to grind every mob).

 

For minions, I found a druid with a dinosaur (raptor) animal companion, a ranger, a half orc paladin of Tyr, an Aasimar rogue/shadow thief, a half drow hellfire warlock, a Halfling swashbuckler, a bard (Finch of the Finch’s hat items you may recall from prior NWN2 games), an elven favored soul, a Doomguide cleric (Nya’s ex-boyfriend from Port Llast), and I might be forgetting one or two (as I said above, I used the Druid).  I found a deep gnome who looked like a arcane caster of some kind, but she refused to join me for some reason (perhaps alignment). 

 

One big difference is that if you want to use a particular minion you need to group with them and stay with them as the autoleveling feature of previous NWN2 games isn’t there anymore.  If you want them to automatically catch up you have to go to the adventurers guild and pay for training (and it is very expensive if there is a big gap).  You can have one active minion at any time, two if any one of your PCs (main or cohort) takes the leadership feat.  I played through it with one minion and did fine.

 

Crafting:

They say it is ‘simplified’ and in some senses it is.  Base bonuses and even weapon bonuses like flaming or bane weapons just require the feat and a lot of gold.  However, the wondrous items actually require very specific items (like drider silk or will o wisp glamers) that cannot be substituted.  They need either to be found in the world (usually be killing the mob in question) or else bought from a merchant (there are a number of specialty merchants that buy and sell mob-parts).  Some of the rare items (treant twigs & drider silk for instance) can ONLY be bought on a merchant.

 

To get mithril, adamantine, cold steel, zalantar, you need to buy them with trade bars from source towns. 

 

The big thing you will find with crafting is it is more limited then prior games, you won’t be able to add a bonus to weapons or armor greater then +2 (SMAKEN EDIT: In 3.5e magic weapons and armor have to be created by someone with three times as many caster levels as the plus and special abilities, like bane and flaming, add pluses for cost purposes – I’m not sure if this was a factor here, but it doesn’t sound like it).  You can have any kind of bane weapon, even for mob types not in the game like giants.  I kept waiting and saving to make some really good items like I learned to do in prior games, but it never really happened.  The other change is you don’t find really high level equipment either.  Magic items are much more rare and tend to be lower powered then in prior games.  My level 17 toons in the original NWN2 campaign were far better equipped then the level 17s in this game.

 

Overall review:

I liked it and will play it again trying out different paths and characters.  Because of the de-emphasis on buffing, the death penalty issues, the rarer magic items, the smarter AI, and so on the game is more challenging to play and I have to admit I like that (I know some feel this might be a weak point for them). 

 

 

Hints & tips (potential minor spoilers):

 

Don’t go to the sword coast until you are high enough level otherwise you could be in for a shock when you meet the higher level mobs.  Also, It costs 2k gold to travel back through the portal to the jungle, so that will limit jaunting back and forth on a whim.

 

The source towns that supply specific trade goods don’t replenish based on time, it is replenished when you zone to the other area.  For instance, if you want adamantine from Leilon, they will only sell 5 bars.  To get more you need to buy those five, then travel back to the jungle, then back to the sword coast before they will sell more.  Running around the sword coast won’t help, no matter how long.

 

The quest near the beginning where the bard asks you to get his singing amulet is the one I mention above where you get hosed on the reward.  Next time I am keeping the medallion (you do get xp to finish the quest though so it isn’t a total loss).

 

You might think from the manual and the description that your role as a merchant that you will be buying low in one city and selling high in another.  In fact you won’t make that much that way at all, many cities have the same or very similar prices.  What you need to do is set up trading outposts and caravans in the sword coast, they will generate the income you need.  In the beginning you need to carry some basic ore/wood/skins, but eventually you will only use the space to carry special goods (mithril, etc.). 

 

Do not send special materials to be transported to your storage house at Crossroads keep.  It might be a bug, but I could only keep the basic 3 item types there, it wouldn’t let me store other items there, and anything I sent there that was a special material simply vanished from the game!

 

Always have a rez coin or two on hand in case your cleric is the one that dies.

 

If you have a wizard in the party, be nice to the Red Wizard at the enclave in Neverwinter, he is your only scroll merchant for higher spells.  He (like Safiya) is a wizard first and not interested in the ‘taking over the world mission’ of the other Red Wizards.  Also, note down where you see the glowing arcane nexuses.  He will send you to them all (or back to them since at least one is found before you meet him).  I only found 5 of the 6 in the game.

 

Merchants vary widely.  Many have very low caps on what they will pay for any single item, check to see what it might be before selling anything expensive.  Also, a ‘bounty’ merchant will pay the most for a mob part.  Merchants all have different pricing and buying costs, if it is an expensive item it pays to know who will pay you the most for it.

 

When in Waukeen’s temple, the triggers are weight based and an item will work as well as a person (I thought at first I was screwed because I didn’t have a second minion).

 

Thanks for the review, Chris! I might pick it up if my WoW addiction doesn’t subside.

 

Merry Christmas…

I appreciate the presents for the kids, but if I have to assemble one more toy, I’m going nuts. Well, more nuts than before. Three sets of Legos, four sets of Playmobil, three kids games, two Clones helmets, a toy electric car and a toy electric guitar and amp later and I’m taking a break. Really assembling things isn’t too bad, but the difficulty goes up when the kids are picking at things, pushing buttons and wandering away with parts.

By the way, I was installing Vista SP1 on my second machine (kid machine) when my son decided he would push the power button because he the computer wasn’t coming back up (it was in the configuring stage) and restart it. It looks okay, but we’ll see.

Worst part about all this?

There was no fucken room in the fringe for beer.  I ogred it and made room, but the beer isn’t cold yet. Grrrr… I’d better run upstairs before the in-laws stuff their… faces and leave nothing behind them.

RTM… err RMT..

What ever.

Will I subscribe to games that build this into the game and force you to use it?

No, not likely. I might try the game if it doesn’t seem to invasive (especially if it’s free to start), but if I find they’re nickel and diming me for content that barely fits into an adventure pack, I’ll drop from that game.

I won’t pay more for less.

RMT solved.

A Quickie…

No, I’m not talking about sex, that’s never a quickie… I’m talking about the post for today.

I didn’t get a whole lot of play time in this weekend, but I did mess around a little as the Priest and Rogue on Rexxar. I’m finding that things are getting a little frustrating with the Rogue as I’ve got a few quests that require I handle more mobs than I can handle at one time. Hey, I’m used to play a Hunter and a Paladin now and they can handle it. Anyway, I ended up making a Hunter on Rexxar and got him up to 14th. I don’t know that I’ll continue with him since I’ve played a billion Hunters already (in fact, I should be working on Smaken).

Saturday was a lazy movie day. I finally saw Prince Caspian (good stuff) and Wanted (meh – I’ll give it credit for some of the action scenes being new but way over the top).

Sunday, I discovered the lack of Chris was due to power outtages where he is living. He was on bright and early Sunday morning though, and we stomped our way through Uldaman, duoing all the way up to the altar where you use it and it opens the doors down to the main boss. So we used it… and nothing happened.

You see, we were duoing the dungeon again and for Uldaman you need to have at least three people to open the door…

I should have read up on that. Oops.

I had to take off for a little birthday party but when I got back we picked up a Priest (good guy) and headed back into Uldaman where things went even faster because I didn’t have to heal myself (I even got invited to run Maradon twice after that but had to decline).

By the way, I don’t think I’m going to be so kind to Alliance folks on Firetree anymore. When I got to Uldaman’s meeting stone, there was a priest there (6 levels lower than I was). I waved and waited for Chris to get there so we could summon the Priest we were waiting on.

As I’m talking to one of my kids, the Priest’s friend, a Paladin, shows up and starts attacking me. I try to hold them off long enough for Chris to get there, but he shows up just as I die.

No more mercy for Alliance on Firetree. And I’m going to be dirty as hell about it.

So much for a quickie…

Future vs. Present…

As though picketing and blocking traffic to the downtown core wasn’t bad enough, it sounds like the transit union is talking about picketing and blocking shuttles, arranged by the local Universities, to get students to their exams.

Yes, thanks to the transit strike, some students are having difficult times getting to school to take their exams. To help, shuttles were being set up.

Striking is one thing, but going out of your way to fuck with the future of our own youth? How about you shoot yourselves in the foot while you’re at it.

Here’s my recommendation to students. They’re screwing with your future? Screw with their present. After your exams, go picket the homes of the union members and prevent them (and their families) from getting to their front walkway.

Do not tresspass, do not damage property and do not resort to violence, just form a wall of bodies and don’t move. Both for going in and out. If they talk to you, offer to call them a cab to get where ever they’re going.

Let’s see how they like it when their kids can’t get to school. They can’t get to the grocery store for food. They can’t get to the doctor.

It sounds harsh, but this is what the union is doing to Ottawa residents.

You’re not just making it difficult for people that use the bus, you’re making it difficult for everyone and their families. And it sounds like you’re being encouraged to take it as step further by interfering with people that are trying to help. Why aren’t we allowed to peacefully protest your protest?

Oh, to the bleeding heart/weeping eyed sympathetics claiming, “Oh, but one guy I know that is a bus driver says there are bus drivers are beat up at least five times each week!” I can’t believe I actually heard someone citing this. Use your fucking brain for a second and ask yourself:

What does 9% raise over three years, a few more sick days per year and the ability to choose your schedule (more on this in a sec) have to do with increasing security on buses? They shouldn’t be asking for more money, they should be asking for more security measures.

Now, the ability for drivers to pick their own schedules is a hot topic – technically, by picking schedules they could move themselves away from ‘dangerous’ routes but that doesn’t really help. Why? Because someone has to do that route so it doesn’t solve anything. The real reason is that the drivers are able to pick schedules that get them full time pay without having to work full time hours. This is the beef the city has with this system and why they want to take control of it.

That’s right, they’re getting paid for 40 hours of work, but they’ve set it up so they don’t actually work 40 hours. This means slower service for a higher cost. Cost to who? Tax payers and people that take the bus.

This strike isn’t about safety. This strike isn’t about it being a better work place for the employees. This strike is about money and the ability to fuck over tax payers.

As if we didn’t get that enough already…

UPDATE: For those of you that still believe it isn’t about money, take a read from CBC. I’ll quote an interesting part:

Mercier said under the current system, the most senior drivers get to “cherry pick” their shifts, and tend to choose morning and afternoon shifts of three-hours each, for which they are then paid eight hours due to guaranteed daily rates in the contract. That leaves behind many small pieces for less-experienced drivers, who make up the majority of workers, Mercier said.

Liars, Unemployed, Black Mailers and Nature…

It’s been a great month.

First, we have political instability on the Hill. The minority government is not having an easy time playing nice with the other parties. The coalition gathering together to vote out the current Conservative Party sounds like it might not happen or at least delayed until January. (By the way, if you check some of the other blog links in my blog roll, you’ll get some more info and points of view on that – check Gordon Dewis’ Blog, My Corner of the Universe and The Squid Zone)

Second, we have people getting losing their jobs because of the coming economic instability (it’s still sort of status quo in Canada). This just blows, especially so close to the holiday season.

Third, we have the local public transit workers going on strike at this time of year. This time of year meaning the holiday season and winter. This is going to screw over a lot of people that rely on public transit to get to work, out for necessities, to health related appointments and so on.  While I feel for them that they’ve not been able to agree on a contract, I feel more for the single parents who might be trying to get their children to school, the day care or maybe even to a doctor’s appointment. Like the Mayor said, enjoy your 25$ per day of strike pay.

Maybe saying it is black mail is going a little far, but I don’t know… what do you think?

As if the weather and celebratory time of year isn’t bad enough a choice, the economy is starting to dwindle. I think if I can got a year without a pay raise, they can too. Oh apparently they’re picketing downtown blocking traffic and getting in the way of things. Slap them with disturbing the peace, toss them in jail and see how much 25$ a day strike pay goes with bail or fines.

And if this garners any attention of those striking? Here’s my message to you:

Fuck you. I’m showing you as much sensitivity as you are the people that rely on your service.

I wonder if the auto-industry workers would be interested in maintaining buses and driving them?

(Again, other local people are blogging about it, likely in a more reasonable manner: My Corner of the Universe and The Squid Zone)

Fourth, nature has decided to dump a load of snow on us over the last day which compounds all the other crap mentioned above. I think we got 35cm of snow (about 1’2″ for those not familiar with the metric system).

Good times…

Hair Cut…

I got a hair cut yesterday. Is it wrong that all I kept thinking of was You Don’t Mess With the Zohan? I also wondered if I’d hear a ding and get an achievement for it.

I’m also starting to pester Celem about posting here as an author. He’s a long time gamer friend (9 to 10 years and tons of MMOs played) and has a lot to say about the latest NWN2 expansion. I’m sure he’ll have a lot of other things to post about, often from a more modest perspective – like how often I forget to heal myself and die or how often I forget to heal him…

Mouahahaha! Oh wait, that’s the Gnome DK name I have pending…