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Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark Review
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|
Ah, the delights and intricacies of RPG lore... what would we ever do without 'em?
Underdark's new prestige classes rock!
This pack is significantly better than Shadows of Undrentide.
Neverwinter Nights is famous for numerous reasons; it features an in-depth approach to the 3rd edition D&D rule set, absolutely splendid 3D graphics, superb music and sounds, and a gripping fantasy tale to boot. Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, Bioware's second expansion pack in the Neverwinter Nights franchise, continues down a similar path, striving to convey an even deeper RPG experience. This time around players have the opportunity to undergo three lengthy chapters of non-stop single-player RPG goodness, toying with plenty of new features and gameplay perk ups (about the specific innovations and improvements since the previous NWN game, you may check out our hands-on preview.
Hordes of the Underdark has one evident improvement over Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. First of all, the game puts players into an epic storyline that becomes more intriguing with each pace. Your task is to travel into the depths of the Undermountain and locate a powerful sorcerer and an army of Drow, who were responsible for attacking the so-called Inn of the Yawning Portal in the City of Waterdeep (one of the major cities in the Forgotten Realms). As the story unfolds, your character becomes immersed deep into an epic adventure, fighting to reach his own standing as a hero and adventurer. At the same time, the leader of the Drow learns of your intentions to hunt her down and dispatches a band of assassins to stop you. This particular segment of the plot gives a personal note to the whole tale. It distinguishes your character as the only individual worthy enough to stand up to the Hordes of the Underdark. Many unforeseen events will take place throughout each chapter, so you should be involved for quite some time.
This expansion pack allows gamers get to try out six new prestige classes: Pale Master, Champion of Torm, Weapon Master, Shifter, Dwarven Defender, and Red Dragon Disciple. Since you start your adventure at level 15, all characters are skilled and trained in accordance with the prestige class you've chosen. This aspect sets off an excellent pace, which is more or less perpetuated throughout the entire game. The important thing you must realize, is that Hordes of the Underdark adjusts any character profile to level 15 automatically, so you won't have to worry about insufficient experience points or low-level characters (we've already mentioned this in our previous coverage, but just to be on the safe side). Regrettably, there's wasn't enough time to see each new prestige class in action, but we did manage to put two of them to the test - a skillful and sly Barbarian/Weapon Master and a cunning Wizard/Pale Master. Starting the game with high-level character classes allows for some serious action right from the beginning, relying, of course, on new skills and feats. We were impressed to see some of these in action. For instance, the Weapon Master, apart from being able to use an amazing variety of ranged and hand-to-hand weaponry, can use a significantly Improved Whirlwind Attack, which effectively deals out damage points to multiple enemies. The Pale Master counts on the powers of the Underworld, resurrecting the dead and summoning deadly creatures into the fray. The coolest innovation is being able to beef up your characters all way to level 21, after which they unlock epic level spells and skills. That's when the good stuff begins. With such powerful prestige classes, you'll be able to tackle with some of the deadliest foes around the block. Raising the level cap to 40 was a no doubt a welcomed move by Bioware. In practice though, your characters are likely to achieve the level of 30 by the end of the last chapter.
Yep, NWN still looks good!
I wish I could tell you what's going on here...
As before, Bioware continues to impress us with innovative level design, presenting a range of creative new traps and puzzles to experience along the way. Even though traps and puzzles do not offer any particularly notable posers that would challenge the mind, they come as an excellent boost to the tactical aspect of gameplay, forcing players to think before they leap into battle. Another point in the game where you have to rely on strategy is when using your henchmen. As you may already know, HotU features the possibility of hiring more than one henchmen, which creates sort of a leeway for your main character as he marches through monster-infested dungeons. We did encounter some problems with the AI though. Disappointingly, henchmen can still refuse to acknowledge orders (as they did in SoU); for example, they still attack foes even though you may not want them to. Also, if henchmen are accidentally separated from the rest of the party, they appear to have some difficulties when attempting to regroup (i.e. they take the long way around or simply get jammed around corners). Regardless of these AI and pathfinding issues, we've come to appreciate the option to toy around with the inventories of henchmen, equipping them with assorted weapons and items. Another good point is that you are able to level up your henchmen and specify which professions they should be improving on.
Judging from our experience, it was obvious that the developers incorporated a few enhancements to enemy AI, making most of them a tough nut to crack. Each monster - Drow, orc, or any other adversary - uses its abilities with precision and strategy. The fact that you are given a high-level character doesn't mean your opponents are dim-witted, so be prepared for some serious resistance.
There's no question that Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark is currently one of the best-looking RPG's on the market. Although the game still pretty much clings to the basics of the NWN engine, there are plenty of neat new effects to behold during gameplay. New spells and a huge number of impressive-looking new character and creature models all contribute to a gratifying visual experience. There's also a wide range of new tilesets exhibited throughout the game and a notable variety of details in the backdrop. Other features such as lighting, shadows, and character animation, all stay true to the original and Shadows of Undrentide. To cut a long story short, the game boasts an overall visual quality that will probably put it in the very top of contemporary PC titles. The sad thing, however, is that in higher resolution modes you are likely to undergo some frame-rate issues, especially when you beef up the texture pack to 64 MEG. Mind you, this doesn't mean that we're looking at an insufferable hardware hog. It seems that we encountered a slightly unoptimized engine code, but nothing more. (Test rig: AMD 2.2GHz, Radeon 9700 Pro, 768MB of RAM.)
Bioware made it clear that the expansion pack was expressly geared towards single-player gaming. Regardless, we feel that the new prestige classes would've established excellent foundation for some serious multiplayer fun. Fair enough, the single-player campaign ought to keep most of you occupied for about 20-30 hours. That should prove enough for even the hard-core fans.
On an overall note, Hordes of the Underdark offers a considerably more rewarding experience than the Shadows of Underntide and, therefore, deserves an honorable place in your RPG collection. It presents enough improvements to the NWN franchise to satisfy its ever-growing community of devoted players. After you're done, you'll most probably get the incentive to try it again with another new prestige class.
8.8 Very Good
Enjoyable and lengthy, dynamic gameplay, intriguing plot, plenty of new feats, spells, and skills to try out;
Issues in henchmen AI, slow frame-rate during large-scale battles.
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