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Created by DLA / BioWare
Reviewed by Berliad Review Posted on 2006-10-24
Solid, dark story; beautiful and innovative custom content; rideable horses; jousting;
Ending is a bit unsatisfying; a few notable bugs;
Summary (No Spoilers)
Number of Players: 1
Hours of Game Play: 17
Character: Samir Cainen, Male Human Fighter/Purple Dragon Knight
Start Level: 1 (module grants xp to level you to lv 6 when starting the module)
End Level: 12
Hak Size: 727 mb uncompressed *.hak files, plus 14 music files and a closing credits movie. Total download is 223 mb.
Death: Respawn with experience penalty if you still have surviving henchmen
Resting: No more than once per hour, except in inns. Risk of a hostile encounter when resting in dangerous areas
Requires: SoU & HotU
The last Bioware Premium module we're likely to ever see for Neverwinter Nights, and the first major playable release by the highly regarded DragonLance Adventures community modding group, the Wyvern Crown of Cormyr is an excellent module with a solid, well-executed story, innovative gameplay systems, and intense, story-driven combat. If you've been looking for a module with an interesting story, or have been dying to experience rideable horses, or even just want to say thanks to Bioware for supporting Neverwinter Nights for four full years after its release, you should consider purchasing this module.
As you crest a hill on your noble warhorse, a bleak sight unfolds before you: Cormyr, the land of your birth, is scarred and ravaged by a creeping blight. Once-green fields lie brown and dead, and smoke rises from farms and village homesteads that have fallen ramshackle and decrepit.
You have returned to your home with intentions of aiding your family in rebuilding their lives from the ashes of wars past. Yet though peace seems to have finally returned to this troubled land, outlaws still lurk in the wilds and a strange silence has descended over the Hullack forest...a silence that warns of encroaching darkness.
* Explore the Kingdom of Cormyr on fully ride-able horses
* Compete in tournaments and joust against thundering opponents
* The first premium module to showcase flowing cloaks, tabards and long coats
* Extensive new art, new creatures, two new tile-sets and an enhanced version of the Tir NaníOg tile-set (a massive 1200+ tile rural/castle/village set)
* Features a new prestige class, the Purple Dragon Knight
* Starting level 6 or 7, with new characters leveled automatically
* A rich, 18-20 hour single-player experience built around an engrossing storyline from esteemed community developer DLA
Review (Minor Spoilers) -
After Atari cancelled Bioware's Premium Module program in May 2006, the community came to be aware of three modules that were impacted by this decision. Of these, the most well-publicized was DragonLance Adventure's Wyvern Crown of Cormyr. In fact, DLA's announcement of Wyvern Crown coincided with DLA leader Robert Trift's revelation that the Premium Module program had been cancelled. Therefore, it was a tremendous surprise when Atari's decision was reversed and Wyvern Crown--though not the other two modules--was released as a true premium module on September 13th, 2006.
However it is that this came to pass, the most interesting question at this module's release is that of its quality. After all, this module is the culmination four years of work by DLA, which has been a high-profile modding group since the community's origins. We already know that their art and animation content is second to none among community modders. But does the gameplay and story do it justice?
Without hesitation, I am delighted to say that it does. Wyvern Crown is a fun, solid adventure, with good writing, an interesting story, interesting characters, numerous roleplaying options, innovative gameplay, and, of course, beautiful art to bring it all to life. The module begins on the outskirts of your character's new farm, to which you have recently returned to help your parents, siblings, and another family get started. While collecting firewood with your brother and another friend, you notice smoke on the horizon coming from the farmhouse. You rush back, but are too late: in a completely unexpected blow, your families have been slaughtered by hobgoblins, leaving the farm in ruins. Swearing revenge, the three of you set off toward the nearby city of Thunderstone in hopes of gathering help to destroy those who killed your loved ones. From these desperate beginnings, you gradually establish yourself, becoming the key player in Cormyr's efforts to defend against a grave danger that threatens the entire nation.
One thing this module does very well is convey excellent atmosphere. The beginning of the module is gritty and very dark in mood, which is augmented by a series of stirring cutscenes. My character started out destitute, underpowered, and quite a bit less capable than several of the other characters I encountered early in the module. When I arrived in Thunderstone, I was treated as an outsider and a peasant by most of the aristocracy. Even when I was invited to participate in a jousting tournament, I felt like an outsider and a pretender amongst the nobility. Later in the module, however, after my acclaim had risen due to my successes, I was treated as a genuine hero in Thunderstone. But along with that privilege came responsibility -- I felt a genuine sense of duty to defend the city against the imminent threats it faced.
While the story of Wyvern Crown plays out in a fairly linear fashion, I never felt railroaded in this module, as there are a nice variety of side quests and activities available that allow quite a bit of exploration. Thunderstone, in particular, has a rich variety of characters and encounters, many of which evolve over the course of the module. Several outdoor locations had optional areas that permitted additional exploration and/or completion of side quests. Furthermore, when you are forced to advance the plot down a particular path, that path is well justified within the context of the story. And it is not predictable; you will encounter a series of unexpected but believable twists as you progress through the story, several of which blur the lines between good and evil.
The module readme recommends playing melee-oriented characters, which I wholeheartedly endorse. While BGP Hughes (lead designer) reported to me that spellcasters can be very effective in this module, resting is difficult in dangerous areas due to the random encounters, which may limit spellcasters' ability to handle the long missions that they must survive (that said, their area of effect spells would be very handy in many of the large-scale battles). I played this module with a brand new fighter, who entered the module at level 1. While it is possible to take an existing level 6 character into the module, I definitely recommend starting with a fresh character for two reasons. First, there is a new skill, Ride, to which one should allocate skill points if you want to take full advantage of the rideable horses. Second, you will have the opportunity to take the custom Purple Dragon Knight prestige class if you wish. Nevertheless, if you do bring an existing character into the module, s/he will be item stripped at the beginning, though you will have the opportunity to re-acquire that equipment during the module.
The Purple Dragon Knight is a fun prestige class that features a small but useful set of spell-like abilities that can be used to complement one's melee abilities. The most useful of these was the ability to cast Fear on a group of enemies once per day. Other abilities serve as short term buffing spells for you or your party. Overall, this prestige class will complement most melee classes well, though it will probably benefit charisma-oriented characters--like paladins, or my charisma-oriented fighter--best, as some of the new abilities have durations based on the character's charisma bonus.
Wyvern Crown features a number of gameplay innovations, the first and foremost of which is the use of fully rideable horses. You acquire your first horse early in the game, which gives you an opportunity to learn about how they operate. Essentially, when you have a horse in your party, it functions as a henchman (trained warhorses will fight for you) as long as you are not riding it. However, when you select the option to ride the horse through your radial menu (or shortcut bar), your character will mount the horse and it will disappear from your party. At that point, it essentially doesn't exist, as it will no longer take damage. Instead, it conveys specific abilities to your character: you can move faster, and you can gain an AC bonus if you have the mounted combat feat.
There are some rules to keep in mind with the horses. First, you cannot take horses into interior areas. This includes shops and taverns in town, of course, but also includes the various dungeons you will explore in this module. This is handled effortlessly in the module. Whenever you enter an interior area you automatically dismount and are notified that all horses are tied to a nearby hitching post, where they can be picked up when you return. Second, if your horse is not a trained warhorse; it will turn tail and flee if you try to ride it into battle, taking you with it! Fortunately, fully outfitted and trained warhorses are very affordable in the game, so players should be able to have a capable warhorse by the time they receive their first mission. Finally, you are not permitted to use a shield while riding your horse--fortunately the AC bonus provided by riding the horse helps negate this problem. The consequence of this, however, is that I found it useful to wield a high-damage, two-handed weapon like a greatsword while in the saddle, and then switch to my sword/shield combination when on foot in the module's many dungeons.
One of the most exciting things you get to do with the horses in this module is to take part in the jousting mini-game. Twice during the module, you will have the opportunity to enter a jousting tournament, where you will ride against Thunderstone's finest. These tournaments add a great deal of atmosphere to the module, and are also a very fun little game in and of themselves. Information and hints about success in jousting can be had from a variety of sources, including dialogue with a trainer NPC, rumors from commoners, books for sale from merchants, and even tips given on the module's load screens.
The winner of each jousting match is determined by earning points via unhorsing your opponent, hitting your opponent's helmet, or breaking your lance against your opponent's shield. Success comes down to two decisions you must make in each bout: where you will aim, and how you will position your body to defend against the opponent's blow. The most important of these is how you will defend: if you can position your body or shield such that you can avoid your opponent's blow, you then have the opportunity to iteratively determine how best to try to strike your opponent, as most of those you will challenge will always use the same combination of aiming point and defensive posture. By gathering rumors, you can learn how your opponents will try to strike you, allowing you (in theory) to select the appropriate defense to avoid their blows.
For all its merits, there were a few items worth mentioning in critique of this module. First and foremost, there are a few bugs that made it past Bioware's QA group. Two henchmen within the module will not level up once you encounter them. This is particularly a problem for one of them, as he is the best melee henchman for much of the latter two-thirds of the module. When I met him at level 8, he was extremely potent in battle. But by the module's end, I had progressed to level 12, and had ~50% more hit points as he did--and as a result, he died quite often. The rather forgiving henchman death system made this less of a problem than it would be in most other modules, but he was less of a help than he otherwise could have been [Edit: I neglected to mention that there is a "hotfix" workaround available via DLA's forum for this bug, though I did not realize this until I finished playing. While not a true repair to the problem, it does permit you to level up the henchman via NWN's DebugMode. Head to their forums for details -B]. I also encountered two cases in which NPC's disappeared from waypoints where they were supposed to be. In one case, this broke the progression of the story, requiring me to reload from a previous saved game.
Second, while most of the story was very good, interesting, and engaging, I found that the ending of this module was rather unsatisfying. I think I understand the artistic motivation for making it the way it is, but it left a lot of questions unanswered--and I've seen no indication that DLA is planning to make a sequel. It wouldn't take much to improve the ending either. Some more specific text as to your character's fate, perhaps based on how s/he was roleplayed through the module, would have largely negated this problem. As it is, the module ended and I found myself saying "That's it?" out loud at my monitor.
Finally, I also felt like the horses could have been used a bit more in this module. Don't get me wrong, there are at least two substantial land battles in which horses can be tremendous advantage, along with a variety of smaller skirmishes scattered throughout the module. There are also a few puzzles/quests that can only be completed or accessed with a horse. Also, they do shorten travel time (in-game days) as you move between geographic locations in the module. And of course there's the jousting. But there aren't very many large, open spaces in this module that really make the horses feel necessary, and the majority of combat in this module takes place in its dungeons, where the horses cannot go. It's not that the horses arenít a great addition to this module. It's just that a different storyline or scenario could have made even greater use of them.
Gameplay : 8.5
Overall, this module was polished, immersive, and lots of fun. The story was strong, and all the special features like the rideable horses and jousting were skillfully meshed into the context of the module in a manner that served to greatly enhance gameplay. I was particularly impressed with DLA's attention to detail. For example, there was a huge assortment of custom items available in the module ranging from diety-specific gear that granted bonuses to worshipers of specific gods to equipment that would recharge when opponents struck the player. These latter pieces permitted melee characters to cast spells from time to time so long as they continued to wear that equipment. There were also a number of other mini-games in the module, including a wonderful little game of darts in the tavern, a tournament melee, and archery, bashing, and spell-slinging competitions.
There were also a few puzzles present in the game. None was terribly difficult, though they were usually creative and interesting. My favorite involved a series of blade barriers that I had to pass in order to get through an important area. Furthermore, the jousting competition amounted to something of a puzzle, though riding skill and perhaps one's character's attributes may have factored into that as well.
There are a few bugs in the present version of the module, though word is that a patch is on the way. I noticed only one typo, though there was also the occasional grammar issue, like a missing comma. Generally, however, I thought the writing was very good. Even so, there were a few times it got a bit weak. For example, in one fairly critical dialogue near the end of the module, you are challenged as to whether or not you care about Cormyr's future. The dialogue options in response were "I care for Cormyr" or "I don't care about Cormyr." Pretty bland, and also not in keeping with the feel of the moment. Of course, these moments stood out so dramatically because most the rest of the writing was so well done. The module's unsatisfying ending stood out for a similar reason.
Roleplaying : 8
Skill and Attribute checks are widely used throughout this module in both dialog and triggered checks as you explore. Players will be rewarded with checks of strength, charisma, all three "social" skills (persuade, bluff, & intimidate), listen, lore, and perhaps most notably, crafting. Crafting can play an important role in this module, as materials are abundant early in the game, while equipment and money is not. Furthermore, players with good weapon crafting skills can assist an NPC blacksmith when she crafts magical weapons, which can result in additional benefits to your weapon. Bluff also plays a surprisingly important role in this module, and at least one major side quest is difficult to complete without good investment in this skill.
More generally, this module presents the player with a number of non-transparent decisions that allow you to define something about your character's personality. Do you grant a foe mercy when he begs forgiveness? Can one serve the greater good while committing atrocities? Can you forgive one who betrays you? My only wish is that these decisions would have had a greater effect on the path one takes through the module--largely they are cosmetic choices. The one exception to this is a final decision one must make near the module's end, which can lead to slightly different conclusions to the story.
Action : 9
One of the things that I found particularly compelling about this module was its combat. It was extremely well-balanced, if not a bit challenging, throughout the entire module. I never felt bored during combat, yet never felt frustrated and only encountered a few situations that devolved into a potion-sipping hack-fest. I've played a lot of modules lately that have just become too easy as I gained equipment and optimized my character, but Wyvern Crown keeps on the pressure throughout the entire experience.
There are a nice variety of opponents, including humans, humanoid monsters, animals, shape changers, undead, and a few large, genuinely spectacular custom monsters. Foes come at you with a variety of attacks, ranging from melee to ranged physical attacks to spells. There are also some monsters that will use disease, poison, or even death attacks to take you down. Finally, they come at you in a variety of settings; you'll face solo opponents, small and large groups, and will even have the opportunity to lead 25+ troops in a fairly large-scale battle. Furthermore, while the gear available in the module is adequate, you are not given the opportunity to acquire many immunity items, keeping poison, disease, and death effects suitably threatening.
There are five henchmen that I'm aware of in this module, though you can (unfortunately) only take two at a time. All have well-developed personalities, though only one undergoes any real character development over the course of the module. They are all reasonably effective in combat (except for the leveling bug), however, and range from fighters to spellcasters to rogues, often as multi-classed characters.
One point about them, however: my henchmen died a lot. Like, all the time. Part of this was due to the leveling bug I mentioned earlier with one of my melee henchmen, and part of it was just due to how tough these fights were. But another part of it was due to the fact that I didn't give them any health potions. Why? When henchmen die in this module, they are effectively just knocked out of the fight. As long as you survive, they are resurrected and quickly regain full health.
This meant that it was often more cost effective to let the poor guys (or gals) "die" and then be resurrected, rather than to try to keep them stocked with potions or to worry much about defending them. Players with a more support-oriented character, like a bow-wielding ranger or a spellcaster, may decide to invest more in henchman durability, but I found that the death system affected how careful I was with them. This is a shame, as DLA worked in some special henchman commands, including the much-desired "flee" command, to improve control over the henchmen, none of which I used during the game. In the end, I wasn't very upset about these death rules, as I find henchmen in NWN to be notoriously difficult to keep alive during challenging combat, and this sort of system allows me to just focus on having fun. But others may find it to be very unrealistic or even distasteful.
Visuals : 9
The most visually spectacular aspect of this module is its custom creature models. First and foremost among these are the horses, which are remarkably detailed despite their relatively low polygon count. They are beautifully animated, making some of the more cinematic cutscenes, especially the jousting, particularly compelling to watch. The other custom monsters--several of which have never been seen before--are similarly detailed and well-animated.
There is also the custom clothing. This module features the new animated cloaks made possible (with DLA's support) through the 1.68 NWN patch, as well as tabards, long coats and a host of less revolutionary but nonetheless novel clothing designs. All of this made for some very well-dressed NPC's.
Finally, this module makes use of the Tir Na n'Og tileset to bring its exterior areas to life. The towns, and in particular Thunderstone, are striking and feel unique compared to the typical monotony of the now-four year old rural and city tilesets that most players have grown accustomed to. I did find, however, that Wyvern Crown didn't get quite as much out of the TNO tileset as I've seen done elsewhere. I would never say that I was disappointed in the area design, as it's gritty, realistic, and dark -- all of which fit the intended mood of this module perfectly. It's just that the realistic style that is emphasized in this module's design seemed to prevent DLA from exploiting some of the more dramatic uses of the tileset.
The good news is that the all of these visuals rarely seemed to negatively affect performance. I played this module on two computers. One, a 4+ year-old 2.4 ghz machine with a 128 mb graphics card, was able to run it reasonably well, though I did begin to notice a still-playable frame rate slowdown when in town. On the other hand, my brand new system ran it beautifully, with one exception: for whatever reason, on both machines, there was a 0.5-2 second pause whenever a horse came onto the screen. Once the model was loaded into memory, it worked fine, but the pause-to-load slowdown did occasionally get frustrating as I tried to move through the city.
Sound : 8.5
As he has done for all of the premium modules, community composer David John wrote music for this module. In this case, he contributed 14 separate tracks of custom music, and it is used well throughout the module. As usual, his music integrates very well into the feel of the rest of the Neverwinter Nights music tracks while still allowing areas featuring those tracks to feel unique. The most memorable new track for me was that used during the jousts, and it is lively and is timed well with the joust charge, climaxing when the two riders strike their blows.
Placeable sounds are all used when needed and appropriate, and occasionally are used to enhance cutscenes. Some of the most effective were during the jousting cutscenes, when a pair of trumpeters announced the beginning of the match. As the riders gallop off toward one another, you can hear the sound of the horses' hooves and finally a crisp snap as a lance breaks with a well-placed blow.
Replayability : 7
This is a fairly linear module, with only one main path by which you can ultimately complete the challenge. You do get to make decisions throughout the module which can affect who lives and dies, though those decisions usually don't affect the plot in a meaningful way. There are, however, a good number of side-quests, and it may be the case that your character will be unable to complete them all due to his or her attributes and skills. I would be interested in trying this module again with a character who possessed more skill in weapon crafting, as I'd like to see what that NPC smith and I might be able to create. And, of course, I'd like to really focus on winning the jousting tournament next time. Nevertheless, in the end, the module should play out in much the same way no matter what choices you make or dialog options you choose.
Documentation : 8.5
The external text file documentation of this module is largely limited to the credits. Nevertheless, a more traditional "readme" providing background information about the module's plot as well as advice for character creation and some details about the module rules is visible in the module description text box when you select this module from the in-game Premium Module menu. Furthermore, DLA does a great job of providing several "readme" journal entries to help familiarize players with the module when it begins.
In general, the journal was used very effectively to keep the player appraised of their progress and what they needed to accomplish. One small innovation that I really liked is that players are occasionally prompted as to whether they would like to add information (typically rumors) to their journal or not. I doubt many players will say no, but it's nice to be given this sort of choice.
Other supporting documentation is available in-game through books, signs, and load screens. Furthermore, the DLA forums have been set up with "sticky" threads to provide advice, hints, quest walkthroughs, and other support features.
The only major item for which I found myself wanting was a map of Cormyr, as I don't know that fictional nation well and didn't have a good grounding as to where I was in this module relative to other modules I'd played or stories I'd heard about the region. I also would have liked more detail about how the ride skill worked and what it specifically did for the character. But those are minor quibbles.
Solo : 8.5
Wyvern Crown of Cormyr should be attractive to a large variety of players, from roleplayers to more action-oriented players. The story is deep enough to satisfy those who find such things important, and I think most hack and slash fans will be happy with what they find in terms of combat. And all the new content certainly helps keep it fresh and interesting.
Multiplayer : N/A
This module is designed for single player gaming only.
Fun Factor : 8.5
While the best part of the Wyvern Crown of Cormyr may be its outstanding art and innovations to gameplay, what holds it together is a well-executed, multidimensional story with interesting characters. Those latter two items alone would make this a very good module, but the integration of custom content is what really pushes this up among the more enjoyable modules to be released this year. This module is likely to be the last official product we'll ever see for the original Neverwinter Nights. Don't miss it -- it's worth every penny of its $11.99 price tag.