This week for Beyond the MMORPG I figured I’d bring out the heavy artillery. The original Neverwinter Nights stands alone as one of the best RPG games ever made. Its reputation is further enhanced by its incredibility simple, yet powerful, toolset that allows players to create their own adventures and persistent worlds. The scripting used to create events and special effects in the game was fairly easy to get the hang of even before the player made script-makers were developed. Coupled with Bioware’s strong support of the community, this ease of use made it one of the most modded RPGs of all time. Even today there are dozens of persistent worlds hosting as many as sixty players at time (which is more than I can say for Dark and Light).
There are tons of great comparisons between NWN and MMOs: One of the most obvious is the faction system. This tool can be used in conjunction with customized scripts to make NPCs react properly to a player’s actions. If you run around murdering peasants it won’t be long before the town guards become hostile to you and inversely the ’bad guys’ might stop trying to put a sword in your gut. With clever use of scripting, you can create an entire web of interrelated factions that the player can gain or lose favor with by their deeds that can determine who they can accept quests from and where they can travel in safety without being chased by a lynch mob. Most MMOs have similar systems that work in more obvious ways, usually involving a player grinding reputation in order to get access to special quests or items.
Another great feature that this game shares with MMOs is a robust crafting system. The basic game featured a rather simple system involving base items that could be combined together to create more complex or finished items. Later expansions brought more scripts that could be used to create a really robust and deep crafting system given enough time. With proper use of scripting, players could design any item in the game with the proper skill, items and tools. The ability to customize armor and the use of dyes to make your clothing look somewhat unique was probably one of the best uses of this feature. Even the most basic use of crafting in NWN meets or exceeds that found in most modern MMOs, unless you count the number of mobs you must kill to get the drops you need.
NWN is based on the Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 rules. I’m not a fan of the later versions of D&D, but I must say they do work with a computer RPG system quite well. As we all know, D&D is the basis for virtually all of the RPGs that followed it, so the class system is obviously very close to what most MMOs offer. A small exception to this rule would be the ability for characters to multi-class by taking levels in up to three different character classes. Much different than a typical ‘respec’, a player can gain a wide variety of abilities at the cost of specializing in a particular area. In a way, this can lead to some fairly lethal/unbalanced combinations like the Pet Spewing Backstabber: (Rogue-Shadowdancer-Conjurer) or the Damage Dealing Polymorphing Deathdealer: (Barbarian-Druid-Shifter). Even though they share a class system, NWN has a huge variety of playable builds which would make for a developer’s nightmare to try and balance.
On the subject of balance, there is another area of NWN that goes a step beyond a typical MMO: Magic. Despite briefly flirting with a Spell Point aberration in the later incarnations of 2nd Edition, D&D has exclusively used the ‘Spells per day’ magic system. Most players would baulk at the idea of being limited to casting so many spells before *gasp* resting. Most gamers see Wizards and Priests as endless spell slingers whose only weak spot is being forced into melee. Spells in most MMOs are also (generally) just endless improved versions of the same half-dozen abilities, but even the computer version of D&D managed to create a nice collection of useable spells without being forced into the normal categories of buff, debuff, mez, stun, CC, etc. Imagine if they were able to use the full gamut of PnP spells!
The real point of this wasn’t NWN > MMOs. Obviously, online games have to make allowances for things that even a great multiplayer game like Neverwinter Nights doesn’t have to worry about. That being said, I would love to see some of the freeform elements that make NWN a great game find their way into some unnamed future MMO title made by Bioware, for example. Even though they share a lot of the same elements, it’s easy to see how a simple change in paradigm can have interesting results. We now return you to your regularly scheduled nonsense. Stay tuned to see what genre spanning title we pick for next weeks look Beyond the MMORPG.