Game Review: Hordes of the Underdark

by Ron Powell

Title: Hordes of the Underdark

Manufacturer: Bioware

URL: www.bioware.com

Price: $29.99

Hordes of the Underdark is an expansion to Neverwinter Nights, a third-person perspective role-playing game (RPG) built on Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition Rules; it was released by Bioware.

The story in Hordes picks up some time after the Shadows of Undrentide expansion ends. You do not need to have played Shadows it or even have it installed to play Hordes, but it would be helpful to have played through Shadows from a storyline perspective. The single-player campaign has a lot of action, many puzzles to solve and an excellent storyline with an interesting plot. I wish the campaign had been a little longer, but only because I enjoyed it so much. The campaign certainly is not too short, however, a relatively common failing of other games' expansion packs.

Hordes of the Underdark tries to outdo both NWN and Shadows by incorporating several noteworthy enhancements. The first improvement Hordes introduces is Epic Levels. Epic Levels allow your character to attain levels higher than the previous restriction of 20; the engine now supports up to 60 levels, although Hordes itself is limited to 40 levels. The extra levels add depth to you characters and allow for many more choices in character creation.

There also are six new prestige classes to choose from, each one having unique special abilities. I was particularly impressed with the Dwarven Defender, Weapon Master and Red Dragon Disciple. The other classes are the Pale Master, Shifter and Champion of Torm.

New visual enhancements have been added as well, such as the ability to add wings and tails to characters. There also are several new heads to choose from and, quite possibly the most player-requested feature, robes. A new and improved camera rounds out the visual upgrades you get with Hordes.

Another new feature that Hordes adds to the single-player campaign is the option to have two henchmen travel with you. Having two henchmen really adds to the tactical possibilities when playing the campaign.

With this release, Bioware maintains its previous pattern of both succeeding stunningly and falling slightly short of making the Linux platform a viable choice for playing this game. NWN's downfall was the astoundingly long wait for a Linux client to be released, but being able to play in Linux at all made up for the wait. In Shadows, the expansion pack was fun to play, but the less-than-perfect installer tarnished the glory somewhat.

This time out, Bioware's major success is finally tying the chapters of the game together with cut scenes rendered by the game engine. This is a huge plus, as the cut scenes previously were done in the Bink format. Viewing them required either using a player-made utility, such as nwmovies, or viewing the movies outside of the game with the beta Bink Player for Linux. The story flows much more smoothly now that you can watch the cut scenes from within the game itself. There is no longer a hollow feeling because you got dumped back to the main menu after beating the game.

Sadly, Bioware failed once again to provide a working installer. Although manual installation is an absolute breeze, it's still somewhat disappointing. Also on the downside, the v1.61 version of the client has an almost show-stopping bug that requires DebugMode and some trickery to get past and finish the game (the workaround can be found here.

The only other on-going disappointment is the lack of a native toolset. Once again, the player made utility nwwine works for some folks. Evidently, you can use Gentoo's Portage tool to install it.

I believe Hordes more than overcomes its few blemishes, because it provided an entertaining game with some excellent game-play enhancements. I recommend this expansion to anyone who has found enjoyment in Neverwinter Nights. The ability to play the game natively in Linux nearly is reward enough, but Bioware has made this upgrade well worth overlooking a few minor issues.

Pros
  • Cut scenes now are rendered by the game engine

  • Provides game-play enhancements

  • An excellent storyline in the single-player campaign

  • A lot of action

  • Epic levels

  • Enhanced visual effects

Cons
  • Hordes campaign can't be played in multi-player mode without an unsupported workaround

  • No Linux installer

  • Serious bug in the Linux 1.61 client that requires a workaround to finish the game

  • Still no native toolset

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