Stardock

NWN2: Storm of Zehir Impressions

By on December 30, 2008 10:58:02 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

warreni

Join Date 12/2005
+86

My wife got me a copy of Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir for Christmas, so I've been playing for about a week now. Judging from the response on the official boards (http://nwn2forums.bioware.com/), people either love or hate this expansion. I'll try to give some of my insights into why this is the case by examining some of the new features in turn.

First and foremost, SoZ has a functional overland map of the sort that hasn't been seen in a major RPG release since the SSI Gold Box games. By "functional," I mean that unlike in the other campaigns, you don't just click on a location and insta-travel (tm) there. While new locations are gradually revealed on the map, you actually have to travel to them in real time (well, sort of--it's not like it actually takes you days of real-world time to go from one end of the map to the other). Some locations automatically appear on the map as you get close and some you will only see if you have a certain level of Search or Spot skill. You have an icon representing your party that you move around the map to various locations and frequently there will be random encounters that pop up on the map. These encounters also appear as an icon with a name and an encounter-level rating (this is equivalent to the "challenge rating" seen in the PnP game and actually in other parts of this game [which makes the two terms weirdly redundant]). If the EL rating is one or two numbers higher than the average level of the characters in your party, you probably want to stay away from that group, if at all possible, as they'll eat you for breakfast (possibly literally).

This segues nicely into one of the other new features, the party control system. In SoZ, you can have a party of up to four player characters and two NPCs. In dialogues with other non-player characters, you can use the conversation skills or attributes of any of the members of your party by clicking on a mini-portrait of that member and selecting the additional option(s). Your cleric may have insights due to a high Wisdom score or Heal skill; your wizard may have additional input based on his high Intelligence or Lore skill; any of your characters with Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate may have other dialog choices too. You can import pre-made characters into SoZ or make your own. Any newly-rolled character starts at fourth level unless he or she belongs to one of the races with delayed levelling due to potent racial abilities (yuan-ti, drow, et cetera). There are a few new playable races, orc and yuan-ti, and a few new prestige classes, warpriest and doomguide of Kelemvor, but that was clearly not a focus of the expansion.

So far, I've found the experience to be quite addictive. The design decision to take a party-based approach and reduce the quest from something world-shaking to something more, um, region-shaking was bold and could have been disastrous. In fact, this probably brings me to my first negative point: the party AI. If you've played through the OC, you know the AI was pretty good in that campaign but if you played Mask of the Betrayer, you know that the AI was downright dumb. Party members would stand around casually as their fellows were slaughtered mere meters away; others would insist on changing weapons the minute you took your eyes off of them, frequently for no particularly good reason. Others would run around like headless chickens in combat. Well, sadly, all of these problems are still here in SoZ. Obsidian tried to get around these issues by incorporating a scaled-down version of a user mod, the TonyK's AI mod, into Storm of Zehir. Unfortunately, the scaled-down version doesn't work very well. Fortunately, the inimitable TonyK has kindly produced an updated version of the AI mod, which can be found here. I found MotB essentially unplayable without this mod and I think SoZ would be as well. As it stands, this experience reminds me of playing Gateway to the Savage Frontier and that's a good thing. It's fun running a party of your own creation through this kind of adventure. Mind you, it's not a cakewalk. You may find yourself in many situations where you're overmatched and your best option is to retreat (fortunately, sometimes that is an option). Also, it's pretty much not an option not to take a ranger; the Hide, Move Silently, and Survival skills all play a dramatic role in your ability to avoid hostile random encounters on the overland map, and, unfortunately, even with a ranger in your party, the map is frankly populated with entirely too many of these.

There is a new commodity-trading system which isn't too complicated and probably rewards careful use, but I haven't bothered with it too much. Also, crafting has once again been changed, and, as much time as I spent fiddling with it in MotB, it just doesn't seem to be too worthwhile here. I've always found the crafting system to be more trouble than it's worth in pretty much all of these games. Also, the death system has changed to a slightly less friendly approach that is somewhat more in keeping with the PnP system. Instead of everyone miraculously "waking up" at the end of a combat, you actually have to heal party members whose health is between 0 and negative (insert half of the number of max HP here) in order to revive them. If their HP dips below negative half of max (in other words, a character with 15 hp is reduced to -8 hp), that character is dead and must be raised (using Raise Dead or Resurrection spells or similar magic) either by your cleric or at a local temple (for a fee, of course). The consequence of this semi-permanent death is that you have to approach battles with a lot more care.

On the whole, it's a great "old-school" RPG experience of the sort we haven't seen in many years. Sure, there's an excessive number of random encounters and without mods your party members are as useful as an ostrich's wings, but the story is engaging and you'll want to keep building up your party so you can go back and finish that quest you weren't quite powerful enough to complete. Also, I can't close this article without pointing out how cool the cover art (with a viper wound through a skull) is--it's very cool!

9 Replies
Search this post
Subscription Options


Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
December 30, 2008 2:59:01 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I found crafting very useful in Storm of Zehir, once you get the right recepies of course.  Early on an archery focused Ranger using a bow with elemental damage bonuses is very powerful, if you have the gold for the enchantments.  Crafting is also very powerful as some of the enchantments that can be applied to weapons are almost impossible to find in store bought weapons.  For example, I made my Doomguide a bastard sword with the Holy property, fire damage, and +2.  Also, crafting is probably the only way of getting a good Keen weapon for weapon masters.  While I have found good weapons, the weapons I have crafted are usualy much better.

In regards to party AI, I play on normal and have found it acceptable, after making some changes in the behavior menu of course.

Have to agree with you on the new death system.  In the original and MotB I usualy only focused on my main character as henchmen would just get right back up at the end of a battle.  Now in SoZ, I find myself keeping track of all of my characters.  I am glad that negative half was used instead of negative ten as some enemies will keep attacking a character for a round or two after their health becomes negative.

For the overland map, craft skills, lore and spellcraft also reveal places on the map.  Craft skills reveal things like wasp stingers, lore reveals ruins, and spell craft reveals wards that can be disarmed for XP.  As you said, a Ranger is basically required but even they can't find everything.

For conversation, alignment plays a role in options as well.  My chaotic characters had sarcastic remarks as options.

Much to my disapointment I didn't put a rouge in my party and now I encounter doors to treasure rooms that the knock spell can't open.

Hopefully Storm of Zehir will sell enough that a third expansion pack will be made.  I am persionaly looking forward to epic level fixes such as raising the level cap, allowing more than 10 levels in a prestiege class and fixing the number of attacks(PnP epic level limited PC attacks to four and used epic attack and save bonuses instead for a reason).  Plus it may be dreaming but having proper epic level spell casting would be very nice.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
December 30, 2008 4:38:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

[...]
Also, crafting has once again been changed, and, as much time as I spent fiddling with it in MotB, it just doesn't seem to be too worthwhile here.
[...]
I feel that overall, your assessment are fairly correct, but on this one, I really must object. The crafting in both the OC and MotB are incredibly powerful, but it was often too much hassle for me to care. In SoZ, the general power still remains, but is capped by the availability of recipies, basicly preventing you from creating wildly overpowered as soon as you are level X. It's obviously also "inferior" to MotB crafting, since MotB is geared for epic-level characters.

The main difference is that crafting in SoZ is ridiculously streamlined. In a good way. It's no longer a hassle to craft, and it retains it's general usability. I just wish that Obsidian would backtrack and fix all these minor faults with their previous campaigns, instead of their usual fire-and-forget approach to all their campaigns. Nothing ever gets fixed by Obsidian. But that's sorta beside my point.

And my point is that SoZ crafting rocks. It's user-friendly and it's power-level is adequate and appropriate for the level-range in which we are playing.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
December 30, 2008 4:53:25 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

I am glad that negative half was used instead of negative ten as some enemies will keep attacking a character for a round or two after their health becomes negative.

I know--this is crazy! Talk about kicking a guy when he's down.

 

And my point is that SoZ crafting rocks. It's user-friendly and it's power-level is adequate and appropriate for the level-range in which we are playing.

If it works for you, fantastic. I'm just kinda burned out on crafting after struggling in MotB to get the components for that special whatzit only to find out I'm missing one impossible-to-find gem, so I have to fire up the char editor and add it to my inventory (grr!).

I am persionaly looking forward to epic level fixes such as raising the level cap, allowing more than 10 levels in a prestiege class and fixing the number of attacks(PnP epic level limited PC attacks to four and used epic attack and save bonuses instead for a reason). Plus it may be dreaming but having proper epic level spell casting would be very nice.

Epic levels are tough to balance, but MotB did a pretty good job. Hey, I'm all for more expansions!

 

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
December 30, 2008 6:18:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting warreni,
[...]
If it works for you, fantastic. I'm just kinda burned out on crafting after struggling in MotB to get the components for that special whatzit only to find out I'm missing one impossible-to-find gem, so I have to fire up the char editor and add it to my inventory (grr!).
[...]

That's just it! There's basicly -nothing- of that in SoZ. There's no "extract and put together a gazillion different essences" or "collect this thingomajig pearl that is impossible to find or know that you should keep". Almost(?) everything is just money, tradegoods or bounty-stuff-that-weights-nothing-while-you-keep-it-in-your-bounty-bag.

Due to this, SoZ is also the first game I've played where I've utilized traps (Spike traps are bloody free to make, except gold!). And I want to stress how much I -hate- the crafting systems of the OC and MotB. Really, you should give it a shot.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
December 30, 2008 10:51:01 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

And I want to stress how much I -hate- the crafting systems of the OC and MotB. Really, you should give it a shot.

Well, I have been drooling over some "Gauntlets of Ogre Power". . . .

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
December 31, 2008 12:39:25 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Storm of Zehir is suprisingly old-school when you set the difficulty to DnD. Fireballs go back to being something you really don't want to throw inside your party, and running low on spells in a dungeon is more hassle than "press button, wait 10 seconds, full spells/health". I can see how that doesn't appeal to the crowd that only ever played the simplified NWN system before.

Also, the new dialogue system is brilliant - every party based RPG should use that.

It's almost heresy, but SoZ is probably the closest to Baldurs Gate style tactical combat NWN has ever been.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
December 31, 2008 10:02:54 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

It's almost heresy, but SoZ is probably the closest to Baldurs Gate style tactical combat NWN has ever been.

Not heresy at all. In fact, I was thinking something similar. There are some big differences between what we get with SoZ and the Baldur's Gate series of course. There aren't any companion-specific quests, which would be more-or-less impossible because your companions are user-created. There may be hireling quests but I haven't seen any yet. You can't really get the same level of personality out of a player-generated character as with a built-in game character; this is why you may not remember the level 15 rogue you finished SoZ with but who doesn't remember the dynamic duo of Boo and Minsc? So far, the world feels smaller than with BG, although this may actually be a consequence of map travel being implemented differently (and me not having gotten very far in the main story yet).

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 4, 2009 5:06:46 PM from PoliticalMachine Forums PoliticalMachine Forums

There may be hireling quests but I haven't seen any yet.

Septimund, anyone?  Well, you don't have to take him with you, but he is intimately involved in one quest.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
January 4, 2009 5:59:40 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

When it comes to cohorts, I've only found two. Both of which requires you to finish them before you can recruit the cohort.

Finch and Septimund.

Reason for Karma (Optional)
Successfully updated karma reason!
Stardock Forums v1.0.0.0    #108433  walnut3   Server Load Time: 00:00:00.0000437   Page Render Time:
Facebook Twitter YouTube Google+