All the same, there are situations where you need to take control to survive. As with Baldur’s Gate and the Knights of the Old Republic games, combat normally develops in real-time. However, at any moment you can press space to pause the action, issue orders or set-up spells, and then press space to unpause and move on. In small scale scraps, this isn’t vital, and in fact you’ll occasionally see your party win fights with little or no intervention. However, when dealing with larger groups of enemies or particularly powerful foes, the space key is undoubtedly your best friend. This was an effective system in the aforementioned titles, and it’s an effective system here, but will it suit the non-RPG players who embraced Oblivion? No.
And these same gamers will be left just as unimpressed with the graphics. Okay, so they’ve come on a long way since last time – with bumpy normal-mapped textures applied to most surfaces, real-time lighting and shadowing effects and much more rounded character models – but we’re still not talking cutting-edge stuff. If you’re used to the detailed towns, grassy valleys and misty tombs of Cyrodil, prepare for a shock: though it has explosions and magic bursts a-plenty, NWN2 doesn’t deliver half the same amount of eye-candy.
In other words, NWN2 is slightly old-fashioned, fairly complex and demanding, and it’s not even immediately accessible. It’ll be three or four hours in before it really registers that you’re actually enjoying it. What’s worse, there are still odd issues with crazy AI and lousy pathfinding, and – until patched – my copy had a horribly tendency to crash out during area transitions or while saving. Why bother?
For the TPG faithful, the answer’s too easy: because NWN2 is the sort of game that can immerse you in a world and hold you there for hour after hour. Even if this is the last of the dinosaurs, it sits near the pinnacle of their evolution. For one thing, Obsidian seem to understand the genre inside out. They know how an RPG should develop, starting off small and slowly offering a taste of greater powers. You hit a few dungeons, make a few friends, glimpse a few enemies, and before long you feel involved in larger affairs. Guess what – you’re hooked. What are those evil-looking shadow priests up to? What is this mysterious shard that you’re carrying? What will happen when you take it to Neverwinter? Why not carry on playing for a few more hours (make that days) and find out?
What’s more, the script is brilliant. Like their close friends at Bioware, Obsidian know that an interesting party isn’t one comprised of dull heroes that all bond tightly then fight as one for a common cause. No, an interesting party is made up of a bunch of mildly neurotic and psychotic individuals who can’t stop bickering for a second. As a result, even the most tedious bit of exposition is livened up by spiteful put-downs and witty comebacks, and the more you get to know them, the more likeable your allies become. I suspect this is a big part of why the otherwise clichéd quest is so enjoyable.