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NWN2 - Moonshadows Chapter One Mod Review

Discussion in 'Mod Reviews' started by chevalier, Jun 2, 2009.

  1. chevalier

    chevalier Knight of Everfull Chalice ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

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    Moonshadows - Chapter One (1.10 Compatible)
    Creator: Alex "Hugie" Hugon
    Type: Forest fun
    Creator's description: This is an exploration-driven module with heavy combat and a story that really gets going towards the end. Subsequent installments in the series will continue the story in a more linear fashion.
    Requires: NWN2 Patch 1.10
    Download location: Link
    Review first posted June 2, 2009

    Quick characterisation

    This module is like a good cup of coffee: strong, full-bodied, smooth and rich in savoury aroma. Alex's writing supplies the cream and his area design the chocolate to finish off the mocha.

    Background

    You've been hitting the bottle with a particularly "charming" dwarf and from this new friend of yours you have found out, before he gave in to caffeine deficiency, about a strange crystal structure being up somewhere there in the Star Mounts amid the High Forest. Since anything is better than sitting in the office, you immediately set out, "against your better judgement." Immediately after switching out of office reply on, you are given access to a couple of chests by your new buddy - a half-orc that doesn't want to stick your head on a pike unlike almost anything you will meet later on (Sreenshot: OOC Area).

    Since you probably don't want your head to go up on a pike, you'd better make use of the assortment of +1 to +2 items thus left at your disposal. Be you a paladin or a ranger or a rogue or Joe Fighter, you'll find just enough (and no more than necessary) to give you a good start, considering you've been raised to level 8. Generally, the tank and the dps (damage per second) will have to content themselves with +1 equipment, while sneaky fellas can count on +2 armour. Pack the whole chest of healing stuff in your pockets and you're ready to go. Almost. Don't forget to check out the trinkets. An amulet of Natural Armour +2 is far from useless to anyone. As D&D's sumptuary laws allow you to carry rings on two out of your ten fingers, you may want to look for another +2 to AC or some spell resistance. There's also a Ring of the Ram that gives you a free Knockdown feat and that's good for casters, so you want to have it. They kinda can't cast when they're kissing the walkmesh. If you want to be a caster yourself, you can do it but don't expect any advice from me (other than buff up and fight).

    So then you wind up in the forest and breath fresh air without developing a cold from the A/C, while reading into Alex's flowery depictions worthy of Welch vs Helvering. You actually forget that you're coming there to face the prospect of your head being stuck on a pike. The music of the wild fills your veins and you no longer worry about securing an adequate supply of caffeine, as you look around and can almost smell the forest bed or feel the sun translucing through the treetops right on your skin. What is this 2d6 doing in my hand, you wonder (Screenshot: Forest Idyll), everything is so peaceful. Except there's an upsetting crystal somewhere up there, so you go on.

    After a while you're halted by the sentry posted by a nearby elven war party (Screenshot: A meeting). No longer is the bucolic going to continue. Apparently, the time has come to to put the 2d6 to use. Ever felt like taking the game straight to the drow's court right off the bat? Now you have an opportunity. If you don't want to get down to messy business right away, you can first test Divine Might with Rapid Shot on some orcs. Oh, I probably haven't told you I was playing with a Ranger/Paladin/Harper Agent (Screenshot: I'm gonna make it).

    Area Design

    The area design is awesome. It's in no way behind the official releases. I often stopped by to take a screenshot or two and sometimes it turned into a small session (Screenshot: What a view!, Screenshot: Waterfall in a cave, Screenshot: Claymore jogging in the Highlands). There is much to look at, even though Alex's primary focus was on the writing. In retrospect, it feels as if he had delivered a more than competent area design job with the areas being a secondary concern, while he was seeing his role as a story designer and writer first and foremost, not stepping too far into the engine room. And yet you don't need nanotools to create something remarkable. I wonder what he will be capable of after a couple of years spent at Ossian. The forest areas and especially the eastern part, since basically everything above the ground is a forest here, reminded me of the Baldur's Gate series and brought a tear to my eye (Screenshot: Red poppies).

    Critters and Combat

    Critters also bring you back to sweet Baldur's Gate field times. There are just enough orcs to provide some early fun while you're getting through to the drow. The other parts of the forest which you vist later in the course of the module match you with varied enemies and you get the obligatory horde undead to deal with (Screenshot: Line up, doods!, Screenshot: Back to where you came from!). Finally, and this is really Baldur's Gate I kind of fun, you get to hack through some gnolls and ogres. The bosses can be tough, but nothing lament inducing, and you can safely tell them the Light Side is stronger (Screenshot: The Light Side is stronger!). You get enough opportunity for smiting too, if you're in this line of adventuring (Screenshot: DIE!).

    Combat is generally well balanced and much more so than in most adventures I've played, including official releases. There were no particularly distressing situations for me, even though in larger battles, I sometimes had to abuse the system and retreat to a previous area for healing, but that's what happens when you go into melee with 14 DEX and a chain shirt (you can pick a proper full plate +1 from the initial chests, but I was hoping to play around with ranger skills). After levelling up a bit, however, I generally laughed at the opposing numbers. Still, it's not a good idea to rush head on, just like in real life. Battles tend to have a tactical dimension and you need to make your decisions quickly. Taking the casters down from distance generally proves to be profitable, but just as you finish sniping (Screenshot: Snipe at the casters), you barely have the time to switch to a melee weapon before the big guys get to you (Screenshot: Dances with Gnolls). This is not to say that fast-paced 2d6 Power Attack dynamics last throughout the whole game (Screenshot: Nightly attack). In fact, it's your choice which mode you use depending on your current combat situation. I actually found myself switching Power Attack on and off rather frequently to address my dynamic needs, as a matter of tactical assessment.

    I can't really speculate on how the battles could have gone either in the sword & shield style that gives you a lot of defence but more modest offence, or in the dual-wielding style that delivers your plentiful damage output in instalments. After all, I was happily landing two handed Power Attacks with Divine Might all around (Screenshot: One Hit, Screenshot: That's what a ranger's gonna do). Still, I suppose you should be fine, too, especially as with the neat keen scimitar +2 that you get from the grateful elves, anything that has a pulse had better make solid preparations before your visit. Small weapon loot isn't bad either, so dual-wielders don't have a reason to cry. It begs mention here that you get a unique opportunity to keep adding small bonuses to your weapon throughout the adventure.

    Skills, Items and Other Such

    As far as skills go, Stealth is of limited use and you can forget about Sneak Attacking people if that's your preferred mode of combat. While you should be able to scout before battle, if you're so inclined, that's where it ends. Being able to search for traps helped me in the beginning, however. I never got to pick a lock but that's fine because picking locks is not what paladins write home about anyway. I never got to disable a trap, either, because there were simply no traps after I invested a point in opening up the skill.

    What needs to be said is that this is a module without a single Diplomacy check that I would know about and I enjoyed it. Sometimes you can have a very fulfilling adventure without much use of character dialogue skills. I know this sounds weird at this day and age, but that's how games were made back in the old time. Lore is used as a check: not enough to make you swoon but enough to give us geeks some additional info, make the dialogue list look better and justify the skill investment. There were no riddles or puzzles, but at the same time there was little mournful absence to be felt, given the forest exploration and nature of the module's gameplay that made you answer to emergencies as they came up. Only at some point there were four switches to find in an optional quest and one of them was hiding in a particularly awful location.

    Throughout the course of the module, you are able to find very little commerce and I like it this way. The initial equipment more than suffices and the loot is realistic rather than skimpy. You can gain access to supposedly not so bad a trader at some point, but such was the outcome of one of my roleplaying decisions that I didn't end up talking to him much and I didn't miss it much. My bag of holding was full of standard issue +1/+2 items for later sale, so the monetary aspects of my future were secured and who would care more when there was an adventure to be had! In fact, not worrying about money and economic concerns was a refreshing change. We've become used to having a merchant wait behind every corner or even follow us on our adventures and here is a module that does it the old way: no shops in the forest or mountains, but no particular need of them, either. And I didn't notice any tax collectors.

    Visuals, Sound and the Rest

    I can't tell a custom animation or piece of graphics from an official one, so I really shouldn't be gettng into it. Notwithstanding the foregoing, there is a very pretty boom when you kill that sneaky lich that lives in a cliff to the North East (Screenshot: Immune to Crits, bah). As far as we concern ourselves with what Alex can piece together out of components from whatever source derived, I believe the screenshots supply the best answer to the riddle. I liked what I saw and I liked what I heard. I've already said my piece about area design and that's clearly the most inviting aspect of visualisation here at play. I want to see more of it.

    As I mentioned before, the writing is outstanding (Screenshot: Introduction). In the same vein, its level of polish exceeds that of official releases. I need candidly to admit, however, that at times I didn't take the time to read every word of it (Screenshot: Ascent), (Screenshot: Ascent...).

    The level of polish is more than satisfying for a custom module. There was one scripting error with funny, if potentially distressing, results, of which more will be said later. At times something did look like it could use a final stroke of the maker's brush, but nothing was strikingly unfinished and as far I can tell, the recurring penciled in aspect is a function of design which involves the player's imagination and contributes to the general atmosphere that you experience throughout the whole module. It's a tale in the telling of which you participate instead of having it handed to you.

    Things That Weren't So Great

    As much as I don't want to do this, I need to discuss the negatives for the sake of being objective. There was a scripting error in a side quest, which made a hostile boss friendly. After one of the reloads, some in-fighting broke out and the other guys killed him and I got the XP and the key I needed from his body. From the perspective of the game experience, I don't care that much, though.

    At some other times, I had the impression that too many was too many, as far as critters went, but that impression is not absent from most adventures, custom or official, and does not detract from the fact that combat was generally well-balanced and manageable. Only in some places perhaps fewer but tougher or more varied enemies could have done a somewhat better job.

    Some areas, quests or other aspects of the adventure did feel a bit as if they needed a bit more stuffing, but who knows how they would have turned out if it had been supplied. Sometimes if you pencil it in, it leaves more room for the player's imagination and allows him to focus on the whole adventure instead of the details. So not much gripe from me here, except a minor experience of imperfection.

    The Overall Grading Time

    I am mostly going to grade the module by gameplay and reasonably adhere to NWVault's voting guidelines. Coming from the premise than 10 is conceivably hard to meet by anyone ever and 8 is an easy recommendation, I believe this module falls somewhere in between, while it's positively hard to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of where it does. To some extent, Moonshadows eludes grading. Considering that I need to make some allowance for things that were not in and that I need to give fair weight to the shortcomings and considering that the guidelines do not admit thinking that this much or that much should be added to or detracted from a "must have" or a "recommended to anyone" and not much when it comes to the general "excellent", "outstanding" or "masterpiece", either, I can but conclude that the module is oustanding and a must have and I give it a rating of 8.75 out of 10. The author achieved this not in particular details but in the overall composition of the module and the gameplay it enabled. I am aware of the possible charge that the atmosphere of the module somewhat elevated the grade, but this is precisely what delivering good adventures is about. Judgement accordingly.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2009

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