European Windows version box art
Infogrames (Under the Atari brand name)|
Trent Oster |
Marc Holmes |
|Genre(s)||Role-playing video game|
Neverwinter Nights is a third-person role-playing video game developed by BioWare. Interplay Entertainment was originally set to publish the game, but financial difficulties led to it being taken over by Atari. It was released on Microsoft Windows on June 18, 2002. BioWare later released a free Linux client in June 2003, requiring a purchased copy of the game to play. MacSoft released a Mac OS X port in August 2003.
Neverwinter Nights is set in the fantasy world of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, with the game mechanics based on the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules. The game engine was designed around an Internet-based model for running a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), which would allow end users to host game servers. The intent was to create a potentially infinite massively multiplayer game framework. This game was named after the original Neverwinter Nights online game, the first ever graphical massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), which operated from 1991 to 1997 on AOL.
The original release of Neverwinter Nights includes the game engine, a game campaign that can be played as single player or in multiplayer mode, and on Windows releases, the Aurora toolset used for creating custom content that would run in the same engine. Three expansion packs were subsequently released for the game: Shadows of Undrentide in June 2003; Hordes of the Underdark in December 2003; and Kingmaker in November 2004. BioWare then began selling premium modules through an online store in late 2004. The game's success led to a sequel, Neverwinter Nights 2, released on October 31, 2006.
The original scenario supplied with the Neverwinter Nights game engine is known as the official campaign. It comprises approximately sixty hours of gameplay. The gameplay centers on the development of a player character (PC) through adventuring, who ultimately becomes the hero of the story. The PC is tasked with defeating a powerful cult, collecting four reagents required to stop a plague, and finally thwarting an attack on the city of Neverwinter, located along the Sword Coast of Faerûn, in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons. The first and final chapters of the official campaign deal with the city of Neverwinter itself, but the lengthy mid-story requires the player to venture into the surrounding countryside and travel northward to the city of Luskan. Along the way, many optional side quests are made available.
As in the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game, the first thing a player must do is create a new character. The game provides a set of ready-made characters, or the player may create one from scratch. A series of panels are presented for selection of the character's gender, race, character class, alignment, ability scores (such as strength and intelligence), specialized abilities called skills and feats, in-game appearance, and name. This process grants significant allowance for customization; one can be, for example, an outdoorsman (ranger) or a healer (cleric), then choose skills and feats that would work well with that class in the game.
Following a small prelude, there are four chapters in the original game, with each chapter following part of the general storyline. Within each chapter, there are many quests, subquests, and mini-storylines provided to the player. Depending on the specific quests completed, and the unique items kept, some storylines are continued throughout the entire game, such as the Henchman's or Aribeth's tales. Completing many of the side quests will give the player's character more experience and special items, making them improve more rapidly and continue to make the game easier as the player progresses. These improvements come in the form of levels earned through experience points, with each level providing the protagonist with a set of enhancements as selected by the player.
The game's mechanics are based on the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rule set; the outcome of most actions, such as combat and skills usage, are randomly determined by dice rolls. For example, when a fighter attacks, the computer would digitally "roll" a 20-sided die (called a d20 in-game) to determine if he hits the target. On a success, another dice is rolled to determine the damage dealt, with powerful weapons assigned to dice with a greater number of sides, due to their ability to do more damage. Although the outcome of nearly all actions is determined by dice rolls, the player does not see them, with the results calculated in the background. However, the player has the option to display the outcomes of these rolls. The player can control the game almost entirely via the mouse.
A robust multiplayer component separates Neverwinter Nights from previous Dungeons & Dragons games, as this allows players to play on many different servers hosting games. Depending on hardware and bandwidth, each server can support up to ninety-six players on the same server application, plus Dungeon Masters (DMs) to run the games, if desired. Neverwinter Nights game modules are run in a variety of genres and themes, including persistent worlds (which are similar to MUDs), combat arenas (player versus player modules), whole servers dedicated to sexually oriented roleplay, and simple social gatherings similar to a chat room. BioWare requires that these persistent worlds be free of charge, primarily for reasons of copyright law.
Because Neverwinter Nights lacks a global chat function aside from the supported GameSpy, players typically join pickup games through the game's multiplayer interface, or schedule games in advance with friends. Matchmaking sites can facilitate scheduling of games, and the experience is much like traditional pen-and-paper roleplaying games. Persistent worlds do this work for them by inviting players to visit their website and continue to roleplay there.
An important feature of Neverwinter Nights is the DM Client: a tool that allows an individual to take the role of the Dungeon Master, who guides the players through the story and has complete control of the server. Previous games such as Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, based on the printed gamebooks by White Wolf Publishing, utilized this feature to a limited extent. When it was released, Neverwinter Nights was viewed as the first successful implementation of the feature. The DM Client allows players to participate in regular campaigns, while also allowing persistent world servers to flourish by permitting the DMs of those servers to take control of non-player characters (NPCs) in mid-game for added realism and flexibility. The DM Client also permits the user to spawn and control masses of monsters and NPCs much in the same way as units would be controlled in a real time strategy game.
Neverwinter Nights ships with the Aurora toolset, which allows players to create custom modules for the game. These modules may take the form of online multiplayer worlds, single player adventures, character trainers or technology demos. Additionally, several third party utilities have further expanded the community's ability to create custom content for the game. By the end of 2002, there were over 1,000 custom adventures available.
Custom content creators are known as builders in the Neverwinter Nights community. The Aurora toolset allows builders to create map areas using a tile system; the appearance and surface textures of the area are defined by the area's selected tileset. Builders can overlay placeable objects onto areas, and use the built-in scripting language NWScript, which is based on the C programming language, to run cut scenes, quests, mini-games and conversations. Third party utilities allow builders to create custom content for most aspects of the game, ranging from new playable races and character classes to new tilesets, monsters and equipment. Custom content is added to the game in the form of hakpaks. Builders have used the Aurora toolset in combination with hakpaks to create playing experiences beyond the scope of the original campaign. Additionally, the Aurora toolset has allowed for the creation of a number of ongoing persistent worlds modules.
Despite the game's age, the Neverwinter Nights custom content community remains active. The community, mostly centered on the Neverwinter Vault, has created over 4,000 modules for the game, among them, many award-winning adventures and series such as Dreamcatcher. The Aurora toolset is not available for the Linux and Macintosh versions of Neverwinter Nights. The open source project neveredit aims to port the toolset features to these platforms. The game's module-making legacy was continued by Neverwinter Nights 2.
The story begins with the player character (PC), under the guidance of Lady Aribeth, being sent to recover four creatures (dryad, intellect devourer, yuan-ti, and cockatrice), known collectively as the Waterdhavian creatures. The Waterdhavian creatures are needed to make a cure for the Wailing Death, a plague that is sweeping the city of Neverwinter and forcing a quarantine. With the help of Fenthick Moss, Aribeth’s love interest, and Desther, Fenthick’s friend, the PC is able to retrieve the creatures. As they collect the creatures, they are attacked by mysterious assassins from a cult that is behind the spreading of the plague.
As the cure is being made, Castle Neverwinter is attacked by the minions of Desther, who betrays the heroes. Desther takes the completed cure and escapes the castle, with the PC and Fenthick in pursuit. When they catch up to Desther, he surrenders after a short battle. Desther is sentenced to burn at the stake, and Fenthick, despite being unaware of Desther’s true intentions, is sentenced to hang. The PC meets up with Aribeth, and they begin searching for the cult responsible for the plague and the attack on Neverwinter. With the help of Aarin Gend, Neverwinter's spymaster, the PC retrieves the diaries of dead cultists and letters from a person named Maugrim, which convince Aribeth that the cult's headquarters are in Luskan. Aribeth goes ahead to Luskan, and the PC follows after speaking once more to Gend.
After arriving in Luskan, the PC hears rumors that Aribeth is joining with the cultists. These fears are confirmed when she is found meeting with Maugrim and Morag, Queen of the Old Ones. They seek a group of magical relics called the Words of Power. The PC retrieves all of the Words of Power except for one held by the cult. The PC discovers that the Words open a portal to a pocket world inside the Source Stone, where Morag and the other Old Ones are. The PC confronts Aribeth, and depending on how the meeting is handled, she either surrenders to the PC or they are forced to kill her. The PC battles Maugrim for the final Word, then uses the Words to enter the Source Stone and battle with Morag. After Morag's death, the PC escapes the Stone as the world inside it implodes.
A posting at the Neverwinter Nights 2 Vault on June 4, 2008 contained information from what appeared to be original Neverwinter Nights documentation. At the BioWare forums, Neverwinter Lead Designer Rob Bartel confirmed that the "series of excerpts from the game's design doc" were not a hoax. When asked if the plans were altered due to time constraints, Bartel referenced various legal difficulties that the company was working through.
Official expansion packs
Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide (SoU) was released in June 2003. It added five prestige classes, sixteen new creatures (two of them available as additional familiars), three new tilesets, more than thirty new feats, more than fifty new spells, and additional scripting abilities for those using the Aurora toolkit. The expansion pack features a story line concerning a student sent out to recover some stolen magical objects. The story begins in the Silver Marches, eventually moving toward the desert of Anauroch and the old Netherese city of Undrentide.
Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (HotU) was released in December 2003. It increased the maximum character level to 40, and added a number of spells and items appropriate to such characters, as well as adding further tilesets, prestige classes, feats, and abilities, and compatibility with the Intel Pentium 4 Processor, which was unsupported in previous versions. The story continued where Shadows of Undrentide ended, with a character of at least 15th level, and led into the vast subterranean world known as the Underdark. The first chapter of the story took place in the Undermountain dungeon beneath the city of Waterdeep.
Neverwinter Nights: Kingmaker was released in November 2004, and features three premium modules: the award-winning Kingmaker, Shadowguard, and Witch's Wake.
Community-created expansion packs
Atari and Bioware helped to promote and release free downloadable hakpaks, models, and tileset expansion packs, which greatly expanded the possibilities of mod-making.
The Players Resource Consortium (PRC) was released in early December 2003, and is a group of hakpaks adding classes, races, skills, and spells to the game. The PRC has roughly three times the number of prestige classes the original game had. It also adds dozens of epic spells, and many normal spells that make better use of BioWare's Aurora engine. Psionic powers have also been included.
The Community Expansion Pack (CEP), originally released in March 2004 (last updated in September 2014), is based on the Neverwinter Nights community's fan-made material. This freely downloadable expansion was compiled by members of the community. It combines a selection of previously released custom content into one group of hakpaks.
In late 2004, BioWare launched its online store and started selling what it called "premium modules" as part of its digital distribution program. This initiative was led by BioWare's Live Team Lead Designer, Rob Bartel. These smaller-scale adventures introduced new storylines and gameplay, and include new music and art that BioWare integrated into later patches to the core game. According to BioWare, the revenue generated by sales of the premium modules would be used to support their fan community and provide ongoing updates and improvements to the game. The modules that are sold in the BioWare store require an active Internet connection to play, even when played in single player mode. The modules in the Kingmaker expansion were stripped of this requirement, but are only available for Windows systems. The modules included with Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition do not require Internet access to play. In August 2009, BioWare discontinued its selling of premium modules due to a request made by Atari. Atari has not yet provided any alternative means to acquire the modules.
On June 16, 2011, the Neverwinter Nights digital rights management (DRM) authentication server was temporarily taken down as a reaction by Electronic Arts to the Neverwinter Nights store being hacked and customer data stolen. Premium modules which were purchased via BioWare's store could not be played during that time because they could not connect to the server to validate the purchase, though DRM-free modules were unaffected. The exact duration of the temporary outage has not been documented. The modules Kingmaker, Shadowguard, and Witch's Wake were sold as part of the Diamond Edition package. The modules Infinite Dungeons, Pirates of the Sword Coast, and Wyvern Crown of Cormyr were only sold with DRM.
- Neverwinter Nights: Kingmaker – In November 2004, BioWare announced their flagship premium module, which later received the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences 'PC RPG of the Year' award. In the module's story, the PC must defeat the evil at the Keep of Cyan and win the throne.
- Neverwinter Nights: ShadowGuard – Created by community member Ben McJunkin, it features a new setting, Abaron, and a story focused on the PC's adventures and interaction with a secret Shadowguard group.
- Neverwinter Nights: Witch's Wake - The remastered version of Rob Bartel's popular story-oriented module by the same name added new subraces, music, and substantial voice-acting throughout. The game features a story of a character who lost their memories and awakens on a field of battle. A sequel, Witch's Wake II: The Witch Hunters, was in development, but it was ultimately canceled.
- Neverwinter Nights: Pirates of the Sword Coast – In June 2005, BioWare announced the upcoming release of a new premium module. The story begins in the city of Neverwinter, and leads to a lengthy ship-borne, swashbuckling-style adventure.
- Neverwinter Nights: Infinite Dungeons – In May 2006, BioWare released a module taking place in the Undermountain area below Waterdeep. The main feature is randomly generated dungeons, which are suitable for all levels of adventurer. The module is designed for single and multiplayer gaming. With the exception of the ability to respawn one's character, Infinite Dungeons is very similar to a three dimensional roguelike.
- Neverwinter Nights: Wyvern Crown of Cormyr – In September 2006, BioWare announced a new premium module. It features fully ridable horses, flowing cloaks, tabards and long coats, a new prestige class (the Purple Dragon Knight), and extensive new art, creatures, and tilesets.
Premium modules were eventually discontinued. Three premium modules were known to be in development before cancellation. Two of them ended up being free downloads, while the third, a planned sequel to Witch's Wake, was never released.
- Hex Coda - On May 15, 2005, Stefan Gagne released Hex Coda, the first cancelled premium module, to Neverwinter Vault. The story was a mix of fantasy and science fiction and involved the PC dealing with the machinations of a multinational corporation called Cathedral. A sequel was in development, but was cancelled.
- Darkness over Daggerford – In August 2006, Ossian Studios Inc., headed up by Alan Miranda, a former producer at BioWare, released the second canceled premium module to the Vault. The story takes place in and around Daggerford and has been compared favorably to Baldur's Gate 2 in terms of its scope. Characters start at the 8th level. The module includes a cinematic intro (like the main campaign) and a world map. Darkness over Daggerford's status as a quasi-official expansion pack was supported by the next release of the team, this time a fully official one: Mysteries of Westgate for Neverwinter Nights 2.
Editions and re-releases
Atari released subsequent editions of the game following its first release in 2002. These editions are:
- Neverwinter Nights: Gold (2003), which includes Shadows of Undrentide
- Neverwinter Nights: Platinum (2004) (in Europe: Neverwinter Nights: Deluxe Edition), which includes both Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark
- Neverwinter Nights: Diamond (in Europe: Neverwinter Nights Deluxe: Special Edition), which includes everything in the Platinum edition plus the Kingmaker expansion pack
Atari also re-released the game and both expansion packs in the following collections:
- Atari Collection: Rollenspiele (2005)
- Neverwinter Nights 2: Lawful Good Edition (2006)
- Neverwinter Nights 2: Chaotic Evil Edition (2006)
- Ultimate Dungeons & Dragons (2006); Rollenspiele: Deluxe Edition (2007)
- Neverwinter Nights 3-Pack (2007)
- Neverwinter Nights: The Complete Collection (2011) contains Neverwinter Nights 2 and expansions as well.
In 2010, the Diamond edition was licensed for online distribution to Good Old Games.
In general, Neverwinter Nights met with positive reviews, receiving "universal acclaim" according to Metacritic. GameSpot referred to it as "one of those exceedingly rare games that has a lot to offer virtually everyone, even if they aren't already into RPGs", and praised it for its campaign, its Aurora toolset, and its graphics. PC Gamer US called it "a total package—a PC gaming classic for the ages", and said that its "storyline [is] as persuasive as any I’ve encountered in a fantasy roleplaying game". Chris Chan of New Straits Times said, "Neverwinter Nights is every role-playing gamer's dream". Allgame found that the game's story was "humdrum" and "mediocre". Mark Meadows of The Wisconsin State Journal agreed, saying the game was too focused on technical details. Victor Godinez of Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service did not care for the turn-based combat system, preferring to have direct control. He also said the controls were difficult to use occasionally.
GamePro noted the game's graphics as being "gorgeous" and its sound as "untouchable", and GameZone likewise praised its visuals, specifically mentioning its combat animation and spell effects as being well done. GameSpy wasn't as impressed by the graphics, saying "The biggest, and arguably the only, glaring flaw in the game, is its graphics. You can tell that this game has been in development for five years[...]"; however, they praised its voice acting and music. Godinez agreed, and also liked the game's audio, noting in particular the scraps of conversation that can be heard in the background throughout the city.
Allgame praised Neverwinter Night's DM tools, calling the game's level creation options "impressive" and the multiplayer options "great". GamePro thought that Neverwinter Nights is the closest that any video game has come to accurately representing the full Dungeons & Dragons rules, a statement further reinforced by Greg Kasavin of GameSpot, who said that "Neverwinter Nights isn't the first Dungeons & Dragons game for the computer to make use of the pen-and-paper game's 3rd Edition rules, but it's the first to implement them so well". GameZone said that the Aurora Toolset was one of the "best features" of the game. John Breeden II of The Washington Post said including the tool set was "smartest thing Bioware did". He went on to say that giving such tools to the players became more commonplace, but was a bold move at the time of the game's release. Chan commented, "you could use the Aurora tools to create a dream world".
Peter Suciu of Newsweek magazine called Neverwinter Nights "possibly the richest fantasy PC experience ever created." According to GameSpy, "Neverwinter's contribution to D&D gaming is always a hot topic and a source of argument."
Since the original release of Neverwinter Nights, several in-game portraits have been modified in patches due to their having been copied from outside sources. In another instance, the Canadian Red Cross complained to BioWare about the appearance of the Red Cross symbol on the in-game item "Healer's Kit", as part of a long-running attempt to discourage outside usage of the symbol. This resulted in the Red Cross symbol being removed from the Healer's Kit through patches.
Ian Williams of Paste rated the game #4 on his list of "The 10 Greatest Dungeons and Dragons Videogames" in 2015.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a role-playing game based in the Star Wars universe, was also released by BioWare using a heavily modified version of the Aurora engine of Neverwinter Nights. The sequel, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, also used this modified engine. Because of this, modders have been able to modify these games using some Neverwinter Nights modding tools. The Witcher, a role-playing video game by the Polish company CD Projekt RED, is also based on the Aurora engine of Neverwinter Nights. Its development was highly publicized within the Neverwinter Nights community. Finally, BioWare used Neverwinter Nights and its toolset to develop prototypes and mock-ups of various areas and scenarios for Dragon Age: Origins.
A sequel to Neverwinter Nights, Neverwinter Nights 2, was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a company with a long history with BioWare. According to BioWare, the change of developer was due to BioWare's business with other titles, such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins. Neverwinter Nights 2 shipped in November 2006.
On August 23, 2010, Atari announced Cryptic Studios would be developing Neverwinter, an online-RPG based on the book series of the same name by R.A. Salvatore. It is based on Wizards of the Coast's global property Dungeons & Dragons rules and feature the titular city. It was scheduled for an early 2013 release, and was ultimately released on June 20, 2013.
Neverwinter Nights has been used by many colleges and universities for a variety of educational purposes. It has been used at West Nottinghamshire College in the United Kingdom as a means of delivering Key Skills and of showing IT designers how to understand the coding in the game. The Synthetic Worlds Initiative at Indiana University has used it as a basis for the creation of Arden: The World of Shakespeare, where Shakespeare's dramatic history of Richard III and The War of the Roses can be interactively explored. The game and the Aurora toolset were also used at Macquarie University in Australia. The University of Alberta has offered a computer game design course which uses Neverwinter Nights and the Aurora Toolset as the platform for teaching and course projects. The University of Minnesota has used the game to teach journalism students how to gather facts and information for news events with a modified modern setting for the game that involves interviewing witnesses and doing library research; in a modified game, students would work in pairs putting together a story about a train accident that causes a toxic chemical spill. Neverwinter Nights has also been used as an interface for some Moodle activity types.
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