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SummaryD&D Meets Existentialist Poetry
The GoodUnlike 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 pretty 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 existential and even "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. To call the plot, the juicy 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 gem of intricate writing. As a budding writer, I've sure read (and most 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 and imaginative 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.
The BadCriticism 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.
The Bottom LineMask 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 the comparatively stale 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. It's also the weirdest and most disturbing one. Mind you, that's a compliment.