Neverwinter Nights Made Me Love Games

Neverwinter Nights Made Me Love Games

I was a little kid whose favourite game for a solid 11 years was “pretend”. Neverwinter Nights was an early RPG that gave your character absolutely no backstory and encouraged you to fill in the gaps. Clearly, a match made in heaven.

Lead image: Remember these arseholes?

Last year, I flew to Atlanta to attend DragonCon. On the first of four days, a panel of BioWare developers answered questions from the crowd, one of which was how they became gamers. Jess Hara Campbell, a level designer at BioWare Montreal, said her love started, as it does for most gamers, with one game she played as a kid. For her, it was Neverwinter Nights.

Neverwinter was my first game, too, and as I looked around the room, I saw several others nodding along as she described how it hooked her. For me, Neverwinter was a great equaliser. Unlike most fantasy books, I could play as a woman — a woman who didn’t just conveniently duck into and out of the plot, but who got to lead the party and drive all the action. Also, I was eleven when I first played and really into mermaids, so I had to write an elaborate backstory about why the sea elves sent their champion to the surface to save the city of Neverwinter, only to be betrayed by the first landlubber I met (pictured above).

Fighting with the power of purple.

Fighting with the power of purple.

The groundwork for my eventual love of RPGs was laid before I discovered Neverwinter: my favourite books were the Dragonlance series, and my favourite pastime as a kid was writing additional characters to plug into TV shows and books (many of them mermaids, even in the Wild West setting of Bonanza).

But I was slow to join the gaming world; my two-person family was dirt poor and couldn’t afford a console. My mum saved up and got me a PS1 for Christmas in 2002, two years after the PS2 came out. Neither of us realised that the console didn’t actually come with games, so we trudged out to Wal-Mart two months later, when my birthday rolled around, and bought a racing game. I have no clue what it was.

But before I took on the racetrack (where I was awful; spatial awareness is not my thing), one of my uncles noticed my growing love of fantasy and gave me his copy of Neverwinter Nights. I popped the CD into our computer, realised I got to write my own character, and suddenly had a new favourite hobby.

The first Neverwinter Nights game came out in 1991 as a multiplayer universe. It ran on AOL for six years, and the player community filled it with guilds and alliances. In 2002, BioWare released the next Neverwinter Nights, a campaign set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, and hoped to attract the initial game’s fan base. The player started in the city of Neverwinter, which was suffering from a plague called the Wailing Death. A paladin, Lady Aribeth, and the player worked together to cure the plague and hunt down the cultists behind it.

This was also my introduction to BioWare’s famed romances — a female PC could start a relationship with Aarin Gend, Neverwinter’s spymaster.

This guy.

This guy.

The entire campaign clocks in at about 60 hours, and in that time, the player cures a plague, thwarts a cult, fights to defend a city, and dukes it out with Lovecraftian horrors. Throw in Aribeth’s betrayal (gasp!), and you had a story that was worth revisiting many times.

The story BioWare wrote in Neverwinter Nights has plenty to keep the player engaged, and the ever-evolving nature of the main antagonist keeps an aura of mystery around the game from start to finish. The atmospheres are excellent — the music, forests, dungeons, and ambient sounds created excellent immersion even with 2002-era graphics.

A friendly chat in your neighbourhood bestiary.

A friendly chat in your neighbourhood bestiary.

It was the characters, though, that made Neverwinter my favourite, and for many years only, game. I replayed the main campaign four times, and the expansion packs many more times than that. The NPCs were fun, flawed and downright weird (kobold bard, anyone?). Perhaps more importantly, the PC was entirely up to me. I don’t think gaming would have become a passion for me if I’d been forced to play as a Muscular Male With A Sword. There’s nothing wrong with that archetype, but he and I don’t have much in common.

Gaming is different things to different people: some want to role-play as someone else; some want to be a better version of themselves; some people just want to swing an axe. But what sets gaming apart from books and movies is that the player has a hand in creation: we get to decide which of those things to be. And getting to write our own stories is pretty powerful.

I loved Neverwinter so much that I branched out into other genres of games, everything from Bejeweled to finally turning on that racing game I can’t remember. The combination of heartfelt storytelling and having the chance to make a story my own drew me into the gaming world, and I haven’t left it since.


  • Lady Aribeth; I was so torn by her decisions during that campaign. Character creation was fun and I think the first time I played a character with an alignment (I think I played a rogue). Good times….

  • I got really confused at the part where it says they couldn’t afford games but already had a computer.

    • I would imagine that a computer is more of a mandatory purchase in 2001 than a game console.

      If you wanted access to the internet or office it was a must have.

    • When I was young, my family had a computer because it was useful in other things, word processing, communicating with relatives overseas etc.

      I couldn’t afford any games to put on it…I lived off demo discs for years. GTA and its 5 minute demo was the greatest ^_^

  • Spent 4 years DMing an NWN2 PW. Still not sure if it was time wasted or well spent.

  • Loved nwn. The grass which moved, the dripping poison sword, the awesome online role-play servers.

    Great times.

    • The grass that moved blew my mind, and severely taxed my beloved mx400

  • Unfortunately never had real access to a PC or this kind of game at the time, but man it looks and sounds fantastic. Makes sense too, coming from Bioware pre ME and DA. If I had the kind of time to go back and play this kind of game, I think I’d really like to.

  • I’ve just remembered I loved this game but never finished it – somewhere I have a save just outside the final boss battle.

  • Since the Gamespy shutdown amd NWNvault was taken offline, NWN’s multiplayer servers suffered a bit but they are still quite active.

    There are Roleplay servers where you can actually play as your characters alongside other players.

    They use completely custom content and exceed even the campaign in the level of detail and systems they implement. You can play as anything from a classic adventurer to the retainer of a noble house or or leader of a criminal organization, hell anything yoy want really. I spent alot of time as a city guard where I could arrest players, break up fights and defend the city from regular orc attacks (that were triggered if another group of players completed a certain quest).

    I spent years playing on them back in the day and while these days I haven’t much time to return to my old stomping ground they are worth a look even now. Google City of Arabel or Escape from Uncertainty, honestly the community and level of custom content surrounding NWN is something I’ve yet to see repeated.

    Tldr: Think of the closest video game version of Pen and Paper Dungeons and Dragons, its NWN online.

  • I still play NWN on Arelith. RP server. This is by far my favorite game of… ever. Its pretty hard to compete with Final Fantasy games, but this is the only game that i can keep coming back to time after time and still love.
    In fact, this game has spoiled all other RPGs for me in that i compare them to this, and then ultimately am let down by, and return to playing NWN.

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