Review of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (PC)
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UK Boxshot of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (PC)
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UK RELEASE: 05-Dec-2003 (Released)  | NORDIC RELEASE: 05-Dec-2003 (Released) |  US RELEASE: 02-Dec-2003 (Released)
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  Review of: Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark | By: Justin Fenico
02 Dec-2003
 

Thereís no denying that since Neverwinter Nights came out it became one of those games that hooked deep into my skin. As Iíve said before in my Undrentide review, Iím not a big D and D player (in fact I donít play at all) but Bioware was able to create such an experience that it didnít matter. After playing Hordes of the Underdark I can safely (and happily) report that theyíve done another stellar job. Through added elements, items, spells, and feats, Bioware has once more transported me to another land and Iím able to lose myself all over again.
  GENERAL
 

If youíve yet to play any of the NWN titles you probably should start reading up on some role-playing forums. NWN follows a specific set of Dungeon and Dragon Rules (specifically Wizards of the Coast rules). Under the glossy finish, the polished story, and the fantasy-like atmosphere are basic rules, designed to dictate the game. These rules deal out combat damage, what items you can use, how spells can be used, and pretty much everything else you encounter or do within the game. Donít fret though, the genius of NWN is that you never really have to worry about these rules and just concentrate on playing out the story. The story this time around deals with a past hero (yourself of course); one who is mentioned in both the stories of Neverwinter and Undrentide. You have once again been summoned to help out and this time around youíll be challenged to the highest degree.

  GAMEPLAY

If Bioware simply gave us a new story worth hours of gameplay and excitement I would have been satisfied. But knowing how good they are, I knew to expect more and was left with the same feeling Undrentide gave me. Just as in Undrentide, there is a focus on good vs. evil. Depending upon the choices you make will determine the ending you received.

Probably the biggest addition is to allow characters to break the level 20 cap. Going into Underdark will be a tough and treacherous journey, one in which youíll need to grow in power. Level 20 wonít cut it towards the second chapter of the game and by the end of the game youíll really feel a sense of how powerful your character has become. Bioware makes life easier if youíre a newcomer to the series as itíll allow you to choose a pre-generated character. Giving gamers the ability to move up to level 40 gives them a chance to become more than one class without having to worry about losing precious levels. Twenty more levels to pick and choose to be whatever you want. Oh the fun!

There is also a bunch of new content fans will be happy to browse though. Most noticeably are the new character portraits (20 in all), new character classes, new heads, and even some new voice sets. The most exciting additions are of course, the new character classes. After completing a few mandatory skills, youíll have the ability to gain access to some new classes (just as in Undrentide). My favorites being the Pale Master (necromancer), Shifter (ability to shape shift and take on animals powers), and probably the most interesting is the Red Dragon Disciple. This class allows you to take on some of the strengths of a red dragon as well as sprouting some wings! Talk about becoming a scary looking mother! Itís a true display of power indeed, not to mention something to show off to your friends.

Being that Underdark will be one hell of a battle, Bioware has given gamers a little bit more help this time around. Youíll now be able to team up with two henchmen through-out the quest. Added to this is some much appreciated repartee between the group. Every so often there will be a few moments of discussion between your henchman adding a little bit to the story and a nice deserved break from your quest. Depending on who is in your team, the discussions can be deep-thought or perhaps a bit amusing, either way, itís a nice added feature. There is even the possibility of developing some close kinship with one of your teammates (if you like that sort of thing).

Other goodies that youíll receive for your endless battle in Underdark are new spells (40), feats (50+), crafting abilities (wands, bottles etc.), the ability to summon your own golem, and even the chance to upgrade your weapons. Youíll find that Underdark adds a lot more than just a story and itís these additions that make it so enjoyable.

But hey, what about the story? Does it fit the NWN universe? Is there betrayal, action, tragedy, and honor all wrapped up into one? Well it wouldnít be a NWN game if there wasnít now would it? Iím pleased to say that Underdark doesnít disappoint and there are times when some of the things in the story surprised me. It also seems that Underdark plays a bit quicker than Undrentide. Definitely not as frustrating and there wasnít any real stand still moments. Underdark is a more fluid story with more of what I cravedÖaction. Fans of the NWN series will no doubt be basking in the sun once more.

  GRAPHICS

The funny thing about the graphics of NWN is that Hordes probably is the best looking one of all three titles. The monsters (16 new creations) have more detailed added, the new textures of the subterranean Underdark look crisp and clean, and even the magical effects still manage to please me.

Added to that there are some new clothing designs such as wizard outfits that look very cool. Much to my fondness, I no longer have to go around looking like someone in rags anymore. Spell casters (as well as other classes) finally get to customize there look for a slight cost of gold. While it wonít change your items properties, youíll be able to look the part when going into battle. Something else gamers will notice is the addition of an actual sky! Was that a moon I saw? Though you wonít really see it too much itís still a very nice and much needed graphical feature. For added benefit, the camera has been unlocked so you can pan right down to a 3rd person perspective to soak in some of the much needed detail added to some of the textures.

While the added content keeps Hordes just above the aging level, the engine is starting to show its end. If another NWN title does come out I hope to see something more than just added detail. Character models are showing their age as well as some of the older building and house textures. All in all however, youíll enjoy whatís there during your time spent playing.

  SOUND

Jeremy Soule, responsible for Neverwinter Nights has once again added new content thatíll make you swoon. The music really fits the atmosphere of Underdark in that both are a bigger scheme then the previous games. In Hordes you go up against an unseeingly amount of enemies and the music captures that essence perfectly. Though no plans have been set out yet, I would be the first person in line to put some money down for the soundtrack. I was hoping that the music wouldnít disappoint, and just as its previous brethren, Hordes is a musical work of art.

While some of the ambient sounds seem to be reused from the previous installments (all of which were high-quality for their time), the voice acting is very well done. Though Iím more favorable to the original Neverwinter when it comes to voice acting; all the characters in Hordes put on a convincing performance. It was also good to see that just because the game is an expansion pack that there wasn't any slouching in this department.

My only gripe is that I wanted to hear new incantations before casting a spell. Listening to the same old three or four verbal chants got old in the first title. Maybe Iíll put it on my wish list. Regardless of a few minor repeats and old tunes, Hordes adds to an already stellar track record of a good sound/music ensemble.

  INTERFACE / CONTROLS

Once again itís the, ďif itís not broke donít fix it routineĒ. The interface is over a year old and while it does have a bit of an old look to it, still gets the job done. I suppose there could have been some changes to give the game a bit of a face lift, but true fans of the series probably would have had someoneís head. On the up side, youíll be able to jump right back into this installment without any problems.

  SUMMARY    

After my time with Underdark I made it appoint to read the interview I did for it back in October to see what exactly was expected. Darcy Pajak said that Hordes was all about being an Epic, everything was on a larger scale: monsters, spells, skills, feats, storylineÖeverything. I canít say I disagree with him. Where as Undrentide gave gamers more of the same stuff they loved from Neverwinter, Bioware raises their own bar with Underdark. Fans will no doubt be sucked away again for hours upon hours.

 
  SCREENSHOTS
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (PC)
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