Digits & Dragons
Games Worth Coming Back To
Just because a game is sitting on the new releases shelf is no guarantee that what's inside is going
to be any better than an older game or even a game you've already put aside. Some games are
fantastic regardless of their age and others keep getting better over time. A game like
Neverwinter Nights is just as playable today as ever, and with new content still being produced it
is one of the best purchases a role-playing gamer could make. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is
just over a year old now but it, too, provides a huge world to go adventuring in, and just came out
with a great expansion.
New Lands in Neverwinter
I've talked plenty about Neverwinter Nights in previous columns, but it continues to get playtime
from me due to the huge library of user-created content available. The quality of the mods that
people create and give away for free is simply astounding and keeps me going back to NWN1
rather than the prettier follow-on, NWN2. This content really runs the gamut, from persistent
worlds that you can play in with a whole bunch of other people to long single-player or small
group campaigns with detail even greater than the developer's original campaigns.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, some friends and I spent a few weekends last summer going
through a community-made module that was a pretty faithful Neverwinter interpretation of
Diablo. If you've ever played Diablo you'll know that storyline and role-playing fall distantly
behind insane, mouse-clicking battle action, and this mod was just the same.
Looking for something different, we set out after a module with a more immersive, more
complex world. Wow, did we find it; Sands of Fate is a three-part campaign that has some of the
most impressive scripting and complex puzzles that I have seen in any RPG. And it's free.
Sands and Suffering
Sands of Fate 1 takes you into the desert, where it is up to you to save the town of Heliopolis
from destruction by a number of threats. Cool effects like getting dehydrated in the sun and a
day and night cycle that actually matters make for a pretty immersive experience, and some of
the battles with massive sand worms and beetles are epic.
Stylish underwater helms let you go deep into the sewers.
If you manage to save Heliopolis from certain doom, Sands of Fate 2 brings you through the
desert and sewers to the city of Aqualis, where you have the task of convincing the city council
to entrust you with the secret location of the Gem Tower. To gain the trust of the council you'll
have to win favor with the city guilds which means--you guessed it--accomplishing a number
of side quests.
The side quests and adventures in Sands of Fate 2 are a lot more complex and memorable than
those in its predecessor, but the authors seem to have been just as creative about ways to make
the player suffer as they were about their characters and stories.
For example, while roaming in the sewers my party came across some were-rats (half man, half
rat) who were quite infectious. So infectious in fact that when one of them attacked me I turned
into a were-rat and started attacking my allies. This wasn't a temporary transition, either. I lost
control of my character and once my new rat buddies and I killed my parties there was no hope
of resurrection for me. Ouch. Time to reload.
Or for another experience in suffering, the creators filled the sewers and caves with slimes that
would either cling to you and suck your life away with no way to rip them off, or the dirty slimes
would rot away your armor and weapons. When my friend realized that the weapons and armor
he had spent literally hours finding and crafting had been completely dissolved, he wailed in
anguish that taking away a player's loot was breaking a cardinal rule of gaming. And you know,
maybe he's right. Losing your prized possessions really isn't fun - but it does make you respect
Not even a couple of arrows to the face will slow this bad-boy down.
Sands of Fate was fun, but after the first two chapters and many hours of running around lost and
frustrated we decided we just weren't up to going through the third and last module in the series.
Looking for something a little simpler but still not mind numbing, we found the Shadowlords
Now, I'm only about half way through the campaign right now but one of my favorite features is
that all of the modules come in bite-size pieces. Each chapter takes about two hours to complete
and while there is some creativity in what you do, it's pretty hard to get lost. The balance of
combat and story is perfect and the henchmen are pretty hilarious. And, best of all, no soul-sucking slimes!
It's been a while since Oblivion sucked my every free hour from me, but never fear, it is back
and beautiful as ever with a new expansion pack. Shivering Isles takes Oblivion to the edge of
sanity, and a little beyond, with the mad and twisted realm of Sheogorath.
Now unlike some mods, Shivering Isles doesn't add anything to the main world of Oblivion
(apart from what you bring back); all of the additional quests, dungeons, and fiends are contained
in Sheogorath, which you can access through an easy-to-find portal.
Stepping through the portal into the world of the mad, I found myself in the Fringe, a community
of people only mostly mad who couldn't get past The Gatekeeper into the rest of the realm of
Sheogorath. Being the fearless warrior that I am, I decided to pay this gatekeeper a visit and was
promptly thrashed by this new fiend, who was bigger than anything I had previously faced. With
a little sleuthing and the help of some townsfolk, I was able to slay the giant and really begin my
The new lands are as beautiful as you've come to expect from Oblivion
One of the best features of Oblivion, and all of the Elder Scrolls games really, is the near-impossibility of staying on task. Even if I think I want to rush through a quest, I always find
myself distracted by new places on the map or new people with new problems. Which is cool--a
lot of games feel too much like work. When I play Oblivion, I play it to get immersed in a new
Shivering Isles does pretty well on the immersion factor by combining the already great
atmosphere and depth of Oblivion with crazy new monsters, stronger and harder-to-find
weapons, and some refreshingly different quests.
Working with computer controlled teams makes for some fun new quests
Still, I wish the designers would have gone further in their creation of an insane world. For
example, in a quest that seemed like it would be ridiculously cool, you get to take the helm at
being a dungeon master in a fortress for a little bit. Sounds like a good idea, making traps and
tricks would be cool, but in reality, all you get to do is choose between pressing two buttons and
the choice doesn't really even matter. What a letdown!
Later on, you have to ingest some mind- and body-altering drugs in order to enter a cave and find
a cure for the addiction to this drug. Well, if we're going to be on drugs, how about something a
little more mind-altering than just dropping strength and agility a little bit? How about some
visual indication of our mind warping, some change in the way we see the world? I guess my
problem is that as impressive as Shivering Isles is, there isn't much in there that goes beyond
what a dedicated (very dedicated) modder could do with a lot of time. I just expected things
would be a little bit crazier.
Lack of border-breaking aside, this really is a fun module. For a while, the word on the street
was that Bethesda was just going to continue releasing their small downloadable modules, but
I'm glad they decided to go with a full-on expansion. I had put Oblivion on the shelf, but this
gave me good reason to pull it out again. I'm glad I did!