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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Role-Playing

 

Publisher

Atari

 

Developer

Bioware

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2004

 

 

- Good use of D&D license

- New items, creatures, and dungeons galore

- Solid, well implemented character development

 

 

- A.I. For creatures and henchmen is below expectations

- Trial and error puzzles slow down the action

- Some mysterious and annoying bug even after current patch is applied

 

 

Review: Neverwinter Nights (PC)

Review: Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide (PC)

Review: Icewind Dale II (PC)

 

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Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark

Score: 9/10

Though the first official expansion for Neverwinter Nights, Shadows of Undrentide,  was a solid effort and a good deal of fun, it lacked any real challenge and seemed a bit by-the-book and predictable.  With the second expansion, Hordes of the Underdark, Bioware addresses those issues with a simple change of setting.  The world of the Underdark, with its foul beasts and the cunning Drow, is fascinating.  Bioware even added a few new tile-sets for the dungeons, giving the game a bit different look from its predecessors.  Add to those improvements a few new prestige classes and some intriguing puzzles and players are left with a fun game that is worth the slightly higher than normal expansion asking price.

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HOTU is an adventure for characters of at least 15 levels.  It is possible to bring in characters from NN and Shadows of Undrentide, but the game also allows the player to create an instant high-level character or to choose a modifiable pre-generated character.  Regardless of which route the player takes, character levels are now topped off at 40, a level that players are unlikely to reach by the end of Underdark, but it's nice to know it is possible.

However the player chooses to choose a character, that character immediately becomes the central character in a prophecy delivered to a Drow priestess with illusions of grandeur.  It becomes the player's job to stop the Drow leader before she can flood the above ground world with her forces.  Surely this is a plot we've all seen before, but the Drow, the Underdark, and the various creatures that are new 

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to this expansion, all make the game feel fairly fresh.  I've said it too many times in reviews of D&D-based games, but the D&D license is truly remarkable in both the foundation and the freedom it provides for developers.  Bioware once again puts the license to good use.

On the technology side, HOTU is a slight improvement over the earlier installments.  The texture packages have improved; the overall image is sharper; the animation seems 

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smoother.  Bioware has expanded the functionality of the user-controlled camera, allowing players to pretty much get any view on the action they could possibly want.  This is a bit unnecessary since most of the viewpoints are impractical, but it is still nice to be able to look around while in pause mode.  On the downside technology-wise, I suffered a number of lockups on both test systems. 

Gameplay remains roughly the same.  NN has always been a point-and-click slasher RPG and it still is.  HOTU does mix in quite a few more puzzles that I had expected and some of them are even clever (most of them are simply trial-and-error, though), but the majority of the player's time will still be spent moving a cursor over a bad guy and clicking.

One of the heavily hyped new features was the ability to hire not one, but two henchman this time out.  It seemed nice in theory, but in practice the henchman A.I. was so weak and the path-finding so unreliable that I usually just stuck to one henchman at a time.  I was happy with the variety of available henchmen.  There seemed to be choices that would go well with any play style and main character choice.

One of the big complaints with NN and Shadows of Undrentide was the lack of any real challenge.  Underdark, a module designed for higher-level characters, provides a much harder challenge.  Players will find themselves fighting a dragon just a couple of hours into the game.  Wandering beasties include lots of Noxious Ogres and other mid-sized beasties that seem to come from all directions. Some patience will be required as most players will likely have to do a number of reloads in order to beat some of the harder battles, especially the boss battles and the last few encounters.

Any expansion of a game with a large mod community begs the question “Is this expansion worth the money when I can get so much for free?”  In the case of Hordes of the Underdark, the answer is certainly “yes.”  The adventure is decently long (15-20 hours) and has a unique feel and tone when set beside the earlier official offerings and the mod community stuff. 

--Tolen Dante

(February 7, 2004)

 

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