After the last post about the one-week resurgence of the Seminoles, I hope I don't have to eat my words this coming weekend. The new coaching staff already paid huge dividends last week - last year we'd have never won a game like that - but now it's time to have a little consistency, and boy do we have a chance to prove that coming up. This weekend, the 'Noles again hit the road to battle the #11 team in all the land, Virginia Tech. I think we can win; we just need the "good" 'Nole team to show up. If the bad one rolls in to Blacksburg... well, I don't want to have to think about it.
Mask of the Betrayer
Allow me to continue the sports-themed commentary while I note that Obsidian really hit a home run with the first expansion pack. I've made no secret that I hated the NWN2 OC probably more that the NWN1 OC for a number of reasons. One, the first act was essentially nothing but dungeon-romp filler, and it wasn't even good filler. It was essentially the same encounter trigger over and over until I just wanted to shoot myself. Two, the companions were generally bland and under-developed with the exceptions of Khelgar, Neeshka, and Sand (all of whom were obviously one of the designers' "special projects"). Three, there was a total lack of sidequests. Now this is certainly a viable strategy, but only if you're going to provide a tight central story... which there wasn't. It seemed only to be a conglomeration of locations thrown in so that different tilesets with blah encounters could be thrown into the same campaign.
I don't write the above simply to get off trashing other people's work. It was merely to show what I don't like so that, in comparison, MotB can be seen as the jewel it is. Everything Obsidian did wrong with the OC, they did right with MotB.
Oh, and fair warning. I discuss many spoilers about MotB here, so stop now if you are still playing.
First, my PC
A build that I first played around with when testing Mysteries of Westgate was a Dexterity-based Rogue 3/ Fighter 4/ Weaponmaster X character with maxed out Parry and feats including Whirlwind Attack, everything needed to get there, Advanced Parry, Weapon Specialization in rapier, Power Criticals, etc. The character premise was to use him alongside a high HP and major damage (i.e. Greatsword or similar) meatshield tank. The two charge in. If the enemies focus on the PC, I switch to Parry mode, making me almost impossible to hit, riposte when able, and allow the second tank to switch to Power Attack and take them down fast. The moment, the enemies switch focus to the second tank, I switch out of Parry mode, flank, and allow the +2d6 sneak bonus from my rogue levels, and allow my weapon-of-choice rapier to carve them up. I really fell in love with the concept, and so I brought it forward to MotB.
Therefore, my starting character was a Rg 3/Ft 4/WM 10 tielfling, so I was -1 level adjustment away from the 18 levels. I did switch my weapon of choice to shortsword and added a Weapon Finesse feat. I ended (I believe) as a Rg 5/ Ft 13/ WM 10 and had long since abandoned the need for a second tank to join me on the front lines, though Gann did accompany me in quite a few battles for old-time's sake.
So now let's discuss what MotB did right.
1. No Over-Long Dungeons. OK, I'm a bit obsessive here, but I hate dungeons that can not be completed with one full-days' use of party resources augmented by a reasonable amount of one-shot items (potions, scrolls, etc.) with "reasonable" defined by the economy of the module. Nothing kills the immersion for me faster than having to rest (ostensibly sleeping, eating, and memorizing spells for eight hours) right outside the dungeon boss' door because - let's face it - after rampaging through a dungeon full of his minions, he probably wouldn't notice a group of four camped outside his bedroom, right? For the record, for anyone who thinks my bosses in the SG series were light-weights, this is the reason. You were supposed to face them with the tank "half-full."
Anyway, the OC did a horrible job with this (the githyanki compound anyone?), but I didn't notice this once with MotB. It made for a much more enjoyable game.
2. Companions. OK, light years better here. Again, Safiya and Gann were obviously the favored characters, as they were central to the main story, but even Kaelyn and Okku were integrated in well and had plausible rationales for both aiding and opposing the PC at various junctures. I especially enjoyed the (surprisingly) complex characterization of Kaelyn. After meeting her, I thought I had her pegged as the typical cleric and was pleasantly surprised to find several layers to her character centered around a non-selfish, yet nevertheless raging ambition. Plus, Obsidian just plain did a better job of having the characters interact with the PC. They spoke up in conversations where appropriate, disagreed with PC actions on occasion, and made several interjections in areas where they were more expert than the PC.
For completeness, I should mention that I don't generally go for the "freak" companions; Deekin pissed me off, for example, but this group didn't really feel like the freakshow to me. My party was a tiefling PC, a human, a half-celestial, and a hagspawn, so that was objectively a freak circus roaming Faerun, and it would have been worse had I added a bear-god or (dear me) One of Many.
Finally, the voice-acting was also pretty good for the companions I took with me: Safiya, Kaelyn (before the little wench betrayed me!), and Gann.
3. The Story/Sidequests. There weren't a ton of sidequests in MotB, though there were a few. But what few there were (such as the farmer's crazy daughter) were pretty well-integrated into the main story. And where MotB really shined was that story. It was first-rate. Not only was it "epic" without being a "shake the multiverse" story-arc, but it tied in a well-thought-out historical tragedy that combined the all-too-human elements of pride, betrayal, vengeance, mercy, and love. Two souls trapped by a dead god in an eternal torment that ensnares the PC, sending him (or her) on a planar journey that allows the hero to (1) save him/herself, (2) forever lay to rest the doomed lovers, (3) shatter the power of a vengeful god, and (4) end the "curse" that had been stalking the Rashemi wilds for generations. A pretty epic storyline without many of the traditionally epic fallbacks. To Obsidian and whatever writers/designers came up with it, I can only say bravo!
Maimed God (Potential) Part 2 Spoiler Follows
However, I have to say that I really grrrred when I saw the inclusion of Myrkul. It doesn't mean anything for Maimed God 1 which I'm currently making; I already have a specific deity in line for that one. But I have a 1-2 page story outline for a potential second part in which a king, returning from an adventure into the depths of Faerun, had suddenly gained the power to prophesy the death of mortals. Creepy enough, but when he prophesied the death of Helm at the hands of Tyr, it was a step too far. The hells themselves break loose, throwing the church of Tyr (and the PC) into action.
Who was the villain deity slated for that adventure? One able to grant the power to predict death? You guessed it! A not-quite-dead himself Myrkul! And it would have involved a bit of dream-scaping too and an attempt by the god's remains to re-establish his own life! What a pisser!
End of Spoilers
4. Spirit Eater. I have not the first idea how canonical this is. I suspect the answer is not at all, but what a great idea it was. It was both meaningful enough to require thought and planning but not so omnipresent as to be frustrating.
5. Area Design. Outstanding. The Astral Plane was a true work of art that was a real highlight of D&D games all time. Beyond that, Mulsantir was a well-designed town, though it, like the original Neverwinter, felt a bit sparsely-populated. (I think we did a much better job of making Westgate come to life, but I digress....) Finally, the shadow plane was a fabulous use of toolset lighting.
6. New Creatures and Tilsets. This is more from a builder's perspective, but the addition of treants, new dragon models, big cats, and more was greatly needed. Several new placeables and two new tilesets, especially the estate tileset, and new snow texturing were all welcome additions. I am already having to redo much of my previous Maimed God work just to take advantage of the new content.
Compared to what I liked about the expansion, what I didn't like will really be nitpicky.
1. Epic Non-Epic Monsters. What do they feed gnolls in Thay to make them such bad-asses? When I was a 1st-level pipsqueek in West Harbor, thank all the gods that those gnolls didn't attack! And really, with an army of foot-soldiers like that, how can Thay not conquer the world? Especially when you note that every one of the students in their academy can spam Horrid Wilting spells! It takes the PC an epic adventure to defeat the King of Shadows to learn spells of that power, but apparently every apprentice in Thay can fling Meteor Swarms at a whim.
Seriously, one of the things that turns me off of "epic" adventures normally is stuff like that. A well-done epic adventure requires a lot of creativity to frame challenges appropriate for the PC without doing stupid stuff to the monster manual. In my opinion, it is a sign of extreme laziness to just up the power of monsters so far beyond what they should ever attain. I could buy into a "hero" boss gnoll just like the PC is a "hero" human (or tiefling in my case), but a veritable army of them? Mercifully, this was rare in MotB.
2. Love Interests. It's not that I'm against them; it's just that they're so rarely well done, and MotB didn't do any better than most. It felt like the whole game, I got to say a couple nice things to Safiya, and then at the end I had earned enough goody-points and so she professed her undying love. I assume Gann is the same way. Needless to say, I'm hoping to better these "romances" by several orders of magnitude in TMGS.
One comment on the Bio-boards was also unflattering in this regard; the poster asked how, after surviving many encounters and near-death experiences together, the fact that I said something Safiya didn't agree with suddenly caused her to hate me. It's a good point. One would think that battling alongside one another would naturally build trust that would survive the occasional philosophical disagreement.
So I'm rethinking the way I'm going to track (hopefully more subtely) my own goody romance points. I'll further outline my thoughts later after I've thought through them a bit more, but the gist of it is that I'm considering a two-axis tracker similar to the spirit hunger bars from MotB. One axis will be "trust," which will build over time as obstacles are mutually overcome, and the other will be "romantic interest," which will be much more action and conversation-dependent. If just the first is high, friendship will develop. Both would need to be high to progress through the romance.
3. Music. This wasn't really all that bad; it was just blah. I actually listened to the music in the toolset as I worked before I actually played the game. In-game, I didn't notice it at all, but in the toolset, I just thought the tracks were... well, uninspired.
The negatives in MotB I think are all minor. By and large, I loved MotB. I loved it so much, in fact, that I've started it again (an aasimar Favored Soul 8/ Battle Priest 9), and second play-throughs for me are very, very rare. I'm looking forward to bringing Okku in lieu of Gann and joining Kaelyn in her crusade against the wall this time. If I was using the Vault scoring system (the new one), I don't know exactly where I would rate it, but it would be at least a 9 and maybe higher.
Of course, Mysteries of Westgate would be a solid 10, no doubt!