By Yap Hui Bin, a freelance writer
|Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm Of Zehir
|» Price: $39.90
» Genre: Role-playing game
» Platform: PC
» Rating: 6/10
STRING your bow and draw your sword for Storm Of Zehir (SOZ), the second expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2.
You start off by selecting four members from the pre-built list or create your dream team from scratch. Later, you have the option of adding two more pre-built characters to your party.
The game begins with your merry band shipwrecked near the city of Samargol. To avoid bureaucratic hassles, you agree to run errands for a character called Sa'Sani, Samargol's leading merchant.
She assigns you missions like trading goods and rare resources, as well as setting up trading posts and caravan routes to various towns like Neverwinter and Port Llast. Along the way, other characters will also ask you to perform various tasks.
Unlike the epic adventures of its predecessors, SOZ burdens you with unexciting and menial quests throughout its over 20-hour campaign. The merchant campaign feels like a throwaway idea - you simply buy items at one town and run to another town to sell or set up travelling caravans that need constant protection.
The time-wasting missions are, unfortunately, mandatory as sufficient trade bars (the trading currency) are needed to advance further. With low profits, trading is an extremely unsatisfying enterprise compared to raiding dungeons and selling loot.
As magical item are rare, loot is reduced to mostly ammunition, body parts of the slain and a smattering of gems. In addition, the merchants' offerings are paltry, so crafting skills are a must to produce decent equipment for your party.
The most commendable and enjoyable innovation in SOZ is the overland map - it offers plenty of opportunities to explore.
Simply walking around will uncover hidden dungeons and treasures and bring up random encounters, which is fun.
Frequent hostile encounters, however, can wear you down so ensure that at least one character in your party has strong Hide skills to avoid them.
Being group-driven, SOZ focuses on team dynamics. When engaged in conversations, a party member with skills like Diplomacy or Intimidation can be selected to say their piece.
Also, your party can enhance their cooperative abilities in battles, camp routines or when travelling as a team.
The trade-off? Having a customised party means the members do not interact with each other and hardly contribute to the plot, unlike the memorable characters and witty dialogue of previous games.
Battles in SOZ are more challenging as death is a serious penalty. Fallen characters require immediate healing to prevent further deterioration or they will die and require resurrection.
Resting is now limited to places in the overland map and in towns. The scarcity of healing kits in the second chapter makes the challenges even greater.
After the dark and epic first expansion, SOZ is a little disappointing with its menial quests. I personally miss the epic and story-driven campaign of the Neverwinter Nights games. For those who long for an old-fashioned, team-based role-playing game though, SOZ might offer some satisfaction.
This article was first published in The Straits Times,Digital on Jan 7,2009.
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