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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Neverwinter Nights – Darkness Over Daggerford

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Tags: Beamdog; BioWare; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Darkness over Daggerford; Ossian Studios

Last month, we published a review of Ossian Studios' Tyrants of the Moonsea module for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition by our resident Neverwinter Nights expert Gargaune. I'm happy to report that Gargaune decided to follow that up with a review of Ossian's other Enhanced Edition DLC module, the Baldur's Gate-ish adventure Neverwinter Nights: Darkness Over Daggerford. Unlike Tyrants of the Moonsea, the original free version of Darkness Over Daggerford was basically complete when it was released following the cancellation of the NWN premium module program back in 2006. Its 2018 Enhanced Edition rerelease offered mainly audio/visual improvements and bugfixes, which normally wouldn't be significant enough to merit a review. However, since we never actually published a review of the original module, it's a fine opportunity to finally give it the attention it deserves. Without further ado:

Per Ossian themselves, their ambition for Darkness over Daggerford was to recreate a Baldur’s Gate-like experience, referring to the BioWare title’s open-world structure in particular. And to that end, Miranda’s little studio delivered a feature that was sorely lacking in the original release and one that remains among NWN’s standout post-launch additions – a true and proper world map! Indeed, DoD is the most “open world” NWN module I’ve played to date and Ossian genuinely succeeded in recapturing that original BG feeling of roaming the countryside looking for trouble. After being set loose from Daggerford itself, situated in the northern part of the map, you’re free to explore a large, semi-contiguous region stretching out to the south, along the Trade Way heading to Baldur’s Gate. The world map in DoD isn’t just a nice visual flourish on your destination list like in the later TotM, but consistently involves discovery – e.g. to reach the Wild Hills for the first time, you’ll have to travel in its direction from the Western Farmlands, Gillian’s Hill, or the Wild Pastures, but you can’t just hop over from the Eastern Farmlands unless you’ve already visited the Wild Hills before. Quest destinations will reveal some major locations on the map, while others you’ll discover as proximate to your current location.

Daggerford isn’t the only civilized settlement in this area either, as you’ll also visit the hamlets of Gillian’s Hill and Liam’s Hold, while veering off from the Trade Way to either the East or the West will reveal farmlands, wilderness and the odd surprise. As a nice touch, the developers also took a moment to make Daggerford and Liam’s Hold seem more alive with ambient NPCs who shut nearby open doors and clear the streets after dark, replaced by torch-bearing watchmen, though it’s a purely cosmetic affair and won’t afford any special gameplay opportunities. Each map location has its own quests and encounters, and the designers crisscrossed objectives over the world map efficiently, such that you can expect to be doing some regular back-and-forth and getting to know Daggerford’s environs quite well. Areas don’t respawn, but travelling from one to the other has a chance of triggering one of a number of repeatable random encounters which also net a little bonus XP. Additionally, DoD is the originator of the fatigue system I mentioned in my TotM review: going for more than 36 in-game hours without resting will afflict you and your henchmen with a -1 to all Ability scores, unless you’re immune to Ability Drain, and have characters play a tired animation (which will bug you when you’re trying to swap gear while exhausted). DoD’s map scope and travel times are (unsurprisingly) well suited to seeing this mechanic in action with some regularity, particularly when you’re first unlocking locations on the map, though leaving from a random encounter area results in an auto-rest. As became the standard post-HotU, resting advances the clock by 8 hours and doing it in dangerous locations has a chance of spawning a hostile encounter right on top of you, so you have a theoretical incentive to make use of your room at the Happy Cow or other local accommodations.

But if everything I’ve said so far sounds pretty good, it’s time to change gears for a moment because DoD doesn’t put its best foot forward. Whereas the open world has plenty to get excited about, you’ll have to clear Daggerford before you get to it… While none of its content is bad, it’s nonetheless a rather drab affair and DoD’s weakest stage by far. Along the main plot, you’ll be chasing up some leads for Amara and you’re also given ample opportunity to load up on side quests that you’ll be tackling later on, once you’re actually free to leave town, but it just drags on for a bit too long. The town of Daggerford consists of roughly two rows of buildings in a rectangular courtyard, opposite the ducal palace, and a small, separate docks area, and it’s just not a very inspiring locale. There’s enough quest content to keep you going and even the odd unmarked opportunity, but you’ll quickly find yourself pining for more even on your first time, let alone replays.

Mercifully, once the plot progresses and you’re free to come and go, you’ll be introduced to the world map and find that DoD’s various areas have a solid amount of thematic and quest variety. The thrill of exploration should soon follow and it’s hard to overstate just how different an experience it is from NWN’s mainstream linear modules like HotU, let alone the drudgery of its original campaign. From peaceful farmlands to a besieged castle perched atop the Blade Cliffs, from a swampy Lizardfolk village to a wizard’s tower looming over an impassable chasm, “I wonder what’s going on over there” is a recurring thought for the rambling player. Sometimes it’s the regular adventuring fare, others it’s surprisingly creative, such as the aforementioned Lizardfolk village, which you’ll be infiltrating disguised as a scaly critter yourself, courtesy of a hag with a chip on her shoulder. Another quest will have you undertake a quaint little investigation at a wake with your choice of amusing resolutions. As for the looming wizard’s tower I brought up, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise you to learn it’s puzzles all the way to the top, and not the lean variety, get ready to break out some pen and paper! There are puzzles and secrets in a few other quests and locations, but this is clearly where that one guy on the dev team went “okay, my turn to mess with the player!” And all of these examples are optional side content, the sort you pick up through organic exploration or get brought to your attention under no obligation to complete.

[...] When Beamdog first announced they were publishing the EE version of Darkness over Daggerford, I was fresh off the PM edition a couple of weeks prior. It was early days for NWN’s Enhanced Edition and the big player-side improvements were still to come, but I was chuffed enough with Ossian's work and their sporting decision to release their cancelled project all those years ago that it yanked me right off that fence.

Darkness over Daggerford’s EE treatment added a coat of QA and audio/visual polish to complete the project and it does that very well, bringing it up to a full and proper commercial standard. That said, we have to be fair and recognise some missed opportunities as well. I grant that developing whole new quests and levels might’ve been costly propositions for what was already a complete module, but restoring that cut dragon attack to the stronghold questline or fleshing out the henchmen situation could’ve been some great and affordable ways to add value. I was also surprised that more comprehensive alignment reactivity wasn’t added, though clearly that was a design oversight rather than a budget constraint, since Ossian did undertake an extensive review of conversations and associated scripting. Darkness over Daggerford was already bigger and better rounded than most PMs, indeed it’d have likely been the best of the bunch had Atari given it its commercial release, but there was still room to grow. The final package is good value notwithstanding, but the EE revision comes across as a more modest commitment than Beamdog’s and Ossian’s later collaboration on Tyrants of the Moonsea and the focus seems to have been to fill in the PM’s blanks in quality control and production value rather than revisit and expand its development.

Bottom line, DoD caters to some RPG fans more than to others. If you're looking for a dungeon crawl, this isn't the module for you. If you're in it for a grand, sombre plot, it ain't that either. But if you want something to recapture that Baldur's Gate-like sense of exploration, of roaming the countryside in search of adventure and curiosities, it doesn’t get much better than Darkness over Daggerford for NWN or many other contenders. It’s a charming and lively open-world adventure, which is equally true for the new EE revision with its polished production values (for sale on GOG, Steam, or directly from Beamdog) as it is for the old PM release (available at the Neverwinter Vault). Either package is well worth checking out if that speaks to you, but the EE version will certainly yield the best experience if it’s within your budget, and if one good turn deserves another, Ossian absolutely did NWN fans a solid back in the day.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Neverwinter Nights – Darkness Over Daggerford
 

luj1

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NwN still has one of the best ruleset implementations, I'm glad people are still modding and playing, even on PWs. I played this module long ago, it was okay, but still not as good as Swordflight, Almraiven or Prophet. Gargaune appreciate the comment on OHS Henchman mod!
 

ds

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Another baffling oversight relates to alignment shifts, which is to say there aren’t any. Well, there are a couple I’ve encountered, but limited to very sparing quest setpieces, such as marrying a young woman to a vampire, which will provide a sizeable Evil bump to any PC or specifically make a Paladin immediately fall from his deity’s grace. What’s strange about this is that the entire module’s dialogue is already well written to support a more comprehensive, systematic approach to handling alignment. The words are there, it’s just the scripts that are missing and it’s once again similar to a more perfunctory part of BG’s instead of NWN’s more consistent use of reactive alignment.
I'd rather the game not assign some alignment interpretation to actions that are even remotely ambiguous to be honest. For most classes it ends up being mostly fluff anyway from a gameplay perspective so may as well leave it up to the player to act according to his character's alignment - or better yet a more nuanced notion of morality than what D&D models.
 

King Crispy

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PSA for anyone finding the need to alter their character's appearance, their equipment's appearance, etc., just use this mod.

The Customize Character Hak allows you to customize your character in-game (modify/dye/rename armor, shield, cloak, helm and weapon, change portrait, change head/phenotype, add/remove tattoos/tails/wings, add/remove glowing eyes effect, rename your character)

Works perfectly with EE. The Override installation method is easiest.

You can even hide your cloak! SUCH POWER!
 

ds

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You can even hide your cloak! SUCH POWER!

But why would you want to make your character look less cool? Now hiding those ugly cooking pots that NwN calls helmets, that's useful.

Also, linking tranny nexus instead of the vault, especially when Gargaune already put a vault link for this mod in the fine article…
 

Crescent Hawk

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NwN still has one of the best ruleset implementations, I'm glad people are still modding and playing, even on PWs. I played this module long ago, it was okay, but still not as good as Swordflight, Almraiven or Prophet. Gargaune appreciate the comment on OHS Henchman mod!
These 3 that you mention look pretty fucking cool, I never went too deep in NWN modules, cause I tried a few and was a bit let down, are there any others I might have missed?
 

luj1

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These 3 that you mention look pretty fucking cool, I never went too deep in NWN modules, cause I tried a few and was a bit let down, are there any others I might have missed?

Runes of Blood, Prophet, Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Aileund, Bastard of Kosigan, Eye of the Beholder, Winds of Eremor, Dark Ranger's Treasure, To Heir is Human, Almraiven, Shadewood, Cave of Songs, Honor Among Thieves, Hex Coda, Elegia Eternum, Shadowlords, Dreamcatcher, Demon, Ravenloft, Midnight/Twilight, Rose of Eternity, countless good ones
 

Darth Roxor

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Gargaune dude this is neverwinter nights 1, why are you doing this to yourself

Because he is not a retarded, human meme who plays janky trash such as ELEX. NwN is still being played and modded, after 20 years. Show some respect.
I may be retarded, but I'm still not the one who claims that an RTWP game has the best implementation of the D&D ruleset ever
RetardedDancingDonut.gif
 

luj1

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Yes, you are retarded.

First of all, the character building in NwN is among the best. That's why Gargaune is "doing it to himself." The rules were ported superbly, it is a complete digital analog to OG 3E (with some small modifications). Whether the game uses TB or round-based RTwP won't change that.

Second of all, NwN uses 6 second rounds. It is therefore round-based RTwP and that preserves the overall functionality of the ruleset.

Personally I will always prefer turn-based (cleaner system). But there are excellent RTwP games, just as there are poor TB games. Idk why it even matters to you, you literally play console "ARPGs" with real-time combat, which are a mere shadow of the true CRPG experience.
 
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Crescent Hawk

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Gargaune dude this is neverwinter nights 1, why are you doing this to yourself

Because he is not a retarded, human meme who plays janky trash such as ELEX. NwN is still being played and modded, after 20 years. Show some respect.

Not only that but the best content in gaming for me of the last years is fan made. And the list is gigantic, Doom\quake wads and full mods like Ashes2063, HL 1 and 2 stuff like Echoes, Field Intensity or Entropy Zero 2. The incredible Thief FM community and now Black Parade. it goes on and on with many other venerable games. And Ive always known NWN is one of those, thing is I never went deep into the modules. Thanks for the suggestions man. Of all these Prophet seems the most intriguing, and Aeilund Saga for a more relaxing adventure.
 
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Jack Of Owls

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I played about 1/3 of DoD when it first came out after playing many user-made modules. It was certainly solid - C&C, evil paths, puzzles, tough combat (if you didn't use an overpowered build like I unfortunately did with my wizard). But I didn't finish it, partly because combat with a pure wizard was far too easy and partly because I felt shame that I got stonewalled by one of those puzzles. Yet it wasn't unfair - everything you needed to progress past that puzzle (which had to be solved in order to progress in the main quest, I think) - was right in the room where you were stuck/stumped. There wasn't moon logic and it certainly was no more difficult than the chess board puzzle in Durlag's Tower (considered by some to be the finest experience ever in a D&D game), perhaps even a good deal easier, but the fact t that I had to go to the developers' chat room and ask for the solution didn't sit well with me. No other NWN module stumped me like this, and only a couple areas in the official expansions were as tough to overcome. But DoD seemed like a first rate experience that I wish I had completed. It's probably even better now than it was in that first build of the module years ago.

I really need to get over my sometimes severe ADD/ADHD (self-diagnosed) and get back into NWN modules. I feel like I'm missing out on some great stuff, many of the modules mentioned in luj1's post above, for example, which I never played

 

Gargaune

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I'd rather the game not assign some alignment interpretation to actions that are even remotely ambiguous to be honest.
I'm in the pro-Alignment camp, I like the mechanical interplay with the narrative even if it doesn't always fit personal perspectives. But yeah, in that case, you should find DoD's sparse Alignment reactivity a plus.

@Gargaune dude this is neverwinter nights 1, why are you doing this to yourself
Admit it, what you actually wanna know is why am I doing it to you? :lol:

With respect to your argument with luj1, if you just hate RTwP there's no getting around it, but beyond that, NWN's ruleset adaptation is definitely one of the better and more complete ones out there. I wouldn't call it "the best", not in a world where ToEE exists and even on RTwP there's stuff like NWN2 and PFKM which do an even better job with the ruleset, but I've made the argument before that the original NWN is the most complete computer D&D experience around - between single-player, co-op multiplayer, the DM client, PWs and the Toolset, there's really no other single package to match it.

few more modules x3-5 for review purposes and he can finally move on
Ain't moved on in twenty years, not about to start now! But there's only so much official EE content that can qualify for the front page, so the rest of you might get away.

PSA for anyone finding the need to alter their character's appearance, their equipment's appearance, etc., just use this mod.
It's the older version of the one I linked in the article. In some respects I prefer it to the newer CCOHEE, the scripting infrastructure's much simpler, but its Select Target function doesn't work with OHS henchmen, there's an activation/dialogue conflict. It would work with Link Boy in particular, but not while he's affected by the polymorph bug. That's why I recommended the CCOHEE version.

But I do suggest using the patch hak approach in either case. It's easy to set up and keeps your Override from turning into a quagmire.

I really need to get over my sometimes severe ADD/ADHD (self-diagnosed) and get back into NWN modules. I feel like I'm missing out on some great stuff, many of the modules mentioned in luj1's post above, for example, which I never played
No time like the present! :-D
 

King Crispy

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Something I'd like to caution people on when it comes to Gargaune's suggestion to consider using a fully-customized party (henchmen) as opposed to the default followers DoD comes with: the two that do come with the game have relatively frequent and relevant comments throughout the story regarding things you'll find, quest progression, etc. Customized henchmen obviously will totally lack this, which may not matter to some but is something for those unaware to note. For me, the extra comments add a little welcome flavor.
 

Gargaune

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Something I'd like to caution people on when it comes to Gargaune's suggestion to consider using a fully-customized party (henchmen) as opposed to the default followers DoD comes with: the two that do come with the game have relatively frequent and relevant comments throughout the story regarding things you'll find, quest progression, etc. Customized henchmen obviously will totally lack this, which may not matter to some but is something for those unaware to note. For me, the extra comments add a little welcome flavor.
That's fair. I didn't find their banter all that worthwhile in the balance, but it's a subjective point, others might see things differently.
 

King Crispy

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But why would you want to make your character look less cool?
For cloaks, the massive clipping issues that can easily occur.

but its Select Target function doesn't work with OHS henchmen
Just a small technical note here: I guess you're referring to being able to change specifically your followers' equipment appearance (which I've already had to do once myself), so, using the CCOH that I mentioned just requires you to have your follower give you his or her item, you change its appearance like any other, then you just hand it back to them. The altered characteristic "sticks" to the item and works just fine that way. It's a little tedious, but a no-brainer.
 

Gargaune

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Just a small technical note here: I guess you're referring to being able to change specifically your followers' equipment appearance (which I've already had to do once myself), so, using the CCOH that I mentioned just requires you to have your follower give you his or her item, you change its appearance like any other, then you just hand it back to them. The altered characteristic "sticks" to the item and works just fine that way. It's a little tedious, but a no-brainer.
Yes, for most purposes, but mind edge cases with item restrictions - e.g. you can't use your Wizard PC to change your Fighter henchman's Full Plate.
 

Riddler

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I played about 1/3 of DoD when it first came out after playing many user-made modules. It was certainly solid - C&C, evil paths, puzzles, tough combat (if you didn't use an overpowered build like I unfortunately did with my wizard). But I didn't finish it, partly because combat with a pure wizard was far too easy and partly because I felt shame that I got stonewalled by one of those puzzles. Yet it wasn't unfair - everything you needed to progress past that puzzle (which had to be solved in order to progress in the main quest, I think) - was right in the room where you were stuck/stumped. There wasn't moon logic and it certainly was no more difficult than the chess board puzzle in Durlag's Tower (considered by some to be the finest experience ever in a D&D game), perhaps even a good deal easier, but the fact t that I had to go to the developers' chat room and ask for the solution didn't sit well with me. No other NWN module stumped me like this, and only a couple areas in the official expansions were as tough to overcome. But DoD seemed like a first rate experience that I wish I had completed. It's probably even better now than it was in that first build of the module years ago.

I really need to get over my sometimes severe ADD/ADHD (self-diagnosed) and get back into NWN modules. I feel like I'm missing out on some great stuff, many of the modules mentioned in luj1's post above, for example, which I never played

A tip is to use something like cheat engine to increase the game speed by 2x which makes the game flow much better imo. You can always slow it down for combat if you want to but with one character I find that 3 second rounds are more than enough for the vast majority of encounters.
 

Jack Of Owls

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I played about 1/3 of DoD when it first came out after playing many user-made modules. It was certainly solid - C&C, evil paths, puzzles, tough combat (if you didn't use an overpowered build like I unfortunately did with my wizard). But I didn't finish it, partly because combat with a pure wizard was far too easy and partly because I felt shame that I got stonewalled by one of those puzzles. Yet it wasn't unfair - everything you needed to progress past that puzzle (which had to be solved in order to progress in the main quest, I think) - was right in the room where you were stuck/stumped. There wasn't moon logic and it certainly was no more difficult than the chess board puzzle in Durlag's Tower (considered by some to be the finest experience ever in a D&D game), perhaps even a good deal easier, but the fact t that I had to go to the developers' chat room and ask for the solution didn't sit well with me. No other NWN module stumped me like this, and only a couple areas in the official expansions were as tough to overcome. But DoD seemed like a first rate experience that I wish I had completed. It's probably even better now than it was in that first build of the module years ago.

I really need to get over my sometimes severe ADD/ADHD (self-diagnosed) and get back into NWN modules. I feel like I'm missing out on some great stuff, many of the modules mentioned in luj1's post above, for example, which I never played

A tip is to use something like cheat engine to increase the game speed by 2x which makes the game flow much better imo. You can always slow it down for combat if you want to but with one character I find that 3 second rounds are more than enough for the vast majority of encounters.
Never felt the need to slow things down (or speed them up) for NWN. However, I have used CE for years (rather infrequently but still nice to have that option); it would probably be ideal for something like the first Drakensang game which I understand was ruined for many in an otherwise acceptable cRPG by far too much backtracking and slow default movement of your player character.
 

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