Recently I was reminiscing with my other half about our favourite games, he has been very keen on launching his favourites at me (Portal, Final Fantasy, Stardew Valley, etc), all of which I’ve enjoyed (with the exception of FFVIII), while he hasn’t really tried ones that I like yet. He did download Dragon Age Inquisition but stopped playing literally when the intro was over. It hurts my soul that he did this but he didn’t like the gameplay, even though he didn’t see much of it or play for long enough to appreciate any character development or story… but I’m not bitter. I got to talking about Neverwinter Nights with him, a game which I may have mentioned occasionally in previous posts. He has never played it and I got a little carried away reminiscing about it. It’s about time that these games, both the first and second, have a post dedicated to them because it is easy to say that they (specifically the second one) are my favourite games of all time.
Let’s start at the beginning and I’ll set the scene. The year was 2002, potentially the summer, I was a mere child of 8 and I was watching my dad play his latest game: Neverwinter Nights. My previous favourite games to watch him play were Baldur’s Gate and Doom (those are the ones that stick most in my memory at least, Doom probably not for good reasons). Then BOOM along came NWN with its incredible story, wonderful characters, and – at the time – great graphics. I was hooked. I can’t remember specifically when I started playing NWN myself because I used to sort of have a go, often starting from the beginning over and over as I did with most ‘big’ games in my youth, one day though I did finish it properly, it was probably the first ever ‘adult’ game I ever finished and I was VERY proud. I then went on to play the expansion packs Hordes of the Underdark and Shadows of the Undrentide, which were also very good.
Thinking about it, the reason NWN appealed to me at such a young age was probably the wonderful storytelling in the game and the engagement with the NPCs. NWN is based on Dungeons and Dragons, using the same fighting mechanism and the same Forgotten Realms world as a base, this is also most likely why it has such a great story. When I started playing D&D a couple of years ago I realised just how similar the two were. The text scrolling along the side of the screen in NWN for example helped me understand (sort of) how to play D&D quite quickly, or at least to improvise what I didn’t understand to create a playable game.
Unfortunately I don’t remember a huge amount of the first NWN, just that I enjoyed it immensely, I always thought the paladin Lady Aribeth de Tylmarande (pictured below in her awesome armour) was one of the coolest female video game characters ever (she looked so badass) and henchman Daelan Red Tiger was always my bro. When I come into possession of a gaming PC/Laptop I will be playing it again to relive some of my youth but until then I’ll have to make the rest of this post about NWN2.
Simply because I remember it more and spent A LOT of time on it, NWN2 will always be my favourite game. The magic of that game is just something I’ve never experienced with anything else. I connected so much to the characters (that sounds kind of sad but I really did, especially my bestie Khelgar), the story was brilliant, there are so many wonderful things added to it that give the whole world and the story so much depth, for example when you have to find each of the spirits that knew the Shadow King – the big bad guy – before he was corrupted by power and they tell you stories about what he was like before. It gives you such an unexpected connection to this creepy looking dude that you fight at the end and you feel sorry for him. Then there’s all those books that you can pick up and read but you don’t need – who writes those?! It’s actually someone’s job to write them! – If you want to you can learn about all the places, and about some of the characters, through books, NPCs and codices found in the game creating a whole history behind this world, solidifying it in your mind and making it seem almost like an exotic, medieval style country you’ve never been to but learned about in school or something.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH Another big thing was killing off Shandra halfway through the game. While she could be a little stuck up at first she grows on you and is set as a permanent companion, like your apprentice. I remember the first time I played through it and the death scene happened and all the companions expressing how they all felt about it (the gnome broke my heart, he was so upset) it was so unexpected as I’d never played anything that had killed off a main character before (this was 2006 so I was like 12 or 13 and hadn’t experienced as many games as I have now… but thinking about it I can’t think of a huge amount that do kill off main characters like that even now), I had tears in my eyes and had to take a moment to calm down.
MORE SPOILERS Then there was another new thing I had never come across in a game before – alternative endings. Before the final battle the Shadow King will try to persuade some of your companions over to his side, and it’s pretty much inevitable a couple will go, making you try to have them feel your glare through the screen as they swagger over to his side on a cloud of betrayal. I could never get enough influence over power-hungry Qara to have her not fight against me and the only way I ever got Bishop not to fight was by romancing him (more on that later). On top of that the Shadow King will also ask you if you want to join him, and you can! Despite trying to do an ‘evil’ play through I just can never be an evil character and never did that, I feel unnecessarily guilty about committing fictional evil acts. I’ve seen the bad ending though through the power of YouTube and it’s quite nasty in places. I’m glad I never did it or I would have been riddled with guilt.
On to what I mentioned before about romancing. This was the first game (lots of firsts here) I played where romancing was something that could add to the plot, or sub-plot. I almost always play as a female character and in NWN2 you have two love interests per gender. Both are heterosexual choices (the incredible display of Bioware’s sexually diverse characters didn’t arrive until 2009 when Dragon Age was released). As a female I had the choice between “he’s a bad boy but I can fix him!” Bishop the ranger, and “your holy aura of goodness and purity is blinding me” Casavir the paladin. I found this a bit unfair because Bishop was a total dick but was as fit as a bunch of 2006 pixels could get *swoon*. On the other hand you had Casavir, who was very nice but I thought he was boring and looked a little bit like he’d been beaten with a pixelated ugly stick (or maybe this is just my taste in men). I couldn’t shake the feeling they hadn’t meant to make him look quite like that. Pretty sure male characters got the best deal here with their choice being between pure, innocent Elanee the elf and the quirky, chaotic-but-not-evil Neeshka the tiefling. Seemed easier than the female’s choice of “you can either romance Satan or Jesus”. Despite my reserves about them I enjoyed the extra stories and side quests these romance options opened up, and the romance option was optional anyway so I didn’t have to stress about who to choose if I didn’t want to.
Perhaps I have been spoiled by the ‘golden age’ of RPGs because I am really struggling at the moment to find more RPGs of the same calibre of NWN, Baldur’s Gate, and Dragon Age. It seems like RPGs at the moment are either online, JRPGs, or they’re sort of from a first person perspective (The Witcher, Dark Souls, Skyrim…). While I enjoy those I don’t get as immersed in them as I do with my classic favourites, I never really feel like I am the character, I feel like I’ve been assigned a character to play. Sometimes I like that but I largely prefer having a character I can start from scratch with and mould their personality as I play through the game. On top of that I can’t really think of any characters from games recently where I’ve been emotionally invested in what happens to them and actually really like them. I suppose Borderlands comes pretty close, they have some good characters in there but as they don’t travel with you or fight with you – unless it’s part of a quest – it doesn’t really count. You could argue that you get that NPC relationship with JRPGs, playing through FFX at the moment I’d be pretty upset if something happened to one of my team but to be honest it wouldn’t hit me anywhere near as hard as if they killed off Varric in Dragon Age, for example (they don’t BTW in case you had a brief moment of panic, it was a hypothetical example).
Do you have any RPG recommendations for me? What are your favourite RPGs? Who else played Neverwinter Nights? Also, how cool would that NWN eye be as a tattoo? (Not thinking of getting one, just an observation…)