Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide is the first expansion pack to BioWare’s hit role-playing game from last summer, Neverwinter Nights. It contains new tilesets, creatures, player classes, spells, skills, feats, equipment -- and possibly a kitchen sink -- and all the new stuff is shown off in a new 20-hour campaign. So Shadows of Undrentide has all the content you’d want from an expansion pack, but is it something you’d want to purchase? Keep reading to find out.
The campaign in Shadows of Undrentide starts off in the snowy north of Faerūn (all the better to show off the new rural winter tileset). You’re the senior student of a dwarf named Master Drogan, and one night kobolds attack, poison Drogan, and then make off with some powerful artifacts. That leaves it up to you -- plus a henchman, of course -- to track down the kobolds and find out what’s going on, plus try to heal Drogan.
The campaign works well enough. You’re given more options about how to complete quests, there are some puzzles to figure out, and the henchmen are better integrated this time, but the campaign is a little short. It takes about 20 hours to complete, which is fine, but the underlying story is so simple that there are only two chapters plus an extended “interlude” to play through, and so characters won’t get anywhere close to level 20 (the maximum currently allowed by the engine). The character I used to go through the campaign only hit level 13 during the final battle.
That’s a problem because the game is horribly slow at low levels. Since BioWare is sticking to Dungeons & Dragons rules, low-level characters only attack ten times a minute, but they miss most of the time, and so battles take forever to get through. It was smart of BioWare to leapfrog characters to level three in the Neverwinter Nights campaign, but in Shadows of Undrentide, not only do you have to play those first two levels, you have to do it without any sort of useful equipment. As a result, the campaign starts out slow-paced and difficult, but then gets very easy at the end after the campaign designers toss around all sorts of good equipment in the final chapter.
Of course, if you buy a Neverwinter Nights expansion pack, do you buy it for the official campaign or for all of the fan-created campaigns that will eventually come out? If it’s the latter, or if you’re one of those people who likes making campaigns yourself, then Shadows of Undrentide has a lot to offer: over a dozen new creatures (including basilisks and pit fiends), three new tilesets, three new skills, 31 new feats, 66 new spells, and five new “prestige classes” that have high enough requirements that you can only select them after gaining a few levels in regular classes. Really, if you enjoy playing campaigns on the Neverwinter Nights engine, then the Shadows of Undrentide expansion pack is worthwhile just for all the new options it gives you for creating and playing characters.
Besides all the new things in the expansion pack, BioWare also improved on one existing thing: the henchmen. There are only three henchmen in Shadows of Undrentide, but now you have more control over them. You can manage their equipment (and give them things to wear), you can dictate how they react in combat, and you can tell them what class they should select when they level up (all three henchmen are multi-classed). You can also give them some class-specific orders. For example, one of the henchmen is a bard, and you can ask him to identify your equipment. However, while the other things included in the expansion pack are changes to the engine (and thus apply everywhere) the changes to the henchmen are specific to the Shadows of Undrentide campaign. So you can go back to the original Neverwinter Nights campaign and play it as the new blackguard class, but if you do you’ll have to deal with henchmen as they were before.
So, overall, my thoughts on Shadows of Undrentide are about the same as my thoughts on Neverwinter Nights: it’s pretty good as a toolkit, but it’s only mediocre for professionally made campaigns. At least so far. Maybe the second expansion pack, Hordes of the Underdark, which is supposedly coming out later this month, will change my opinion on the subject.