So my first excursion into the world of Neverwinter Nights online is over, and now it’s time to share my thoughts on it all.

I was very lucky to be in a good group. Moira, John, and Denyer were all excellent role-players and gamers. That added a lot to the experience, as the module was heavily weighted towards role-playing rather than combat.

The DM, Bruce Neilson, did a fantastic job running the various NPCs, and really brought them to life as individuals. There was nothing “canned” about any of them. Bruce was also very adept at switching between characters, and really sustained the illusion that they were “real”.

As I expected, it was easy to stay in character. From my previous experience with chat and message-based games, I’d seen that being one remove from face-to-face (FtF) really helped players maintain their alter egos through the full session.

One advantage to NWN online, of course, was the visual aspect, being able to see everyone else, both players and NPCs. Instead of having to imagine what a character looked like, that person was seen as he or she chose to be seen.

Further, there were some in-game videos (very good ones) of past events, something that couldn’t be done in live gaming, except maybe by having everyone crowd around a computer, which would certainly put some dents in the illusion.

Another was the rapid combat. We’re all familiar with speedy fighting in computer games these days, since combat is real-time. It can also be confusing, though, especially when NPCs are in the party, too. Keeping control of them was an occasional headache.

That was particularly true with our first foray into Tarshsys, the big disaster. We had no plan at all, and once fighting started, everyone was spreading out and making things worse. At least we learned our lesson for the second expedition ;)

Even so, I still find real-time combat with multiple companions a little hard to get a handle on. This is where FtF turn-based combat has the advantage. It’s much easier to switch tactics or targets, or talk to (scream at?) others in the party.

In NWN online, everything “said” has to be typed, and typing in the middle of a hot fight is tough. Also, with so much happening, it’s easy to miss what someone just said. A call for help could slip by unnoticed with no trouble at all.

So just as well the combat situations were limited in this mod. I hate to think what it would be like in one that focused on a lot of fighting.

Regarding the mod itself, there were good points and bad points. Bruce has put a lot of work into his “Light Reborn” world, its history, its religion, its people, and, of course, the unfolding story across multiple mods.

That was all quite well-done, and brought a sense of reality to the scenario. I’m a little sad that it may be awhile (a long while) before the next episode.

On the down side, for one thing, there were few opportunities for rogues. Most opponents were not susceptible to backstabs, lessening the rogue role in combat.

Also, except near the end, there were no traps to disarm, and those were beyond the abilities of both rogues in the party. And poor Moira was always looking for something to “acquire”, but didn’t have the chance to do so.

Fighters had a harder time, too, because they couldn’t get critical hits on many of the enemies, most of which were undead or creatures like slimes that don’t have “critical” body areas.

Had I been aware beforehand that there would be so many undead, I would have chosen a cleric instead of a bard. My assessment here is that, considered from the combat perspective (fights being few but desperate), the mod was most suited for the fighter/cleric/mage professions.

My biggest complaint, though, is that I felt the game was a little too much DM-directed. For instance, when we were trying to track down Tarnn, everything revolved around Shane and his “connections”. There didn’t appear to be anything else we could do except wait on him.

It seemed to me that the one moment where we had free choice was in deciding what to do about the Rod of Veranites. Otherwise, we were moving along a pre-determined track.

That’s to be expected in a single-player mod, but I was hoping for a little more flexibility with a live DM.

That’s especially the case as I downloaded and went through the single-player version of the mod, mainly to see the alternate ending. It was substantially the same as what we had done online.

On the other hand, I also saw how much MP added to playing the mod. Had I just done TLB 5 as a solo outing, I don’t think I’d have liked it very much.

Overall, this was a very positive experience for me, and I enjoyed it very much, flaws and all. I already miss Moira, John, and Denyer, the pre-game banter (some in-game banter, too), the extended conversations with NPCs, the storyline with its surprising twists and turns. Wednesdays will be a little strange for awhile with no TLB.

Would I do this again? Sure. In fact, I’ve been keeping an eye on the scheduled games, though none so far have been suitable. Many require the CEP (many many megs of download) or custom hakpaks (ditto), or are set for inconvenient times. No doubt, if I keep looking, one will turn up. But…

I can’t help feeling TLB was “beginner’s luck”. Everything (just about) turned out so right, I’ve been spoiled! Will the next game be as good? Ah, that’s the worry.

So now you’re wondering: If I had to choose between playing online and playing FtF, which would I take? Tough to say, especially if both groups and DMs were equally good.

NWN had many good points to it, as I mentioned above. Yet the pull of FtF is strong; there really is nothing else like in-person gaming, which is also more flexible in some respects.

Okay, with that sword at my throat (ooo, sharp!), I’d have to go with FtF. But if that’s not available, I could settle for NWN online, no problem.

And a final word for Bruce. He thought we should leave Shane the rogue behind, because he’d be useless in Tarshys. Checking the log later, I found that Shane had more kills to his credit than Moira and Taralyn combined. Sometimes, the DM doesn’t know everything ;).