by Dwight Kubach aka kgambit (all rights reserved) March 29, 2009
Mysteries of Westgate, developed by Ossian Studios, is the first (and hopefully not the last) Adventure Pack for Nevewinter Nights 2. My Sneak Peek of the game back in May of 2008 had me anticipating the release of this game for a while, and the final product has more than lived up to my early expectations. (This review contains a few mild spoilers but in deference to those who do not wish to be spoiled the text is hidden. Simply highlight the text in <> after you see the spoiler tag.). You can also see full size images of the screenshots simply by clicking them to open them in a new window.
The game requires a ONE TIME online authentication and a key-code. Once the game is downloaded (it's only available as a digital download), and installed, you're good to go. You will need a valid NWN2 play disc but no further online authentication checks are performed. In addition, NWN2 must be patched to v1.22 in order to play MoW. Update: Effective June, 2009 the On-Line Activation DRM has been REMOVED.
Mysteries of Westgate is designed to be played starting with a level 8 character and you can either import a character or build one at the start. You are free to import any character you want but importing a character from the end of the OC, SOZ or MotB will seriously affect game balance. Your starting equipment will vary by class of course, but is sufficient to get you started with basic armor, +1 magical weapons, and a few odds and ends thrown in. Your ending level will depend on how thoroughly you explore the city and how many sidequests you do. I explored everywhere, completed all of the sidequests, and started the final end game combat at level 14 with an ECL1 Aasimar Paladin (all companions were at level 15). Again, depending on how much you do, your final level may vary.
The Story Line - Overview
The story revolves around a cursed mask that you have come across in your travels, which now afflicts you with terrible nightmares that started from the moment you first tried it on. The nightmares are increasing and threaten to drive you insane, so discovering the secret to this mysterious mask is the only solution. A wise sage in Cormyr has informed you that it is the emblem of the Night Masks, the thieves’ guild from the vile city of Westgate, so you immediately set out for the port city by ship. Your quest will detail your attempts to find what is behind the curse and for a way to remove it.
As a backdrop to your search, you find yourself in the midst of an unfolding power struggle for control of the city between the Night Masks and a nefarious group of werecreatures called the Ebon Claws. Therein lies a major choice you will have to make. Do you align with the Ebon Claws and help them in their struggle against the Night Masks in return for their help in ridding yourself of the mask's curse (the evil path)? Or do you look for help from the Church of Lathander (the good path)?
The setting of Westgate is a welcome change of pace from the Sword Coast, which has been used to excess in a myriad of previous D&D games. Doing a city adventure is tough, and Westgate is tough nut to crack, but Ossian does an incredible job of making Westgate into far more than a static collection of buildings. Things change within the city, and not always for the best. There's an amazing amount of detail in Mysteries of Westgate and it extends throughout every facet of the game; the city, npcs, item descriptions, dialogue, dungeons, side quests, plot line, combat, puzzles - nothing comes up short in this game. You really owe it to yourself to explore everything.
Officially, Game play time is estimated at 15 hours, but it took me almost 25 hours to finish the game including all of the sidequests. In fairness, I explored EVERYTHING in the city on my first playthrough so depending on how much investigating you want to do, your results may vary. With two distinct paths, not to mention the number of options in the sidequests, the game begs for at least one if not repeated playthroughs.
As you attempt to unravel the mystery of the mask, you will be able to enlist the aid of three companions: Rinara, a dual shortsword wielding rogue; Mantides, a greatsword-wielding fallen Paladin; and Charissa, an acid-tongued cleric of Tyr. While the companions aren't on par with the Planescape Torment companions, they are a quantum leap above the usual fare. These three rarely see eye-to-eye but their backgrounds do occassionally overlap and the combination gives rise to some great impromptu exchanges between the characters. The companion dialogues, in fact almost all of the dialogues in the game, are really well done. While there aren't a lot of voice-overs in the game, the ones that do exist are first-rate and placed with good effect through-out the game.
Your party composition is entirely up to you and you can use as many or few as you wish. There are a couple of other NPCs that will join your party during sidequests, but they can't be used as permanent party members. You are never forced to take any of the companions. However each of the companions does have a specific quest that focuses on certain events in that character's life, so leaving one behind will cause you to miss certain subquests. There are only three points in the story where your party composition is ever dictated. One involves a solo combat competition for your main character in the Quivering Thumb Arena. The other two are directly tied to companion subquests and are expertly woven into the main plot line. Mild Spoiler: < Rinara's Quest to recover her fortune will take you into a burial tomb, and she insists that only your character accompany her. That's just fine with Mantides and Charissa who would rather not loot a burial crypt and disturb the dead. So they both quit the party temporarily and leave you and Rinara to continue on your own. As to how that quest ties into the main plot you'll have to discover for yourself. >
There is an Original Campaign type influence system in place and with three companions as different as these, it will be impossible in some situations to keep the entire party happy. The influence you gain or lose with your companions will determine how much of their past they will reveal to you and can affect events later in the game, but there are no specific influence feats to be gained. One particular influence check late in the game, if failed, will certainly elicit a major "WTF?" reaction. It is possible to adjust your party composition to manipulate the influence system and avoid some negative influence effects with certain companions but we don't recommend it for a first playthrough. If you do leave a party member behind, they still gain xp however and advance along with the rest of the party.
In addition to the 3 companion specific quests, there are 13 other side quests in the game and all are exceptionally well done. There is even a 17th non-journal quest called "the Tourist quest" for the person who simply has to see everything (like me). So explore away! Overall, this is perhaps the best collection of quests I've seen in any of the NWN2 games so far. None of the quests really fall into the basic "Fed-Ex" category. They are typically much more detailed and nuanced than that with enough variety to please everyone. There are ample opportunities for role playing and hack and slash, a healthy dose of humour and the odd puzzle or two. Over half of the quests have some aspect that allows for multiple solutions and some will force you to make some hard decisions as to how to resolve them with consequences to match. It's hard to pick a single favorite but "The Brotherhood of the Ferret", a hilarious spin-off of the tale of "Minx and Bloo" (no, that's not a typo); and "The Tyrran Enclave", because of the role-playing and the choices one is forced to make, are certainly among my favorites.
"Diplomatic" solutions are available at times, but there is also a certain randomness to them. I replayed the ending conversation of one quest and found to my surprise that the non-violent resolution I got the first time ended up in bloodshed on the replay. And I also encountered this at an earlier point in the same quest. My first reaction was that I had hit a bug, so I checked with the Ossian MoW Team and this is the answer I got from Kevin Smith – Lead Technical Designer: "In Westgate, we used a fairly complex generic script for all conversation skill checks. It basically follows the PNP rules as closely as possible. In particular, it considers the player's relevant skill(s) versus the NPC's relevant skill(s) and the target DC number (difficulty check). So, you need [PCskill - NPCskill + roll] >= DC to pass. Of course there are situations in Westgate where the DC is low enough so a player who has a decent skill rank will always pass the check." Nice touch!
Some of the sidequests won't become available until you've reached certain points of the main quest line. Once they are in your journal, you can complete them when and how you chose, allowing you to juggle between advancing the main plot line or completing the side quests. Several of the quests are multi-staged, requiring you to revisit certain locations or talk to certain people several times before the quest can be fully resolved. It pays to revisit locations and talk to people more than once, even if you think there is nothing further to do. All of this adds to the feeling that the game environment is not static, and that Westgate is a living, breathing city.
You are going to be retracing your steps a fair amount in the game and fortunately travel around the city is a breeze. When you hit an area transition point, you can select any known destination and immediately travel to that location without traversing intervening areas. It makes it easier to get from the Harbor Loop to Morninglord Haven for example with one jump rather than traversing the entire Market Triangle and parts of the Arena District. You won't want to overuse it though as some side quests are triggered by npcs you meet on the street, but it's a nice feature and works very well.
Be warned, the monster levels in this game are NOT tailored to your party's level but are fixed in level. It is entirely possible to find yourself in a situation where you are outmatched as I found to my chagrin when I first tried to take on the "Dukes" in the Arena. (Ha! Got you guys on the rematch!) The monster AI is extremely well scripted, so combat in the game is highly tactical and can be extremely challenging at times. Making full use of your characters special abilities, feats and spells is required for success.
There are four new monsters in the game. Two of the previously announced new monsters are the Quelzarn and the Wererats but you won't meet the other two until very late in the game. Since I am posting this before release I can't reveal any details of the final two monsters. All I will say is that you won't be disappointed. Stay tuned until after the release for an update!
The game can best described as "magic light". There are a few +3 items in the game, and a couple of +4 items but most will be +2. There was only one encounter that yielded anything even close to a "Monty Haul" treasure drop and the bulk of those items were +1. There are some nice custom items in the game, and there are several places to buy and sell magical gear within or under the city. You won't be flooded with gold in the game but you will have enough to buy a fair number of reasonably priced items and perhaps splurge on one or two exceptional items. Depending on what quests you do, you should have upwards of 100,000 gp to spend. Mild spoiler: < Be careful about overspending early on. There is one point in the game that requires you to have 40,000 gold on hand.>
If you choose, you can craft magical items using the Original Campaign crafting system. Magical benches are accessible at Minatassan's Mysteries, and there is a crafting merchant that will sell a limited supply of crafting components. Don't expect to be able to outfit the entire party, or even a single character, with complete +5 gear. Essences and gems are available but very limited (I managed to find ONE Beljuril throughout the entire game).
Dungeons and Artwork
Dungeons are well laid out and not one area is repeated throughout the adventure. Very few of the dungeon locations fall into the single room category, and most are reasonably good sized although nothing on the scale of the World Temple from Storm of Zehir. You can expect to find the usual traps and some puzzles, along with the occassional illusions, secret doors, and teleporters thrown in for good measure. You will be able to explore a wide range of locales; the sewers, undergate, an old winery, a burial crypt, a ship, temples, and an underground gambling den just to name a few. The artwork throughout the game is really a feast for the eyes and it's really difficult to single out specific locations, but the winery, Morninglord Haven and Undergate are three that I really liked. The sewers are also outstanding and modders are going to love the new sewer tileset. There are a lot of little details scattered about so again it pays to explore everything as even the smallest object can provide clues or yield xp. Oh, one word of caution: watch out for the Troll Poop.
Game Choices and the End game
The choices you make in the game DO matter - starting with the choice of taking the "evil path" and enlisting the aid of the Ebon Claws or taking the "good path" and enlisting the aid of the Church of Lathander. Decisions have consequences, not only in how sidequests are resolved but also within the main plot line.
The story line is exceptionally well written and entertaining. There are more than enough surprises to keep you looking over your shoulder or around the next corner to see what is in store for you. As you follow each lead, promising avenues of exploration will suddenly dry up or be abruptly cut off only to yield a new path to follow. And the game will tease and frustrate you more than once along the path. (Damn, that bitch got away AGAIN!) Each step yields a few more clues to the riddle behind the mask and gets you a bit closer to the answers you seek. The end game will NOT disappoint. Without a doubt, this game has some of the best and most challenging end game combat I've seen.
Quite simply, Mysteries of Westgate is a fantastic single player cRPG and easily deserves a 5 stars out of 5 rating. For an "Adventure Pack", Mysteries of Westgate delivers a lot more than you might expect and at 9.99 US$ it's one of the best bargains you'll ever get. I enjoyed playing Mysteries of Westgate far more than the OC, SoZ or even MotB. For those of you who have patiently waited through the endless delays, this has been well worth the wait. I certainly hope this is not the last adventure pack we've seen from Ossian. Kudos to Ossian Studios and the entire Mysteries of Westgate team. A simply outstanding game!
Note: For those of you who use custom content, be aware that TonyK's AI and Kaedrin's PrC pack are NOT recommended for use with Mysteries of Westgate.