Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Neverwinter Nights: D&D 3E Done Right

So after writing my Sword & Sorcery short, I started jonesing for some kind of video game hack-and-slash action.  I had played Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition a few years ago, but didn't get all that far in it.  I decided to get back on the wagon and play again.  I of course created "Nanok the Barbarian" and gave him a Weapon Focus in Greatsword (like you do).  I put the game on Easy because smacking the crap out of AI goons is just that much more fun, and I began to loot and pillage to my heart's content.

For those not in the know, Neverwinter Nights is a video game that came out a while back that uses the D&D 3.0 rules to run everything.  It is actually explicitly 3.0, not 3.5, so certain things might seem a little odd if 3.5 was your 3E of choice.  I'm not a huge computer game person, but I do like the occasional FPS or RPG-style computer game (Deus Ex is one of my favorite CRPGs of all time).  When I do play a game like this, I am one of those people who gets really "crunchy" with my character - what weapon do I take, tweaking stats, skills, etc..  I'm not a WoW or other MMO type player, so don't get that far into it, but I do like the ability to "fiddle" with my character like that.

One of the more pervasive criticisms, I felt, of D&D 3.X was that there was far too much crunch - people wanted more customizability, but not THAT much more.  With class and race abilities and mods, skills, feats, various types of bonuses, and so forth, if you weren't more of a hardcore "crunchy gamer", and just someone who wanted to build a character to beat up orcs, you were faced with something of a choice-explosion.  What's worse is that, if you weren't at least semi-intelligent as to how you created your character, you could really do yourself a disservice and make choices that definitely dropped you down the backward slope of the power curve.

Now, I'm not going to go on a tirade about how this is why older editions were better or why 3E sucks.  I actually enjoyed a lot of my 3E gaming, but I can see arguments for and against.  It was a "modernization" of the D&D mechanics, which I didn't have a problem with, but I think it just got over engineered; Castles & Crusades, in my mind, is a much better approach and still makes the game a lot more "modern" (unified core mechanic, so on and so forth).

But for a CRPG, D&D 3.0 is great.  It provides the computer with a very tightly-woven, crunchy, almost-every-situation-covered rules framework, something that a lot of CRPGs were already going for at the time and the player based love it (see Deus Ex...).  Also, because of the way a computer can offer up (or hide) information to the user, a lof of that "choice-explosion" goes away.  When it's time to pick a feat, it only shows you feats that you can actually take.  When you pick up a weapon in the game, you're told immediately whether you can use it or not.  You can see all your relevant modifiers worked into the final bonuses or penalties without doing the math yourself. 

At the end of the day, 3.0 might have been passed by these days, but I still think that generation of D&D rules were perfect as transition fodder for moving people back and forth from video games to RPGs and so on, because the rules could work in both media quite well, and one reinforced the other.  I'm curious (because I don't know) if there have been any video games based around 4E rules - my guess is no, but if someone can say for certain, I'd appreciate it.


netlich said...

Well the new Neverwinter coming out this year is probably 4th edition although I bet they are not that happy now that 5th has been announced. 4th edition is probably used (although dumbed down) in the facebook game heroes of Neverwinter.

All in all from what I have read (I haven't played it) 4th edition is probably even better oriented for video games.

I am still gobsmacked by the success of the first NWN. And surprisingly I also revisited this treasure trove as yesterday I installed NWN2 again, as I want to play around with that version's module editor.

Gallowglas said...

The only D&D-related video game to come out since 4E's release (that I'm aware of) was something called "Daggerdale." The reviews were poor, to say the least:

Apparently a stated goal of the game was to make a widely-accessible implementation of the 4E rules. While it may have adapted the rules/mechanics adequately, reviewers report the game suffers from poor, repetitive gameplay, a nearly-nonexistent framing story, and few "story options" in play. Judged as a complete package, Daggerdale sounds like nearly the exact opposite of Bioware's Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights titles (which combined D&D rules fidelity with complex stories and consequence-laden choices to make in play).

Gallowglas said...

Good point above about new D&D: Neverwinter game (originally supposed to ship last December, now delayed). That also looks to be 4E under the hood:

Jack Badelaire said...

@Netlich: Granted I don't have much knowledge of 4E, but for me, where 3E shines is that is it is very video-game crunchy, but doesn't go as overboard with "everything you do is a special maneuver with a Capitalized Name". 4E seems to have a lot more of a Drazonball Z-esque approach, where combat is a series of special maneuvers that "combo up". At least in NWN, I almost never rely on a special maneuver, at least one that's not automatic (like Cleave).

Also, the more non-combat elements, such as relying on listen, spot, persuade, discipline, healing to use healer kits, the Rogue skills, and so on and so forth. I just feel it makes for a more holistic character.

And like Gallowglas says, I think 4E might work better for a "D&D" game that plays like Dungeon Siege, which is just an interconnected series of Kill & Loot & Level cycles, but not so much with a game that offers different ways of performing gameplay.

Gallowglas said...

To clarify, I think the 4E engine could work with a deeper, more complex type of video game; it just hasn't been used that way by video game designers yet. I'd chalk that more up to lack of imagination and/or competence on the part of the game studios than something inherent the nature of the rules themselves; sadly, not everyone is Bioware or Eidos.