by Shawn Sines
You defeated the deadly King of Shadows in Neverwinter Nights 2. Theshard of the mythical silver sword was torn from your chest like a badsplinter and fused with the power to destroy that previouslyunstoppable foe.
How do you follow up a quest like that, an adventure that saved theentire Forgotten Realms? By becoming an amnesiac prisoner in anunexplored land, of course.
Mask of the Betrayer is the first expansion for last year'sNeverwinter Nights 2. Unlike most expansions, it delivers a fullserving of Dungeons & Dragons, and it expands the world of theForgotten Realms in new and exciting ways.
But with the complexity of the D&D rule set, especially at itsadvanced levels, new players will not find this game simple to pick up.
The story of the Shard Bearer is continued from the previous title,but instead of a sprawling campaign with broad consequences, thedevelopers turn this game inward.
What happens to the hero after he's saved the world? What's the costof sacrificing your soul to defeat darkness? These esoteric questionsdrive the actions of the player, without the bravado traditionallyassociated with epic fantasy tales.
The companions and moral situations the player encounters are alsobetter developed. The side effects of defeating the shadow enemy leavethe player cursed with a hunger for souls that adds an interesting newmechanic to the D&D game.
The expansion also adds a number of new options for experiencedplayers: the complex "epic level" mechanics of the 3.5 edition Dungeons& Dragons system; a few new character races and classes; and somenew monsters. All are usable in the game's online mode, forstorytellers who wish to use the improved tools to run virtual D&Dgames online.
With greater power comes harder design challenges, and in this areait seems the game designers have taken the easy way out. The combatencounters and scenario design weaken an excellent story.
While characters gain amazingly powerful spells and abilities in theadditional 10 levels, the horde of super-powerful foes are little morethan statistical upgrades from the enemies you fought in NeverwinterNights 2.
Fans of Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy games based in theForgotten Realms will enjoy Mask of the Betrayer, and online playersshould definitely pick up the expansion. But if you're a new playerabout to dive into the pool, you may want to start at the shallow endwith Neverwinter Nights 2.