Friday, 12 September 2014

How I learned to disregard the canon and enjoy the game; Neverwinter edition (IV)

[copy-paste intro]
It is no secret that I am not that into Dungeons and Dragons. So much so, that I considered it quite an achievement when I was able to let go some of my biases and thoroughly enjoy a game set in  D&D-verse. (Watching some webseries that feature paper-and-pen-folk in action has also somewhat softened my cold, joyless heart. Notable culprits include "Tales from The Table" and "Dorkness Rising".) And now, Neverwinter Nights 2. 

The whole load of playthrough notes turned out too voluminous to wrestle all at once, so I'm dividing it into a series of shorter posts instead. This was Part Three.

Now, shall we?

(Clicking the images should display them in full glory.)

Part Four. "You're in my crew." 

There were times when having to manage and control a bunch of separate characters at once, especially in real-time, made me just plain uneasy. Although I've since learned to deal with plenty of companion NPCs, troops & posses, my gameplay thinking still doesn't default to "adventuring party logic". In fact, being able to handle party members who might require direct puppeteering and still enjoy myself is still something I mentally file under "letting go of my D&D prejudice". When various characters started gravitating towards my path here, at first I could only see them as "those buggers who do the fighting for you" (alternatively, "those buggers who get in the way and steal your exp").

Just look at that thieving... oh, right.

When it was time to level them up, I initially let the game pick defaults, trying to avoid messing up, and keep my distance, at the same time. Very soon I switched over to manual meddling, though - something I wouldn't imagine I'd do before starting the game. I went on shaping everyone somewhat  against the grain (without comprehending the relevant numbers, too!). Compared to defaults, I significantly fuzzed up everyone's narrow specialization and assigned skill points where "normal players" probably wouldn't. For one, everybody got Able Learner (not that surprising); also, I made sure every companion got at least some minimal healing capacities, because redundancy. I also gave Khelgar some intelligence boost and a few diplomacy points, while the more brittle lot were universally forced to take lessons in Tumble and Parry.

Actually, everyone was forced to take lessons in Tumble and Parry.

My warming up to the joys of team playing happened suddenly and surprised myself. Here's quoting one of those mid-game-laments:
"I made a surprising discovery the other day. /.../ I don't actually hate the menagerie of companions aspect in NWN2. Like, at all. I think this is a similar case to my realization about Call to Power II: "i don't play the one civilization, i actually play the whole game (just that i control some buggers more directly than others)". Here, too, i suddenly realized i'm not actually playing the character, i am *playing the party* - building  a "hand" around the player-created "joker" if you will. And oddly enough, i'm finding the "hand management" and combinations-play (often with the intent to maximize my influence) quite fulfilling - now that i'm doing it being aware of it and all. /.../ I find this ... finding enjoyment in unexpected places rather liberating. Interestingly enough, i believe that if i'd been coming from pen'n'paper playing background, i'd never been able to "unlock" this mode of thinking."

"Playing the whole hand" also made a good learning experience in the whole skills & abilities department. I'd mix, match, & shuffle the crew around according to the given objective (although I tried to save a slot for the favoured NPC-s anyway).

Hold it... hold it... - FIRE AT WILL!
Nice work, everyone; now - ONWARD!
To feed my intel-maximizing pet objective, I'd drag various companion configurations to revisit places, hoping to provoke some hidden content to emerge.

If this doesn't qualify as success, I don't know what does.

Getting overly intoxicated on Team Spirit has its price, though. For one, I'd learn that getting emotionally invested in companions was mostly happening because they were so thoroughly written characters in the first place. The adverse effect kicked me hard when the campaigns ended and I started the Storm of Zehir module right after. Where I thought I'd rejoice at the more sandbox-y setting with its freedom of movement, and all the possible recruits with minimal backstory burden, instead I found myself sulking because the game wouldn't let me continue the existing story, and mourning the loss of all that camaraderie. (Sure, I keep on hanging out with that druid dude - because dinosaurs; but ultimately it's just not the same.)

Then there were the more immediate and more lighthearted "penalties" for getting too comfy with the whole group arrangement. After getting so used to "playing a hand," the instances of having to fight alone (or with a smaller crew) proved quite challenging. Mastering those challenges brought immense satisfaction, of course; but so did re-uniting with the others. It's kinda nice to have someone do some of the fighting for you once in a while.

Go team!

Even with all the losses and disappointments, the whole cooperative buggers situation worked out pretty well for me. It was especially heartwarming when the AI would take the initiative to have companions revive me - or perform some random acts of healing ("Yes! I knew that first-aid-training for all would be useful!"). The butt-saving part works both ways, actually. In all my games I often go to absurd lengths to keep random characters alive (everybody goes home!). In "Neverwinter" campaigns I quickly learned not to fret over the regular party members who pop back up anyway. The random folks who sometimes tag along as part of some mission or another were a whole other matter, however.

Pictured: going to absurd lengths.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that the game occasionally rewards you for such efforts.

"Everybody and their limbs accounted for? Awesome. Ooh... I get extra exp for this?!"
I nearly got fed up with him sneaking behind the corner and dying in secret.

The habit truly paid off in one of the "Mask" endgame stages where they'd actually made a bonus challenge out of (imaginary) crew preservation.

Everybody goes home! The dog lives!

Stay tuned for Part Five!

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