Review by BonnabinTheDire

"At $10, this is an addon that no RPG fan should miss"

Mysteries of Westgate (MoW) is an adventure pack for NWN2, currently available through download only (unless you live in Poland). It requires the original game, but none of the expansions are required. Having them installed, however, will give you access to the additional races and classes. MoW was in development before the release of MotB, and as such does not allow characters to progress beyond level 20, nor does it allow you to import a character who is beyond that level. Ossian has stated that this may be adjusted in a future patch.

Quick note on the DRM: I was initally going to avoid this game due to the implementation of the DRM. The truth is, it's incredibly non-intrusive, and not nearly as bad as it was built up to be. You need to be connected to the internet the first time you activate MoW, after that, the DRM hops into the backseat. For more information on the limitations of the DRM, you can visit the official forums, but I don't think many people will have a problem with MoW's DRM.

With that out of the way...

STORY

The setup is that your character is exploring a dungeoun, and picks up a mask he happens upon. As it turns out, the mask is cursed! (had it coming if you ask me; why oh why do adventurers need to pick up everything they come across?) Ever since acquiring the mask, you have been plagued by nightmares, and when you try to discard the mask, it always finds its way back to you. You seek out the advice of a local sage who tells you the mask's origins lie with an organization in Westgate known as the Night Masks. You board the next ship for Westgate to seek out the Night Masks and a release from the mask and its curse.

This, however, is just the main quest of the game. It's called Mysteries of Westgate for a reason. While conducting your hunt for the Night Masks, you will come across an insane amount of sidequests, each throwing you into the center of a new, elaborate plot taking place in Westgate. Really, there are a ton of sidequests here, none of which should be overlooked.

SOUND

There are some new music tracks in the game, all of which are outstanding. Each track is well constructed and really helps you get into the game. My personal favorite is the loop that plays while you are in the Arena District of Westgate.

There's some voice acting, but not a lot. In fact, most scenes don't have any VA at all. Some scenes are a bit awkward in that the first two or three lines will be voiced, and the rest of them will be silent. This is not a glitch, it's how Ossian created MoW, but it can be a bit of an immersion breaker.

The overall quality of the VA is average. A couple lines are devoid of emotion, and a few lines sound like the VA was really getting into it. Most of the VA falls right in the middle. It does the job, but little more.

GENERAL GAMEPLAY

- In most cases, MoW only gives the player slight direction on where to go/what to do next, and if you're provided a hint, it's fairly vague. There are, literally, only a couple quests where the solution is handed to you. For the most part, you will have to solve riddles, engage in much conversation, explore the city, and remember the whereabouts and backgrounds of characters you met earlier in your adventure - and bits of information they divulged - in order to proceed. It isn't needlessly time consuming or frustrating, but I found it to be very different from the majority of games being released as of late. I enjoyed it for a change of pace, but if it doesn't sound like your sort of thing, you're best off waiting until a walkthrough is provided. Once I got over the initial hump, I actually found this approach more rewarding. I had to discover the solution of most quests with practically no help at all, and it made the conclusion of each quest far more rewarding.

- You gain three companions, and only three, throughout the story of MoW. You can get them all within five minutes of starting, if you know where to collect them. They are a rogue, a cleric, and a fallen paladin, who joins your party as a drunken fighter (though this can change) . There's the odd time you get a non-controllable NPC in your party, but these segments are fairly short.

- There are some seriously tough battles in this game, tougher than any battles I experienced in OC or MotB. In one sense, the challenge can be enjoyable, because you will really have to strategize to get through each fight, and victory will be much sweeter because of this. On the other hand, if you had any qualms with the combat system and companion AI in the previous NWN2 titles, you are likely to rediscover this lost frustration. On the third level of difficulty, I found myself having to reload more than twenty times before I was able to complete a quest-ending battle. (This was outside of the Arena sidequest, which is notorious among MoW players for its insane difficulty.) It could be argued that I'm just not that good at the game, but in the previous entries I never had to reload so many times just to complete one battle. Most often, the reloads were required due to the stupidity of my AI getting stuck on things, disregarding orders, etc.

One way to help ease the frustration is to drop it into Puppet Mode, which I feel isn't optimal because you end up having to pause a lot, and it made the battles feel more like a chore to me, a hurdle to be overcome, rather than an epic experience (which the music, location, and size of the battles makes it look like it should be). Another band-aid is to use Tony K's AI. Ossian, the studio that developed MoW, recommends not using any mods at this point as it may cause glitches. I used it for most of my adventure in Westgate, and only experienced one minor glitch, which occured before the implementation of Tony K's. More on glitches later.

My last resort was setting the game to Easy. I ended up doing this, as after many stupid companion decisions and and countless reloads, I decided I wanted to continue experiencing MoW without the frustration of the clunky combat system. It made it much more enjoyable for me.

I want to make one thing very clear: the poorly designed combat system is not a fault of MoW, rather it's a limitation due to the NWN2 engine that it's built upon, and as such won't weigh heavily in the final score. It requires SOME weight, however, because it is there.

Truth be told, there actually isn't a lot of combat in MoW, so it isn't nearly as big an issue as it COULD have been.

- The questing. This, to me, is the main draw of the game. If I recall correctly, some of them didn't have any combat at all (if you played it right), others didn't have combat until the closing of the quest. The reward comes from collecting each quest, solving it, and witnessing the outcome. Of course, you often get a good drop or two for your efforts, but the best part for me was the journey.

- I only ran into one glitch, which was solved by loading an earlier save (approximately 10 minutes back). I'm not even entirely convinced this load was necessary, but I didn't want to waste the time fiddling around to see if I could work it out otherwise. From what I've gathered hanging around the official forums, most glitches seem to be due to people having mods in their override folder, and Ossian has stated several times that this WILL cause glitches (even though I was lucky not to get it). Taken as it is, this game appears to be virtually glitch free, and reading the experiences of those who played it as intended (read: no overrides), this seems to ring true with them. Play it as intended, and you are likely to have a glitch-free experience.

- There's a decent sense of humor in this game. The entertainer in the Market Triangle trades insults with the audience, all of which I found to be fairly witty and a few were hilarious. There's a reappearing protestor who protests everything, an annoying yet amusing beggar, and several lines that encourage a chuckle. Unfortunately, I found most of the jokes fell flat on their face, and I think it was because they had no VA. Had they been voiced, it could have been funny, rather than contrived.

- Most quests have multiple solutions. If you're the type that enjoys replaying lengthy RPGs to see different solutions/outcomes for quests, you'll enjoy this feature. If you dislike having to play through a game two or three times to get the whole picture, it's still worth playing, but sticking to one playthrough, you will miss a small chunk of events that may leave you a bit baffled in the end. More on this in the following section.

WHAT COULD HAVE MADE THE EXPERIENCE BETTER

- More VA. It's only $10, so this won't weigh much in the final score, but when I was doing a string of sidequests, it would be practically devoid of VA, and I found it hard to remain immersed in the world. I would have glady paid $15 or even $20 if it meant additional VA, as I feel it really helps keep the game lively.

- At times I felt the amount of sidequests being acquired made the main quest feel much less urgent than it should be. After all, my main focus is to discover the curse of the mask and how to lift it, but I'm getting offers to help out Joes and Marys all over Westgate. The sidequests are thoroughly enjoyable, and some did provide memorable RPG experiences, but I sort of wish there was a greater focus and development on the main story. There also could have been further development into each of your companions. Instead, the focus is on Westgate as a whole. It's a pro and a con, and a decision you may or may not appreciate.

- Having more dialogue with your companions would have been a welcome addition. If you enjoyed spending 15 or 20 minute asides getting to know one of your companions better in the Original Campaign or Mask of the Betrayer, you will likely be let down by the lack of companion development. Each companion DOES have their own distinct personality, and there is a decent amount of interparty chatter that occurs, but I didn't get the same sense of satisfaction from completing each of my companions sidequests as I did from the OC or MotB.

- There were very, very few decisions that actually affected your alignment. I started off as a pure neutral characters (alignment of 50/50), and by the end of the game my alignment was 46/50. At one point in the game, I fought in the arena to save the lives of some slaves, and upon completing that, I bought them and set them free. They thanked me, I got some experience, and they went on their merry way - but I didn't gain any alignment toward good or lawful. In the odd case that you do get an alignment shift, it's usually +/- 1 point.

In all honesty, the one factor that influenced my moral affinity the most was the cursed mask. The only times I wore the mask was when the game required me to do so, and each tim,e I would get a point or two towards Evil. It was a bit disappointing to go out of your way to be a certain type and witness no consequence to your moral affinity, especially in a game world where you are supposed to be building your character.

- There's a ton going on at the end of the game, and it's easy for one to get lost amidst the webs of conspiracy. Ossian has said the story was designed to be completely fleshed out after at least two playthroughs (one good and one evil), but it's worth mentioning that the ending was a bit of a mess. Upon your first completion of MoW, you will likely be left wondering what the hell just happened.

CONCLUSION

Despite its shortcomings, MoW is an enjoyable module that was worth my $10. I did almost all of the sidequests, and it took me around 20 hours to complete. Your mileage may vary, but if you're into the RPG scene, you'll definitely enjoy the journey MoW provides - even if it means putting up with a few shortcomings along the way.


Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 05/04/09

Game Release: Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate (US, 04/29/09)

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