E3 '07: Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer Impressions
The first expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2 is being shown off at E3. We take an in-depth look.
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Obsidian is showing off its first expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2 here at Atari's booth at E3 2007, entitled Mask of the Betrayer. While it doesn't look like it's going to radically reinvent the wheel, Obsidian seems to be focusing on adding a number of new features that should add up to allow players an easier and more satisfying gaming experience, whether they enjoy single-player, multi-player, or building worlds in the toolset.
The first thing we got a look at was the new character creation options. You will, of course, be able to import an existing NWN2 character into the expansion's storyline, keeping most equipment (except for weapons, which are stripped away for storyline reasons). If you wish to start over, however, you can create a new character and have him or her automatically gain experience to go straight to level 18, the minimum level for the expansion. If you wish, you can make a character with one of the new races, called the genasi. These are human characters with elemental blood flowing through their veins, so you'll be able to choose between fire, earth, air, and water racial characteristics, with corresponding special powers and animated features. The fire genasi, for instance, will have the option to feature hair that actually burns on its head while you play.
Two new base classes have also been added. The Favored Soul class holds essentially the same relation that a sorcerer has to a wizard: they cast divine spells, but they flow through them more naturally than they do for a cleric, allowing spells to be cast spontaneously, without requiring specific memorizations. Spirit Shamans are similar, in that they also cast spells spontaneously, but they're more intimately tied to the druidic spell list. Spirit Shamans also gain powers to control spirit-type enemies, which will apparently be a common sight in the lands of the expansion.
If you're importing a character, though, you'll be pleased to know that there are multiple new prestige classes making their first appearance here. We managed to get a rough description of the Invisible Blade, which appears to take traits from both rogues and fighters and can trade sneak-attack damage for a bleed effect that will cause damage over time. Of perhaps more interest to fans of the Forgotten Realms is the new ability to become a Red Wizard of Thay after you take a number of levels of the starting wizard class. We're not told what kind of special powers this will offer you, but we did spot the “nongood alignments only” attribute on the character screen for them. The very first companion that you obtain in the expansion will be a neutral Red Wizard that will act as your introduction to the world, and you'll also be visiting sections of Thay in your travels.
You'll find her right at the start of the expansion content, which sees your character recovering from the events at the end of Neverwinter Nights 2, where you and your party were trapped underground in the aftermath of a giant earthquake. Waking up in a cave, with the silver shard that existed inside your chest having been unceremoniously ripped out, you're left disoriented and confused, with none of your previous companions by your side. Unfortunately, it appears that few, if any, of them will reappear as a party member, although we're told that some of them will come back in cameo appearances. You'll still have companions in the expansion, of course, but you'll be drawing on an entirely new set of potential friends.
Obsidian has also overhauled the influence system that governs your companion's reactions to you. You can actually check a numerical influence rating on your companion's character sheets; raising this number will allow both you and your companion to gain power. A high influence with a companion will let them give you bonus feats, and you'll return the favor. If you like playing in an especially hardcore fashion, though, you'll be pleased to know that all of the companions are optional in the expansion; you'll never be required to take anyone along on your adventures if you don't wish to. However, one of the cool new features of the expansion is the ability to select units by dragging a selection box around them, just like in an RTS, which makes it much easier to position your characters just the way you like them before an encounter.
You should have plenty of time in which to build up your influence, too, as Obsidian is expecting the expansion content to take up around 20 to 30 hours to complete. It's all epic content, too, so you'll be able to reach up to level 30 during your adventures, and reap all of the benefits of that, including epic feats and super-powerful loot (the demo character was armed with a +7 two-handed sword that dealt an extra 3d6 lightning damage per hit, for instance).
In addition to the new single-player content, though, players will also be able to use all of the new tilesets, characters, and enemies in their own custom-made modules. That includes the new genasi races, as well as over 20 new enemy models, including fel trolls, shambling mounds, and a couple of new dragon types.
Multiplayer has been given a good amount of attention as well. You'll be able to play the new campaign online, of course, but Obsidian is also paying a lot of attention to making servers easier to set up and run. They specifically mentioned the quasi-MMO persistent servers that some enterprising gamers have set up, and promised that some of the new enhancements would be tailored towards those kinds of settings and servers.
In addition to all of this, though, Obsidian has also been making some graphical tweaks to make the entire experience a bit smoother than it was when NWN2 first launched. While the game still looks great, the performance has been improved, and relatively few people should be experiencing the slide shows that many gamers complained about in the original game.
Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer is currently set for release this fall, so we won't have long to wait to see how all of this comes together. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on the game as they come along.