A Review of Playing Evil in the Video Game “Neverwinter Nights 2”
[Editor’s Note: There’s a handful of micro-spoilers in here, but nothing that will keep you from enjoying the game.]
I’ve waxed philosophic before about breaking out of my assassin RPG niche. In the video game Oblivion, I played a hyper-testostrinated human male fighter carrying the largest and longest weapon I could lift. In Jade Empire, I chose a female magic user. Throughout the Original Neverwinter Nights Trilogy (Neverwinter Nights / Shadows of Undrentide / Hordes of the Underdark) my avatar was a tricksy, elvish Shadowdancer.
It was 30 Dec 2007. The game installer chugged away as I read the back of the game box for the upteenth time. Bright letters across the box declared, “Everything you do has a meaning”. Other games have offered options for playing evil characters, but NWN2 seemed to go a step further, almost daring players to test the boundaries of morality. After all, the game designers had taken the time to plot out the repercussions of all your actions in the game. My Inner Philosopher pitched a denim pup-tent as he thought about turning the reins over to my Inner Evil Draconian Overlord.
Evil it is then. For while I’d played a diverse series of characters in the past, I’d always been on the Good side. The obviously-we-have-to-kill-the-shadowlord-because-he-wears-black-and-has-a-deep-voice side. What if I wanted to kill the shadowlord just so I could take his place? What would it be like to be the new evil on the block?
Pyro Firespawn and Posse. Yeah, We Bad
I decided to find out.
And so Pyro Firespawn was born. Don’t laugh. He’s a Chaotic Evil Tiefling. Tieflings are humans tainted with blood of a demonic heritage. He’s got horns and a tail. He likes to burn things. He’s also a cleric, so he can kill people, raise them from the dead, and then kill them again. (That’s why I told you not to laugh.)
Xtna helped with the aesthetic creation of Pyro. He’s my first avatar to have any resemblance to my physical self. At least, as near as the game engine would allow us to create. Do you want to date my avatar?
The Difficulty of Evil
So I set out on my Evil Epic Adventure. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds. Right away, I discovered difficulties being evil. If I simply slay everyone who got between myself and what I wanted (merchants, for example) I’d have no one to back me up and the game would end with me in prison. That wouldn’t be a long game, and it wouldn’t be a satisfactory ending.
Evil Lesson #1 – Evil requires Power and/or Stealth. Pretty much all the sins require you to be stronger, faster or sneakier than someone else. When you’re a Level One Pissboy, you ain’t pushing anyone around. Therefore, I shied away from being what I called Stupid Evil. I had to keep my eyes on the big prize. Intelligent Evil is far more evil, don’t you think?
Evil Lesson #2 – Evil Looks Good. I often found myself weighing off which side of the fight would help me more in my evil goals. Should I be nice to this person because they might join my party or give me information? Should I kill the dragon and save the townsfolk, if that is the only way to get them to tell me where the uber-important evil magic sword could be found? Signs point to yes.
Evil Lesson #3 “The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend” One thing was always certain. I was literally hell-bent on defeating the King of Shadows, because he was coming to destroy everything. In fact, some of my companions were happy to stand alongside me in battle although they did not agree with my alignment for the same reason – because the Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend.
I was so Good at Looking Good and being Evil, I could have run for President.
Evil Lesson #4 – Evil Loves Company. Did Hitler have any friends? Probably more like “associates” or “companions”, which were another aspect to consider in NWN2. They have alignments too, and if I upset their more…delicate sensibilities, they could leave. Or worse, turn on me at a crucial moment. There’s no pleasing everyone, and some of my companions did leave me because of my choices. Others flat-out defected to the other team. (…and died some pretty spectacular deaths because of it. Turns out their actions had repercussions too.) So, in order to keep the allegiance of my followers, I had to avoid certain evil tasks that I wanted to do. In order to increase their loyalty, I had to help them perform some good tasks I didn’t really want to do. Basically picking my battles and weighing off short term Goodness for Long-Term, Big-Picture Evil.
Halfway through the game, I had my evil system perfected. I was truly evil in (seemingly) unimportant interactions and lied and backstabbed when appropriate to further my larger objectives. On the surface I was just a Regular Guy who looked like he was following the rules. In this respect, I became less Chaotic Evil and more Lawful Evil. I was so Good at Looking Good and Being Evil, I could have run for the Republican Party.
Or so I thought.
Fate and/or the game designers were a step ahead here, because it wasn’t long before I was placed on trial for a crime I did not commit. I thought I had little to worry about… until they began to call in Character Witnesses.
Let’s put it this way – it was a long trial.
That aside, my philosophy of Evil-When-It-Matters worked well. I gained a lot of trust and respect with my companions, the Thieves Guild, and with good King Nasher himself. Eventually I was granted my own keep and knighted. I had a party of very powerful followers, some of whom could beat Mother Teresa on the Goodness Meter.
Then the time came, and I took my party of followers deep into the enemy’s domain to confront the Shadow-Lord himself.
Denouement – Evil is Good
Sunday November 15, 2009 I reached the ending of Neverwinter Nights 2. The inner sanctum of the Shadow Lord’s stronghold. Because of my evil affiliation, I was offered the opportunity to leave my companions and join with the Shadow Lord. I saved the game and played out both possible endings. [Note: You might get the same opportunity for the alternate ending if you play a good character, but since I didn’t do this, I can’t be sure.]
I have to say, the evil ending was easier and more satisfying, but it was more because of the way the actual endings were written – something which has raised concern with more than one person who played through NWN2. If you’re interested in reading more about the NWN2 endings, check out this review by aeon (warning: spoilers) which does a good job of summing up the disappointing ending for good characters.
Was it Fun Being Evil?
It was certainly a lot more work. Often, I had to try and guess what the game designers meant to be Evil choices in the game. The ambiguous wording of my question-response options made me think, “Is that an evil thing to say?” The Good responses were mostly obvious, so it probably would have been easier to play a Good character.
Some of the evilness was fun. Double-crossing a dragon? Wow. Fun and rewarding. Happily throwing out promises you have no intention to keep was more of a relief than actual ‘fun’. Killing people who thought they could trust you, that was a tough one.
In short, being evil towards evil beings was wicked fun. Being evil towards good people wasn’t easy. Being evil towards helpless people brought me no joy at all.
With NWN2 behind me, I’m just in time for the next big thing… Dragon Age: Origins. Apparently, they’ve tried even harder to blur the line between good and evil.