Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer Q&A - Story, Classes, and Enhancements

Lead designer Kevin Saunders gives us early details on the upcoming expansion pack to last year's hit fantasy role-playing game.

Earlier this month, Atari and Obsidian Entertainment announced Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, the first expansion pack to last year's acclaimed Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Neverwinter Nights 2 was the follow-up to 2002's popular RPG, and it reintroduced you to the fabled Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. It also delivered an excellent story (which won GameSpot's award for the best story of 2006), as you adventured around the Sword Coast to save the city of Neverwinter from evil. With the expansion, developer Obsidian hopes to top itself. To get some of the early details on Mask of the Betrayer, which will ship later this year, we turned to lead designer and producer Kevin Saunders.

Mask of the Betrayer will introduce high-level content and a whole new story to Neverwinter Nights 2.

GameSpot: The story in NWN2 is generally regarded as being both excellent and lengthy, providing plenty of great gameplay. How does the expansion's story compare? Who wrote it and who served as lead designer?

Kevin Saunders: George Ziets is Mask of the Betrayer's creative lead and the architect of our story and characters. The story is brilliant--I think it will be Obsidian's best yet. Mask of the Betrayer (NX1) is shorter than the NWN2 campaign (we're targeting 15 to 20 hours of gameplay), but it will definitely be an epic and memorable experience. I occupy the role of lead designer but fortunately didn't get in George's way too much.

GS: Neverwinter Nights 2 came out in late October, roughly six months ago. Did you start work on the expansion immediately after NWN2 shipped, or was it in the planning stages beforehand? What's the history on this expansion?

KS: We began planning for Mask of the Betrayer last summer. For the first several months, it was mostly George, CEO Feargus Urquhart, and I determining the feature set, storyline, and direction for the game. Toward the end of NWN2, we dropped working on NX1 entirely to bolster the forces dedicated to completing NWN2.

After Neverwinter Nights 2 shipped, many of the experienced artists, designers, and programmers rolled right onto NX1--after a well-deserved break, of course. One of our expert modelers, Glenn Price, began working on NX1 creatures even before NWN2 was done, so we had some new toys to work with right away.

GS: This sounds like it's a high-level expansion for existing players, rather than something that newcomers can jump into and play. Can you transfer your existing NWN2 character into the expansion? Can you create a new character and start from level one in the new campaign, or is that a recipe for disaster?

KS: It is a high-level campaign, and you will be able to transfer your existing NWN2 character. You can also create a new character if you want, especially if you're interested in trying out some of the new race and class options. In both cases, if your character is lower than a certain level, we'll give you enough experience points to level up to where the Mask of the Betrayer expects you to be.

NX1 is intended to provide a continuation of the character from NWN2, but it isn't really a continuation of the NWN2 story and no NWN2 knowledge is necessary to fully enjoy it.

GS: What details can you share regarding the story beyond the basics that we know? The game starts immediately after the events of the first game, and it starts with the character deep underground. What's going on?

KS: The story in Mask of the Betrayer isn't about saving the world. It's an epic story, but it's a very personal one. You awaken in a pool of your own blood. Your immediate goal is survival. The shard of the Sword of Gith has been ripped from your chest and in its place is a dark hunger, a craving that threatens to consume you. The early part of the game involves determining the source and implications of this craving.

GS: How far has the level cap, which was previously set at 20, been raised? What are some of the new high-level skills and abilities in the expansion?

You can create a new character or carry over an existing character to the expansion.

KS: Mask of the Betrayer takes you into the D&D epic levels, up to level 30. All of the base classes are being expanded up to level 30, and you can multiclass and take prestige classes to reach the higher levels. You'll have over 50 epic feats to choose from, some of which provide new abilities that we've designed with guidance from Wizards of the Coast. For example, monks might acquire the blazing aura feat, which engulfs their body in flames, injuring enemies who attack them, and adding to their unarmed strike damage.

GS: What are the new races and prestige classes? What about new items and weapons?

KS: We're not ready to talk about the new races yet, though I'll say that some of the speculation I've seen is accurate. We've paid great attention to what the community's requests have been for new race and class content and have implemented some of the most popular options. As some have surmised given our setting, the Red Wizard of Thay is one of the new prestige classes. We're also implementing two new base classes.

Brand New Friends and Enemies

GS: How is the companion system being improved? Are any familiar characters returning for the expansion? How many new characters are there?

The highlights of a Neverwinter game are memorable companions and a strong story.

KS: Companions have been a core component of Obsidian's games, and we're continuing to evolve our implementation of them. We want to reach a higher degree of companion reactivity in Mask of the Betrayer. We've revamped the influence system to now provide gameplay benefits to your companions (and yourself in some cases) when they gain sufficient loyalty to you.

We've also increased the depth of the companions by having them also react more believably to poor treatment. If you upset them too much, they will also act appropriately. At first, you'll lose direct control of them (we've improved upon the companion artificial intelligence). Eventually, they'll stop sharing items or carrying around your loot for you. And if you oppose them enough, they'll abandon you. Don't worry, if they annoy you too much, you can kill them, which might bring some benefits....

The cast of companions in Mask of the Betrayer is fairly small, allowing us to better develop their personalities and increase their reactivity to game events. With very few exceptions, you'll never be forced to have a certain (or any) companion with you. None of the companions in NX1 are from the NWN2 campaign, though you may come across the opportunity to learn a bit about the fate of some of your old friends.

GS: What's the setting of the expansion? For instance, are there any similarities to the Shadows of Undrentide expansion for the first Neverwinter Nights because it starts underground?

KS: It's true that you'll begin underground, but you're not in the Underdark, and most of the game takes place on the surface. Oh, except for that part where you're exploring a sunken Imaskari city ruled by an Oracle of Delphi-like coven of paragon hags. (Designed by Tony Evans, who designed several of the planets in Knights of the Old Republic 2 and led the design of Act 3 in NWN2, the area feels like a classic D&D dungeon adventure.)

We've had two main goals in our setting choices. First, we wanted to create new tilesets and terrains that will benefit the mod and persistent world communities. Second, we wanted to accurately depict Rashemen with some stunning visuals, such as the Immil Vale that artist Ed Lacabanne created.

GS: Judging from the first screens, it looks like the graphics may have been enhanced? What sort of technical improvements are there? Has the engine been improved?

KS: NX1 is looking better than NWN2 for a few reasons. First, with support from several of the NWN2 programmers, including Jason Keeney, Adam Brennecke, and Frank Kowalkowski, we've made significant improvements to aspects of the graphics engine, such as the sky box, specularity, and lighting.

Second, our artists spent some time at the beginning of the project experimenting with what the NWN2 graphics engine can do and learning how to get even better results from it. Also, Obsidian's new art director, Justin Cherry (who, among many other things, created the amazing spell effects NWN2 has been praised for), has been adding effects and ambience to the environments to make them feel more alive.

Also, though the screenshots wouldn't reflect this, we made many optimizations to the engine since NWN2 first shipped, and we've improved frame rates and performance across the board. (These improvements were made in the first couple of updates to NWN2 last year.)

All of these improvements will benefit the community's content creators as well. As for the NX1 campaign, our design team has paid specific attention to ensuring that each area has impressive vistas that are both eye candy and important to the gameplay.

GS: Finally, what enhancements to the mod-making tools are being made in the expansion? How about changes or enhancements to multiplayer?

The expansion will feature enhanced visuals, thanks to better art and various improvements to the graphics engine.

KS: Obsidian, Atari, Wizards of the Coast, and Hasbro all fully recognize the importance of the mod community and are continuously working to improve NWN2 in this regard. Mask of the Betrayer's lead programmer, Rich Taylor, is especially dedicated to improving NWN2 for modders, persistent world creators, and multiplayer gamers. Improvements to the toolset are continuously underway and are available through patches to NWN2. You'll need NX1 to get the new creatures, tilesets, and other content, but we didn't want the community to have to wait for toolset enhancements.

We've been adding many usability features, such as undo for terrain sculpting (courtesy of the aforementioned Adam Brennecke) and a creature appearance wizard (implemented by NX1 programmer Josh Verall) that make it much easier to try out different armor appearances, among other things. Our lead scripter, Charles Mead, who hails from the NWN1 mod community, is constantly adding to NWN2's impressive library of global scripts. We'll continue improving upon the toolset, with most of the enhancements coming directly from the feedback we receive from the various NWN2 communities.

We're designing the campaign in NX1 to be more multiplayer-friendly through various design decisions (fewer cutscenes, for example, which can be disruptive in cooperative multiplayer). And, like with the toolset improvements, we're enhancing various aspects of the multiplayer experience through the ongoing NWN2 updates.

GS: Thank you, Kevin.

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Discussion

38 comments
decebal
decebal

man... the old companions... I really want to find out stuff about them. i hope they didn't all die in bitter deaths.

BlackJakal
BlackJakal

I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE WIZARD OF THAY!!!!!!!!!!! MIIAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

creep93
creep93

Looks great. It's just too bad that you wont have your old companions. :/

subtec
subtec

Really looking forward to this one!

Hamarabi2006
Hamarabi2006

I played NWN1 recently, which I thought was great (predictable, but still great). then I started on the first expansion and never finished because I was just plain annoyed by the henchmen you are saddled with (Lame Personalities). I never got around to playing the second expansion or any of the premium modules, because NWN2 was out. Anyway, something made me go out and buy NWN2 and I was glad I did. Except for the disappointing ending (Very Satisfying otherwise), the story is top notch and the magic special affects are awesome! The mage spells (Wow there are so many kool spells!) are amazing to look at and a lot of fun to fight with. You really get your money's worth with this game -- I bet I played 40 to 60 hours, before I finished! Also, I have been messing around with the Toolset about 20 hours, on top of that. Fun! That's the way it should be, in my opinion. I refuse to pay 50 bucks for any game that only lasts 20 hours, because it's just a rip off! Some people compare the price of a movie to the price of games, which is wrong in my opinion. The difference is that when you buy a game you are making an investment and when you are done playing through the first time, you still own the game. When you finish watching a movie on the big screen, that's it. The money is gone and all you have is a memory. You'll have to pay again, if you want to relive that memory. This game is not all peaches and creme, however. The character faces are shockingly repugnant! Every single character is hideous! How could they make such horrible character faces?!!! It's true that not all heroes are good looking, but this game forces you to look like a troll. Worse than that, really. The faces are disturbingly wrong, which ruins the fantasy setting. You can be plain and normal looking and still be attractive, so I don't get why they went to this extreme. Some people want an ugly character, but most people don't and you aren't even given a choice in the matter. Since they made cutscenes so important, you can't even ignore how disproportionately ugly the characters are. I just had to look away. Also, melee combat is just as boring as it ever was in any of their games. You point and click, then wait till the enemy is dead. Pop a potion every once in a while and that's all there is to melee combat! I am playing through again with a mage this time, which is a lot more fun! (LOL) I wish someone would come up with an RPG (great story, character acting, and interaction) with DOA or Ninja Gaiden style melee combat (hehe). Well, maybe not that much over the top, but you know what I mean. Take a look at "White Knight": http://www.gamespot.com/news/6158329.html?q=white%20knight&tag=result;title;5 Now, forget about the special magic moves and just look at the melee fighting. The shield bashes, blocks, parries, ripostes all look pretty good and the sound effects are right on. The swords should clash and there should be a different sound for blocking with a shield, etc. I don't care for the childish character appearance or transforming into a giant warrior, but at least the melee fighting looks like fun (without the magic). On another note, it saddens me that the companions from NWN2 will not return. My favorite was Khelgar. He was just so kool! I loved his personality and the voice acting was simply brilliant! Neeshka and Qara were kool too, just not as kool as the bad arsed dwarf fighter! Other voice acting of note were Ammon Jerro, Sand, and King Nasher's. Fine job! Casavir, Elanee, and Bishop's voices were decent enough, but by far the most annoying characters were Grobnar and Zhjaeve! "Know" that I do not want to hear people talk like that, at least not the main characters! However, you only have to have them with you for a short while, thankfully. I bought the game after the 1.05 patch came out, so I never experienced any bugs, slow downs, or crashes and I don't even have a top of the line computer. My gaming rig is an AMD Athlon X2 3600+ Brisbane, Biostar TForce 550 Socket AM2 motherboard, 480W Power Supply, 2 GB GSkill PC 6400 DDR2 800Mhz RAM and a 256MB Geforce 7600GT graphics card (In case you're wondering). The game looks beautiful and runs smooth as silk with this setup. Well, except for the hideous character faces, that is. I am baffled by the neglect in that area! GEEZ! Everything else looks and sounds amazing! Needless to say, I am very excited about the expansion pack and I can't wait till it comes out. I hope they don't rush it, because there is nothing more damaging to a company than a sloppy release!

subtec
subtec

I'm really looking forward to this release. I've had fun with NWN2, but content just isn't where it was with the original.

rengetsu08
rengetsu08

It said that it improve the engine for NX1, how about the compatibility and the bugs and graphics problem everyone of us experiencing??? The NWN2 is still what im playing for almost three months, ive got problem from graphics to lot and lots of the bugs, and hoping to finished the game bug free i have to start a new character over and over again for me to prevent those bug occuring. And have to update it to the latest update every now and then new update available. I Just hope that they also address this problem, Also complete the game before it is out in the market, not like the nwn2 1st released(without the updates) it have option and quest and mission that is very interesting, but have to be cut from the game for the game is not finished when they shipped the game. Hope NX1 is far more better and bug free than NWN2, cause if it is shipped with same problem with NWN2, ill probably have to think twice purchasing the game.. : (

tpgbommer
tpgbommer

I enjoyed NWN as well as NWN 2. Hoping this expansion is going to bring more of the same. For now: looking good!

Steinin
Steinin

NWN 2 suffered a bit in the stability, bugs, and performance departments for several reasons. Atari, the producer and not obsidian, the developer, added a copy protection method to the game before releasing it. This mechanism proved to for a lot of players severly degrade performance because it had to run while playing. It couldn't also always detect if the disk inserted was a genuine, and kept many players from playing their own purchased game. Very frustrating. NWN2 suffered initially from a lot of bugs. This is because of Obsidian being given a relatively old version of NWN1. I believe it was around patch 1.12 they sent their engine off to Obsidian for them to work on it. Players who were around at that time know that 1.12 was nowhere even close bug-free. NWN1 Is now on patch 1.68 I think. So Obsidian have to fix all the bugs all over again because Bioware never sent them any updated source. Insult to injury, Atari was suffering from financial problems, and NWN2, despite its multitude of bugs, was being pushed forward in order to save the publisher. Meaning the folks at Obsidian have been hard-pressed and strived to make the game as playable as possible but couldn't get every fault out of the game in time. Cut Obsidian some slack, cause they have greatly improved the game with subsequent patches.

Mohamed_h
Mohamed_h

NWN again ? ... the performance of NWN2 was annoying , and I expect this one to be even worse ... will see about that !

forhekset
forhekset

"And if you oppose them enough, they'll abandon you. Don't worry, if they annoy you too much, you can kill them, which might bring some benefits.... " That is AWESOME.

Sohryu
Sohryu

The offical campaign of Bioware's NWN and SoU were simply horrible, HoTU was better but nowhere near Baldur's Gate series let alone PS:T. I'm glad NWN2 offered a greatly improved single player mode with a genuinly intriguing story, even though it has a lot of the same short comings as KoTOR 2. Unlike some so called RPG fans I'm willing to overlook the technical crudeness and appreciate the memorable story and characters, which are extremely rare in most modern RPG's.

TheC0m1ssar
TheC0m1ssar

Looks nice. Glad the story was shorter, cuz I only managed to finish the other game once, took forever to get to Act 2, you know. And add maybe some new companions, fix the frickin AI, and better pathfinding. And I only played NWN2, I never played the first one.

mavyn
mavyn

This article just smacks of marketing. The chirpy tone would lead you to believe that NWN2 was actually a great game and a faithful continuation of the series. In reality it was a very sloppy release of an inferior, stripped down facsimile of the NWN experience. The Gamespot review of NWN2 was so disingenuous, and this "interview/preview" doesn't sound very real either. Someone is getting a kickback, or maybe this is advertorial. I will keep an eye out for the release of the expansion, but I will not get my hopes up again.

materialking
materialking

looks alot better than the orginal NN2. hope the character in this one looks better and fixt that stupid group ai..

thewilyranger
thewilyranger

I remember killing the Red Wizards in the first BG, they were a pain but this looks awesome Epic spells and Epic Feats are going to make the expansion, looking forward to its release!

dryden555
dryden555

fix the team AI and pathfinding in the add-on please

bodylotion
bodylotion

Obsidian was on my top list of doing Fallout 3 (besides Black Isle ofcourse) instead of Bethesda. I just hope they might buy the Planescape Torment or Baldurs Gate rights....

bka4u2c_basic
bka4u2c_basic

SpaceAlex , there may be a bit of truth to your comments. People who liked NWN1 don't like NWN2 and vice versa. I'm probably one of the few that enjoyed both. I'm looking forward to the expansion.

linh1987
linh1987

Hope this won't failed me like NWN2, with new engine and (hopefully) performance improvement, maybe I can enjoy NWN2 more than it is right now. 30fps on medium-low quality, how pathetic :(

Nikalai_88
Nikalai_88

"fastpunk Improved stability and AI is just what the doctor ordered. Solving these two problems will finally shut up NWN1 fanatics" The camera controls too.

fastpunk
fastpunk

Improved stability and AI is just what the doctor ordered. Solving these two problems will finally shut up NWN1 fanatics.

SpaceAlex
SpaceAlex

Wow, many people seem to hate this game for some reason. It seems that those that thought NWN1 was grabage (i'm one of those) liked NWN2, and vice versa.

Lumenadducere
Lumenadducere

I'll be picking this up - once NWN 2 was patched it was a great game, and I really like the additions that this expansion will bring.

sSubZerOo
sSubZerOo

...Gamespot missed the most important questions.. WILL THE GAME ACTUALLY BE FINISHED On release, will multiplayer actually be fixed and will the game not run like crap on numerous recommended and above systems. NWN2 was the largest disapointment for many, not only was it bugged and rushed out the door.. But it also was the most linear singleplayer out there.. NWN1 a game that people hated for its linearity make this game seem like a train on tracks stopping every so often. THE AI is brain dead on both enemies and team mates sides, the story was merely ok (which is bad afor a company who claims that they put the most effort in single player), mediocre ending, difficulty EASIEST rpg out there for a long time... FIRST it wsa Oblivion which disapointed me by not being a real RPG imo.. Then Gothic 3, now NWN2. Obsidian has lost all rights in my eyes to touch KOTOR and NWN, both tremendous series that they brought down with their money grubbing hands.. They have rushed both titles, and some people CAN'T EVEN PLAY KOTOR2 still due to a patch they were suppose to release but never did.

InsaneChef
InsaneChef

The new base classes are duskblade and spirit shaman

Scott_the_Snow
Scott_the_Snow

I really enjoyed NWN2, I did grab it a few months after release and I didnt suffer from most of the problems I hear about. I thought it was a great epic style RPG and,compared to the muddled story of KOTOR2, it was a great improvement for obsidian in my opinion. Now, I am hoping for Minsc and Boo! Maybe they could do an expansion for Fallout 3 someday.

bodylotion
bodylotion

Obsidian is still a great developer KOTOR 2 really wasn't a bad game it was just too hard to come up with a story better than the first one. Like KOTOR 2 , NWN2 wasn't that bad, even though the multiplayer doesnt really work, but compared to NWN it's garbage.

Lobotomist
Lobotomist

I used to be huge mega fan of NWN1. I waited in line at midnight to buy NWN2. Now i wish i never wasted my money on that piece of ... Unfortunately Obsidian spelled the end to NWN and all what it used to represent. The game was released half finished to say , at best. And even in finished state it would be a bad game due to total amaterism of Obsidian crew. Now they are releasing an expansion , but even original is still unfinished , and they are still patching it .... My advice , stay as far as possible from anything labeled Obsidian

Edge2000
Edge2000

if you really want to buy the expansion, then quite frankly your desperate... If its for the singleplayer part, your better off with a torrent over buying that bugged thing that doesnt support mutiplayer. That a great way to teach obsidian a lesson about what they should do instead of butching everything for money.

marc5477
marc5477

Whats the point in making an expansion when the original game is still broken? The original still suffers from saved game corruption, severe perfomance issues, and memory leaks. Not to mention the abysmal AI that they tried to patch with a user made fix... Sure ill buy the expansion... when it hit $1.

Death_Masta187
Death_Masta187

I will never buy another Obsidian Entertainment game.... Fool me once (KOTOR2) shame on them... Fool me twice (NWN2) shame on me...Fix nwn2 before any talk of an expansion ever passes your lips...For shame on Bioware for letting Obsidian butcher KOTOR2 and NWN2.... Im With Apollo124 on this one, I wont even touch NWN2 till they fix that heap of trash they call NWN2...

apollo124
apollo124

I just hope they fix the multiplayer online so that you don't have to be a hacker just to connect to someones' server. I'm old enough to remember 1st ed D+D, and I don't know how (or where) to place a PWC file. That's why I've been playing NWN 1 lately. I won't touch NWN2 until I hear that it's fixed.

RossRichard
RossRichard

God I hope the extra prestige classes include Archmage, Spellsword and Mystic Theurge. Also would be sweet if the two base classes are Dread Necro and Samurai.

arc_salvo
arc_salvo

None of the companions from the original NWN2 show up? That seems like a really poor decision to me. I -want- to have my favorite NPC's from NWN2's campaign in my party. I'd forgive them a little if some of the cooler BG2 characters (like Minsc) showed up to join your party, but still... ...it just seems to kill a lot of the point of continuing the story of your NWN2 character if you can't have your favorite teammates along for the ride.

SkaBoss132
SkaBoss132

Excellent, about time for an expansion, good to hear they fixed up the engine a bit