These days we so often see remasters or other ports of games that people can sometimes question the necessity of releasing them at all. Other than for the cash. At first glance developer Beamdog’s Enhanced Edition of Neverwinter Nights doesn’t really seem that spectacular compared to the cheaper old version available at certain digital stores. Just a few months ago I replayed Neverwinter Nights single player campaign after I got a free copy on GOG, and it worked fine playing on a modern PC. Even if it has always been a unpleasant game to look at.
The Enhanced Edition does little to improve the games graphics other than making it possible to play in higher resolutions. But beyond than that it’s hard to find any differences that stand out. I know I read somewhere the lightning and shadows are much better this time around. But I can’t say I notice this while playing. So if you already have a working copy of the old game I would seriously question why you would need this version.
That’s it, of course, if you are only interested in playing it single player.
What made me instantly buy the new version of the game was the news that the multiplayer will once again fully work and with it any mods and player made levels from the old game. (I suspect this is a big reason why improved graphics are so limited) That means any server still running Neverwinter Nights can become available instantly in this new version.
When the original game came out in 2002, it was originally developed as a toolkit for anyone to create and host their own D&D adventures and then make them available for people to join online, or to write your own single player adventure. The toolkit was rather easy to learn but complex enough that you could recreate Baldur’s gate completely if you wanted to. This spawned a large community of different servers with their own lore, rules and settings. Many of them felt like their own MMORPG where the players base controlled what happened in the world. A large part of these communities were also strict on roleplay, meaning that you have to act your character. While Neverwinter Nights is far from the only game that players have roleplayed in, few other games have successfully grown such a large community around it. Rather, in many games offering the possibility of roleplaying it feels like a minor part of the online community. In Neverwinter Nights it is a huge part of the game’s overall design.
One of the types of servers I enjoyed playing on was Zombie Survival. It turned the D&D-based game into a zombie survival simulator. Deaths were often a permanent affair, meaning that your character, which you might have spent plenty of time creating could disappear instantly. The highest level you could achieve on these servers was often around 5. By D&D standards this meant you would always be a scrub. Besides, reaching the highest level wasn’t an easy task because you could only gather significant experience points by exploring the world and gaining certain items. This was extremely risky, because there were few areas that were safe from the undead and healing yourself was always limited. In many regards these servers were unbalanced and could be extremely hard for new players, but once you learned where to find certain items you could become hard to kill. This also lead to interesting scenarios where players were roleplaying desperate characters of whom a great many died, but a few grew into veteran survivors.
Although as the years went by and the multiplayer communities decreased in player numbers, NWN always managed to keep a dedicated player base and a few strong servers running. Eventually Gamespy, which hosted NWN’s server list, closed down. After that you could only join a server by typing the IP address yourself. Which to many felt like the death of the multiplayer. This is because the lack of a server list made it almost impossible for any new server to make themselves known and even if the game was still being sold, very few of those new players would go through the effort required to find a single active server.
So for me, the old version of Neverwinter Nights being sold today is half a game. Even if you technically could play the online multiplayer, it was so inaccessible it was probably completely unknown to most people.
Which brings me back to me buying the Enhanced edition the day it launched: Even if the game is now 16 years old and considered dead by most, a few servers have stayed alive for all this time. Most of them were instantly accessible to log into from the Enhanced edition’s new server list, though many of them required mods. This was not much of a problem though, as the Developer had made many of those mods easily available with the addition of Steam workshop support. Small things like installing these various mods and packs could be a hassle even at Neverwinter nights’ prime time and doing so has never been as easy as it is now. This has made a lot of old players and servers return to the game, and to my pleasant surprise, among the servers was Zombie survival.
It’s hard to describe how nostalgic all of this has made me feel. Imagine if a game you loved that has been completely unavailable to you for 12 years suddenly came back. When I saw that a Zombie Survival server was available to play I was so excited to experience it again that I instantly gifted a copy of the game to an old friend to join me. A friend I met online 15 years ago in the very same game on a similar server. Once we logged onto the server, we had a discussion about if we should roleplay at all or just try and avoid other players and stick to ourselves. As soon as we were there though, we had automatically slipped into our old comfortable roleplaying habits. One of our first meetings with other players was running into two self appointed “knights” who were a bit too nice. They started by offering us some aid in finding food and asking if we would like to go exploring with them.
“So you guys are friends, huh?” My character asked them.
“We are comrades in arms” One of them replied. We quickly started to suspect they were more than just comrades though, as they kept flattering each other constantly.
Afterwards we met a party consisting of an female Druid, a rogue and a paladin so full of himself that we all secretly hoped the zombies would get him. Together as a big group we came to a particularly dangerous cave unavailable to players most of time as accessing it required a certain rare item. Once inside though, we knew we had a higher chance of grabbing some better items. If we could survive the zombie hordes filled in the tiny hallways of the cave. After we finished looting and were about to get back to a safe location the following discussion broke out:
The Druid started the conversation: “I hope we can get out of here.”
“As long as I am here we’ll be fine.” Harold the paladin answered confidently.
“If you fight like that, you’ll die sooner or later. Probably sooner.” I replied.
Larry the rogue was not having it: “Don’t be so pessimistic lass”
“I’m a realist.” I responded.
Unfortunately for all of us my character’s instincts were right and several of our group died on this adventure.
As I kept playing, I realized how long it has been since I was able to engage in this sort of immersive, in character communication with other random players. For me, it’s less about acting the role of a character and more of a chance to be creative with your writing among other people. While I recognize that this kind of exercise can often end up being silly or immature, few games that I have played make something like this work so well between random players. That was a large part of why I spent so much time playing the original Neverwinter nights, and it is something that I’m so happy to be able to experience once more.
None of that would be possible if Beamdog hadn’t put their effort into creating a new version of the game, complete with a fully functioning multiplayer mode that supports old content from the community. To be honest, I think they could have probably gotten away with not touching the multiplayer at all, and focused solely on providing access to the single player campaigns on modern PCs. Playing this new enhanced edition I realized that the remakes or other forms of rereleasing old games that I feel are the most important, are those of games that isn’t available anymore. Even if Neverwinter Nights has, in some form, been available to play this whole time, it is only now that you can experience the actual full game again.
Thank you for reading! I’m a swedish dude by the name of Joakim Jonsson who enjoy playing and analyzing all sorts of games, but perhaps the most with RPGs . If you wanna read more stuff by me I have an article about Witcher 3, and every Tuesday I host TAY’s Open Forum. If you wanna send me an email go ahead at: Joakimjonsson07@gmail.com
Also a large thanks to Jussi liimatainen who spellchecked and edited this.
The screenshots in this article are slightly modified to make the chat between players more visible.