Neverwinter Nights is a game that came out with very high expectations. It was riding on the coat-tails of the epic Baldur's Gate series and had a lot to prove. 3D gaming was just getting started and everyone was jumping on the bandwagon as quickly as they could, often to the detriment of game quality. A lot of people were caught up in the hype and, to this day, many games from the era were quite overrated because of it.
To be perfectly forthright, I think NWN was overrated right off the bat - it got high marks mainly for the graphics, not for the initial campaign game-play (which was honestly not very good). But in the end, that turned out to be alright because this game ultimately deserved what it got.
So what is Neverwinter Nights? It's an RPG/DM client tool that came with a sample campaign out of the box to get you started. If you were to judge this game solely on its initial campaign, you'd be completely missing the point. To this day, there still hasn't been a computer toolset quite like NWN. Sure, there have been plenty of RPGs since then that have tried to include DM tools (including its sequel), but none of have held a candle to both the accessibility and breadth of options that this game had.
The ultimate beauty of NWN is the plethora of amazing custom modules that can be downloaded and used to play with. Some of these modules literally rival many of the fantasy classic RPG story lines we've come to consider the best of the best and can last dozens of hours of playtime. Not only that, but there are some wondrous multiplayer servers out there with custom scripting and massive, amazing worlds to explore. It's hard to rate this game because, although the core campaign that ships with the vanilla game is less than spectacular, the amount of user-made content turns this into a diamond in the rough. It's like a hundred great RPGs wrapped into one if you consider it all together.
I've spent a lot of time scouring the web in search of the best modules and would recommend the following as the cream of the crop:
- A Dance With Rogues
- Alazander Series
- Auren Series
- Careena Krakona
- Cave of Songs
- Cormyean Nights
- Darkness Over Daggorford
- Diablo Lord of Terror
- Eye of the Beholder
- Honor Among Thieves
- Midwinter/Midsummer/Midnight Series
- Rose of Eternity
- Runes of Blood
- Sands of Fate
- Shadowlord/Dreamcatcher/Demon Series
- Tales of Artera
- The Aielund Saga
- Tortured Hearts I & II
With these mods (and many more), to this day Neverwinter Nights is one of the few "desert island" games that could literally take up a lifetime or two to fully experience. While I was never that fond of the move to 3D and 3E, NWN's strengths more than make up for its shortcomings. Because of that, I proudly welcome it to my list of top RPGs.