As I mentioned last time, I took a short break from TMGS and played through Bouncy Rock's Misery Stone. I was impressed to say the least.
The signature aspect of Misery Stone is, of course, that it takes place in Ravenloft, the Demiplane of Dread, and this leads to an unremittingly dark feel that is well-realized at every moment. The maps are mostly well-done with an eye for detail I lack (but can appreciate), and the color desaturation feature is used to great effect. Sometimes, it seems that the only non-gray that can be seen is the red of the copious amounts of blood that flow through the storyline. This world of gray and red might sound dull and it wouldn't work in most other adventures, but the Ravenloft setting means it's perfect.
The storyline and writing are also strong points. Everywhere one travels on the island, one finds only death and decay. Numerous mini-adventures all wrap up into one cohesive picture of a petty lord gone mad and terrorizing the people who live under his rule. The insane asylum is well-realized as is an extensive dwarven stronghold, both of which have now fallen into decay. And the town of Misfield with its mechanical people that literally burst apart when spoken to is dreary and depressing.
The three companions are a further strength, as each has a well-developed backstory and motivation for traveling with you. In short, you are all trapped on the island under the thrall of its dark lord, and you all have the same ticket out: namely the defeat of the lord. There has been some criticism that the companions fall a bit mute later in the game. While this is true to an extent (but by no means completely), I don't think it's particularly a failing. My opinion is that, as the climax approaches, I'm not exactly keen on philosophical discussions with my allies. Once the stage is set, I'd rather just allow the act to proceed UNLESS some kind of twist in the plot necessitates a new set-up. This isn't the case with Misery Stone.
At this point, Jonny Ree has done so much fantastic modeling work that it would be easy to just gloss over this aspect in a review, but we really shouldn't. Jonny has established himself as the preeminent 3D modeler in the NWN2 community for good reason. The new beholder, drider, and werewolf models are all as good as or better than the game's official models. I even enjoyed the retexturing of the normal horse model to make the zombie horses in Brom's barn. Really, the new creatures stood out in just about every respect.
And the new creatures are only a small part of the custom content for the module. There are new heads for the companion and main villain, several new placeables, some new effects, and a couple new feats (I think) for one of the companions. A custom cave tileset is also used, though I'm not sure if Bouncy Rock created that one, and I believe there's some retexturing of some of the existing tilesets. If this last point is not true, then the area designers did an even better job in making the game feel fresh and new than I already gave them credit for.
The game featured several new music tracks, most of which were between decent and good. Sadly, the only one I can remember is a rock theme used sparingly for battles. Most battles utilize more traditional battle music, so when the rock theme comes, it's jarring and out of place. There is a valid stylistic reason to use rock themes for battles (though it's not one I would ever make), but I think the game really should either use all rock for combat or none. As it stands now, it's just odd.
The loot, especially the Dark Warrior items acquired from the six crypts in the cemetery, was a bit overpowered and made several of the final fights, including the game's boss fight, too easy. Other than those six items and a suit of +5 plate acquired off the corpse of a death knight, however, I thought the loot was appropriate for the level.
My only other nitpick is ironic considering my last point. I chose a starting character of Fighter 6/ Weapon Master 3 with my weapon of choice being a battleaxe. The opening scene allowed me to purchase a +1 battleaxe. Then I played the whole module looking at a variety of +2 and even some +3 loot of nearly every conceivable weapon come up (quarterstaff, sling, HALBERDS). But no battleaxe, so because that was my Weapon Master's weapon of choice, I ended up completing the game with my same old trusty Battleaxe +1. But they really need to give the battleaxe some love.
BUT these are all nitpicks. Overall, Misery Stone was a triumph on every level.
You Should Vote, But I Won't
So why don't I go vote on Misery Stone? A short story will suffice.
I remember when the NWN2 campaign came out, I criticized the companions (outside Khelgar, Neeshka, and Sand) for being boring and one-dimensional. Even these three, I said, had stereotypical elements that didn't really make them stand out. I was then informed by one of the community fanboys that, "the next companion I write that's as good as Khelgar will be my first." Now, there are numerous comebacks I could (and did) make to such a vapid point, but the core idea was clear. Somehow, as a module author, I am unable to critique other work because any such critique implies to some that I'm saying I could do better. Interestingly, the original snooty fan didn't apply the same standard to himself. Did criticizing my companions imply that he could do better? Of course not.
But just because it doesn't make logical sense doesn't mean people still don't think that way, so I'll just recuse myself from the voting. BUT, I encourage everyone else who plays to let your voice be heard. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes, but in this case I can live with that.