Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide

Developer:  BioWare Corp
Publisher:  Atari
Year Released:  2003

Review by Rosemary Young (August, 2003)
This is an expansion pack or an official campaign add-on for the game Neverwinter Nights (NWN) which was released a year ago. This means that you must have the original game installed before you can install this one. On start up you then get the choice of playing the original or this game, Shadows of Undrentide. So click on the latter and you can take this latest journey.

Although it is an expansion pack the story of Shadows of Undrentide doesn't build on the original story, it's a completely new tale. It starts out in the northern village of Hilltop where it's white with snow and trouble is a-brewing. You are a student of the wise old Drogan who has retired in this wild country and devoted himself to teaching. He also has in his possession some powerful artefacts, but not for long. As you enter the game the 'school' is raided by goblins, Drogan is severely injured, and your starting tasks are to find a cure for him and chase after the stolen items. Of course this is just the beginning, as when you complete this latter task you'll discover that it was no mere opportunistic theft. There's evil at large and you'll learn all about it as you play the game.

Setting out
As it uses the same engine as NWN, the intricacies of the interface are the same. It's all very straightforward and you can read my Neverwinter review to get the gist of it rather than me repeating it here.

Once again you start out by picking up a pre-rolled character or you can design your own by following the step-by-step instructions. As with NWN you can easily diversify your character to have skills in different 'classes' as she (or he) gains experience on her travels. For example, a fighter with some complimentary rogue skills, or a mage who can pack a punch if need be. However, Undrentide includes five additional 'prestige' classes to aspire to, provided you have attained the necessary prerequisite skills. They are all quite tempting, and include a Blackguard that caught my attention. A sort of anti-Paladin, so you can have your cake (good fighting and healing skills) and eat it too because you don't have to be good all the time. The other prestige classes are Assassin, Shadowdancer, Harper Scout and Arcane Ranger, which also looked very interesting. For my next run through Undrentide I'm intending to take this super Ranger who can pep-up arrows with magic to make lethal missiles.

As well as the above new classes there are also a ton of new spells and feats, so many it's not possible to list them here.

Pick your partner
As with NWN you can also take a Henchman of your choice on this trip. There are just three available this time, though, and they are all multi classed. Druna the Rogue/Priest, Xanos the Sorcerer/Barbarian and a little later in the game you have another choice if you fancy a change of company. The Henchman 'feature' works much like it does in NWN although this time you have a little more control. Firstly you can influence their training so that they specialise in one or other of their assigned classes. This means that, although there are only two Henchmen around at the start, in reality you have double that choice of 'experts' if you concentrate their training ... a rogue, a barbarian, a sorcerer or a priest. You can also access your Henchman's inventory and equip them, or use them to carry extra goods.

This greater control is certainly an improvement over NWN as it gives a modicum of control during combat, but it still has its drawbacks. No matter what I did I could never get Druna to hold her ground for too long in death defying situations. After a while she would turn suicidal and enter the fray regardless of my express instructions. She also kept getting separated from me in areas that required intricate navigation. The trick in such situations is to 'dismiss' your Henchman (or woman) and pick them up again afterwards. Not ideal to be so fickle, but it works. I'm still of the opinion that the Henchman idea isn't as satisfying as having 'real' NPC companions although they do present an extra challenge in keeping them alive! And, of course, another pair of hands comes in handy now and again as well.

The journey
Undrentide might start out in the wilderness trudging through the snow, with a few caves and dungeons thrown in for variety, but this is just the beginning. Next up there is a desert trek and then you dive underground to explore some crumbling ruins before reaching your final destination, an abandoned city that once flew high but is now a mere reflection of its old self.

The journey is not so long on this occasion, but it's still fairly substantial, a good 40 hours or so, depending on how you play. As well as facing the usual collection of goblins, skeletons, spiders, golems, etc., there are some new creatures to contend with including basilisks, faerie dragons, pit fiends and formains (intelligent ants), one of which gave me a real headache with its regenerative powers. But, generally the fighting is not as harrowing as in NWN, even the major confrontations aren't too gruelling. And once more there are also a couple of riddles thrown in to get you past various barriers and some lever pulling and button pressing puzzles as well. These aren't difficult and they add a bit of welcome variety.

Help as you go
As usual there are some characters to meet and some side quests for you to attend to along the way. Because this game isn't as long as NWN there aren't as many, but you can find a sword for a lost soul, rescue prisoners and hostages, etc. Depending on how you handle conversations and situations, different things can happen and you might improve or ruin your reputation.

There is some humour about the game too, and some philosophical meanderings in some of the conversations. If you're the strong, silent type you don't have to chat to the incidental characters for too long, but I had some fun talking to the 'Prophet' and I took advantage of being mistaken for a God; accepting tribute is something I could get used to. I also had a real chuckle at the expense of the Stone Golem who was mortified that he didn't tell his master he loved him before he died.

All in all this was quite an agreeable journey. The graphics are good and very detailed, much the same as in NWN, but I was fascinated watching the shadows shift and re-shape this time around, perhaps because the gameworld isn't always as murky so they catch your attention more often. It's good, too, closing in and watching your character dodge a blow or weave a spell, and watching your footprints in the sand trail behind you and then disappear. This gave me the impression that the sand was so fine it couldn't 'hold' imprints for more than the time it took to walk a few steps. Along with the great music, which is at least partly recycled from NWN, these little touches really contribute to the game.

If you're like me and  enjoyed Neverwinter Nights then you'll enjoy Shadows of Undrentide. Maybe it doesn't have the depth of the Baldur's Gate series because the single player combat isn't as tactical and your companions aren't so developed, but it's still a fun romp through a dangerous, magical land. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Minimum: Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP for server/client, Linux for server, (Mac OSX pending in future) (note that 95 and NT are not officially supported, though the game may run for some users in NT), Processor: Pentium© II 450 MHz or AMD K6- 450 MHz, Memory: Windows 98/ME 96 MB, Windows 2000SP2/XP 128 MB, Hard Disk Space: 1.2 GB of install space is required, CD-ROM Drive: 8x or better, Video: 16 MB TNT2-class OpenGL 1.2 compliant video card, Sound: any Windows 98/2000/ME/XP compliant soundcard, DirectX: DirectX© version 8.1, Keyboard, Mouse, Multiplayer (not required): Connecting as a Client - 56k Modem, Server Hosting 3 or less players (including server) - 56k Modem

Recommended: Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP for server/client, Linux for server, (Mac OSX pending in future) Processor: Pentium© III 800 MHz or AthlonTM 800 MHz, Memory: Windows 98/ME 128 MB, Windows 2000SP2/XP 256 MB, Hard Disk Space: 2.0 GB of install space required, CD-ROM Drive: 8x speed, Video: NVIDIA GeForce 2/ATI Radeon, Sound: Windows 98/2000/ME/XP DirectX© certified sound card, DirectX: DirectX© version 8.1, Keyboard, Mouse. Multiplayer (not required): Connecting as a Client - Broadband Connection recommended