It’s funny, when you’re at the “student” age it’s pretty much impossible to figure out who will go on to have a career in research, and who won’t. A friend did his doctoral dissertation last Friday (“Integration of Broadband Direct-Conversion Quadrature Modulators”, Helsinki University of Technology), I attended but didn’t really follow much of the discussion – broadband transmission and IC design theory aren’t my strong points. Anyway, the thing went fine. It was weird seeing him there, and remembering the guy who we had partied with so often and so long ago – let’s just say that at the time, the idea of him doing this would have sounded very bizarre. A bunch of us were laughing and saying things like “who would have thought?”. That’s the way the world turns, I guess. It’s a huge accomplishment in any case; pretty much anyone can graduate, it “just” takes lots of work… but getting a doctorate, that’s something that not everyone can do at all, even if they wanted.
The post-party was fun; not because it was anything special as a party, but because I got to see and talk with some people I hadn’t met in a while. That’s always good.
The next day, Janka stayed horizontal nursing a killer hangover she had somehow mysteriously acquired (I blame poisoned wine, it’s the only logical explanation…). I shambled upstairs sometime around noon and got to installing the new DVD burner I had bought to replace the ancient Samsung. Things went fine… and lo & behold: Neverwinter Nights 2 actually started up with this drive! Much rejoicing.
The SecuROM guys actually got back to me with an alternate binary I could try, I told them “thanks, but already got it to work”. Nice response, anyway, can’t fault them for that even though I really do advise people to be careful when buying games with this copy-protection, especially if your hardware is a bit older. Copy-protection schemes that end up hurting the honest customers are a very. very bad idea.
Anyway. About the game. It seems there is a universal law that says that second versions of games tend to be very good (whereas second versions of, say, movies tend to suck). It holds true for System Shock, it holds true for Baldur’s Gate, and it holds true here. Where the first Neverwinter Nights has hobbled by a crappy single-player campaign and ended up being more a technology demo than a game, here they have corrected that failing. The game looks gorgeous (assuming powerful graphics card) and the campaign is actually pretty good. So far, at least. Oh, it’s cliche city, but this is D&D and cliches are part of the fun. So once again we have some ancient evil returning to life, some mysterious artifact pieces, and “only you can save us!”. Shocker.
The thing that made Baldur’s Gate 2 so much fun were the various well-written NPCs that you could team up with (“Go for the eyes, Boo!”), and that facet seems to have been carried over here. Unlike the first game where you were pretty much solo, here you can have a party of max 4 people. The NPCs so far have been stereotypes, but fun stereotypes. There’s a semi-psychotic dwarf, a teenage half-demon thief, a “holier than thou” elven druid, and lots of others. The hard part is actually trying to decide who to include in the party, four members max doesn’t give you too many options.
I had intended to do a lot of stuff over the weekend but ended up playing NWN2 for most of it. Guess that says it all, it’s a pretty good game – an it’s hard to quit, there’s that “I’ll just do one more little quest” factor. It’s no BG2, at least not so far, but it has promise.
Some small negatives, of course, every game has them. The camera is a bit funky, and needs some getting use to (and even then annoys now and then). The framerate tends to crawl a bit in the more complicated locations, but there I can blame myself since I have enabled most of the eye-candy – framerates aren’t that critical in a game like this, anyway. The “AI” of your party members can be… “interesting”, and you pretty much have to run all spellcasters in “puppet mode”, otherwise they will decide to throw area-effect spells at the worst of times and do other bizarre stuff. No showstopper bugs so far, in fact very few bugs found in general. I did run into a “need to reload an earlier save” situation once when I decided to be preemptive and fireball a suspicious-looking group of thugs from the distance. Turned out that wasn’t such a good idea, I was supposed to talk to them first…
It also needs to be noted that at least to the point I have played to , the game is very linear. Maybe it will “open up” later on, but I’m not counting on it. That’s another reason why BG2 is Superior(tm).