Last week I purchased Titan Quest for the PC when it was on sale. I'm playing through the campaign right now, and I must say it's fun. When it came time to write this week's Co-Op Classics, I considered using Titan Quest. I decided against it, as the game was just released in 2006, and it feels "current gen". Since we just do previous gen consoles and older in this column, Titan Quest gets disqualified. Don't fret, though, because playing through Titan Quest reminded me of an older, similar co-op game: Neverwinter Nights.
Dungeons & Dragons was a big part of my youth. I read the Dragonlance books, and followed the adventures of Drizzt Do'Urden in the Dark Elf series. My first experience with the gaming end of D&D was the Adventure Gamebooks, which were basically Choose Your Own Adventure stories with stats and randomization. By the time I was in my mid to late teens, I was meeting regularly with my buddies for some role playing fun. I'll admit I enjoyed the gaming part more than the role playing, and I am a "min-max-er". Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft... if it was a D&D product available from 1988 to 1994, chances are I was playing it.
Fast forward to 1999. I am now married, and my D&D playgroup has long since scattered across the country. Luckily, EverQuest came out, and I was able to stay in touch with my friends this way. (I could write many columns about my experiences in EQ, good and bad, but not today.) EverQuest was great, but it was missing something: customization. With only a limited amount of classes, spells, and abilities, most characters felt too similar to the others. That didn't stop me from playing it for years, but it didn't quite scratch the D&D itch like I wanted.
Enter Neverwinter Nights in 2002. Computer games based on D&D rules had been around since the Gold Box series, of course. But NWN was different. It had fantastic graphics, for one thing. It used all of the rules from the D&D books, without much of the simplification that had tainted earlier D&D releases. It was exactly what I was looking for. I bought it, played through the single player campaign a bit, then went back to Everquest. (MMORPG addicts will understand.) Single player was fun, sure, but what good is D&D without your buddies to co-op with?
After a few NWN expansions came out, one of my D&D friends got me back into it. In the time since I had played it originally, the NWN landscape had changed drastically with the addition of dozens of persistent worlds. The powerful user created content tools allowed folks to build their own campaign settings from scratch. Any given evening, you could play a digital tabletop game with your friends, anytime. You didn't need dozens of rulebooks, a bag of dice, player sheets, charts, or miniatures at all. Just email a buddy, fire up Neverwinter Nights, and off you went.
EverQuest's limited character customization bugged me, but Neverwinter Night's options made me giddy as a schoolgirl watching a High School Musical 4 sneak peek. The game used the 3rd edition D&D rules, which I wasn't as familiar with, but still, the appeal of all the classes, skills, spells, and templates available in paper D&D were all there, online. Your imagination was the only limit. Of course, I perused all my options, and tried to create the most highly optimized character possible. I ended up choosing a red dragon disciple/magic-user/fighter. Swords, magic, and a breath weapon, all available for my use! Yeah, it was cheesy, it was brokenly powerful, and it totally defeated the spirit of role playing. It was also incredibly fun.
It wasn't long before another old D&D friend joined us on the persistent world we had chosen. Reliving the tabletop adventures of our youth again was an incredible feeling. Honestly, the best part was just being able to cooperate with my teammates. There was no "Players vs. the Dungeon Master" thing going on at all. No hard feelings developed when we died, or overcame an encounter easily. In this sense, playing NWN was far better than pen and paper roleplaying . Everyone worked together, from the silly dragon guy to the burly dwarf cleric to the sneaky half elf thief. It was the very definition of co-op.
My time in Neverwinter Nights was certainly enjoyable, but ultimately quite short. World of Warcraft came, and, as with all things new and shiny, it diverted my attention. My buddies and I all took up that game, and it wasn't long before I had forgotten NWN. Now, I've been retired from WoW for more than a year, and every once in a while, I get that D&D urge again. Perhaps when I'm done with Titan Quest, I'll reinstall NWN, and see what the community has come up with in the meantime. If you ever need a totally ridiculous half dragon tank mage, let me know!