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$29.99 for this?

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A little over a year ago Bioware astounded gamers with its release of Neverwinter Nights, a successful marriage of modern technology and old-school Dungeons and Dragons. With its beautiful graphics and addictive open-ended gameplay, Neverwinter Nights realized Bioware’s goal of creating the ultimate D&D; experience. Recently the long awaited expansion, Neverwinter Nights: The Shadows of Undrentide, was released.

Shadows of Undrentide is just what it claims to be — an expansion of the original game. It adds new creatures, spells, classes, and a small single player quest — almost nothing else. This begs the question: are the new toys worth the $29.99 price tag? I think so, but then again I spent $20 on a light-up pepper grinder and considered taking out a loan to buy a Segway.

The expansion does little to change the gameplay of its predecessor. The game still focuses on the creation and enhancement of a character, endlessly running from one place to the next completing quests and smiting/smashing/bludgeoning anything you may come in contact with. Due to the success of the aforementioned fun formula, it’s understandable that Floodgate Studios, the elite sub sect of Looking Glass Studios responsible for the expansion, just left things as is.

It does, however, add a small single player campaign to the mix. You assume the role of an apprentice to aging dwarf wizard Drogan. Having passed his prime, Drogan decided to train successors—a new wave of heroes to protect the land. The game begins as hordes of kobold rush in, smack Drogan around a bit, and take a powerful artifact of his. As his senior apprentice, it falls on you to retrieve the artifact and exact revenge on those who incapacitated your teacher. This small task invariably leads you to uncover a larger plot by the forces of evil, and you must rise to occasion and save the day.

The quest is divided up into two chapters and an interlude, and takes about 20 hours to complete, a measly amount in comparison to the 100+ hours it takes to complete the original single player mode. The quest acts as a separate entity to the main storyline of Neverwinter Nights, thus you cannot transfer over your beefed up character. This is a pain, but superior writing and event scripting make it worth the while.

Of the plentiful additions that the expansion brings, the best, by far, are the “prestige” classes. Aptly named, prestige classes can only be obtained after a character satisfies certain prerequisites, such as skill proficiencies and feats.

There are five prestige classes in all: Blackguard, Arcane Archer, Harper Scout, Assassin, and Shadowdancer. The Blackguard is the antithesis of the Paladin: evil to the core and filled with an insatiable desire to smite all things holy. The Arcane Archer is just that, an archer with the ability to cast spells. The Harper Scout, in my opinion, is a completely useless version of the bard class that, after much training, gain the amazing ability to *gasp* craft potions. The Assassin is an evil entity skilled in the use of traps and other nefarious killing devices. Last but definitely not least is the Shadowdancer, my personal favorite. Living on the border between light and darkness, the Shadowdancer is a master of stealth, able to disappear from view in plain sight. I spent many hours amusing myself by sneaking up on an enemy, stabbing him in the back, and before he has a chance to turn around and whack me, disappearing from view, sneaking up behind him and stabbing him in the back once again. These new classes are not overly impressive, but they do give jaded players something new to work towards.

Shadows of Undrentide adds several other things to Neverwinter Nights. You now can control your bodyguard’s inventory and training (i.e. choosing what class and skills they obtain upon leveling). There are three new skills, 31 feats, and 52 spells, a handful of items and a few monsters to amuse yourself with. Also, the color scheme of the game has been livened a bit, a needed change from the bland darkness of the Neverwinter Nights.

Since the Neverwinter series has gained a considerable online following, its only fitting that the expansion bring with it improvements on the Aurora toolset responsible for the creation of third-party worlds. The trimmings include three new tilesets (desert, rural winter, and ruin), a plot wizard, and use of all the new monsters, spells, etc. This makes the already amazing Aurora editor even more versatile, and secures its place as one of the best module creation programs ever.

There are currently hundreds of fan-run servers online for multiplayer gaming, but they vary greatly in quality. Some are intricately designed and well maintained, and others are pure crap. I, for example, created a world consisting solely of a 50-foot by 50’ square. Upon entering, you were promptly eaten by the room’s only furnishing, a very large and distraught dragon.

The antithesis of my “house of fun” was a server I found after a few days of asking around and sampling various worlds. Three Kingdoms ( is an amazing server. Created by “Shinen” around 6 months ago, Three Kingdoms boasts over 290 areas to explore and a story line almost as complex and time consuming as Neverwinter Nights single player mode. Three Kingdoms even has its own in-game mafia, La Familia. The server is usually populated by 40-60 players, quite a feat considering the entire operation is maintained through donations and volunteer time. There are several other such quality servers available, but they take quite some time to locate.

Shadows of Undrentide does a decent job breathing new life into a game that’s past its prime. A second expansion, Hordes of the Underdark, is due out by late fall this year.

Reviewer’s Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8
Although the expansion makes full use of the excellent gameplay of Neverwinter Nights, it does little to better it.

Graphics: 8
As with the gameplay, the graphics have been recycled. The Aurora Engine, although stunningly beautiful a year ago, is starting to show signs of aging.

Sound: 8
Once again, the sound is amazing yet it is taken almost entirely from Neverwinter Nights.

Difficulty: 9
The new single player quest is rather difficult in parts, but generally does a good job of keeping with the level of the character.

Concept: 7
The new additions mesh well with the previous game, but are not overly abundant or creative.

Multi Player: 9
There are a plethora of servers to choose from, but their quality varies greatly.

Value: 7
For someone who has played Neverwinter Nights into the ground, Shadows of Undrentide will be a worthy buy. New players, though, may not find the expansion worth the money.

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