Last year’s Neverwinter Nights was BioWare’s ambitious attempt to capture the open-ended nature of pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons on the PC. While the game’s lengthy single-player campaign was hardly an afterthought, Neverwinter Nights’ 3D engine and toolset got a lot of attention, because they were intended to allow fans to create and host their very own D&D adventures. Indeed, now there are countless free fan-made Neverwinter Nights modules available for download, but as you’d expect, their quality and size can vary wildly. Meanwhile, the first retail expansion pack for Neverwinter Nights offers much the same level of quality that fans have come to expect from BioWare’s role-playing games over the years. While Shadows of Undrentide doesn’t fix the shortcomings of Neverwinter Nights’ Aurora engine (which isn’t aging as well as BioWare’s Infinity engine, which was used for five years’ worth of great RPGs), this expansion features a good-sized original campaign and makes a few noteworthy additions to the gameplay of the original.
Shadows of Undrentide isn’t a conventional expansion pack, because it’s not a continuation of the previous game. Essentially it’s a brand-new campaign using the same engine, so although you’re required to install it on top of Neverwinter Nights, the stories of the games are completely separate. Undrentide’s campaign is shorter than that of Neverwinter Nights, but that doesn’t mean it’s short–it will probably last you 25 to 30 hours, and there’s some good replay value to boot. The expansion retains the same excellent mechanics of Neverwinter Nights, so you can easily control your character and access a variety of useful in-game information using the mouse and a few keystrokes.
Much like Neverwinter Nights’ campaign, Undrentide’s campaign does a good job of actually letting you role-play your character, mostly by giving you both good-natured and evil-natured dialogue options and quest solutions. There’s a lot of dialogue to read through, but it’s good enough if you’re interested, and it can be skimmed through easily if you’d rather just hack and slash your way to the end. The expansion takes you through several new types of environments not found in Neverwinter Nights, including a snowy wilderness, a desert, and some ancient ruins. The plot of the game isn’t remarkable, but it does a decent job of setting up the sorts of adventures and challenges you’d expect from a fantasy RPG. Four powerful artifacts have been stolen, and you need to recover them for your master. This series of quests, in turn, leads to bigger problems for your increasingly experienced character, as you find yourself at odds with a number of powerful villains and their appropriately sinister schemes. There are some fairly clever puzzles you’ll need to solve along the way, and an appropriately skilled character can often talk his way out of potentially dangerous situations instead of having to fight.