Nightcaster was one of Microsoft's lead titles. It was bankrolled by Microsoft; it was published by Microsoft; it was advertised by Microsoft; and it was on store shelves before the Xbox even went on sale. Clearly this is title would be a showcase for what the Xbox could do, right? No, obviously. Barring the rare instance, Nightcaster never demonstrates why it is on the Xbox. In fact, if it weren't for the occasional particle effect and some real-time light-sourcing, I would argue that this game could have been pulled off on the lowly Dreamcast without much trouble.
Nightcaster was doomed from the start because it wasn't just a launch title, it was a launch title RPG—or at least it loosely fits the criteria needed for it to be called an role-playing game (RPG). There is an unwritten rule that states that launch title RPGs are nothing more than filler from developers/publishers desperate to catch a buying public unaware and make a quick buck. That and the incredibly tight development crunch launch titles are often put through results in these games rarely having the deep and engaging gameplay fans demand. How else can I explain why the story is so weak; why the voice-acting is just below mediocre and utterly unconvincing; why the story is conveyed though long scrolls and illegible text; why interaction with the bland environment is so clumsy; why there are no weapon or armor upgrades; and why the game was so universally panned.
Does Nightcaster do anything right? Yes. The spell system that Mike describes is quite good. Giving four variations to four basic spells gives the game some variety and coupled with the three levels of power-ups, I can unleash some pretty powerful attacks on enemies. I also dig the fact that in Nightcaster the main character ages as the game progresses. But these few points hardly make up for an utterly forgettable overall experience.
Over the years, I've learned not to expect a whole lot from launch titles. My expectations were already low before I played Nightcaster and it still managed to disappoint.