Up to your neck in dungeons

The ancestor of this much-awaited but somewhat disappointing role-playing disk is Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop board game first released 32 years ago, long before computer games were invented.

winter disk 88 298 (photo credit: )
winter disk 88 298
(photo credit: )
Neverwinter Nights 2, a DVD-ROM in English by Obsidian for BioWare Corp. and Atari, distributed with a 32-page Hebrew user's manual by Atari-Israel, requires Windows XP and a 2.4 Ghz Pentium 4 PC or better, for ages 12 and up, NIS 200. Rating: **** The ancestor of this much-awaited but somewhat disappointing role-playing disk is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), a tabletop board game first released 32 years ago, long before computer games were invented. It was played with pencils, paper and dice, and starred imaginary characters who embarked on adventures to fight a gamut of fictional monsters, gather treasure, interact with each other and earn experience points - becoming more powerful as the game progressed. Each player was assigned a specific character to play, rather than entire armies to lead into battle. During the course of play, each person directed the actions of his character and its interactions with companions. From time to time, D&D was denounced for allegedly promoting witchcraft (a difficult argument after the popularity of Harry Potter books and films), devil worship, suicide and murder; there were unproven claims that the game caused some players to confuse fantasy and reality, even leading to psychotic episodes. But nevertheless, D&D has cult status among some 20 million players around the world and has marked more than $1 billion in sales of tabletop games, books and equipment - with popularity spilling over into D&D-themed computer games. Among them were the first Neverwinter Nights (released in 2002), and BioWare's celebrated Baldur's Gate, Planescape Torment, Knight of the Old Republic and Icewind Dale. The program's intriguing name refers to a city located in the frozen north, a barren wilderness where barbarian clans, fierce monsters and giants roam the land. The land, called Faeran, is evil, but the city of Neverwinter has long been considered the "Jewel of the North." This epic and immersive fantasy is not put into any historical context, but its style hints at the Middle Ages. "A dark evil from the past has arrived that threatens to sunder the people," you are told at the onset. "A hero must emerge to protect the citizens or Neverwinter will be plunged forever into darkness." Even before entering the optional training session, you must create a male or female character of any age you wish. The Faeran races include humans, dwarves, elves, half-elves, half-orcs and halflings. Choose among them, and if you want a hybrid you can mix two or more. After choosing the race, pick a class (vocations or professions) from barbarians, bards, clerics, monks, paladins and rangers to rogues, shadow dancers, sorcerers, warlords, wagon masters and wizards. Go on to pick background packages (personalities), including brash, persistent, violent, rowdy, swashbuckler and reserved guardian. The permutations of all these combinations are endless. Type in the name you prefer or let the game give you one (such as Kashan Fendt) at random. Your own character will never speak out loud, but you control him by clicking on one of three optional answers or actions at every turn. There are a myriad decisions and sometimes-violent-but-bloodless quests to accomplish through the 50 or 60 hours that it will take you to complete Neverwinter Nights 2. The interactive dialogue with other characters is usually interesting and often clever, with the text of the previous sentence displayed on the top of the screen and the current sentence on the bottom. But the dialogue is so complex that I doubt many non-Anglo, teenage Israeli boys would be able to make head or tail of the conversations. As this is a role-playing fantasy rather than an action shooter, understanding the conversation is vital, so gamers who are not fluent in English are advised to stay away. There are a number of maddening bugs and disappointments, such as difficulty saving your progress at every turn, confused artificial intelligence of your three companions, a game engine that has begun to show its age, camera problems, so-so graphics and the failure to innovate. But D&D fanatics will forgive these shortcomings and eagerly plow through the captivating story - at least until repair patches or a third version of Baldur's Gate is released.