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Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (PC) artwork

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (PC) review

"Mask of the Betrayer is a relatively short but sweet experience that, through its gameplay innovations and flawless writing, injects new life into the very framework of Neverwinter Nights 2 which, in turn, was such an improvement over NWN1. "

Unlike Bioware's somewhat predictable expansion packs to NWN1, Obsidian takes us by surprise in Mask of the Betrayer, reinventing that very commercial genre of RPG add-ons from the ground up, and giving us something that is qualitatively and experientially quite different than 'vanilla' NWN2. They're having so much creative fun with their engine, it's a joy to behold.
We are introduced to the concept of spirit-eating, which ends up to be so much more than a gimmick or a mere plot point: it partially replaces the fundamentals of the NWN2 mechanics, so that the hero's mysterious affliction becomes the driving force around which everything else revolves. They intend to convey that spirit-eating is not just some fancy RPG "augmentation", but a pervasive condition that both governs and threatens much of the character's running emotional and mental life. And they succeed with flying colors. It lends the add-on an "alien" feel when compared to NWN2, and everything feels more urgent than in either of the more conventional expansion packs to NWN1.

I gushed about creativity in an earlier NWN2 review; well, this add-on has a creativity overload. Calling the plot, the loaded dream sequences, and many of the conversations poetic may be too big a word, but it is close.

The Faras-Enzibur sidequest in particular, a very detailed account of a wizard's contract with an insidious devil, is a masterpiece of intricate writing. As a budding writer, I've sure read (and probably wrote) so-called literary short stories that are far less intriguing and worsely written. I've also found the Anya-Gann sidequest memorably endearing despite being very short. It takes skillful, creative writing to set a quest within the dream of a lovesick farmer girl who transforms into a dragon in a naive attempt to protect her illusory loved one.
Again, the colorful tidbits: the tiny, overlapping "subquests" in the Skein and in the Ashenwood, all with lively dialogs.

Criticism of the NWN2 engine and overall gameplay scheme obviously applies to its add-on as well, but if you've played through NWN2, chances are that by now you've at least made peace with the engine. It's still "hands-off", there's not much to explore in the Gothic/Risen sense, but the Aurora Engine is taken in new directions the original NWN2 couldn't dream of.

Mask of the Betrayer is a relatively short but sweet experience that, through its gameplay innovations and flawless writing, injects new life into the very framework of Neverwinter Nights 2 which, in turn, was such an improvement over NWN1.

When taken in isolation from the main game, I regard this add-on as the single tightest and most exciting adventure of the official NWN1-NWN2 canon (out of the ones I've played). It's also the weirdest and most disturbing one. That's a compliment.

andgregorik's avatar
Community review by andgregorik (March 03, 2012)

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