Anyone who's played Dungeons and Dragons the traditional way — a pen, some paper and a fistful of multisided dice — will feel right at home in the world of "Neverwinter Nights 2."
This PC title ($49.99, Rated T) uses the same statistical rules and is set in the Forgotten Realms, one of the game's most popular fantasy settings.
As a sequel, "Neverwinter Nights 2" is packed with new features that players of the original will appreciate.
The biggest revisions: updated D&D rules, new races, advanced class specialties, a new but still cumbersome crafting system and the ability to control a party of four adventurers instead of just two.
It would be easy to criticize "Neverwinter Nights 2" for being yet another video game with magic, monsters, dungeons and precious treasures. There are plenty of others with the same old premise. But few adhere to such a specific, well-paced vision.
This comes into play from the beginning, where you'll likely spend hours "rolling" — or creating — a new character to your exacting specifications.
There are dozens of options to choose from, including race, alignment, background story — even the color of your character's eyebrows.
"Neverwinter Nights 2" is definitely a throwback to older adventure computer games, where slow pacing, deep character development and story mattered as much — if not more — than all the hacking and slashing.
One of my favorite things about "Neverwinter Nights 2" are the ethical choices you frequently make. Do you talk your way out of a confrontation or just run in with swords swinging? I was routinely surprised how far diplomacy got me.
Though the game's old-school pen-and-paper roots are evident, players are fairly well shielded from having to know what a "3d6" roll means. The game calculates the many random, statistical elements in the background (as a geeky reminder, you can still view these computed rolls on screen).
There are some excellent online options for cooperative play, as well as some insanely powerful and complex tools to create your own adventures.
But it's not without some problems. The graphics are good, not stunning, yet the game still performed poorly on my home computer.
Even after I turned off higher-end settings, like detailed shadows, I had a lot of stuttering graphics and voiceovers that were out of synch with the characters' on-screen animations.
The biggest glitch that I'm still adjusting to, however, is the controls. Just moving around requires an endless series of mouse clicks to go in the right direction, and positioning the 3D view into something acceptable was a constant chore.
Two and a half stars out of four.