Oh hi there. Didn’t expect me to come back so soon, did you? Well, guess what. Expansion packs are short and I still haven’t found a job in the last… 5 days since I wrote that other NWN2 blog. As you may have seen on the forums, I have an ongoing poll about which questionable console RPG I should play next after finishing this one. While Jade Empire has maintained a strong lead since the poll’s inception
, it’s apparently not very friendly with 64-bit Windows and thus doesn’t recognize steam. If any of you want to give me a straight answer on how to fix it, or gift me a copy of the GOG version I’ll still play it,(EDIT:Fixed) but as for now the real battle is between Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy XII international since those are games I know will work.
If the original campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 was the archetypical D&D fantasy adventure (done well, I might add), then Mask of the Betrayer is pretty much the opposite of that on all counts while still clearly being a D&D game. It doesn’t take place on the Sword Coast, you aren’t fighting a great evil, andthere are no gruff dwarves to be seen. Instead, it takes place in the eastern Viking/Mysticism nation of Rashamen (I’d really just have to read the Forgotten Realms handbook to figure out what its deal is), you’re trying to figure out why you’re halfway across the world and also why you really need to devour all of these spirits, and your party members are all pretty unconventional (Red Wizard, Hagspawn, Half-Celestial, Spirit Bear or totally evil hive-mind of spirits inhabiting the husk of the spirit bear). If this is starting to sound a bit like Planescape or KotOR 2, you’d be right. It’s a more thoughtful, contemplative game and while it doesn’t straight up dissect tropes of the source material the two games previously mentioned, it’s still subversive in the way it handles them.
But unlike Planescape, Mask of the Betrayer still remembers that it’s a game and not an interactive novel (and unlike KotOR 2, it has an ending and I don’t kind of hate it). It’s far darker and gloomier than any D&D game in recent memory and at no point are you indulging the crazy gnome in your party to form an alliance with invisible giants who live in the sky. This is seen in the soundtrack and the visuals, but is most present in the opening premise: You wake up disoriented on the other side of the world, most of your party members from the first game are implied (then explicitly stated) to be dead (removing the suspension of disbelief that death actually matters in a world where the True Resurrection spell exists) and all you feel is an endless hunger for souls. It’s a great way to start off, and like Planescape the majority of the game revolves around investigating what happened to you and why you need to devour all of the delicious souls you come in contact with. To be honest, it treats its connections with the base game rather loosely, and other than some brief cameos of and references to your old party members there’s not much of a connection between them (so basically, just like KotOR 2). Ergo, you could play this expansion without playing the base game and not miss much, though my opinion still stands that the Original campaign is still worth playing…once. This? I feel like I should do another playthrough of this game because it’s shorter and because the choices are far more pronounced. I didn’t get to see much of Kaelyn the Dove because I played my chaotic-neutral character in such a way that she quickly became chaotic-evil (which I assumed a half-celestial being would be less than cool with) and then there’s the choice between the noble spirit bear Okku and the clearly evil One-of-Many and so on and so forth.
Have I mentioned the companions yet? Because they’re the clearest example of how much better the writing generally is than regular NWN2. Because there are only 5 of them, they’re all fleshed out and have active roles in the places you go as opposed to say… Grobnar or Casavir. It’s also much easier to gain influence with them and get whatever backstory-relevant information you want without having to open the console and cheat. There’s sadly not a whole lot of interplay between them like there is in vanilla NWN2, but that’s the price I’ll pay for all of them being interesting. It’s not just the companions either, I’d go as far as to say that Mask of the Betrayer is one of the best-written CRPGs ever made. There’s a reason why the project lead on this game (George Zeits) was a stretch goal for both Project Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera. It’s the kind of thing where I don’t want to give examples because it’s really worth looking at for yourself and because then I’d be spoiling the best part of the game.
It’s still a game, by the way. I still think the Neverwinter Nights engine can’t handle group tactical combat with any sort of precision the way the Infinity Engine or Temple of Elemental Evil could, and much like the Original Campaign, not much precision is required. Since your characters are at epic levels they have more than their fair share of level 9 (and epic) spells on hand to deal with everything, which is also a good thing since resting is finally penalized in a way it wasn’t before. Since your character is constantly hungering for souls, they need to constantly devour them or suffer pretty significant penalties. Consuming too many souls increases your craving for them which increases the depletion of your soul meter which requires you to devour more souls to keep it topped off. It’s an annoyance and an inconvenience, but since you can eat the souls of almost any enemy you encounter if you’re evil (or suppress your hunger if you’re good) it’s not game-breaking in any sense. But seriously, the camera is inexcusably terrible and along with D&D fatigue is one of the reasons I’m asking the internet to recommend me questionable JRPGs instead of moving on to Storm of Zehir.
Alright. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to seriously think about playing Chrono Cross. I would've put more screenshots in, but this editor is being uncooperative.