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SummaryHow To Deal With Addiction, by Obsidian
The Good"Mask of the Betrayer" is not really an add-on - not only an add-on. It's to the main campaign what this side-story is to the first experiment with the engine. Unfortunately I only have those Chinese examples in mind, of which no one but the 1+ billion Chinese and the few expats have heard of. This company perfected the technique of testing a new engine with a game, and then releasing another one, with exactly the same engine and gameplay, but with a new story. Why is it good? Because green light is given to what we, pseudo-intellectual RPGeeks, consider a major element in game design: writing. With the engine tested and the gameplay ready and prepared, everyone can take a pizza break, while the lead writer sits in the office undisturbed and with a maniacal smile on his face squeezes into the game his most daring and perverted ideas.
Judge by yourself: the hero of the game is perpetually hungry. He has to eat spirits, otherwise he'll begin taking damage and eventually die. But not all hope is lost: a female wizard with a shaved, tattooed head and demonic companion who practices hard English words while cracking locks is ready to help you. How nice. Of course we need more party members, so why don't we go ahead and choose a winged female cleric or a sarcastic-womanizing half-hag who will like me only if my responses to him are witty enough? Sounds cool, but I'd rather go with a multi-colored bear spirit with 30+ constitution and 3 attacks per round (two claws and teeth, that's how it works). Thank you very much. Do we need anything else on our quest? Sure, chatting with masked witches would help; so will pacifying talking trees in an enchanted forest. Let's not forget to make an appointment with a coven (13 witches), all of whom are sleeping. Never mind, we can just travel into their dreams and do some of the following: beat a bard at a logic game, become a skilled lawyer (how else will we help a poor schmo nullify his soul-selling contract with a devil?), or just fight demonic audience in a theater, who attacks you because you don't know your role in an amateur performance. Then maybe we'll understand why dead gods are angry at me. I have nothing against dead gods, really.
Is it similar to this game? In imagination, in creativity, in the quality of writing - yes, very. How about the gameplay? The rules have meanwhile moved to the 3rd edition, which adds 35776 new spells and character classes. You can now play as a cross-dressing half-leopard astral monk/barbarian/taxi driver. No, not really, but you will spend a day or two in front of the character creation screen. And since this is technically an add-on, you will start right off the bat at super-high levels, memorizing more spells than a Chinese ground-school pupil does Confucius quotes.
There isn't much new here, except maybe the hunger meter, which was cool. You crave for spirits. What will you do: devour all of them one-by-one? Your craving will go higher. The more you eat, the hungrier you'll become. I'm kinda familiar with this experience, though not necessarily with spiritual food. Basically, you're a typical addict, and it's your choice what you do with this addiction. You can bravely "suppress" your craving. It's more boring, but it gives you that warm fuzzy feeling. The game will react to your dealing with the addiction. Simple, effective role-playing here.
The insane, but inspired RPG historian can tell you a lot about C&C (choices & consequences, not what you thought) in his featured article here on this site - go check it out, it's a required reading. "Mask of the Betrayer" has a lot of this stuff. The story is more or less the same, not madly branching in a Shin Megami Tensei fashion. But lots of small things change, almost all the quests can be solved in different ways, there are shades of chaotic, good, evil, lawful, awful, and whatever you want. NPCs and party members react to your decisions, gain or lose influence, get angry, fall in love with you - in short, it's a full package of Bioware-style design philosophy.
What else? Creativity, creativity everywhere. Awesome writing, the dialogues are a pleasure to read. Humor. Imaginative, interesting locations, cool mysterious story, interesting situations, interesting quests - there's nothing below "very good" here, same way as there is nothing revolutionary. They were working with the same old material, but they put it to a damn good use. The game was aimed at a certain species of fans, those who consider their own taste more exquisite than that of the poor noobs who can be satisfied with a Mass Effect. I'm a simple guy, so I probably had more pure fun with that game. But sometimes the craving for fine role-playing awakes in me, and "Mask of the Betrayer" came and devoured my spirit.
The Bad"Mask of the Betrayer" is essentially the same old thing: a treat for lovers of Bioware school, but hardly a game that breaks new ground. Since the design philosophy of those guys is the one closest to my heart, "Mask of the Betrayer" was all nectar and ambrosia for me. It's really simple: love story-driven, character-driven RPGs with a script thicker than the definitive edition of "Mahabharata" and semi-turn-based Baldur's Gate-y combat following the latest super-nerdy edition of AD&D rules? Then this is your game. But in vain will you search, traveler, for that perfect RPG hybrid I'm still dreaming of, the one that lets you be a jumping-climbing-table-pushing monkey from Elder Scrolls, at the same time enjoying tight plots and sexy, pointy-eared female half-elf party members in negligee. And perhaps with some Japanese tear-inducing soap opera? Just a little bit.