Like many who enjoyed the original Neverwinter Nights (NWN) game, we were thrilled when the development of Neverwinter Night 2 was announced. Again, like many, we were quite disappointed when we played it. A game like NWN leaves large shoes to fill, and the dedicated developers at BioWare had big feet. For those who?ve never played the original, Neverwinter Nights is a Dungeons & Dragons-based role-playing game in which the player controls a single character. As with any true RPG, players can control his development, both in gaining combat ability and in making decisions.
Despite its failings in other arenas, the single-player game in Mask of the Betrayer is quite good, and shows definite improvements over its parent. The story is better, for one thing. Obsidian?s trademark is an excellent story, and their getting to spend a decent amount of time in development without being pushed to release by Atari means that they?ve developed a full, nuanced plot that is difficult not to appreciate. The story picks up just after NWN left off, finding the player character (PC) deep within a barrow, robbed of the artifact he had tried so hard to protect in the previous game. Worse yet, a dark hunger has awakened deep inside him. The player will have to travel through the cold lands of Rashemen to Thay, battling angry spirits and the cults of a long-past god of the dead, in order to find answers. To make his journey easier (and more epic) players have access to over 50 new spells, 60 new feats, seven new classes, and six new races, in addition to now being able to advance their character to level 30.
Mask of the Betrayer has most of the same failings as Neverwinter Nights 2 does, for the most part. The game focuses on fighting monsters, though one can attack innocent civilians as well (though it?s never required). Violence is thus an issue. The game allows players to set the violence level, though, so blood can be reduced or taken out entirely. There?s a small amount of profanity present in conversation, though it?s sprinkled throughout and never amounts to anything more than what we?d expect from a typical PG-13 movie, and it?s mostly appropriately placed and just there to help show strong emotion. Characters can pursue romantic relationships with key NPCs in the game, but we were never able to get these to develop to any point where there was anything objectionable to come from them. There are some revealing dresses on the women, but no open nudity; unlike the original Neverwinter Nights, if you take off your character?s clothes, there will be generic clothing, not undergarments, underneath. There?s also the presence of alcohol in the game, though its usage is never glorified.
More prevalent than any of these other elements is the presence of magic. It pervades the game. From the beginning in which the player finds himself in an underground barrow, he is accompanied by a wizard and begins battling spirits. Even if the player does not play a spellcaster, he will have to use magic to enter the Shadow Plane to continue the plot, use magic weapons to survive in combat, and use potions to heal himself. The Spirit Eater that has possessed the player character will have to be routinely fed, and the souls of powerful creatures (including the player?s companions, who he can betray during the game) can be stolen and infused into powerful magical artifacts. It?s simply impossible to play this game without the use of magic, and even if it were, the villains use plenty of it.
Overall, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer greatly improves on the original game, including greatly improved graphics and many new character customization options. Those who were mature enough to play the original in spite of the moral issues should find little in Mask of the Betrayer to turn them away (save for the Spirit Eater, which can be ignored and defeated early in the game if the player so chooses). While a great game in itself, though, Obsidian?s first expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2 still can?t make its parent game into a true sequel to Neverwinter Nights. It still lacks the latter?s usability and accessibility for those who want to create their own modules. We?ll be looking for Obsidian?s next expansion in hopes that these issues are addressed.
» By Joshua Bennett, Plain Games. Published 12/11/2007 12:57:14 PM.