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.
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.
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.
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.
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.