1 (Multiplayer Online)Release Date:
October 9, 2007 Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written BY:
Poor, poor Dungeons and Dragons fans. Released last year, publisher Atari and developer Obsidian Entertainmentís Neverwinter Nights 2 was plagued with bugs, camera problems, performance issues, and unnecessarily high system requirements. A year and several patches later, the original Neverwinter Nights 2 -- harshly criticized for the aforementioned issues -- is a fine (and totally playable) game and a classic example of traditional Dungeons and Dragons computer role-playing game design. That brings us to Obsidianís latest offering.
In development since the release of the original Neverwinter Nights 2, Neverwin-ter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer has benefitted greatly from its long development cycle and the lessons learned from the troubled launch of its predecessor. When com-pared to the original game, MotB is an undeniably more enjoyable, more engaging, and more challenging game. Also, it works right from the get-go.
Set soon after the original gameís end, MotB begins with your character, the for-mer Knight Captain of Crossroads Keep, laying unconscious on the floor of a cave in the region of Rashemen -- a long way from the Sword Coast, where we left the main character in the crumbling dwelling of the King of Shadows.
At the start of the game, Obsidian gives you the option of using your original character or making a new one, automatically bumped up to level 18 if you werenít there yet (or up to 20 if you were). MotB adds several new classes, as well -- two new base classes and five new prestige classes, which can be chosen when starting a new character in the expansion (and, of course, used in the original game as well). This is all well and good, but it poses a problem to the player who begins the expansion campaign at level 18, but has no idea how to play the chosen class. Itís an unavoidable problem, really, and itís considerate of Obsidian to give us that option. Still, experienced players of previous games in the franchise will likely have enough understanding of the game to go into a new class without much difficulty.
Your character wakens to find that the silver shard embedded in his/her chest -- a major plot point from the original game -- is missing, as is the Silver Sword of Gith -- another very important item from the original game. Greeted by a Red Wizard of Thay mysteriously sent to retrieve you for reasons unknown even to her, the two of you set off on a quest to discover what happened to you, who brought you here and stole the shard and the sword, and why.
This story is one of the major places where Mask of the Betrayer shines. While the original NWN2 campaign was a story of fighting the ancient evil being and saving the world from eternal darkness, MotBís story is one of personal exploration and doing battle with oneís own demons, as well as those left by others. Aside from the player character, the new companions all have their own personal stories to explore and pasts to confront. Speaking of the new companions, there are far fewer of them in comparison to the original NWN2, and theyíre all the better for it. Infinitely more interesting (both in character, personality, and art design) than the companions of NWN2, spending time with new companions is actually enjoyable. They have interesting things to say and can even grant the player special feats and help out in certain tasks depending on your relationship and influence with them. The selfish ladyís-man Gann, for instance, can accompany the player on journeys into the dream realm, allowing the player to face the enemies therein with a companion, when he would otherwise have to do so alone. Companions will also protest the decisions you make and, if your relationship with them gets really bad, even abandon you and leave the party for good. This is, however, an absolute worst-case scenario, and keeping companions more or less friendly to the player is by no means a difficult task, and can usually be achieved without even thinking about it. Still, itís an appreciate attention to detail on Obsidianís part, and the knowledge that you can drive away your allies makes them seem all the more real.
But thatís not all for our beleaguered hero. Early in the game, the main character discovers that he/she has also become the bearer of an ancient and dangerous curse; you have become a spirit eater, turning you into an outcast in Rashemen society. This curse is more than just a narrative device, however, and actually does have an effect of gameplay. Throughout the majority of the game, your character is forced to consume the spirits of Rashemen to survive. This creates a careful balancing act for the player. Allow the hunger to consume you, and you will suffer status penalties and, eventually, death. Give in to the hunger too often and you will likely become an addict, causing your spirit meter to deteriorate more rapidly as you go without sustenance. Fortunately for the player, eating and starving are not your only options. Depending on certain choices made throughout the game, the main character can gain new ways with which to stave off his hunger. The spirit meter mechanic is handled well. Rarely will you find yourself without a source of sustenance, but you need to be constantly aware of the spirit meter and your surroundings. If youíre not careful, or if youíre an evil character, you might find yourself desperate or fiendish enough to devour the innocent (non-hostile or friendly) spirits that wander the wilderness.
The spirit meter mechanic does have one major flaw, and that is in the alignment shifts that come with certain abilities. Suppressing your hunger -- which refills a small amount of spirit energy without devouring a spirit -- forces both lawful and good points on your character. Use this ability too often, and it is almost guaranteed that your alignment will shift later in the game. This has little affect on gameplay, but itís a hassle that you are, essentially, punished for role playing in a role playing game, in that Obsidian has taken it upon themselves to decide what your characterís motivations are when performing certain acts related to the spirit hunger.
Unfortunately, one of NWN2ís biggest problems returns in MotB. The camera is as annoying, troublesome, and generally as impossible to use as ever. Overly-sensitive in its movement, overly cumbersome and awkward in its controls, and constantly zooming in and out every time the player passes through a gate, or too close to a wall, the camera is just a hassle.
Bugs once again return as an issue, though not nearly to the extent of the origi-nal NWN2. In my only playthrough I encountered several bugs that forced me to revert to an earlier save, and even one that completely prevented me from completing an al-ready overly ambiguous sidequest. To be honest, I never did determine whether I fi-nished it or whether it just broke. Dialogue options are sometimes limited and often vague and too much of the plot in between the original game and the expansion is told through lengthy bursts of exposition. Nevertheless, Mask of the Betrayer is one of the better offerings in the CRPG world and easily Obsidianís best offering to date; an ex-tremely open-ended and atmospheric experience that begs for multiple playthroughs.7.5/
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