I’ve never been much of a PC gamer. The idea of sitting in an office chair staring at a monitor or having a laptop scorch my legs to medium-well has never been my idea of gaming fun. Even as lifelong friends tried to persuade me to believe a mouse and keyboard were the superior methods of playing RPGs and FPSs, I never wavered from this opinion until 2003. That was the year I first experienced Neverwinter Nights.
BioWare had already experienced success with the D&D formula with Baldur’s Gate, and Neverwinter Nights was an epic follow up with an even more complex world and deeper lore. My obtuse perspective on PC gaming was forgotten the moment I played this game during a sleepover with a friend, who had been recommending NWN to me for several months. My rig wasn’t powerful enough to operate the game, but his was, so we spent countless hours of the night in front of the monitor alternating between office chairs. One of us would play the game while the other offered up valuable information from a strategy guide. I haven’t spent much noteworthy time with a PC game since these days, as the familiar discomfort resurfaced after my time with Neverwinter Nights. Unfortunately, it seems the game has aged about as badly as my PC gaming phase.
Graphics and Performance
I vaguely remember reading a few reviews for Neverwinter Nights back near the turn of the millennium: the game was a critical success, but I can remember one particular magazine noting that “the game just released but it already appears to have aged 3-5 years.” Regrettably, nothing has changed. Neverwinter Nights still has the appearance of an IP that might’ve released in the early days of the PS2. I realize this is a game that was released almost two decades ago, but I can’t understand why the muddy textures, blocky character builds, and fuzzy structures couldn’t have at least gotten the benefit of a once over shine job. It looks BAD. Even text sometimes becomes pixelated and difficult to read.
Though it may look bad some 18 years later, the design of the world and characters still manage to strike me as unique, imaginative, and well-developed. Races and classes still take inspiration from D&D, but the developers did a top notch job of allowing customization options in order to create a unique character to play as in a very unique world.
Every bright spot comes with a con or two with this game, however. What little there is to praise (graphically speaking) simply wasn’t given a fighting chance in this release. Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition was touted as a game that would run at 30 FPS. It may reach that goal sporadically, but my playtime was sluggish from the very moment I created my half-elf rogue. Lag remained an issue during real-time play and even in cutscenes. Though Switch owners have always been forgiving in the area of visuals, the real question is: does NeverWinter Nights redeem itself with story and gameplay? Errm…
The land of Neverwinter is stricken with a devastating plague known as the Wailing Death. Our hero is tasked with locating the four “Waterdhavian Creatures” in order to use them for the creation of a cure for the plague. The advent of the cure eventually leads to the revelation of who was responsible for the entire ordeal in the first place, as well as their true motives are.
The main story arc alone will take 40-60 hours to complete, as it is a deep tale rich with detail and intrigue. This Enhanced Edition also happens to include two added DLC experiences that push the total package well over 100 hours. There isn’t much to complain about in terms of story with Neverwinter Nights. The pacing is nearly perfect, and the endgame is one of the most gripping experiences in the BioWare catalog. As per-usual with a BioWare game, the player is given certain choices that offer a chance to shape the progression (and conclusion) of the story.
Yikes. This was an unexpectedly brutal experience. How close can a game get to broken without actually earning the description? I legitimately experienced glitching and even a crash within the first 5 minutes of actual gameplay after creating my character. The hero and a NPC are in a room together, and you are directed only to exit the room in order to move on and visit the armory. An obvious problem arises when the “open” command simply doesn’t pop up. I ran into similar issues throughout my time with the game.
You can certainly tell that this game was built from the ground up with a mouse and keyboard in mind. In order to interact with an object or NPC, you must face the player in that direction and hope that the item or character becomes highlighted in order to initiate the interaction. It sounds simple, but the act is very tedious and inconsistent. Too often I fought with the controls and couldn’t make my character face directly at the enemy or NPC I wanted to target. Even when I could place my character at the correct angle, the highlight would often fail.
Manage to wade your way through cumbersome controls and what will be your reward? How do convoluted and unresponsive menus sound? Selecting the map is a crap-shoot. Maybe it’ll come up. Maybe not. You’re even more likely to deal with a delay, and by the time you realize it you will have already pressed the button again. This means the map will come up and almost instantly minimize. Infuriating.
Neverwinter Nights implements a quick slot button assignment mechanic that is meant to provide a shortcut for item use in lieu of battling the cumbersome and glitchy menus. Unfortunately, this is also inconsistent. Some items simply wouldn’t respond for me after being assigned to a quick slot. The player is then left to pause the game, pull up the menu, click the right analogue stuck in order to bring up a mouse cursor (yep), guide the cursor to the desired item and finally… select it.
Battling through the nearly broken menus and controls does mercifully reward the player with fun combat. In traditional D&D fashion, the effectiveness of attacks and spells are determined in large part by luck. A computerized D20(20 sided die) is “rolled” off screen- the closer it rolls to 20, the better. The idea might be a turn-off to some, as most players don’t like to rely on luck. I found the mechanic to be very fair and consistent, however.
As mentioned earlier, Neverwinter Nights might deserve a pass on some issues due to being outdated. It’s unfair to expect a 17 year-old port to be perfect. It’s not unfair to ask for some attention to detail, however. Many of these bugs and performance issues could’ve easily been ironed out in testing if the game had been given the proper attention it deserved. Neverwinter Nights has a hefty price tag and takes up a ton of space on the Switch (around 10GB). $50 USD for a game- port or not- that offers 100 hours of gameplay and includes all previously released DLC is normally just fine. Alas, It saddens me to say that I simply can’t recommend Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition due to so many performance issues that sap the fun out of the wonderful story and deep combat.