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Informative Mask of the Betrayer review

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Informative Mask of the Betrayer review

Review - posted by Vault Dweller on Thu 6 September 2007, 16:27:58

Tags: Neverwinter Nights 2; Obsidian Entertainment

A MotB tester has posted his own review of the expansion on the Obsidian forums:

Likewise, I’m not advocating the game because it’s part of the Neverwinter Nights franchise. Frankly, I was disappointed when I discovered that I’d be working on the expansion. I’ve had mixed feelings about NWN since the very first game hit the shelves. I’ve enjoyed it and hated it in varying degrees since I received my pre-ordered copy of NWN. I had this crazy hope, against all odds, that I would get a chance to see Aliens or one of the other projects under development at Obsidz. As it happened, the folks on different projects at Obsidz showed me the other games, but I only worked on one. Of all the games, MotB is the one I was least enthusiastic to see.

So, how did I go from a decided lack of enthusiasm to singing the holy praises of gamer geekdom? That will follow below. Right now, as is my custom, I will discuss the aspects that I didn’t like. I guess I could say… I dunno…. maybe, “I will discuss the aspect that needed the most improvement.” I won’t insult your intelligence. There were aspects I didn’t like about MotB. ...

Probably my biggest beef is engine optimization. Sure, MotB runs better than NWN2. It runs better by a lot, really. Translate: NWN2 was extremely bad where MotB is merely bad. The loading times, on the computer I was running, were less than stellar, but running around within the areas was smoother than NWN2. ...

The camera angles are improved over NWN2, but I would rather have finer control over the camera. It seemed a little erratic to me, and that’s largely unchanged from the first title. The camera issue is always a favorite topic for argument, and everyone seems to have his own take. My point is that I want the camera controls to be more fluid than fast, and that has not been the case for either NWN2 or MotB. Fiddling with the settings doesn’t help much, and so I’ve gotten used to it. Getting used to a feature is simply not the same as liking it.

...What I can say is that the MotB graphics are roughly equivalent to the graphics for NWN2. I prefer some of the scenes in MotB, and I think the artwork is better, which makes the game more aesthetically appealing to me. The spooky areas are spooky, the large outdoor scenes are pretty, and the game, with all the bells ringing and whistles blowing, is much more enticing to the eye than NWN2. I would not describe any area as “breathtaking,” but the graphics are sufficient to do the job, just as they were with NWN2. As an aside, I was more impressed with the Aliens graphics, although that might have been the coolness factor of getting to see the game.

Since I’ve commented often on the story, I’d like to cite the less than stellar aspect of the writing (there I go again, insulting your intelligence). ... When a game, such as PS:T, tries to rise above its third class standing, a number of people in the gaming community pillory the effort as “pseudo-philosophical” or “quasi-intellectual.” PS:T was “pseudo-philosophical,” but only inasmuch as it introduced philosophical notions in order to further the story. …And those elements, no matter how we describe them, served as the basis for understanding the game itself. MotB, on the other hand, gives the same superficial treatment to the larger issues as virtually every other game in the genre. There are important questions, such as faith and trust and morality, that barely get a nod from the design team, and sometimes not even that.

On that note, I can switch gears, because MotB tells an excellent story. Like I’ve said previously, I prefer PS:T to MotB, but the two games are similar. Both tell a personal story. However, the point of PS:T is to discover something about yourself. You must understand the things you’ve done in the past and decipher the activities of your previous “incarnations.” In MotB, the game is refreshingly centered on something (and someone) other than yourself. Sure, the game revolves around the PC and his actions, but the point of every endeavor is to understand something that happened in the far distant past. If PS:T were a story of self discovery, then MotB is a story of other discovery. The PC learns something of himself along the way, of course, but MotB serves as the final chapter in a very long book. It is an important chapter, to be sure, but most of the book was written well before the PC enters the story.

Not only that, but the issues are not nearly so driven by philosophical underpinnings. In that regard, MotB does much better than other RPGs in that the design team, deciding not to tackle philosophical issues, crafted a much more personal story. This isn’t a game about the PC finding his mortality. It’s a game of survival. There’s not a lot of navel gazing in this game. It’s a gritty battle, and sometimes the enemy is the PC himself.

By now most of the folks following MotB have heard at least something of the spirit eater mechanic. Let me warn you right away that the spirit eater curse will cause the player some heartache and grief. It is not something to take lightly. Because of the curse, the PC will face a variety of dilemmas. The condition, and how the PC deals with it, will shape the game. It is that important.

The spirit eater mechanic has many ramifications for morality, but even these moral questions are more personal than most other games out there. The spirit eater curse is a hard companion, and the PC must bear it under his skin at all times. For that reason, many PCs will commit acts that tear at the heart of their moral compass. Only the most dedicated and determined (and clever) will be able to avoid acts of atrocity. However, the curse grants the PC several opportunities to commit acts of genuine goodness. It is a curse, to be sure, but the manner in which the PC deals with the curse makes MotB an excellent game. Player choices aren’t just immediate and often, but they’re meaningful as well.

I’ve not seen a game that so thoroughly rewards the player for such an assortment of decisions. I’ve always hated the idea of alignment, but if we simply ignored the swinging pendulum of alignment scores and shifts, the story itself recognizes the impact of the PC’s decisions, and I don’t just mean the end game. I’m not prepared to cite an instance right now, but there are wonderful examples of how the design team made good use of a game mechanic I’ve always hated… alignment. Even better, a player truly dedicated to playing a particular role will be able to ignore the alignment information anyhow. I know whatever choices I make will virtually always keep me in the lawful good alignment.

Speaking of choices, I seem to recall a thread Kaftan started complaining about influence. While he doesn’t like influence, I enjoy it. I thought it generally worked well in NWN2. In MotB it is outstanding. First of all, it’s nice to have other people respond and react to player choices. Taking the influence system out of the equation would be a mistake. Would it be better to have a paladin in the party who never says a word as the PC murders a building full of orphans? Is it better to have companions who stay in the party and act in the exact same way no matter what the PC does or says? I don’t think so. In NWN2, the influence system is sometimes capricious and largely opaque. In MotB, because of changes in the expansion, the influence system is much more transparent. You know how your companions view the PC at any time.

That’s something else I like about the influence system. The player must be concerned about how the NPCs view him. Just like real life, the PC cannot ignore the people around him. Anyone who has a job, or a family, or friends, or enemies, or… well… doesn’t live in a cave under the surface of Mars knows that he must interact with other people. He can be rude, sure. He can be abusive, using, or sneaky. He can even tell his companions or potential companions to leave him alone. …But the NPCs, just like folks in real life, will react to what the PC does.
...
There are fewer NPCs in the game, but they are splendid company. Sure, I think one of the NPCs could have a sexier voice. Altogether, the NPC dialogue is well written, they have wonderful backstories, and having a full party can make for a lot of fun interaction. There are some twists and turns in forming a party in MotB, but it all depends on what the player wants to find in the game. What I found was a great experience.

MotB is not a perfect game. In all my years of gaming, I have not found such a game. However, it is a breath of fresh air. It’s not enough to have a lot of choices to make in the game world. In fact, choice without consequence amounts to no choice at all. MotB crafts a beautiful story for the player, and the player completes that story by decisions. Those decisions are meaningful.
Sounds very, very promising.

PS. Gotta love those "unprofessional" game reviews. Truly a breath of fresh air.

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