Part 65: Act Three Chapter One - The Worst New Year's Honours List EverIt's time for the post-Act 2 wrap-up analysis. In fact, since we're almost done with the game, we'll be looking at NWN2 as a whole.
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I think the first thing on everyone's lips is how much better Act 2 is compared to Act 1. Even though Act 2 is shorter than Act 1, there's a greater sense of progression and more actual content instead of tedious filler. More of the updates for Act 2 were sidequests or optional content that we didn't have to do. Meanwhile, the quests that were compulsory were better designed, had multiple paths, were more involved, were funnier, were more interesting and had better connections to the plot.
As I said at the end of Act 1, Act 2 had more objective-based gameplay, which feels more natural and organic than location-based gameplay. Objective-based gameplay also lends itself more to multiple outcomes or pathways: do you protect Tavorick or does he die? do you outplay Cain Lethellon or do you cheat? do you manage the Keep properly or do you suck it dry? Act 1 gameplay only ever had one way to complete a quest: go to a place and kill everyone.
Act 3 will be more like Act 1, in that you won't see lots of options or massive set-pieces like the trial. However, it'll be more concise and quests will generally be finished in a single update, rather than spanning dozens (Aldanon ).
Okay, now let me contradict myself: Act 2's still pretty long. The whole game is.
I think this is the 'great flaw' in NWN2, the big crack in the gemstone: it's trying to do too much. There's at least three different storylines in NWN2, each of which could be its own game:
- A hi-larious interplanar caper starring the Shard-Bearer. The Kalach-Cha turns the Sword Coast upside-down in a hunt for the pieces of a Silver Sword, all the while pursued by madcap githyanki Sword Stalkers, a menacing warlock and his demon minions, and a githzerai mystic with an ulterior motive. Classic comedy **
- Intrigue and mystery abound as a fortune-seeker from rural West Harbor enters the deep end of Neverwinter politics. Thieves and Watchmen battle for control of the Docks, all the while watched from afar by the Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan. Can the Harborman navigate her way through the perils and into a cushy knighthood with a big castle?
- The King of Shadows has arisen - again! A young heroine must emerge to defeat the evil hordes of darkness - again! Only a powerful artifact has the power to defeat the power of an ancient empire - again! BIG FANTASY EPIC ADVENTUURRRRE
Obviously the last storyline is the dominant one.
Any one of these would make a fine game (well, maybe the first two), but for some reason Obsidian felt it best to combine the three into one. As a result, the NWN2 storyline becomes unbearably turgid.
We say that the Docks War was a bunch of tedious filler designed to prevent us from getting to Aldanon too soon - but that's not strictly true, is it? More accurately, we were prevented from getting to Aldanon so Obsidian would have time to introduce us to Captain Brelaina/Axle Devrie and Ammon Jerro. Similarly, we take a big ol' time-out from locating Ammon Jerro's Haven because we need to tangle with Luskan over the trial, then Save the World from Garius' Evil Ritual.
(What makes Act 2 so good, of course, is that most of consists of killing off or otherwise eliminating the players of Act 1. Zeeaire's gone; Ammon's neutralised; Garius has been folded into the King of Shadows; Luskan's scared off; Axle's irrelevant; Nasher's our friend now; Shandra's dead. Oh, Shandra.)
I suspect Obsidian's thinking was that they wanted NWN2 to be a Baldur's Gate 2-killer, in a way that NWN1 was not. Perhaps they hoped that people would talk about the NWN2 OC in the same way that they do BG2 - there's so much to do, so many character classes, so long, so epic, so much cool shit, so much replay value. I've mentioned this before, and you can see the similarities: romances, strongholds, class options... The structure of the game is closer to BG2 than it is to NWN1, which was hub-based.
I'd rather NWN2 to NWN1, which was simply bland and forgettable, but if we run with this model then I think the problem with NWN2 is that most of it is part of the main plot, whereas with BG2 most of it was optional and entirely skippable. NWN2 is front-heavy because Act 1 has so much in it; BG2 is side-heavy because all of the content is in side-quests, aha - if you don't feel like doing Trademeet, then you don't have to.
I think people would feel kinder towards areas like Old Owl Well if they didn't feel forced into doing them: sometimes it's fun just to storm through a dungeon and kill everyone, you know? And people would be more forgiving towards the companions if they didn't start off resenting them for forcing their way into the party.
NWN2's a big ambitious game that maybe tries to do a bit too much.
If anything, this is the flaw of Obsidian (and maybe the late Troika as well). This is where the cut content and bugs come from: lots of cool ideas, not enough time to implement them and check that they work. And as much as I like Obsidian (and their games and their writing, and what they stand for), it's a problem and it's the source of their other difficulties.
The good news is that Mask of the Betrayer, the NWN2 expansion pack that comes right after Act 3, is really nice and unbuggy and concise and tightly written and oh god it's great, I can't wait. And Act 3's also fairly short and sweet, and that's a good thing too. We're all set for a confrontation between us and the King of Shadows - no interruptions, no third teams, no unpleasant surprises. The only drawback is that you don't get as many cool set-pieces, but I can live with that.
On with the show!
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: Your keep will play a great role in the war to come - we are still awaiting word from the defense of Fort Locke, but we fear the worst.
: But the tidings are not all ill. Lord Nasher has prepared something for you, for all your efforts on behalf of Neverwinter.
C'mon, Nevalle, you're a Paladin. Cast Detect Evil once in a while!
Oh, well, all right then. I suppose that makes sense.
: What you wear is merely a cloak until that time, but you will find it carries with it special enchantments you may find helpful.
: Some of the finest mages and weavers of Neverwinter have crafted these cloaks - they should afford you some measure of protection while wearing them, the rest you will discover for yourself.
: The ceremony will take place in the Great Hall. We have gathered together many nobles from all over Neverwinter.
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An alarm rings out as the castle gates slam shut.
Ooh, this fight's a beauty.
The two vampires are a couple of tough cookies. One's an arcane caster that spams Prismatic Spray, which'd be scarier if it actually did anything to us. The other's much nastier - some kind of Monk-vampire that spin-kicks us into oblivion. Worse, both he and she have Damage Reduction, and as Rogues we can't do enough damage in a single strike to overcome it.
The Shadow Priests are more annoying than anything else - mere fodder for our Sneak Attacks. The pair of wraiths aren't too bad either...
Oh, did I say pair? Yeah, whenever the wraiths kill someone (e.g. one of the many weak unarmoured nobles hanging around), that someone is transformed into another wraith. That's right, they breed.
They like to use Knockdown to prevent you from attacking, then overwhelm you with sheer numbers. Or just to set you up for an asskicking from little Miss ImMortal Kombat there.
The key to survival is to help Nevalle and the guardsmen. Nevalle's invulnerable and the guards aren't too shabby either, but they can get swamped by wraiths. Clear out the footsoldiers and Nevalle can take care of the vampires.
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: Unfortunately, it has cut us off from Lord Nasher. You must get to him, or all is lost.
: You have to be joking. There's no way I'm leaving here.
: I wish I were jesting. As it stands, unless we reach Lord Nasher, none of us will leave Never alive. So we have no choice.
: Neverneath has always been closed to us, but it is said when the Castle is in danger, a path opens for defenders of Neverwinter.
Hmm. Well, I'm glad we're basing the defence of the castle on supposition and rumour.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to save the world from a magic shadow man on the say-so of an old green alien lady.
Shadow Priests and their undead minions infest the halls of Castle Never.
Priests and wraiths aren't too much trouble, even if the Priests can cast Destruction (instant-death on a failed Fortitude save).
These vampires, on the other hand... oy vey. These two are worse than the ones in the hall - one's a Barbarian with hit points to match, the other's a Warlock with Eldritch Blasts up the wazoo.
They also have Damage Resistance.
There has to be a better way of doing this.
At this point we look at our Ceremonial Sword and realise it's made of Alchemical Silver.
Weapons in NWN2 can be one of several materials. Most are generic bog-standard steel, but some are made from Adamantine, Silver, etc. Each has unique properties - so Mithral weapons are lighter than other weapons, for example, and Darksteel weapons do additional +1 electrical damage.
Adamantine, Cold Iron and Silver weapons can ignore DR. Adamantine works against Iron Golems and Stoneskin spells; Cold Iron against demons and fae creatures; Silver against devils and lycanthropes.
And these vampires, apparently.
Obsidian made the Ceremonial Sword a 'Universal Sword', a special weapon category for NWN2 that allows anyone to use it - even classes that can't normally use big swords. However the drawback to this is that as a Universal Sword, none of our feats apply to it. Specialisations, Weapon Finesse, Dual-wielding feats are all useless when you're holding the Ceremonial Sword.
So it doesn't actually help us much at all, especially with our low Strength.
In the end we run back to Nevalle and let him take care of the vampires, which he does - after they've already killed the rest of the survivors.
Thankfully Shadow Priests are vulnerable to Sneak Attacks, Death Attacks and Bleeding Wound attacks.
If you play NWN2 as a Rogue, you'll learn to savour these moments. From here on out it's Constructs, Elementals and Undead - none of which are susceptible to the Rogue's dirty tricks.
One of the tapestries on the walls is highlightable; attack it and a stairway is revealed.
Ah, fabled Neverneath. A dank, dark, gloomy series of underground tunnels.
: My duty in life, and my pact in death, is the defense of this castle I built with my two hands.
: Continue onward and your loyalty to Neverwinter will be tested. Friends of Neverwinter have naught to fear.
: To those who are foreign or enemies of Neverwinter, be you from Illusk, the Wilds or someplace unknown - your presence will be cleansed.
Well this seems unnecessarily complicated.
Scattered along the path through Neverneath are six statues; each statue asks a riddle related to Neverwinter. Answering the riddle correctly proves that you are an ally of the city.
The questions aren't too hard - although they reference FR lore, it's easy enough to puzzle out the answers from the game itself. Here we answer nine because of the Neverwinter Nine, Nasher's elite bodyguards.
We spent long enough trying to get to Blacklake, we sure as hell ought to know the name by now.
This was a sidequest back in Act 1. Again, all answers are in the game.
Uhm, okay, perhaps not. But easy to figure this one out with inference.
Trick question, I like it
Damned if I know. I guess three and that's the correct answer, but maybe for this one you need the Forgotten Realms handbook.
Answer the questions and you get experience. Answer wrongly and a gate locks, barring your way. You have to enter a side-passage and fight some Iron Golems to progress.
I assume they're Iron Golems... they're not immune to stun effects. Or critical hits. Or Sneak Attacks.
Refuse to swear and apparently you fight the ghost of Lord Never or something. That's not how Calliope rolls, though. "How did I receive my knighthood? Well, funny story, I desecrated the tomb of Lord Halueth Never and his original Neverwinter Nine..."
This sequence is actually a neat little way to set up Act 3. Crappy undead fights aside, Neverneath really sets the scene for the rest of the act - defending Neverwinter from the King of Shadows.
Speaking of which, shouldn't we be rescuing Lord Nasher or something?
Ah ah ah, not before one final puzzle!
Eight floating swords surround the coffin of Lord Halueth Never. Approach the swords and you get stabbed.
The incredibly obvious (and correct) solution is to approach from the rear of the room, where there are no swords. That counts as 'taking our rightful place' amongst the defenders of Neverwinter.
The statues (and swords) stand for the original Neverwinter Nine, Lord Never's original servitors. There's a little inscription for each one:
Taiven, first of the Nine. We shall not rest until his sword takes its rightful place.
Galavren, second of the Nine. The only one who remembers the promise left unfulfilled.
Floashebel, third of the Nine. She never bore a child, but was mother to newborn Neverwinter.
Thracier, fourth of the Nine. His death as a traitor does not release him from service.
Shoce, fifth of the Nine. Three dragons could not slay him. Alas, the treachery of the fourth.
Coneth, sixth of the Nine. His blood was impure, but none ever doubted his heart.
Nhalien, seventh of the Nine. His chest caught an Illusk arrow meant for mine.
Tamper, eighth of the Nine. Youngest of us all, who kept all of us young.
Slade, last of the Nine. Sadly, his first day was his last battle.
As you can see, Lord Never was a... pretty intense guy.
: Deliver it to him that he may use it to protect Neverwinter from its savage enemies.
Anyway, taking the Rod of Never unlocks Neverneath and allows us upstairs to rescue Nasher. We also get Blessing of the Daystar, a magical longsword that only appears if you answer all the Neverneath questions correctly.
The Shadow Reaver isn't so tough, especially with our Ritual powers protecting us. We beat him down enough that he has to teleport away, the coward.
You would not believe the troubles I had with this update.
: They must have used night and magic to their advantage - hoping to strike at us, at you, before we could prepare.
: This King of Shadows... his forces are powerful.
: Is that the Rod of Never you carry? Let me see it.
Somehow the scripting broke entirely and I got skipped ahead to this conversation while the Shadow Reaver was still there.
Boy, was that awkward.
Not that this version is much better, with Nasher all up in our personal space.
: With this Rod, I should be able to open some of Castle Never's oldest secrets. It seems some good has come from this surprise attack.
: I think this enemy fears to face us on the field of battle - he fears to face Neverwinter and all its knights.
: Don't thank me yet. I haven't given you your orders.
Interesting. You probably don't remember, but Elanee told us that Redfallow's Watch was destroyed fifty years ago.
Nevalle might use Botox but I'm certain Nasher isn't that old.
: A knight of Neverwinter is entitled to land, a keep - and forces, milord.
: And she shall have them.
: But you, Knight Captain, and your efforts here... you have served Neverwinter beyond the call of duty, risking your life not once, but several times, without hesitation.
I shouldn't laugh too loudly, Nasher can't help it. Act 3 more or less assumes you're a Hero, so everyone has to call you "a beacon of light" or whatever. The storyline kicks into Epic Fantasy mode and there's no room left for selfish anti-heroes.
We also get this: the Neverwinter Nine prestige class. It's a tough class that specialises in supporting the party with extra toughness and other buffs, and it's mainly orientated towards Fighters.
You only get offered a place in the Neverwinter Nine if you've been nice to Nasher and Nevalle. I wasn't expecting I'd get this - I'd been snippy enough with Nevalle, and City Watchmen get a big starting bonus - but it turns out doing well in the trial and doing sidequests also increases your standing with Nasher, enough to meet the requirements.
We accept, but only for the title and status. We won't be taking any levels in the class. It also means that Nevalle no longer outranks us, which is reason enough to take it.
: I am grateful... and I accept, Lord Nasher.
: Very well. For your efforts at Crossroad Keep and your battles against these minions of Shadow... I convey upon you the mantle of one of the Neverwinter Nine.
: But onto the matters at hand...
: You have done more to halt this beast's advances than any of my knights. When he strikes, you are there to counter it - but that is no longer enough.
: I am tired of waiting for this enemy to strike.
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We return to Crossroad Keep to find everyone waiting for us.
My cat does this. It usually means he wants to be fed.
: Heard you got ambushed, but you seem all right nonetheless - wonder for how much longer if they keep attacking you.
: To attack Castle Never - the King of Shadows, Garius... they're getting bold, they are.
: So did you get any gold along with the knighting ceremony? I mean, not that you'd carry it with you, since I already checked your pockets and your bags.
: What efforts are being made in the war? Will Nasher commit his forces? And what of Waterdeep and the Lords' Alliance?
Glad to see you too, team.
This party dialogue is a summary of a conversation Nasher, Nevalle and I had earlier that I edited out due to repetitiveness. The conversation was actually pretty fruitless; Nevalle and Nasher didn't really know of where to start. Hopefully our companions have a better idea of what we ought to do.
We have three objectives:
1) Find a way to kill the Shadow Reavers.
: There must be a way. Evil always has a weakness, we just have to find it.
: Well, that's the trick isn't it? The thing is, how long do you look and where?
: Pardon me, but sometimes these things come to you - I mean, we can't be the only ones the reavers have threatened or hurt.
: We already have crossed paths with a bunch of allies and people and sorcerers and sages we never even knew before, and we did much of that through serendipity. So have a little faith, maybe an answer will come to us.
Okay, so that's not really an option yet.
Ahem. We have two objectives:
1) Find a way to get to the King of Shadows.
: If there's a path at all... we'd still need to know where we were going, and even then, we'd probably die getting there.
: I don't think there's an easy path. As much as I hate to say it, I think we should ask Aldanon for advice on this.
All right, that's a no-go too.
Our sole objective:
1) Find help.
Thanks for that helpful advice Bishop
: Clan Ironfist will help. They may take some convincing, but they wouldn't back down from a fight if they thought it was just.
: The lizardfolk should not be ignored... they once made their homes in the Mere, and the King of Shadows has driven them out.
: The lizards?
: Their history with settlements along the Mere is... bloody, but they are fiercely territorial and are likely to hate the King of Shadows even more.
: Oh, Gods.
: No, they're not gods. They're the Wendersnaven, they exist, even if you can't see them with the eye. Or touch them. They see all, know all, and have incredible powers - if they are on our side, we have a good chance of winning.
: Oh really? And how do we find something you can't see or touch and most likely exists in your head?
: There's two sages at Port Llast that are said to know something of the Wendersnaven. We could ask them.
Indeed we do.