E3 2008: Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir
During E3, at our meeting with Sega, we got to meet with one part of the Obsidian Entertainment team and watched them show off their latest game, Alpha Protocol. After our meeting with Sega, we then hustled over to Atari’s demonstration room where I got the opportunity to sit down with Obsidian’s Matthew Rorie as he showed off a very different game: Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir. Though you might not think much of the second expansion pack for the popular D&D RPG Neverwinter Nights 2, the upgrade fundamentally alters the Neverwinter Nights universe in a very profound way.
The first change that players of the series are sure to appreciate is the ability to finally be able to customize your whole party from the beginning. While previous games allowed you to create your own character, none allowed you to customize your own party. That will all change when Storm of Zehir ships later this year when it introduces character creation for all four characters. Additionally, you can also now play as a Swashbuckler, a “light fighter that emphasizes dexterity over strength,” according to Rorie.
Another first for the series is that all of the characters in your party can chime in during dialogue scenes. This will surely add more personality to the game, but it will also allow you to use each character’s dialogue abilities to the fullest. Some characters are more intimidating, some are better at diplomacy, but now you can access all of their skills to truly shape the game as you want to. Rorie showed off how the new dialogue system works by using a secondary character to intimidate a non-player character into giving up his sword. Suffice to say, I think it will really add a lot of depth to the game.
The story revolves around Volothamp Geddarm, a character that D&D fans will be very familiar with. Volo attempts to publish a book in his homeland, but the book is banned and he is forced to leave by ship. Due to the nature of ship travel and the dangers of being a banned author, his ship crash lands on a strange island full of Yuam-ti who worship Zehir, the god of poison, darkness and snakes.
Immediately after crashing to the island, your party is attacked by dozens of Batiri goblins, who were described to be as “jungle goblins” by Rorie. The jungle will play a key role in the game’s graphical design, which is notably more colorful than previous Neverwinter Nights games. Rorie went as far as calling the other games “sepia toned” and seemed very enthused as he showed me a lush garden in one of the game’s cities that was full of vibrant red flowers. The color pallet has been greatly expanded for this game, utilizing tropical colors to compliment the setting.
The new artistic style also extends to the world map, which has been redesigned for the game. Unlike in previous games, where you selected the location you wanted to travel to on a flat, 2D map, you’ll actually move your character between locations on the world map in much the same way you travel through cities and dungeons. Additionally, you’ll also be able to fight enemies on the world map. Don’t worry, there won’t be random battles. I was relieved to see enemy models walking around the battlefield. It was also nice to see that enemies are smart enough to know not to mess with you – as Rorie’s high-level character roamed around the world map, lower-leveled enemies didn’t attack him.
One of the most popular parts of the Neverwinter Nights games has been the customization. I was told that players would be able to fully modify the game, even incorporating the world map into their own adventures. “Everything that we have, you have” was what I was told as far as tools go, so I imagine players will be able to continue creating robust modules for the expansion. Players also shouldn’t worry about upgrading their computers to play the game: while the graphics engine did look updated and the game looked as beautiful as ever, it doesn’t seem too far removed from the earlier games.
Before I left the interview, I couldn’t resist asking Rorie a question that I’ve been dying to ask a developer of a popular game: do the expectations the fans have hold you back? His answer was smart. According to Rorie, the team always makes sure to listen to the fans, but they never let that hold back their vision. While the community might be hesitant to embrace the changes that Rorie and the team at Obsidian have implemented here in Storm of Zehir. However, given my own experience with Neverwinter Nights 2, I think these changes will greatly enhance the game and fans shouldn’t have any doubts.