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    dkirschner's Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (PC)

    [January 25, 2011 12:02:49 AM]
    I am *almost* finished with Mask of the Betrayer, as in, I'm stuck on the typical NWN extremely difficult final boss. I never have much trouble in NWN games except for the last bosses because there's always some trick to it that I don't figure out until later or I have to look it up. This fight is a battle against the hunger in my soul threatening to devour me from within. Seems important to win. I assume I had to use my Devour Spirit ability or some such to bind it (I'm not supposed to actually kill it; just bind it), but it's not working. If you keep doing damage, he just keeps healing once he reaches Near Death status. I'll give it a few more tries and think about it today before I give up and look up the answer.

    The path to this fight has been a dark one, all about vengeful death gods and a crusade into the City of Judgment (current reigning death god's home) to tear down the Wall of the Faithless (where souls of people who had no faith in any god suffer in eternity along a wall, compressed with others of the faithless, losing their selfhood as they meld into the writhing mass of the wall). I love the story of this expansion. It follows the story of the main campaign. Your hero character wakes up, and it so happens that after the final events of the NWN2 campaign, your unconscious body has been tampered with and moved by someone (but who?! and why?!), and your body is now inhabited by this mysterious hunger. And that's the story. What's the hunger? How did it come to be within you? (How) can you control it without it killing you? How can you put an end to it? Really, the story is excellent, very original and creative and surprising, and presented throughout the game as well as such skilled game designers and storytellers can present one.

    My favorite quest (and there were many great ones) was in the Academy of Binders and Shapers, the Red Wizards of Thay school, where the party goes to find the Founder of the school and hunt your "brother" down. I've forgotten exactly why I had to do this, something about freeing spirits, but anyway, I had to free this man's spirit from some realm or another. Unfortunately for him, he'd signed a contract with a devil. He didn't know he signed his soul away, didn't read all the fine print in the contract. What ensues is like a 20-minute long detective session where you go back and forth between the man and the devil and try to figure out how to save the man's soul so you can free it and the devil doesn't take it as per the contract. The devil's society's form of contract law is explained, as well as their love of rules and bindings, how they cannot break terms of a contract, how they get around terms anyway, and so on. It was really fascinating reading. You also hear the whole of this man's story as he tells it, how he came to sign the contract, how he fulfilled terms and conditions and was rewarded, what happened to him after, how he died, and so on. I ended up figuring out that the devil in fact breached the contract by forcing the man to fulfill one of its terms and nailed him for it, and he had to let the man go, much to his displeasure. I had so much fun with that quest!

    The companion characters are not as interesting as in the NWN2 main campaign. Well, they're interesting, but lack some of the eccentric personalities present previously. The exception, and my favorite character by far (though the first to sit on the bench because he was the least useful for me) was Gann, a quick-witted and vain hagspawn who can walk in people's dreams. He made me laugh quite often, and I gained a lot of influence with him by bantering back and forth and poking fun at other characters with him. He was also handy for a number of quests where you went into dreams. Otherwise, he wasn't too useful as the new spirit shaman class. The cleric was quite boring and I used her just because she was the best healer; the wizard was interesting and prominent from a story perspective, but had a dull personality; and Okku, the Bear God, aside from being the coolest looking of the bunch (imagine a rainbow-colored bear with bright, round, staring eyes) also wasn't that exciting to talk to. I kept Okku and the wizard in my party at all times because they wreaked havoc and because Okku had double the HP of anyone else. Mask of the Betrayer added a formal Influence system to party interaction that was pretty cool. If you say and do things they like (verbal sparring with Gann, suppressing your hunger with Okku), you gain influence. Do things they dislike (mostly insulting them or their mothers), and you lose influence. Gain enough influence and new conversation trees open with them, ultimately, at the highest level of influence, granting you special bonuses due to your companions' loyalty. There was a similar system in NWN2 but not so formal. And, I might add, it's really cool at the end of the game to see the spirits of all the characters from NWN2, and throughout the game finding out from various sources what became of them after the final battle of NWN2.

    My character had some glaring flaws too, unfortunately. I played the original campaign with a warlock, and found it quite fun, if having limited spells. That campaign took me to level 18. I decided to go on with another warlock for a couple reasons. (1) This campaign started at level 18, so I could just continue or reroll a fresh level 18 (which I did) for a sense of continuity with essentially the same character; (2) To see what destructive power a warlock unlocks at the higher levels. How disappointed was I to discover that warlocks never learn any new spells after spell level 4, right around level 18! I spent this entire game not learning a single new spell with my character! If I felt that warlocks were limited in spells before level 18, well they don't get any more, ever! Once you hit Epic Character status at level 20, your Eldritch Blast (main attack) increases 1d6 fairly often, and that's it. So you do get much stronger attacks, but I used the exact same attacks for however many hours I played this. Now, to praise NWN2, I did have direct control over my other party members, which is one reason I like to use a warlock. Warlocks don't require any micro-managing (just spam eldritch blasts), which gives me the opportunity to micro-manage the other characters, of which I do love to sling spells with the wizard. If I couldn't play with the other characters, a warlock in and of itself would be boring as hell, but thankfully it actually made it so I effectively had four characters and had the time to play with them all. I was originally going to specialize into the Hellfire Warlock presige class, but I think its abilities are stupid. Hellfire warlocks output more damage at the cost of constitution. Mmmm, I'd rather not lose health for dealing damage since I do plenty anyway. I reverted my save game and went on my way.

    The other bad thing about choosing a warlock (initially) or any caster is that I have a low strength score, meaning I can't carry anything. I love playing casters, but I hate not being able to carry things. Oh if I could have my cake and eat it too. I also love playing thieves, who usually can't carry a lot either. Steal but can't carry! Anyway, I bought a Bag of Holding -80% weight reduction real fast, which fixed the problem for a while, and then as that was losing effectiveness, I got Okku, who by the end of the game has like 45 strength and can carry something stupid like 10000 pounds. Permanent solution for sure!

    Mask of the Betrayer supposedly had some upgraded and important crafting system, but I never used it. I never craft anything in NWN games. I thought about why, and it's because, first, I don't know how, and second, I don't really care. I seem to find good items everywhere that get the job done. It's the same with a lot of DnD skills in the cRPG games really, like setting traps, searching, hiding, stealthing, and so on that I just find useless. I'll walk through traps and live, thank you, without trying to stealth mode around and detect them. I find a lot of spells are just pointless too. Just walk in and blast the hell out of everything, works fine. On some level, I feel like I'm missing out on some of the intricacies of DnD games by ignoring so many feats, skills and spells. On the other hand, I guess you could say I choose characters who don't need all that, and I'm still playing the game one of the myriad ways to play it. For example, I didn't pick a single lock or disarm a single trap this whole game. I bashed things and ran through all the traps, and did fine. I actually found out most of the way through that my wizard can summon a familiar who can pick locks and disarm traps. Well, I technically I knew that from the beginning of the game, but I just forgot until something reminded me. I never had her using her familiar the entire game until then! I did feel stupid for forgetting about her familiar.

    The only real criticism I can level at the game is the Spirit Meter/Energy/Thing. It is a poorly implemented mechanic and is not fun in the least. Here's how it works: You have this hungry devouring thing inside you, called the spirit-eater. You have to eat spirits to satiate it or else it consumes you. At least, this is what the game tells you. There are two meters. One is Spirit Energy, from 0 to 100. The lower it gets, the worse off you are, taking periodic damage and other penalties, until you die at 0. It decreases over time. To fill the Spirit Energy bar, you can either consume souls or Suppress your hunger. The other meter is the -- I don't know what it's technically called -- say, Transformation Meter. On one end, you are human, and on the other end, you are the hunger. The closer it gets to hunger, the faster your Spirit Energy periodically drains, from 1 at a time to like 6 or 8. SO if you consume spirits to fill your Spirit Energy, then your Transformation meter moves toward the hunger, because you gave into it and devoured a spirit. If you Suppress your hunger, the Spirit Energy goes up and you move toward human. However, you can only Suppress once per day, and after you Suppress, you can't devour souls that day. If you want to Suppress again, you need to rest. If you rest, that's 8 hours of time, which means your Spirit Energy drops by 8 hours worth, which, unless you are like exclusively human on the Transformation meter (which has about 20 ticks, meaning you've really got to be at 0 or 1 tick), is a long time and is going to further drain your Spirit Energy way past what your Suppress did to help. Also, since you take periodic HP damage the lower the Spirit Energy is, this means that at some point you can't even rest because you'll die. If you can't rest, how can you Suppress? And eating spirits to fill it just makes it drop faster! This sounds complicated. You find yourself going very quickly down a slippery slope where your consumption gets out of control and you end up having to use this terrible ability that penalizes you 25% of a level but fills up your Spirit Energy. SO, how to deal with this? Well, supposedly you're supposed to manage it by eating spirits, resting, and suppressing, says the game. Says I, you just choose two adjacent locations on the world map. Every time you fast travel, it counts as resting. Fast travel, Suppress, fast travel, Suppress, fast travel, Suppress x 20 or 30. It will take 30 minutes, but you can get your Transformation bar all the way to human and fill your Spirit Energy. It's super tedious, but it's the easiest way to not have to deal with the stupid devouring souls/spirit energy/transformation bar mechanic. Spending 30 minutes a couple times over the course of the whole game is way worth avoiding the excruciating pain of managing that meter that I tried to do early on.

    And there is NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer. I'll hopefully finish it later today or tomorrow on my own, but may seek a guide for that final battle. And here's to hoping for a satisfying conclusion!
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    dkirschner's Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 14 January, 2011

    GameLog closed on: Tuesday 25 January, 2011

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Very much looking forward to this one. I'm a longtime NWN fan, and 2 was quite excellent. Now to re-familiarize myself with all those D&D rules... ------- Fantastic expansion.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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