Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide

Developer Floodgate Entertainment
Publisher Infogrames
Release Date Second Quarter 2003

Tom Chick

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This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150

If you make a game with a toolset as comprehensive as Neverwinter Night’s Aurora, you shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to expansion packs. Just visit sites like Neverwinter Vault to find thousands of new adventures, new locations, new creatures, and new styles of gameplay. Why would anyone plunk down $30 for an expansion pack when there’s so much free content online?
Shadows of Undrentide has a couple of answers to that question. The first is creative director Paul Neurath. You may not know his name, but odds are you know his games; he’s the designer of Ultima Underworld I and II. Since those seminal titles, he worked at Looking Glass until it closed. Undrentide is being developed by his new company, Floodgate Entertainment. After years of management duties, Neurath says he enjoys being back at the creative level with Undrentide. “My role is mostly as a catalyst,” he says. “Brainstorming, prodding the team if they hit a creative hurdle, critiquing game play, resolving design debates when needed, all the fun stuff. It is something that I found that I did not have enough time for at Looking Glass after we had grown to a 100 plus person studio with a half-dozen projects.”
The second answer is the new campaign. Sure, you can download new modules for Neverwinter Nights, some of which are long, ambitious, and well written. But Undrentide’s campaign is designed as a branching system that allows you to choose good and evil paths, with more meaningful henchman interaction. The storyline is based on powerful magical cities that used to float in the air and have since come crashing down to earth. In the single player campaign, you’ll explore one of these cities called Undrentide.
Unlike what you can download online, this campaign has an entire company behind it. “Module builders and custom content authors are doing this work in their spare time, while we’ve got a team of developers working full time,” says Floodgate’s Rick Ernst, the lead designer. “This lets us be much more ambitious with our goals, which is best illustrated by a forty hour campaign. Also, we have a big crew of testers hammering away at the game to make sure it’s polished and balanced. We also have the ability to add things that the community just doesn’t have access to.”
These “things that the community doesn’t have access to” are the third answer. Undrentide will add new creatures and tilesets, but you can get these sorts of things online by sorting through tangled “hak paks” and assorted .mod files. What you can’t get online are new classes, skills, feats, and spells. From the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, Undrentide includes five prestige classes that your character can acquire once he’s met the requirements. Each will offer new skills and feats. They’ll also be fully supported in the pre-existing content, whether it’s the original campaign or your favorite pre-Undrentide modules.
The fourth answer to why you should plunk down $30 is the content itself. “Once the game is out, the community will be able to incorporate all this new material, so their modules will become even more impressive,” says Ernst, who admits to being continually amazed at what the fan base has accomplished. If you’re interested in making your own modules, the expansion streamlines the process even more with additional shortcuts like the Plot Wizard, which takes you through a simple step-by-step process to set up complex quests and storylines. And if you’re just interested in downloading modules, then this is one of the most compelling reasons to lay down your $30: without Undrentide, you’re probably going to be left out of the latest round of player-made content.

This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150