Review by Kyriani Agrivar

Reviewed: 06/25/03 | Updated: 06/25/03

SoU: A good story and great content

I have seen many reviews and heard many opinions on both sides in regards to this expansion. I'd like to think of myself as impartial and fair. I point out things I like and do not without over glorifying one thing or another. Since I prefer acronyms over spelling out repetitive words, I shall refer to Neverwinter Nights as NWN, Shadows of Undrentide as SoU and the Original Campaign as OC.

Gameplay: Since I am familiar with the Aurora Engine now I have to say gameplay is as easy as it was in NWN. The radial menus and quick slots make getting around in the game simple and with the new additions such as henchman inventory access, as well as improved AI on everything, I have to say that gameplay is improved over the original NWN release. System improvements with the toolset allow for more creative options and streamline some of the more tedious work (such as henchman creation). The improved enemy AI was VERY noticeable! Running a Wizard there were MANY times I ran to another area only to be tracked down and pummeled by enemies I thought I'd given the slip to! I must also remark on additional game mechanic content such as prestige classes and new spells. Sadly the SoU developers hit some sort of road block on spellcasting prestige classes and my chosen profession did not have the option to take one. Personally this bothered me since I really enjoy playing spellcasters. It is my hope that this will be addressed in the next expansion. That aside I was happy to see the other basic prestige classes added in since it now gives more character building options and will increase the variety of character types to make. I would hope that the next expansion adds some of the Forgotten Realms campaign specific prestige classes to SoU (outside of the Harper Scout), such as Archmage. Thankfully each spellcasting class got a few new spells which was good since it opened up more variety in spellcaster types to be made.

Story: The storyline of SoU worried me at first since the intro was disturbingly similar to the original campaign of NWN. Fortunately once you get past the intro the game takes on a life of its own. This story has much more depth and attention to detail than the OC of NWN ever had. Along with fabulous amounts of scripting and creative use of lighting, placeables and atmosphere, the world really had a chance to come alive for me. The NPC Henchmen were an especially nice surprise due to their well thought out dialogues, the fact that they interacted with people other than yourself, and the new way in which they leveled up. I liked the fact that more options were opened up for you based on your class when speaking to people but I must say these options were used too infrequently for my taste (especially after chapter one). I would have liked to see dynamic xp given to rogue and bard (about half what a rogue would get) PC's for successfully opening locks and disarming traps since it would give these classes methods of xp gain not tied to combat or quest solving (which almost always involves combat). I would have also liked to see the return of xp gained for scribing scrolls successfully as well as the chance that you could fail scribing and ruin the scroll. Again this would give combat weak mages a chance to gain xp without resorting to combat. I did notice the new crafting options particularly for traps. I am hoping that the next expansion builds on that and gives options such as potion making and scroll making to spellcasters. Outside of these things that I felt should have been implemented, I cannot say I did not enjoy the SoU campaign. I personally wish the story had been longer since I was thoroughly enjoying it. Without including spoilers, I have to say that the plot took some nice twists and had some very unexpected events. I was also terribly impressed with the cut scenes since they provided a lot of nice background and were visually interesting to watch.

Graphics: Not much has changed here since NWN was released. The new tile sets that were introduced are great additions though they have some flaws that will hopefully be made up for by the modding community or by Bioware with the next expansion. Still, they really allow for the building of gorgeous customized settings and this is showcased well in the included story. On the down side the colors are still a bit drab. Now I know in More variety in the range of coloring can only be an improvement.
The special effects are excellent. The new spell animations are a nice addition. Over all the graphics are good.

Sound: The music in NWN is still very generic but this isn’t bad. The ambient sounds do their job of creating a living world and the new music added for SoU really fit well where it was used.

Replay: With the tool set (and tons of fan made modules as of this writing), and all the nifty additions that SoU adds to it, the tool set allows for the making of custom stories and adventures and will keep players busy well after they have beaten the included game story. As for the included story I can see it having some replay value since many options for henchman and alignment directions are offered. You can probably expect to play the included module at least twice and possibly more times. On this note I’d like to bring up my issues with the tool set.
I am still of the opinion that everything should have been customizable but in several instances, particularly with equipment, you are still limited to what is presented before you and can modify only certain things. I had hoped this expansion would address this lack of customization ability. I wanted to see more variety with how to craft items. Being able to make only about 9 or so variations on a sword can limit the uniqueness of items over time and nothing new was added here to address that. I will say though that with all the additional content added with this expansion you can only expect even more fan made modules to be created which in turn means more gaming!

Is It Worth The Price: I’d say so but only barely. The average video game of any sort runs anywhere from 30-70 dollars and usually has very limited replay value. At 30 dollars or less if you really shop around you get quite a lot for your money. If you think about how much you spend for just one evening out it's really an amazing value for the hours of play you'll get with the included story and who knows how much time after that building your own modules and playing other fan made stories.

Closing: I saw a lot of fan opinions and requests taken into account with this expansion. Not everything was addressed, but a good many things were, and this shows me Bioware does care about their customers. If Bioware continues to show this level of attention to their customers and continues taking their desires into account with product releases, they should see an equally positive response to the next expansion they release. Many people complained about this or that not being addressed but those same people hardly ever addressed everything that was. I am fair. Many things were added at the NWN communities requests where possible. I will say that some things which Bioware says are impossible really aren't though. Since fans have already found work arounds for these issues I say Bioware should be able to surpass the efforts of fans since it is their product and they have the resources. Since Epic Levels are a highly requested item and hinted about in the next expansion, perhaps we can look forward to an engine overhaul to address things such as robes (the fan made content for robes is excellent in my opinion. I'd like to see bioware expand on that and give us something wonderful. If fans can do a good job then the game makers should be able to do a great job.), horses, Spellcaster prestige classes, the ability to make custom spells, Removing the tie in between armor class and the torso model used for the armor's appearance, and open faced helms (Helmets - I know this means adding a bazillion head models to the game but I think it would address one of the player communities bigger grievances. People want circlets, pointed hats, or caps for their wizards not helms. Some people want open faced helms. To do this just make head models for each race/sex with each helmet model. I am sure with proper scripting it could be made to switch the base character head model with the same one only wearing the helm now couldnt it? This could eliminate that hooded head model in character creation (come on the guy/girl never takes off the hood? even when naked?????). I think that Bioware is off to a good start with this expansion but if the next one doesn't hit at least a few of the issues I presented above then they are likely to alienate their fanbase and lose potential buyers of their product.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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