Saving throw VS expansion.
When Neverwinter Nights first appeared on the scene a year ago, we were all wildly impressed, but we didn't know the half of it. Every wannabe wizard and warrior picked up their virtual staves and longswords and solved the mystery of Neverwinter's terrible plague.
And when they were done, it turned out there was more. Much, much more. Bioware's Aurora toolset was included with the game, giving our inner dungeon masters unprecedented power. Hundreds of free player-created modules have been made available since then, and even better, scads of unique, online multiplayer worlds have surfaced, ready for any adventurer.
Of course, these offerings are technically not endorsed by Bioware and thus are of widely varying quality, which left me eager to find out what Bioware could do when unleashed on their own toolset. The resulting expansion Shadows of Undrentide reminds me why I like these guys so much, but also repeats the single-player focus of the original game with little acknowledgment of the enormous growth since its release.
Shadows of Undrentide is unlike most other expansion packs because it is not a continuation of the story and you cannot advance your original character any further. It simply features a new single-player campaign, new spells, new feats, new monsters, new terrain and some new specialized character classes.
The campaign starts you off in the small town of Hilltop, where you and some other students are apprenticed to the dwarf Master Drogan. Suddenly, the house is attacked by kobolds. They backstab Drogan with a special poisoned knife and steal four mysterious artifacts, which are more important than you could have imagined. So off you go to recover the artifacts and explore the world.
You can take one of your fellow students with you as a "henchman," just as in the first game but with a couple differences. First, each henchman has two customizable career paths. You can instruct Xanos, for example, to gain levels of either the sorcerer or barbarian class in any combination you please. You can also control your henchman's inventory and equipment, which you could not do before.
You have a few new options open to you as well. There are five new "prestige" classes: Shadowdancer, Blackguard, Harper Scout, Arcane Archer and Assassin. They are not available to you at first, requiring you to have certain abilities before you can select them. Since the new campaign really should be played with a first level character, it's nice to have a few new paths that you could not take in the original game.
The campaign itself is not quite as long as the first, but should still see your new character through level 20, the highest you can achieve. Like before, interesting moral choices abound and will have an effect on your alignment as you progress. Shadows of Undrentide has a heavier emphasis on puzzle solving than before; there are often many ways to get through a situation. All in all, it's a very well done campaign.
But as good as the campaign is, I wish they had also ironed out a few nagging gameplay issues that remain in NWN. For example, whenever a sorcerer, wizard or druid polymorphs into an animal, monster or other being, they usually have to redo their spellbook when they transform back. It can get frustrating. I'm sure the folks behind Undrentide consider that sort of thing to be the responsibility of the patch team, but I wish they had worked together.
Shadows of Undrentide runs on the same Aurora engine as NWN, so the graphics are pretty much identical. That's a good thing, though, as the game still holds up despite being a year old. Bioware doesn't skimp on the delivery at all, featuring solid voice-acting and effects, though the redundant battle music gets a little grating.
Everything else that comes with Undrentide is just fodder for all the amateur Dungeon Masters out there, and that is probably the best reason to get the game. Three new environmental tilesets are here: snow, desert and ancient tomb. That and about 17 new monsters, a bunch of new items, item models and other stuff guarantee that the nerdy D&D community will be making lots of stuff for you to play with and more servers for you to play on that will require you to have the expansion.
But in the long run, I would have loved to see even more tools and monsters rather than just the ones they made for the single-player campaign. The true life of this franchise lies in its fantastic multiplayer potential - this expansion should have addressed that in greater, more specific detail. Give a man a fish, even a really nice delicious fish, and he eats for a day. But give a bunch of geeks a huge set of D&D tools, and they'll stay up all night wired on Mountain Dew to create an infinite number of worlds.