One of the bigger PC role-playing titles of the year is Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, which is actually an expansion pack to last year's hit fantasy role-playing game. Mask of the Betrayer will continue the story that began in Neverwinter Nights 2, and you can expect many high-level adventures because you have the option of carrying over an existing Neverwinter Nights 2 character or creating a new, high-level character in the expansion. You can also experiment with new races, new character classes, and more. For more information on Mask of the Betrayer, we turned to Feargus Urquhart, CEO of developer Obsidian Entertainment. The expansion is due to ship later this year.
GameSpot: We briefly touched on the story in our last Q&A and learned that it's a continuation of the Neverwinter Nights 2 plot. It's also a more personal story. We're peeling back the onion here, so what more can you tell us about the plot?
Feargus Urquhart: I think you've gotten to the heart of the story pretty closely. Mask of the Betrayer is a much more personal story than the original NWN2. The entirety of the story is about your survival and what you choose to do to survive. So, instead of it being about saving the Forgotten Realms--again--it comes down to what you will do to save yourself.
The story is more of a continuation of your character then it is of the NWN2 storyline. We tie up many loose ends from NWN2, but the things you are doing aren't directly related to the events of the original campaign.
GS: We also learned that we'll get some new companions that will be better developed than the NWN2 companions. Can you reveal any of them at this point? Who are they, and what do they do?
FU: Kaelyn the Dove is a half-celestial cleric of Ilmater. She once worshipped Kelemvor, the current god of the dead but, for reasons you may uncover, she fell out of favor with her god in a rather dramatic fashion.
As far as the companions being more fully developed goes, Kaelyn, who is completely optional, has more than twice as many lines of dialogue as the most developed companion from NWN2.
GS: What was some of the feedback that you got for the single-player campaign of NWN2, and are you adjusting the expansion in any way in response to that?
FU: A lot of the feedback we got about the single-player campaign came down to one of two things: How we implemented the D&D rules and the satisfaction that one got from the ending of the game. We're continually working on the game based on comments we get from people about how we've implemented the rules.
We also often pose questions to the community as to what they would like to see. As we get that feedback from them and from our own continual play of the game, we are adding in changes to update both NWN2 and the expansion. As for the ending, we want everyone to feel a sense of closure with the ending of Mask of the Betrayer--in a good way. We don't want them to have too many questions. So, we've already designed and implemented the ending of the expansion and have started to play through it. Based upon those play-throughs, we are going to make sure it's the ending that everyone would like to see for how they approached the rest of the game. There are, of course, multiple endings, and we're working hard to make each conclusion satisfying.
GS: We understand that you've made some artificial intelligence improvements in the patches, but the mod-making community has really made huge strides in improving the performance of your party members in the game. How do you balance what the mod-making community is coming up with in terms of general improvements to what Obsidian is doing?
FU: We have really tried to take a pragmatic approach to the whole thing. We break down things into three buckets: Features that only we can do, features the community has already put together, and features that the community could do. We then try to split our efforts between implementing things that only we can create, adding in features that let the community do more, and using things the community has already created.
We'd love to just take everything that has been made by the community, but we have to make sure that it works under every situation and doesn't somehow make the main campaign unplayable. With a game as complicated as NWN2, it often doesn't take much to confuse things and break a cutscene or combat that worked perfectly before. We did thoroughly test the AI improvements created by community members "evenflw" and incorporated them into one of the NWN2 updates. We've also incorporated "Zarathustra's" walkmesh helpers and "rpgplayer1's" spell fixes.
Mask of the Betrayer's lead programmer, Rich Taylor, keeps the Neverwinter channel of IRC open all the time and talks with the leaders of the community daily to see how they are doing. He is backed up by Rob McGinnis, who spends time in the IRC channels and the rest of his day up in the NWN forums. In the end, the balance is a hard one that we try to make easier by constantly communicating both internally here at Obsidian, and externally with the community.
GS: One of the interesting things about NWN2's story is the way you could follow alternate paths through large sections of the game. For instance, you could be a Neverwinter guard or a thief. Will we see any kind of comparable story branching in the expansion?
FU: We've taken a somewhat different approach in Mask of the Betrayer in that we've applied that idea to the whole game, but not differentiated it so clearly. The core focus of what is happening to you in the game can really be affected by how you choose to deal with it. That in turn changes how the game reacts to you as you continue playing, and ultimately how the game ends. But at any time you can choose to alter what course you're on. This isn't so clearly a "good versus evil" decision, though alignment is involved in some ways.
GS: Obsidian revealed that the Red Wizard of Thay is one of the new prestige classes in the game. Can you reveal any of the prestige classes or the two new base classes? What are some of the abilities of the Red Wizard of Thay prestige class?
FU: One of the new classes that we've put in the expansion is the favored soul. It is an interesting class that is somewhat like a sorcerer, but one who can cast divine spells like a cleric. That is, favored souls don't need to memorize specific spells and can cast any spell they know. This is balanced by the more limited spells they do know, compared to a cleric who has access to every spell available to clerics of their level. The favored soul also gets a free weapon-proficiency feat in his or her deity's favorite weapon, which is then upgraded to weapon focus and eventually weapon specialization at later levels.
The Red Wizard of Thay's implementation is fairly faithful to the D&D version--basically they are ultra-specialists, becoming even more powerful with their chosen school of magic.
GS: There are new races and character classes, but let's cover new items, equipment, and spells. What are the highlights in the expansion; anything particularly high-level and awesome?
FU: New items include, as you might have guessed, a variety of masks. There are extremely powerful artifacts you can unearth, but you'll have to be clever to get some of them. One of the epic spells can turn all of your enemies into chickens.
GS: Finally, do you have anything you'd like to say about Mask of the Betrayer?
FU: Of course I'm biased, but I'm really happy with what the team has been able to do with Mask of the Betrayer. In a lot of ways, I feel like players are not just getting an expansion pack, but a whole new game in the world of NWN2. Plus, I think it's awesome that many of the changes that we've made and new things we've added are available to anyone who wants to either play the original NWN2 for the first time or play it again.
GS: Thank you.