Continuing an ancient gaming tradition.
Though ostracized for much of the 20th century, nerdy gamers have a long and noble
history. Don’t believe me? Earlier this month, an ancient Roman 20-sided
die sold at Christies for $17,925.00
– definitive proof that we can trace our geek lineage back 2000 years. I hope
Gary Gygax was the winning bidder.
While I can’t trace my own gaming back quite that long, I have been
playing Dungeons & Dragons or one of its computer variants almost constantly
for twenty years. Most recently, after I beat the single player Neverwinter
Nights campaign, I quickly became addicted to the online play for several
as a fan, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Hordes of the Underdark,
the second NWN expansion behind Shadows
of Undrentide, and now that it has arrived, I’m not disappointed. While
not perfect (what is?), Underdark offers a little somethin’
for everyone and is another must-have expansion pack for NWN
Fans of classic dungeon-crawls like Dungeon
Siege will be especially pleased by Hordes, as there’s
more linear progression to much higher power levels than the other NWN
titles. The simple plot seems to be inspired by Dungeon
The city of Waterdeep has always been a magnet for adventurers. They come
from far and wide to test themselves against the traps and creatures in the
Undermountain, a dungeon directly under the city. Undermountain, conceived and
maintained by the mad wizard Halaster, is constantly changing, restocked with
new monsters, fiendish traps, bewildering puzzles, and precious treasure to
tempt bold warriors to unlock its secrets…or die trying. Why would Halaster
do all this? No idea. I guess that’s why everyone thinks he’s crazy.
Normally, Undermountain has simply lurked under Waterdeep, waiting for people
to adventure downwards. However, recently things from the Undermountain have
been coming to the surface, and it turns out there’s stuff even deeper down
than Undermountain… in the Underdark. You have been warned.
The campaign will take you about 15-20 hours to complete and will take you
from level 15 to about level 25. That’s right – your characters are no longer
limited to level 20; “epic levels” have been added to let you buff up all the
way to level 40, if you like. You can also have up to two henchmen instead of
just one, bringing it closer to a party-based game. Add to that about 50 new
feats, about 40 new spells, 6 cool new prestige classes, 4 new tilesets, and
some new music and you’ve got a robust expansion.
But what really impresses me about Hordes is the inspiration
the developers took from the online community. One of the best parts of NWN
is that they spent as much time on the toolset as on the game, giving the users
incredible freedom to create their own worlds. And what better way to find out
what people want than to watch what they make?
The graphics, for example, are largely unchanged except for some more detailed
texture, especially for characters faces. But the developers added something
that’s been available to players as a very popular hack for ages: you can now
unlock the camera, look over you character’s shoulder and view the world from
a new perspective. You can at last check out the sky (although you wont see
much sky in the well-named Underdark) or peer down at that suspicious treasure
new epic levels are also great, and again imitate what the community has been
doing for years. Many online servers scripted in their own epic levels a year
ago, awarding permanent bonuses to players for experience at certain points
over level 20.
Another popular online mod was the addition of a crafting system so players
could use resources to make armor, weapons, jewelry, clothing, and even magic
items. ATS and CNR were two competing free tradeskill mods that you could
add to your server. Again, Bioware took their cue from the fans and added new
trade skills and support for crafting in Hordes. They also
added items that allow you to customize some of the look and color of your items.
The love for the multiplayer game that I thought was missing from Shadows
of Undrentide is definitely here in Hordes. It’s great
stuff that’s clearly for the online crowd, because looking at the sky and crafting
your own items is pretty much useless in single-player Hordes;
when you’re a level 21 demi-god, who cares if you can make a large shield? Instead,
just go online and you can show off your new purple monk’s robes.
But some of that love is missing from the single player. I prefer more open-ended
gameplay than the linear story of Underdark, and it seems like
all of Bioware’s best storywriters were busy working on Star
Wars: Knight of the Old Republic, because the dialogue options are more
limited, choices seldom effect your alignment, and someone seems to have confused
being evil with being a jerk.
So the best part of Hordes of the Underdark turns out not
to be the new campaign, but the extensive online support and terrific response
to its dedicated fan base. After anticipating the game and getting to play a
new adventure, I get to anticipate all over again what the fans are going to
do with all the new tools provided to them. Plus, I don’t have to wait 2000