My Official Opinion on the NW2 Review Fiasco

there are a few things i’m going to cover:

  1. the artistic integrity of the review.
  2. the evidentiary integrity of the review.
  3. the editorial process itself.

artistic integrity.

um. i liked it.

i’m the very last person in the world to criticize sentence structure as i deeply enjoy taking bizarre liberties (quite offensively) with the english language. i do it for style and interest and to add what i think is a fun “cadence” to my writing. he’s just doing a similar quip. it made reading his review fun. the allusions were fun, if not thorough.

basically, i considered his prose fun.

evidentiary integrity.

this part, however, sucked.

i think this is really what stuck in the craw of most of the intelligent opinions i’ve read. he seems to have a fistful of unsubstantiated bashings nestled together by his obvious distaste for the d&d game. in fact, if you read it, he actually harps on d&d rules or d&d game design in every single paragraph except the opener:

  1. opening.
  2. “Hello D&D superchrome”
  3. “It foists Wizards of the Coast’s latest v3.5 D&D system (a molehill that’s become a mountain at this point) onto your hard drive with stunning fidelity”
  4. “As if the pencil and paper “module” approach were a virtue that computers”
  5. “Time to shuffle another party member (improved to four simultaneous) through the level-up grinder”
  6. “D&D certainly puts the “rule” in role-playing”
  7. “For D&D fans who want to play an amazingly thorough PC translation of the system they’re carting around in book form, it’s proba-bly closer an eight or nine.”

yeah. we get it. you hate d&d. devote one paragraph to it and press on.

“dozens of artificial-looking areas vaguely linked by forget-table plot points you check off like grocery to-do’s.” like what?

“Wander and you’ll wonder why the forests, towns, and dungeons are like movie lots with lay-about monsters waiting patiently for you to trip their arbitrary triggers.” again. example, please?

“they might as well be graph-paper lifts filled with room after room of pop-up bogeymen” any elaboration there?

“Maybe you’d rather chat with the dumb NPCs that speak and sound like extras in a bad Saturday morning cartoon?” another, unsubstantiated statement. getting the drift?

so. i understand the article is necessarily short on word count. i get that. if that’s the case, however, splay it open with only one paragraph on d&d hate. a couple on plot, writing and character development. one on general design. maybe the last one on performance. reign in the looooooong metaphors. leave in a coupla pointed zingers. ta-da — call it done!

it’s not terribly hard. just cut back on your ngj poo and get some meat in there. your review is all icing and no cake.

well. and position consistency is always good.

“Time to shuffle another party member (improved to four simultaneous) through the level-up grinder, which you can click “recommend” to zip past…but then, what’s the point?”

so, number crunching is good? or bad? them building in controls to hide excessive munchkin excitement sounds like they are trying to ease up on the “rule-playing.” wait. no. that can’t be right because you just said it was something akin to plus-sign hell.

“That five-of-10 is actually a hedge, by the way.”

and, what in god’s name is that? so, people who only like things that are black and purple will like it. ooh. and someone who only plays spades online prolly won’t like it. someone who has always wanted to play a tiefling in a game would like it. someone who thinks merp was the only way role-playing games should be made would prolly hate it.

in the name of sune — give it a rating already! if you think it’s a 5, then give the damn thing a 5. don’t completely negate any point you may have made by saying something stupid like, “if you like this kind of game, you’ll like it. but, if you don’t, you won’t.”

no shit. really?

editorial process.

what the hell is going on here? skipping over the fact that green says he knew it wasn’t ready to print but printed it anyway, i really only have one question for this part:

when the hell did web publishing deadlines start driving print publishing deadlines?

“we have to publish this on the web now! if we don’t, our print deadline in two weeks is totally screwed! shit!”

what genius thought this one up? if it’s not ready, folks, don’t publish it on the web. especially when you have plenty of time before it goes to dead-tree land.

it’s a one-click, instant-publish sorta medium, guys. you could have done it the next day. next week. whenever the hell you wanted. it’s not like the blue-line was waiting on the damn review. if you know it’s not right, don’t publish it.

your website is this ever-changing, ebb-and-flow living document. the only hard, irretractable deadlines you have? yeah — your own.

/sigh

anyway. that’s pretty much all i have to say on the matter that really needs saying.

m3mnoch.

here for posterity, the review:

Quote: By Matt Peckham
This review appears in the January issue of Games For Windows: The Official Magazine.

—-

As everything-the-original-did — and more — follow-ups go, Neverwinter Nights 2 deserves a banner&something like “mission accomplished.” Think the sequel to Jurassic Park, where Spielberg’s all “You want more dinosaurs? I’ll show you more dinosaurs…” As a contemporary CRPG, on the other hand, NWN2 leaves a lot to be desired, and that’s too bad, because these are the guys who brought us Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale 2…and therefore they are the guys I’m least inclined to take issue with.

But issues exist, and defining them is really no more complex than saying, “Hello D&D superchrome, buh-bye storytelling and character development (you know, those things you’re supposed to “immerse” yourself in).” The idea seems to be that we’re meant to rah-rah about a superabundance of feats, spells, races, prestige (advanced) classes, and math-equation tickers full of the usual “I attack you with a +4 sword of –” booooooring. Fine, sure, dandy…but when is a “role” not a “role”? Simple: when it’s a rule to a fault.

Ever loyal bites
I’m cruising for a bruising (don’t I know it), but NWN2 is a splash of cold water to the face: A revelatory, polarizing experience that — in the wake of newer, better alternatives — makes you question the very notion of “RPG by numbers.” It foists Wizards of the Coast’s latest v3.5 D&D system (a molehill that’s become a mountain at this point) onto your hard drive with stunning fidelity, then tacks on dozens of artificial-looking areas vaguely linked by forget-table plot points you check off like grocery to-do’s.

Sure, the interface is sleeker with context-sensitive menus and a smart little bar that lets you more intuitively toggle modes like “power attack” and “stealth,” but with all the added rule-shuffling, NWN2 seems like it’s working twice as hard to accomplish half as much. Worse — and blame this on games like Oblivion — NWN2’s levels feel pint-sized: Peewee zones inhabited by pull-string NPCs with no existence to speak of beyond their little playpens. Wander and you’ll wonder why the forests, towns, and dungeons are like movie lots with lay-about monsters waiting patiently for you to trip their arbitrary triggers. As if the pencil and paper “module” approach were a virtue that computers — by now demonstrably capable of simulating entire worlds with considerably more depth — should emulate. It’s like we’re supposed to park half our brain in feature mania and the rest in nostalgic slush, and somehow call bingo.

The dungeons feel especially stale, so linear and inorganic they might as well be graph-paper lifts filled with room after room of pop-up bogeymen (Doom put them in closets; NWN2 just makes the closets bigger). Maybe you’d rather chat with the dumb NPCs that speak and sound like extras in a bad Saturday morning cartoon? Oh, boy — there’s the portrait “plus” sign! Time to shuffle another party member (improved to four simultaneous) through the level-up grinder, which you can click “recommend” to zip past…but then, what’s the point?

Rule-playing game
In all fairness, it’s not entirely developer Obsidian’s fault. D&D certainly puts the “rule” in role-playing, and a madcap base of D&D aficionados is no doubt ready to string me up for suggesting that faithful is here tantamount to folly (to these people, I say: “Go for it, NWN2’s all you’ve ever wanted and more”). Call me crazy — I guess I’m just finally weary of being led around on a pencil-and-paper leash and batting numbers around a glorified three-dimensional spreadsheet in a computer translation that should have synthesized, not forklifted.

That five-of-10 is actually a hedge, by the way. For D&D fans who want to play an amazingly thorough PC translation of the system they’re carting around in book form, it’s proba-bly closer an eight or nine. But if, like me, you want less “rules for rule’s sake” and more depth and beauty to your simulated game worlds, you can certainly find more exciting prospects. Part of the reason we call them “the good old days” and think fondly of games past is that it’s always easier to love what we don’t have to play anymore.

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3 comments so far

  1. […] something kinda pertinent to the recent nwn2 review vomit going on.  i wrote this kinda-sorta-non-manifesto-thing last february.  i just reread it.  seems to still make sense and be applicable to the mess that is the 1up review process. […]

  2. Jay Barnson on

    In the tradition of AOL’ers down through the decade, I’ll say, “Me, too.”

    I disagree with his rant, but that doesn’t make it a bad rant. I don’t think it was a particularly great rant – he needed better logical flow and support for his arguments. But I thought it was okay.

    But he wasn’t paid for a rant. He was paid for a review. And a review should be a service to readers, to help them make their purchasing decisions.

    I’m one of the target audience folks. I loved the first game, but I’ve hesitated on with the new game. I have been deliberately waiting for reviews. The only piece of useful information I got from the entire review was that if I was one of those people (apparently a lower life form, from the tone) who liked D&D the game would probably be closer to an 8 or 9 for me. But considering the source, I don’t consider that a very authoritative answer.

    I thought Kieron Gillen (the godfather of New Games Journalism himself) did a much better job with HIS review of the game – which really was a review, though he did manage to sneak in a similar opinion. But in comparison, it was both a useful review and a delight to read.

  3. Joe Pegasus on

    Quick question here…How did this reviewer ever get a job reviewing games?
    He is totally biased, unprofessional and insulting in his review of NWN2.


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