Neverwinter Nights (NWN) is a fantasy roleplaying computer game developed by BioWare and published by Atari, based on the third edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). With this game, BioWare strove to raise the bar on their reputation for commitment to rich and evocative storytelling and an eye for detail. They also had a goal of providing official campaigns drawing players into epic and unforgettable tales of faith, war, and betrayal set in the Forgotten Realms.
Players are able to choose what skills and abilities they will develop as they voyage though complex and dangerous gameworlds. A player character can be a deadly and dangerous rogue moving through the shadows using stealth and secrecy, a scholarly wizard wielding powerful magic, a hulking barbarian whose lust for battle is matched only by his terrible rage, an armor-clad paladin protecting the innocent and vanquishing his foes, a crusading cleric healing the sick and defending the helpless, or nearly any other character concept imaginable.
A key feature of this revolutionary game—one that has helped it to endure—is that the adventure does not end with the official campaigns. Rather, players have the ability to construct their own unique lands of adventure, called modules, which can be shared with others to play. (Some players have even gone as far as to see modules as the core of Neverwinter Nights, relegating the official campaigns to mere samples of what can be done. Some have even skipped the official campaigns.) The Neverwinter Nights Aurora Toolset allows even novice users to construct everything from a quiet, misty forest or a dripping cavern of foul evil, to a king's court. All the monsters, items, set pieces and settings are there for world builders to use. The possibilities do not stop there; builders can construct traps, encounters, custom monsters, and magic items to make each adventure unique. A result of this feature is the Neverwinter Vault's hall of fame, containing hundreds of modules, enough for most players to find hours of adventures beyond the official campaigns.
The original release of Neverwinter Nights has been complemented by the release of two expansion packs – Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark. These expansions add new options for players (classes, feats, spells, and skills), new options for builders (creatures, tilesets, etc.), and new official campaigns. While the original release of the game was restricted to the core rule books of D&D (Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual), the expansion packs drew from supplemental source books, most notably adding prestige classes and the possibility of epic characters.
There are many different ways to play Neverwinter Nights. In its simplest form, the original campaign can be played right out of the box as a single-player game. This 60-hour game is BioWare's vision of a rich and epic adventure, full of complex characters and surprise plot twists intended to keep players glued to their screens until the wee morning hours. If the expansion packs are installed, there is a second adventure available out-of-the-box in the form of two additional official campaigns, each representing over 20 hours of gameplay. This second adventure is separate from the original; it is intended to be played with a new (level 1) player character who will start with the Shadows of Undrentide campaign then proceed to the Hordes of the Underdark campaign. With the addition of player-designed modules, Neverwinter Nights represents a near-infinite amount of solid, D&D gaming.
For all the strength of the single-player game, the world of Neverwinter Nights shines as a deeply engaging multiplayer game, allowing up to 64 players to share in the adventure. The original campaign, and to a lesser extent the Shadows of Undrentide campaign, (but not the Hordes of the Underdark campaign) are designed to adjust for multiple players, who can join and drop at any time. The story does not change in multiplayer mode, but there are automated features to help balance the game, such as dynamic scaling of combat encounters according the size and relative strength of the party. The official campaigns are written and structured to encourage the cooperative, party-based game play that makes pen-and-paper D&D so rewarding.
Player-designed modules expand the choices even further (although the cooperative, single-party style is the officially supported multiplayer paradigm). Some modules are written as single-player adventures, others are designed for cooperative multiplayer, while still others are competitive modules, from simple arena matches to treasure races and team-based castle stormings. In addition, a number of modules are designed as persistent worlds, allowing multiple non-competing (or sometimes competing) parties to simultaneously and independently adventure in different parts of the module.
For those who wish to go beyond the usual role of the player, Neverwinter Nights allows players to take on the role of a Dungeon Master and shape the gaming experience of the other players on a fundamental level. Dungeon Masters can bring forth words of wisdom from a dragon's mouth, create entire new quests on the fly, or simply throw an orc tribe in the party's way. This is accomplished by using the powerful DM client, which is included with the game. Since the DM client allows nearly unlimited control for running adventures, joining a game through the DM client usually requires a password (set by the host of the game).
The degree to which tactics are required while playing depends on the module being played. Some people may use the Toolset to create modules where play is based around intrigue and manipulation, where combat is the exception rather than the norm. Others might create modules with more of a real-time strategy flair to them, while still others will design dungeon crawls and gladiatorial arenas where brute force is all that is required. As for the official campaigns, players are faced with a lot of the same tactical choices faced in a typical pencil-and-paper session, and these become increasingly apparent as players learn to work together as a party. Bards will need to inspire their companions in battle, and fighters will need to place themselves in the way of harm to protect the vulnerable wizard. Clerics must show wisdom in who they heal and when and rogues must be willing to act as scouts, assessing the foe and recommending a means of approach. The Neverwinter Nights combat system is structured to bring the cooperation and camaraderie of the pencil-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons experience to the computer. A solid, tactical approach will not be necessary to win every battle, but it will always come in handy.
The viewing perspective of Neverwinter Nights is a third-person, 3/4-down, isometric view, similar to that used in the Baldur's Gate series. However, players have the ability to rotate the camera and to zoom in and out. Initial testing by BioWare suggested that at full zoom out, the player's character would be 1/15th as tall as the screen, and at full zoom in, the character would be 1/3rd as tall as the screen. (This is subject to the display resolution and whether or not the Hordes of the Underdark expansion is installed.) Rotating the camera to the side (left/right) has no restrictions, allowing players to put the camera into a continuous spin. The up-down rotation has a roughly 90 degree range, going from the vertical (looking straight down at the player's character) to almost horizontal (more or less the character's perspective).
Gameplay is controlled by both the keyboard and the mouse. Use of the keyboard is technically optional, as all essential functionality can be utilized through the mouse (but not the other way around — mouse input is needed for targeting), but for many tasks players may find the keyboard interface easier to use. Most of the hotkeys can be configured through the options menu, allowing players to sculpt the interface to their preferences.
Neverwinter Nights is a real-time game with a strong tactical focus. The Dungeon Master will have the power to pause the game at any time (as can the player in single-player mode). When the game is paused, a player will have the ability to assign actions without the time pressure of acting in real-time. Overall, the game was designed and balanced with non-pausing, real-time play in mind.
Players typically only control a single character; the one exception is that a familiar can be possessed by its master. Players have only partial control over henchmen and summoned creatures. Henchmen will be independent thinking creatures that will take commands but are not available for absolute control as was possible in the Baldur's Gate series. For example, a player may instruct them to start (or stop) attacking, but cannot specify which enemy to target nor which tactic should be used. Within the context of a given module, it may be possible for a player to acquire different types of non-player followers and freelancers but they will always remain under the primary control of the computer... or of a Dungeon Master with a trick up his or her sleeve.
In the official campaigns, communication with non-player characters (NPCs) occurs through a system of pre-defined responses (similar to the system used in the Baldur's Gate series). This allows the writers to weave a tighter, more gripping story. However, given the power and flexibility of a keyword-based text parsing system, especially in a multiplayer environment, BioWare supports this as well within the game engine and Toolset. This gives module authors the choice of which method better suits the module's needs. The dialogs themselves are all text-based (written on the screen), although some have parts that are also voiced (heard through the speakers). The game (or at least the official campaigns and most player-made modules) can be played without sounds and without missing anything more than ambiance; text is always associated with any instance of pre-recorded voice (NPC dialog, the hotkey voice system, etc). This text-based approach both makes it easier to develop modules (as voice actors do not need to be found for every part) and makes those modules accessible to the hearing-impaired.
Communication with other players can take on a number of forms. A robust chat system is available that will allow players to quickly and easily interact with others, by typing text into the chat bar. There is a also a quickchat system for sending preset messages. These are hotkey-activated, allowing for rapid and easy communication in most situations. Another benefit of the quick chat system is that it allows for cross-language communication, meaning that German and English players can still interact with their French counterparts at the simple press of a button. (The preset messages are translated for each player.) Real-time voice communication, however, was not included in Neverwinter Nights.
Expansions and extensions
There has been much game content supplied beyond the initial release of Neverwinter Nights. The most visible additions have been the expansion packs, which provide a new story as well as new tilesets, items, monsters, spells, and even a new race to the libraries of the Toolset. In addition, BioWare has released six premium modules, each with its own story (albeit with a smaller scope than the official campaigns) and gameplay features.
Less visible, but no less significant, has been the release of new monsters, items, etc., and (non-premium, some merely demonstration) modules in various patches. For example, kobolds were added in patch 1.25, with a demonstration module (Goblins vs. Kobolds) so builders (and players) could see the new creatures in action. In fact, the final few patches (1.66-1.69) were largely focused on providing builder's resources taken from the premium modules. BioWare considers the longevity of Neverwinter Nights to be one of the game's primary assets, so they designed their code and content in a modular fashion so that it will be easy to update, well into the future. They also devised a Neverwinter Nights Community Site for players, Dungeon Masters and content builders to obtain many resources to further their enjoyment and use of Neverwinter Nights.
While a few of the premium modules were set in custom worlds, the rest of the official content is set in the Forgotten Realms, as stipulated in BioWare's license to implement the D&D ruleset.
More extensions to the game have come from the Neverwinter Nights community, with much custom content and many player-made modules. (The player-made content is not restricted to the Forgotten Realms. The usual intellectual property rules apply though.) BioWare has a lot of respect for the considerable skills and talents of its fan base and Neverwinter Nights is all about bringing the abilities of that fan community to the forefront. The ability to include custom art content was a major breakthrough (given the technical restrictions of the time). This was accomplished through the introduction of hak paks, and later expanded by allowing a single module to use multiple hak paks (patch 1.28).
Aside from the cost of the game itself, there are no fees associated with Neverwinter Nights. Neither the publisher nor the developer charge monthly fees for multiplayer access. Furthermore, the End-User License Agreement prohibits players from selling modules or charging for server access.
There are versions of the game for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. A version of Neverwinter Nights for BeOS was planned but never completed. The dedicated server is distributed freely online for the three operating systems on which the game runs. The system requirements of the game are easily met by most computers still in use.
Neverwinter Nights uses the BioWare Aurora Engine, developed specifically for Neverwinter Nights. Aurora is a fully 3D engine with tons of amazing features (for its time), including resolution independence, a powerful particle system, dynamic lighting, and an open-ended modular design. The animation system supports a huge number of character moves and takes advantage of the ability to smoothly interpolate between them. Using the BioWare Aurora Engine has allowed the creation of an amazingly rich world, populated with impressively detailed creatures and environments.
Multiplayer connections are identified by a combination of IP address and port number.
This means that if multiple clients are trying to connect to multiplayer games from the same IP address (such as is often the case for a home network connecting to the Internet), each client will need its own port number. This can be accomplished via the "Client Port=" setting in
A firewall or router may need to have UDP ports 5120-5300 explicitly opened in order for Neverwtiner Nights to connect to a multiplayer game.
Scholar A. Asbjørn Jøn has recognized that Neverwinter Nights has played a pivotal role in the development of the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) genre.
Charles Stross, the creator of slaadi, uses Neverwinter Nights in the short story "Pimpf", part of his series The Laundry Files. In the story, protagonist Bob Howard gets involved in the game's modding community in hopes of preventing programmers from accidentally summoning extradimensional intelligences with the Toolset.