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NWN/SoU/HotU - CEP, Community Expansion Pack Mod Review

Discussion in 'Mod Reviews' started by ArtEChoke, Jun 17, 2004.

  1. ArtEChoke Gems: 17/31
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    CEP, Community Expansion Pack
    Version: v1.00
    Review First Posted On: June 18, 2004
    Review Updated On:
    Download here: http://nwvault.ign.com/cep/downloads/

    What it is:
    The Community Expansion Pack is an enormous undertaking by the NWN community to gather the best and most varied custom content generated by the fans of the game. Bioware had nothing to do with this. The title of the project is something of a misnomer, at least in the sense that Bioware also created their expansion packs. Unlike in the Bioware expansions, however, there is no new game here, just new tools & content for builders to play with.

    The concept is, that with all the custom content floating around, some enterprising individuals decided to gather up the cream of the crop and put it all in one big ole' download, so that people wouldn't have to bother downloading lots of little (or gigantic) hak packs to play individual mods. Also it saves builders the time of having to sift through the endless sea of stuff out there, and grabbing little bits and pieces of bigger hak packs, and combining them into the smaller ones that will go with their own mods. I've been through that process myself, and I can tell you, it's tedious.

    The inherent problem with this is, unfortunately, by its own nature, CEP is always going to be yesterday’s news. Because custom content will be constantly churned out by the community, for better and for worse, no matter the size or inclusiveness of CEP, if someone wants to build newly developed material into their mod, a player will have to download an additional hakpack anyway.

    For example, the very week that CEP was completed and made available for download, the much lauded, "Rideable horses hak" came out, then Airships, "Flowing cloaks," and so on.

    That being said, this, "expansion" adds more to the toolset, arguably, than either of the actual official expansions (sans tilesets). "More," however, does not always mean better. The quality of the new content available in CEP sways far and wide in all directions. A good deal of it is so much better than Bioware's efforts, that there is a distinct, "oooh", factor when something makes an appearance. On the other foot, some of it is so hideously ugly, or downright inappropriate, that I pondered what went wrong in their screening/selection process. More on that later.

    What it is not:
    As previously mentioned, it is not an adventure in itself, just material to make one. Also absent from CEP are new tilesets, as they were determined to be too large to include (so again, if you want to use a nifty new tileset, you're going to have to use an additional hakpack anyway...).

    If you think its going to help you with scripting functionality, think again, it will not help someone with the code grind that goes along with building a mod.*

    * It should be mentioned though, that some of the monsters have custom scripted AI, like the CODI Mindflayers.

    What follows is a categorized run down of what makes up the Community Expansion Pack, and what I think of it (note: this is by no means a complete list of what is in each section, since a complete inventory would simply take eons to produce.). If you are interested in a certain aspect (armor, monsters, whatever) I highly recommend skimming down the page to it, as there is a LOT to cover.

    Placeables:
    This feature alone, I feel makes the heavy download worth it. It's arranged comfortably on the "custom" tab, in intuitive categories, i.e. in the "dungeon" drop-down, you'll find dungeon stuff. The quality and variety of the placeables, overall I'd say was much higher than the rest of the expansion project.

    Highlights: For battlefields, there are huge siege engines, cannons of varying sizes, giant sling-shots and battering rams. Lowpoint - the "siege mine" is an outhouse... other than that though, there's more than enough to make a really great setting for armies to clash on the battlefield.

    For dungeons: Cavern and dungeon ceiling placeables are a *very* welcome addition to the game. You can look through them from the top point of view, but at the player-level viewpoint, you'll feel as confined as you should. New traps are available to carve up, smash and dice adventurers, with actual whirling blades, swinging pendulums and dropping logs, which is a refreshing break from Bioware's canned traps. New secret doors that actually slide open, to reveal a corridor or room are also a welcome addition. Finally, a true assortment of torture equipment with *actual victims* is something that's been missing for far too long.

    The rest of the placeables section has similarly good material, with stained glass windows, shrines, new buildings, towers, gigantic natural landmarks (the devil's tower from, "Close Encounters" anyone?), tons of new architectural elements, arches and pillars to liven up cities. Floating glowing crystals, giant chess pieces, magic mouths, pools and way way too many other things are in there, to add atmosphere to any setting.

    Clothing and Armor:
    Another department that CEP excels in. There is a remarkable variety of clothing available for different looks and styles previously unavailable in NWN. I was particularly impressed by armor covered with heraldic surcoats, for a truly medieval look. Robes and clothing abounds with specific looks to cover up that out-dated default disco look that the Bioware standard clothing looked like. There's an Arabian look, an assortment of Asian styles of coats and robes, and a "foppish" outfit for the noble dandies. Oh, also, for those DMs who want their players to seriously consider the results of their actions, there's a pregnant robe, which of course, makes a person look pregnant.
    Screenshot: A knight with a fancy new surcoat, shield and sword.

    There is also some clothing that functions to create new creatures, like a pants selection that makes the character have goat legs, for a tiefling or satyr character. Similarly there's a big ole' fish tail for Mer-folk, and a pixie outfit for... well... pixie people I guess.

    Again, that list is by no means complete, and most of it is very high quality, with the exception of the typical "chainmail bikini" fashion line, complete with "giggly boobs". It looks more like club wear.

    A couple of negatives - I did find a few entries where the clothing didn't adjust to different phenotypes or different races, leaving a character with no torso. Also, there are no new light armor types/looks.

    Helmets, Shields and Weapons (including misc items that you can hold):
    Weapons: Probably the point of most interest for players... the main addition in this area consists of the addition of oriental weapons. Lots of oriental weapons. By-and-large, they look great (I really liked the Tetsubo, a two handed club, very cool...). Not being an expert on oriental weapons, I don't have much else to add, other than, at least to my untrained eye, they look great.

    In addition to the oriental weapons, there is also a large number of additional, "realistic" versions of already established NWN weapons, as well as a significant number of weapons added from the various WoTC supplement books (Sword & Fist, and so on), like the mercurial weapons, the maul (a two handed hammer... very cool), military picks, tridents, double scimitars and falchions (again, very cool). The only bit I didn't like in the whole lot, was the prevalence of "lightsaber" weapons, which I think just look terrible, but to each their own.

    Helmets: A section oddly lacking, I was surprised to find only a few new entries for helmets, most being animal or monster heads, I guess to be used as masks or to, "Frankenstein" together some new monsters... not sure what that's all about. There were also a few PC heads added with a "circlet" added on, which is cool for NPCs, but I can see a player trying to put one on and being surprised when their whole head/face changes to a bald human male. One very nice and, in my opinion, needed entry was simply a hood with a shrouded face. Great for PCs and NPCs alike.

    Shields: I went poking around the shield section, frankly, with the expectation that I'd be bored. It’s a shield, how exciting can it get? I was pleasantly surprised. There is a staggering number of new shields, and they have character. In fact, they're oozing with character. My personal favorites were a series of wooden tower shields with a tribal theme to them. They have actual 3D skulls and spikes jutting out all over the place as well as big evil faces painted on for a great voodoo witch-doctor look. For the purists out there who get all in a huff about druids using non-wooded shields, these will be a godsend, and your druids will never have looked so good. The rest of the 300+ shields available are similarly cool, with heraldic themes, nice glowing effects, smoking, spiked, sideways shields, Egyptian, name it, any shape, any size, it's there.
    Screenshot: A druid with his styling new shield and a face-obscuring hood.

    Miscellaneous stuff: New holdable items, like babies, holy symbols, instruments that are actually held as though being played (bards rejoice), lanterns, and flags. Nice details for a builder to spice up an environment.

    Finally we come to monsters. The one that every builder, DM and player alike looks forward to the most is the monsters section... and it is here, I feel, that CEP dropped the ball.

    Positives first: OOZES! Long have I thought NWN was missing a very integral part of its soul without the requisite green slimes, ochre jellies, and black puddings. Now they're all in, as well as a dozen other types that I've never heard of. Sure, they don't split when you hit them, and they have this weird spitting attack, but that can all be changed by a savvy builder. The models and the animations are, well, in a word: "Oozy." They even leave a gooey trail behind them as they squish along.
    Screenshot: The pudding gang gets ready for a snack.

    Another fine addition is in the elemental department. Every para-elemental you can conceive of is present, dust elementals, magma, ooze, salt, etc. These new elementals are present in many different sizes, so a "huge elemental," is actually huge now. Also reworked are the water and air elementals from the original NWN, which in my opinion, and evidently others', were very poor.

    Screenshot: New water, air, vapor and smoke elementals of varying sizes.

    Also very strong in this section is the assortment of CODI monsters that make an appearance, Mind Flayers, Glabrezu, the Manticore, etc., however I feel it's hard to credit the compilers with offering these, as they were already extremely popular downloads prior to CEP's conception.

    Negatives: tons of wasted space in the monsters section. A good half-dozen or more "new" monsters in the outsiders section are just reskinned dire spiders. The cyclopes are just a hill giant and a fire giant with a reskin. In the magical beasts section, along with the impressive CODI Manticore, are several sphinx models that are downright embarrassing.
    Screenshot: Embarrassing new cyclopses.

    Screenshot: *Really embarrassing sphinxes*, on the far side, the CODI Manticore for comparison.

    Screenshot: No seriously, what were they thinking?

    For the ultimate in loserdom, there's a new succubus model that not only has it naked, but goes so far as to detail its private parts in some very inexcusable areas. Also, they added "giggly boobs" to the female wemics... how erotic... lion monsters with bouncy chests...

    More wasted space: a minogon model... and it's not better than the one that shipped with the basic game.

    There are a handful of models that Bioware actually shipped with the game, but for whatever reason, did not make available: Female and wolf-headed rakshasas, and an elemental type called a "Belker." Decent models but nothing to get excited over, as well as a large assortment of animals and other staple D&D monsters (of varying quality: stirges, an owlbear, myconids, etc).

    Lastly, the portrait section: Again, I feel like it's more wasted space that they could have taken out to streamline the already huge download. Some of the portraits are good, some are bad, it's all a matter of personal taste, however there is no real rhyme or reason to their selections, and I don't feel that portraits play enough of a role in NWN itself to warrant their own section, while tilesets were omitted.

    As a final word on CEP, I think in its final state it is good for the builders and DMs, and bad for the players. It will make the builders' jobs easier, by giving them more tools at their immediate disposal, without having to extract various parts from different hakpacks and combining them (CEP's first goal, accomplished). I don't believe it will ease the download problems for players, unfortunately, and it does not simplify things for them. Ultimately they'll still end up having to download more sizeable hakpacks for other mods, which aren't using CEP exclusive content (CODI's Foundations, for example, players will have to download a huge new hak with some repeated content from CEP, and other new material, like the Sigil tileset). There has also already been an official patch for CEP, and a gazillion more unofficial "add-ons" by people who had nothing to do with it to begin with, which creates some confusion, and more files to download.

    [ June 20, 2004, 22:35: Message edited by: Taluntain ]
     
  2. chevalier

    chevalier Knight of Everfull Chalice ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

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    One word about armour and shields and styles thereof. As it is, and as the screenshot shows, the look is indeed mediaeval. But there is one problem: the knight in your picture has different insignia on the shield from those on the armour's breast plate. This doesn't add to the realism of his character: it looks as if he had picked someone else's shield.

    Next, armour adornments are all fun, but what point wearing actual heraldic insignia that don't actually belong to you? To attract the foes of the previous owner whom, notably, you found dead or even killed yourself? Another possibility would be incuring punishment for impersonation - and especially if the impersonated one were of a higher estate, let alone if you were a peasant impersonating a noble. Good old gallows wouldn't be the end of it.
     
  3. Taluntain

    Taluntain Resident Alpha and Omega Staff Member ★ SPS Account Holder Resourceful Adored Veteran Pillars of Eternity SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!) New Server Contributor [2012] (for helping Sorcerer's Place lease a new, more powerful server!) Torment: Tides of Numenera SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!) BoM XenForo Migration Contributor [2015] (for helping support the migration to new forum software!)

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    Chev, chev... this is just about the look, not historical relevance or accuracy. :shake:
     
  4. The Gatekeeper Gems: 5/31
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    Ahhh the CEP... A mod of great magnitude. Chev you obviously dont play nwn (online at least) for it IS all about making your "char" look cooler and provide resources for module makers and server hosts... thats it
     
  5. chevalier

    chevalier Knight of Everfull Chalice ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

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    Erm... that's the point. Since when do messed up heraldic insignia look cool? ;)
     
  6. Brallrock Gems: 23/31
    Latest gem: Black Opal


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    Thank you for the time and effort you went to for this review. I am new to NWN and was wondering if I would use CEP. The thought of having naked females on the screen for my three year old to oggle when she wanders into the room when I am playing is not good. I think for the moment I will not DL it.
     

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