BioWare must be crapping themselves. There's a particular sub-race of stalker, separate from the mythical Ukrainian type, who follows his or her victim, copying everything they do. Obsidian, one-time Black Isle Studios, have followed in BioWare's footsteps, making Icewind Dale to BioWare's Baldur's Gate, making the sequel to BioWare's Knights Of The Old Republic, and now making Neverwinter Nights 2.
It's all a bit creepy. If I were BioWare, I'd have a restraining order out and a
large rottweiler in the yard. Attitudes to the original, long-delayed king of RPGs varied; it was welcomed for its toolset and its accurate 3D recreation of the Dungeons & Dragons world, but the single-campaign was somewhat turgid, if unpredictably twisty and satisfyingly long. Obsidian have recreated Neverwinter Nights almost exactly for the sequel, adding in everything that was in any of the expansion packs, but not really expanding on the previous game in any way.
Apart from the graphics, we really do have trouble believing it's a different game at all. So the first unoriginal element rears its head. Our hero has been raised on a remote farm, surprise! It's near enough the city of Neverwinter to get yobs coming out and tipping cows, but far enough away that the local swamp is teeming with lizardmen, undead and those really irritating Scottish gnats. And one night, in fact the very night you've done the tutorial at the local fair, they come to visit. Even the gnats.
PAVED WITH GOLD
So following a stalwart defence of your village, you're packed off to find your fortune in the big city of Neverwinter, with a mysterious magic shard that necromancers, demons and transplanar races seem really keen to get their hands on. Lucky you. By this point you'll have created your character and chosen your race. The traditional D&D creeds are all in there, with the addition of substantially different sub-races and the powerful new Tiefling and Aasimar races (half-devil and half-angel respectively.) You'll also have chosen your class, which Obsidian have also expanded incrementally from the last NWN expansion; on top of the usual monk, fighter, ranger and so on, there's a whole host of new prestige classes, ranging from berserker to shadow thief.
As always, the really interesting plot isn't why your avatar is chasing down the macguffin, but why your team members have chosen to come along with you, beyond simple bloodlust. Like Knights Of The Old Republic II, you recruit henchmen as you travel the world. You can have up to three henchmen (other henchmen wait at your uncle's pub) and, while they're not quite as bizarrely inspired as Planescape Torment's garrulous skull, pyromaniac corpse and hollow suit of armour, or Baldur's Gate's berserker Minsc and his pet hamster, or even NWN1's kobold bard Deekin, they're perfectly good sidekicks whose stories are worth eliciting.
You find out more about your motley crew by performing tasks which they approve of, at which point you can go deeper into their backstories and hopefully unlock more of their skills. However, balancing off individual members' desires can be difficult, especially as it's hard to predict how they react to a given action.
GO ON, SCRATCH IT
The amazing thing about Neverwinter Nights is the amount of information just below the surface and the varied ways of getting to it. After an age playing the game and a bit of exploration in the menu system, we discovered that a long right-click could create a previously unearthed menu that provided 120 different quick-action buttons for each character. And it's not all about the customisable depth of the game either - in terms of prettification, the highly mobile camera gives you the option of playing from just about any angle.