Bad Game Writing – A rare Jen-spotting

Jen has emerged from her long post-grad school hiatus, to give us a column!  Everybody wave and say “Hi!”
Female Paladin from Neverwinter Nights
Jen's Paladin. Is this the face of someone who'd send you to a shitty tavern?

When the first Neverwinter Nights game came out in 2002, I played the hell out of it. Shadowlords, Dreamcatcher, and Penultima—I devoured the custom content, and I even had a stint as a beta tester for the ill-fated Dragonlance project. So when Neverwinter Nights 2 was announced, I upgraded my computer accordingly, but didn’t get around to actually purchasing it until I got it for a gift this past Christmas/birthday.
NWN2 doesn’t disappoint, either. The graphic upgrades are a treat, and the things which were problematic about it were addressed in subsequent expansions (namely the camera control.) However, like all NWN games, I have to wonder about the first campaign. Now, true to form, the campaigns that ship with NWN and NWN2 aren’t overly special—the real magic comes from the things other people make with it and the stuff you build, yourself.

But given the sheer talent in the custom community surrounding NWN, I have to wonder about the writing in NWN2’s first campaign. (I haven’t touched the campaigns in Mask of the Betrayer or Storm of Zehir yet.) For my first character through, I always choose paladins, with all the challenges that involves, especially if you’re more neutral to neutral good in real life. It’s that pesky lawful characteristic I have problems with. So do the writers, it seems like.

For instance, if I recommend a good tavern to an NPC, I shouldn’t take a hit to my lawful alignment. A chaotic act would be recommending a tavern you KNOW is a dive with the intent that the NPC spends the rest of the evening on into the morning trying to decide which end to hang over the chamber pot first. And why is the “smartass” conversation choice always a hit to the good-evil axis? Sometimes the truth hurts, and the most compassionate thing you can do is point out other people’s bullshit.

Another quibble I have is with a companion’s story. Qara, a sorcerer, is being bullied by some other girls at the wizard school she got expelled from. Instead of busting out my Blade of Lathander and giving those bullies some righteous, holy whupass, I’m supposed to lecture Qara about not giving them material to harass her, just because she’s a sorcerer, and not a wizard? Don’t think so. Bullying is wrong, and from my vantage point, Qara was defending herself and got pushed a little too far. That’s one 3-point chaotic hit I shouldn’t have had to take.

The choices made feel like an overarching tutorial, not a real game with real consequences for your actions. I get that this is all leading towards the big showdown with the Big Bad Guy, in which your companions will either choose to fight alongside you or the Bad Guy. But I wonder if in the drive to show off the game and toolset’s new features, that a lot doesn’t get lost along the way. Better writing would’ve showed the fuzzy situational side of ethical choices and fleshed out a world in the game that’s just as messy as our own.

2 thoughts on “Bad Game Writing – A rare Jen-spotting

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