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Publisher: MacSoft    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: 10.2.6    CPU: G3 @ 450 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM

Neverwinter Nights
August 22, 2003 | Dean Browell

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There are few settings as unique and specially crafted as the Forgotten Realms in the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) pen and paper games, and similarly the arrival of Neverwinter Nights (NWN) serves as a testament to its own unique and special crafting. Finally, after development delays and an anxious waiting period by Mac gamers, Neverwinter Nights is here. But does it survive its own hype? The answer thankfully -- is a resounding yes.

NWN is not based on a giant party system, which will no doubt mean a switch for most gamers used to one in most D&D-based adventures. That being said, the experience of guiding and developing a single character with the occasional henchman is undoubtedly closer to the core of actual pen-and-paper 3rd Edition D&D game play. We're talking about ownership and empowerment in this system and without going off too far on the subject, let me say that it works. It was the right choice, and it speaks to the lovers of multiplayer games and devotees of live role playing. You definitely get the D&D feel of character construction: die rolling, decisions being made and dramatic, if somewhat calculated combat. Simply leave the dialogue box at the bottom open to see your actions translated into D&D mechanics. There is a more than passing feel for Diablo II in certain facets of the game, but stylistically it happens largely in the inventory. Most other similar moments comes with just having made a game of the same quality set in a D&D world.

The manual is very well written and designed. I'm a fan of a good manual, and the spiral-bound one included is no exception. It cleanly describes not only the game and your role in it, but it also serves as a very appropriate and appreciated bridge to the 3rd Edition D&D rules it employs, handing a very logical and sensical key to the casual gamer that really helps you understand why some things happen and others don't. Examining the dialogue bar at the bottom furthers this cause.

An example: With my rogue henchman dead after a difficult battle, I was left to open a chest I knew to be trapped. I could try and open it, or go back and and resurrect my thief. So I did what any seasoned gamer would do, save the game and open the chest anyway. I was perfectly ready for it to blow up in my face and I nearly winced when I opened it but nothing happened. There was just a little green dud of a spark that tickled the air. What happened? I clicked on my dialogue bar and was informed that I'd made my saving throw and the trap fizzled out. The 3rd edition primer of the manual had mentioned it could happen but I'd gotten caught up in the game play. The dialogue bar brought the underlying mechanics to my rescue.

A lot of effort went into the text in the game, which is abundant but appropriate in most cases. Some characters you meet speak lines and others don't. Some speak just their introductory paragraph. It's not distracting but it isn't consistent either. The attention to detail is nice and weaves a nice cloth from the get-go, such as in character creation. under the choices for gender. For male it says, "... can aspire to any field of activity from scholarly pursuits to the arts of war" while for female it explains, "... can excel in any field of endeavor from scholarly ..."; by not simply parroting each other the creators have made a subtle and appreciated step toward improving game quality. For all the attention to detail there are some minor plot elements that don't always connect well. After reading that you have been at an academy for a long time, you're met by a host of teachers who have never met you. Some key characters introduce themselves or repeat whole swaths of introductory text even on the umpteenth visit. Others refer to the player as a "champion" pretty early on considering you are just a second-level character. D&D purists will take umbrage with this and it's best to let this kind of worry roll off an otherwise very faithful game. It's being picky to get on these too much, but they stand out when the game itself is such a quality production.


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