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Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark Preview
PIII 800, 96MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 1.2GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Dec 02, 03 (released)
|» All About Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark on ActionTrip|
In the last year or so, Bioware proved their superiority by bringing us two of the industry's top RPG franchises, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox) and Neverwinter Nights - both of which garnered massive critical acclaim and popularity within the RPG crowd. Never ones to rest on their laurels, the folks at Bioware are keeping themselves busy with yet another project, entitled Jade Empire, which is based on an entirely new engine (the game is slated for a 2004 release). Next month will finally bring the PC version of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to store shelves, and by the end of 2003, we should be playing the next NWN expansion pack, Hordes of the Underdark.
As you all know, Bioware worked with Floodgate to bring us the first expansion pack, Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide, which delivered a deep and extensive RPG experience. This time Bioware opted to go solo with Hordes of the Underdark, maintaining their meticulous approach to design and extending the boundaries of the game. In addition to offering six new classes, 4 new tilesets, and 16 new creatures, Hordes of the Underdark will also feature visual improvements and additional character artwork. But, that won't be all, fellow readers. Read on to find out more.
We have asked ourselves many times: what is it that makes NWN a good game? One of the obvious things is its overwhelming depth and an incredible amount of RPG goodies and D&D delicacies present throughout the entire game. Bioware revealed that some of the 3rd edition rules were tweaked in Hordes of the Underdark, in order to balance out the gameplay - but fear not, these changes are minor and shouldn't impact the default rule set. This expansion is all about increasing the scope. The enhanced character creation system, additional prestige classes, and epic level support should allow players to fine-tune their characters more than ever before.
The interesting thing is that the plot in Hordes of the Underdark connects more to the original game than Shadows of Undrentide. You start off your journey in the City of Waterdeep, one of the largest cities in the well-known Forgotten Realms setting. Its citizens fear of being attacked by an army of Mind Flayers, beholders, and Drow (dark elves). As a brave youthful adventurer, you respond to the city's last desperate call for aid. Shaking off the memory of a troubling dream, our hero sobers up and finds himself in the Inn of the Yawning Portal. The game begins as you discover a sneaky Drow thief poking around your quarters looking for something to pilfer. How the story goes from here, is completely up to you. You may decide to do away with the plunderer or, if you're a more kindhearted person, you can let him go on his way. This incident soon turns out to be more than a mere break in, as a bunch of badass Drow enter the inn and start killing everyone in sight. Once you fight off the group of unwelcomed dark elves, you start to unravel an even graver mystery that's strongly tied to the whole ordeal. Deekin, the kobold bard from Shadows of Undrentide, advises you to pay a visit to the Undermountain - a rather unpleasant place, created by a mad wizard. It is only there that you might resolve this mystery.
Bioware estimates roughly that players will be able to enjoy a 20-hour single-player campaign. Of course, 20 hours is just a ballpark figure, since there's quite a bit of extra locations to explore, side-quests to complete, and other innovative features to toy with throughout the game. To begin with, you'll now be able to enjoy six new prestige classes (three of which have been revealed so far - Champion of Torm, Weapon Master, and Shifter). Each new prestige class can be advanced according to D&D epic-level rules. This time around, as you progress through the game, you'll be able to reach an amazing new level cap of 40. Along with this, players get to test over 200 brand-new feats and skills, in addition to 40 new spells. RPG fans who prefer melee combat will get an opportunity to try out a couple of brand new weapons such as whips and Dwarven Waraxes.
As you slowly venture through mysterious and unexplored lands, you'll run into a charming welcoming comity that consists of the following new enemy types: Harpy, Azer, Demilich, Demonflesh Golem, Mithral Golem, Beholder, Drider, Mind Flayer, Spider Demon, and many others. Actually, there's 16 innovative opponents altogether, so it's safe to say you'll have your hands full. Some beings you'll encounter are quite ruthless. For instance, the Drow and Mind Flayers live in a society based on enslavement - in a certain level you'll be able to witness a slave auction. A lot of info on all of these creatures can be found on Bioware's official Hordes of the Underdark web site. The creative team at Bioware appeared to have put a solid effort into making each creature unique in appearance (a big hand goes to the artists for that one). In addition to that, all monsters and NPC's will react according to their improved AI routines. Fighting them, however, doesn't necessarily have to be a solo endeavor. Should you desire some company during quests, you may seek assistance by hiring two henchmen. This signifies a slight progress from the original, where you were allowed to recruit only one henchman at a time.
When it first hit the market, Neverwinter Nights outshone many competing RPG's with superb visuals and audio effects; featuring impressive huge outdoor and indoor 3D environments, an amazing scope of excellent artwork, beautifully animated characters, spectacular spell effects, and of course first rate voicing and a killer soundtrack. Mix all that together and you've got yourself one hell of an RPG cocktail. Relying on this successful formula, Hordes of the Underdark will bring a decent number of new visual touches. The four new tilesets (i.e. Exterior Underdark, Drow Interior, and Mind Flayer Tunnels) provide some nice-looking exteriors and interiors, which include highly detailed texture patterns. This time every character model and object in the environment has been revamped and supplemented with more details than in the original and NWN: SoU. A new motion-capture animation technique is also being employed to make characters and creatures move more realistically. Apparently, the same technique is being used in the creation of the upcoming Xbox title, Jade Empire. Another commendable improvement is the camera control system, which was updated so that you can view the action from a 3rd person (eye level) perspective. The MOD making community should be happy with the new bonus features now present in the Aurora Toolset - for example, players can now set the fog-clipping distance. Additionally, you can modify several NPC's and all playable races. You can also have some fun by adding wings and tails to some of the existing models.
In order to stay true to the NWN audio experience, Bioware rehired Jeremy Soule, their favorite composer, to dish out some new tunes. Jeremy previously worked on soundtracks for Total Annihilation (the renowned RTS from 1997), Morrowind, Dungeon Siege, and Icewind Dale. This talented composer also showed exemplary work in the recently released Xbox RPG, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Not only did he manage to come up with new tunes for a Star Wars game, but he also succeeded in merging John Williams' tracks into a perfect score. Jeremy's other music credits include, Sovereign, Unreal II, Impossible Creatures, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, and others.
That's about all I can tell you for now, kids. I'm sure you're all anxious to play Hordes of the Underdark. One thing goes without saying; when it comes to RPG's, Bioware never let us down yet. Here's hoping for Hordes of the Underdark. Also, I wouldn't mind seeing a NWN follow up, but let's not be hasty, eh?
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