When I lived with my parents my younger brother and I would often play games together. It started of course with him wanting to play single player titles as a toddler, at which point I would hand him a disconnected controller and call it a day. Once he got a bit older we’d play Mario games, particularly the ones with a simplified multiplayer option for the second player like Mario Kart Double Dash or Super Mario Galaxy. But the age difference between us often served as a barrier to the two of us getting to play any games that I would have been legitimately interested in playing multiplayer, and when he was finally the right age I became a college graduate quickly followed by newlywed and then parent. I didn’t have much time to offer for multiplayer games online and local multiplayer was completely out of the question since I lived hours away.
There was a sweet spot during the summers in college where my brother was old enough to play more mature games and I was available to play them with him. During those brief times we made our way through titles like Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube and Neverwinter Nights on the PC. Neverwinter Nights was a particular favorite – we’re both tabletop gamers but don’t get to play together, so it was the closest alternative we could manage to actually playing RPGs together. Unfortunately while we did get to play Neverwinter Nights some, we never had the time to finish a full campaign of the game. So when Neverwinter Nights enhanced edition was announced, my brother declared that we’d both be getting the game so we could play it together online.
It is in this context that I find myself once again delving into the world of Neverwinter Nights, a computer roleplaying game based on the 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons. At the time of writing, I’ve played a few hours of local multiplayer with my brother as well as experimenting a little bit with the single player mode in order to test certain features of the game as different classes. Today I’ll be sharing my first impressions of the enhanced edition for Nintendo Switch, discussing how this experience compares to my memory of the game on PC as well as considerations for new players.
Neverwinter Nights is set in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons. You create a character who becomes one of many students training at the Adventurer’s Academy in the city of Neverwinter. Neverwinter is currently torn apart by a plague known as the Wailing Death, and the Academy is desperate to train heroes to try and save the city from disaster. Rumor is that a cure is in development, and when the essential components of that rumored cure make their way out into the city, it’s up to you to collect them and learn the truth about the forces behind the Wailing Death. That is, assuming you start with the game’s main campaign.
The enhanced edition of Neverwinter Nights features all of the DLC for the original game. Shadows of Undrentide begins at a much smaller academy in the village of Hilltop and pits the students there against mysterious attackers who poisoned and robbed the master at the school, Drogan. Hordes of the Underdark focuses on a more experienced group of adventurers, who delve into the depths of the drow-ruled Underdark in order to prevent the dangerous magic there from pouring into the world above. In addition to these modules created by BioWare, there are also popular player-created modules that continue to be available for the enhanced edition.
Any module can be played alone or with the benefit of multiplayer. Multiplayer is available both online and through a local connection. Setting up multiplayer can be a bit of a challenge, or at least it was for my brother and me. Some of our issues came from the tricky UI of the multiplayer menu. When you select to create a game, it is generated automatically as an online server. You have to go into the advanced menu and turn off the “post game to internet” option in order to select a LAN connection. We also had difficulty setting up an online connection and were getting error messages that required a bit more computer literacy than either of us brought to the table. Since during our research we didn’t find a lot of complaints about struggles with multiplayer, I’m guessing that most players are finding it simple enough. But be aware that playing Neverwinter Nights with your buddies is going to be a little more complicated than just sending an invite or typing in a password.
This ties into a larger problem with the game where the mechanisms are not particularly friendly to console play. Just as the multiplayer wasn’t updated to allow for the built-in multiplayer systems of game consoles to simplify the process, the controls don’t do much to make complicated aspects of the game easier for new players to engage with. The A button is a contextual action button for triggering conversations, opening doors or chests, and attacking enemies by default. The problem is that targeting is based on some immeasurable combination of proximity to the target as well as the camera angle. When two objects are close together, you may open a chest when you’re trying to talk to an NPC. When trying to target a distant enemy, you may instead find yourself jogging over to the bookshelf behind them. Waggling the camera about to get the game to finally highlight your real target is a bit of a pain.
You can get around the targeting problems using the game’s “pause and play” mode. Pressing the minus (-) button on the Switch controller pauses the game and places a cursor on the screen. You can then maneuver that cursor with the control stick to specifically select exactly what you’re trying to interact with. The intent of this mode is for making tactical decisions during combat, allowing you to pause the action long enough to give orders to hirelings and summoned creatures as well as giving you time to make selections out of menus.
Menuing is a big part of the Neverwinter Nights experience for certain character types in the game. If you’re a rogue, you’ll probably have both stealth mode and detect mode on your ZL quickslots, allowing you to quickly hide or search for traps. If you’re a monk, your special techniques like stunning fist or flurry of blows make sense as quickslots as well. Where things get complicated are for spellcasters – with only 8 quickslots available, any character who has a large variety of spells to choose from will not be able to practically assign them all to quickslots. This makes tactical mode a must as you pause the game, open the ZR ability menu, hover over the class name, hover over the spell level that you want, and then select the spell you want from that menu. This means that for characters who rely on spellcasting, the experience of the game will involve a lot more pausing and navigating menus whereas a fighter can simply press A and watch the action unfold.
These are issues with the porting of the game. Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition is essentially the same core experience as the previous PC version, but with controls and UI that struggle to simplify the complex inputs that are possible with a keyboard and mouse. But when you push through those issues and get to the core Neverwinter Nights experience, how does that experience hold up? The players who will get the most out of Neverwinter Nights will be those who are familiar with the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, as familiarity with which strategies are most effective will help you to build characters who are capable of surviving the game. While the game will describe classes, spells, and feats with the press of a button, you don’t have the ability to view descriptions of what your character will be capable of in the future. This means that if a feat describes itself as a prerequisite for another feat, you won’t be able to see what the second feat is in order to decide if you care about working up towards it or not.
Neverwinter Nights, by virtue of being a video game, also makes it more difficult to make some classes viable compared to playing them on the tabletop. This struggle primarily affects the single player experience because of the limited number of characters you can have in your party. Playing alone you can only have one hireling, which means you are always likely to be missing a core valuable role: a healer, a tank, or an infiltrator. I’ve found that playing as a more vulnerable class like a wizard or a rogue and counting on your hireling to be the meatshield for your party isn’t particularly reliable. Because you are the party leader, you’re always the one at the front of the action, requiring you to reposition after entering through a doorway if your combat role is best served from a distance. Because of this, class choice is a big part of crafting your experience and choosing a class with high health and armor is likely to be the most viable in single player.
Delving into dungeons and maneuvering combat is a lot more satisfying in multiplayer, but multiplayer brings its own challenges. Neverwinter Nights is a game rife with NPC interactions. People give you quests, you ask them questions, and this leads to lengthy conversations with plenty of text to read. Sometimes in the midst of a dungeon or right before a final boss battle, you’ll have more dialogue to navigate. While this fine for a single player RPG, I’ve found that when playing multiplayer hitting large walls of text slows down the part of the game that you’ve really come together to enjoy. When you’re in a conversation and your partner is waiting on you to finish the discussion, you may not feel free to ask all the questions or explore all of the conversation branches that you want to.
Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition is a game that, at first blush, appears to struggle in a lot of areas. The transition to consoles wasn’t smooth and the game has barriers to overcome as either a single player title or a multiplayer game. That said, it has positives in both areas too. The story and characters of Neverwinter Nights are compelling and single player allows you to dive as deep into that story as you would like. The combat – while bogged down by nested radial menus – is challenging and it’s fun to design a character that fills a role you enjoy playing. It particularly excels in multiplayer where you and your friends can cooperate and plan together. It’s unfortunate that these positives don’t combine together in a cohesive experience, but if you have the advantage of a friend or two to play with then you can – in separate sittings – enjoy the high points of Neverwinter Nights as well on Switch as you can on anything else.
As to whether or not I would recommend this console version of the game compared to a PC version? Based on my first impressions of the game, the Enhanced Edition of Neverwinter Nights doesn’t have much to offer outside of nostalgia for the core game itself. And since NWN is still available for purchase on PC via Steam, I honestly can’t make a strong defense for picking the game up on a console unless you – like me – don’t have a computer capable of running the game. The Switch version can bring some nostalgia for experienced players – it certainly did for me – but it brings no improvements to the formula to help make Neverwinter Nights any better of an experience than it was in the past.