Neverwinter Nights 2 was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it offered up a compelling world, a rich story, and some decent gameplay mechanics. But on the other hand, it was plagued by all sorts of problems, including absurd system requirements and terrible camera options that made it hard for some to really get into it. It’s lucky, then, that the expansion pack does quite a few things right.
Mask of the Betrayer follows on directly from where Neverwinter Nights 2 left off, so it’s hard to talk about the plot too much without giving away the original’s ending. Suffice to say, a lot of things have gone wrong, and you’ll soon have a new land to explore and new quests to undertake. The overall tone of the game is a lot darker as well, which generally works to its advantage, if you don’t think you’ll miss the occasional moment of comic relief.
The biggest new gameplay mechanic in Mask of the Betrayer is possibly also the most problematic. Whereas in the original NWN 2 you had a silver shard stuck in your chest, here it is replaced with ‘spirit hunger’ that acts like a drug addiction. Essentially, your character has to constantly devour spirits to stay alive. The problem is, if you devour them too quickly, you’ll become more addicted, which means you’ll need to constantly increase the rate at which you satiate your hunger. It’s a delicate balancing act that some will find more annoying than others; if managing your every move in an effort to conserve spirit levels doesn’t sound all that fun, it’s going to dampen your experience somewhat.
On the other hand, the expansion introduces two new races – the elemental genasi and the wood elves – that are good fun to play. The setting of the game itself is refreshingly different from that of NWN 2, which was rather generic in places. Rashemen could be described as much more haunted, and sports a ‘shadow plane’ that is pretty nightmarish. The new companions you’ll meet on your travels are also at least equal to those found in NNW 2, thankfully, and – in a nice touch – some will only become available if you satisfy certain conditions. It also doesn’t hurt that you start the game at level 18, and quickly gain absurdly powerful spells and abilities; this really makes the expansion feel a lot more epic than its predecessor, and makes some of the battles feel pretty huge.
Unfortunately, the camera problems from NWN 2 are still here. A new third-person mode has been added, and works okay for a lot of the time, but there is still no one camera mode that is all the easy to settle on – each one has its own unique problems. But thankfully, the code seems to have been optimized a lot, so the frame rate should end up being a lot more stable than the original game’s, even when spell effects are popping up all over the screen. The audio is also at least on par with Neverwinter Nights 2’s – which means the music is solid, the sound effects immersive, and the voice acting actually entertaining.
Overall, Mask of the Betrayer is a solid purchase if you’re a fan of the original game. It still has its fair share of problems, but it does quite a lot to address some of NWN 2’s shortcomings, and provides a gaming experience that is, for the most part, compelling and original.