Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Dec 11, 2006

Neverwinter Nights 2

One of the two games that I've been waiting, literally, all year to buy, NwN2 has really turned out to be a worthwhile experience for me. The funny part is that most of the value actually comes from some of the philsophical (specifically, ethical) issues that arise within the official campaign.

For those of you unfamiliar with NwN, the general idea is to bring the 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules to computer gaming in a form that enables individuals to write and publish their own stories. While both games and their various expansions contain their own "Official" campaign that you can easily play as a stand-alone game (and they are reasonably fun just to play), by far the heftiest part of the package is the DM Toolset. This is an extremely nice feature, because once you've finished the Official campaign, you can still download new playing material, usually for free or very cheap. (Or write your own, of course.)

Anyway, on with the review. The graphics are, as one might expect, much improved in this newer game, although this does mean that they require correspondingly better computer hardware to run. They've lost most of the cartoony aspects from the previous game, that's for sure. It runs reasonably well on my low-end machine, or at least it does now that I've turned down all the graphic options.

The thing that tickles me, though, is that a lot of the conflict in the game plot can basically be described as a result of bad philosophical principles. As an Objectivist, this made it fun for me to play because as the plot thickened I was sitting back thinking: "I could have predicted that," or "I knew something like that would happen." The ethical positions in the game are portrayed very consistently and quite well.

UNfortunately, there's basically no Objectivist "side" at all if you want to be consistent, so if you have limited patience you may experience a desire to smack some of the characters before you've finished. If you like CRPG's and D&D in particular, I say this game is well worth the money.

However, DO NOT BUY THE OFFICIAL STRATEGY GUIDE. This is a friendly warning, free of charge: it is totally worthless. It doesn't tell you anything you can't figure out for yourself by playing the game, and much of the information is actually incorrect since there have already been multiple 50+ meg updates that changed large portions of the game in significant ways. If you are planning on writing your own mods, it might be worth it to buy the World-Builder's Guide, but other than that don't touch it.


David, The Machine said...

I have a love-hate relationship with D&D Since embracing Objectivism, I have come to loathe the alignment system. Rational self-interest has no place in the good-evil axis. Law vs. Chaos is unobjectionable on the face of it, but as presented in the rule materials, it is Collectivism vs. Individualism. Cotnrast that with the whole spate of thug-wannabe games.

When I played NWN, I played as a Monk, and nothing I seemed to do would budge my Lawfulness out of place, and I often had to threaten to beat up or extort NPCs for the sole purpose of not ending up as a goody-two-shoes altruist ‘Good’ person.

I asked years ago in the Objectivism newsgroup about video games that portrays Objectivist values, much like how the Ultima series promoted its quasi-philosophy. So far, all that comes to mind is Final Fantasy X, which portrays the virtue of independence.

Inspector said...

Sounds like fun. I'll be keeping with my "don't buy it until the discount bin" policy, for now, as I don't have the funds. But I will make a mental note to keep tabs on this one.

Although, the more I read OOTS, the more I itch for some D&D again. Hmmm, maybe Planescape: Torment can be had on the cheap...

Jennifer Snow said...

I didn't know you were into CRPG's, Inspector.

At this point, you can probably get it for $5. I think Torment and Baldur's Gate 2 are probably the best relatively modern D&D offerings out there. NwN and NwN2 are pretty good, especially if you get into some of the free or cheap online content, which is surprisingly well-designed. Others include:

Pools of Radience (this one is not even remotely worth it, as it was basically an extremely early attempt at third ed and incredibly poorly done.)

Temple of Elemental Evil (Ehh. It was okay, they did a REALLY good job with the 3rd ed core rules, unfortunately it's only worthwhile if you happen to really like the nostalgia module, because the plot is BOOOOOOORING.)

D&D online: haven't played it myself, although I do have a disk for a free week so I may check it out just to be thorough. However, from what I've heard it sounds like a real flop, online-game-wise. My advice: stick with EverCrack or WoW.

Can't think of any others off the top of my head.

Inspector said...

Re: Me and CRPG's:

Oh, my, yes. And Pen-and-paper. I've been out of form in the last few years, but my current work schedule gives me plenty of time to catch up. Before now, I held off for fear of getting sucked into the Great Time Vortex.

BGII was great fun. I'll probably pick up Torment and play it to death before I move on to the newfangled 3rd ed stuff.

Andarian said...

I think it's no surprise that Objectivist values aren't commonly found in gaming. Bad philosophy is ubiquitous in our culture, and that's as true of games and game systems as of anything else (for example, fiction and movies). It's particularly not surprising with NWN2, since Obsidian did try to make an unusually story-oriented RPG with it. That may (I hope) be a sign that Computer RPGs are evolving in the direction of becoming more of a literary or dramatic medium.

Regarding the D&D alignment system: it's easy enough for a game builder or a P&P DM to discard the "good = altruism" and "law = collectivism" silliness and replace it with a rational philosophy. That's not how most people approach building computer games, but it's possible, and it's what I try to do in my own Neverwinter Nights gaming work.

Thanks to the NWN toolsets, building CRPGs is now possible to many people who could never have done it before. The result is that hundreds of good quality game modules have been produced, many of which (in some respects) can actually put the commercial products to shame. Game companies are often reluctant to take artistic chances or break new ground (for example, deviate from philosophic bromides), and there's some hope that these new storytellers can move the industry in some better directions by example.