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announced development of Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer yesterday. According to the press release, this first official expansion pack for the RPG sequel will contain everything one would expect - epic levels, new races, new classes, new monsters, new equipment, and a whole lot more. To get a better idea of what the team has in store for us, we fired over a set of questions to lead designer Kevin Saunders:
GB: When did development of Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer actually begin and what are you shooting for as a release date?
Kevin: We first started on Mask of the Betrayer with Atari, Wizards of the Coast, and Hasbro back in July this is when we began to outline the new story. In fact, the astute will notice tie-ins to Mask of the Betrayer in the original campaign. We didn't fully begin development on NX1 (our (designation) for the expansion) until we finished NWN2. We can't really talk about the release date, but I will say that we've already got some of the areas completed and they are looking GREAT. We've been applying everything we learned on NWN2 to get the best results possible.
GB: Aside from the usual gameplay additions, do you plan on making any expansion-specific tweaks to the engine, interface, or multiplayer component?
Kevin: Many of these types of improvements have been made through patches to NWN2 we don't want to make players wait for Mask of the Betrayer to be released to enjoy an optimized engine and other features that benefit the community. But, yes, we are continuing these types of improvements throughout the development of NX1. =)
We're implementing some expansion-specific gameplay elements that will make Mask of the Betrayer stand out from Obsidian's previous titles and other D&D computer role-playing games. As one example, the passage of time will have important impacts on gameplay. Mask of the Betrayer will also feature major enhancements to the companion Influence System that Obsidian has pioneered through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Neverwinter Nights 2. Of course, these new elements will be things that the community can modify to their own modules and campaigns if they wish.
GB: How does the expansion tie in with the original game's campaign? What events have transpired that will set us forth in search of adventure again?
Kevin: Mask of the Betrayer begins almost immediately after the ending of NWN2. You will play your same character (if you wish), continuing his or her story. (Your weapons and gold are gone, but you'll have many of your other equipped items still.) While the story in Mask of the Betrayer is connected to Neverwinter Nights 2, you don't have to have played the expansion the story stands alone, but players who have gone through the NWN2 campaign will recognize some references that occur in NX1.
GB: How many more hours of gameplay are you shooting for with Mask of the Betrayer? Will new players have the option to start a character and play through the standard game and the expansion as one long campaign?
Kevin: We're aiming for a more focused campaign and a tighter storyline. We expect Mask of the Betrayer to weigh in at over 15 hours of gameplay. NX1 has optional gameplay content, so the exact gameplay time will vary depending upon your choices throughout the game. As for playing through both titles, Mask of the Betrayer is a continuation of the same character's story, so you can play through the core game and the expansion as one long campaign.
GB: Are there any plans to introduce any new prestige classes or sub-races? How about epic levels?
Kevin: Absolutely! We are adding new prestige classes (and a base class) and new sub-races. We'll be sharing more information on those soon, but we think you'll be excited about our choices. ;) One of the prestige classes is completely new and was designed through consultation with our colleagues at Wizards of the Coast. As far as the leveling goes, NX1 will feature epic levels through level 30.
GB: How many new spells, skills, and/or feats will you be implementing in Mask of the Betrayer? Any examples you can share with us?
Kevin: We are adding dozens of new spells and feats. The spells range from some heavy hitters like burst of glacial wrath to great utility spells like the vigor healing spells from Spell Compendium. For feats, we are strongly emphasizing the ones tailored to epic level gameplay. These will include almost all of the epic feats from Hordes of the Underdark plus many new ones we've designed with guidance from Wizards of the Coast.
GB: How many new items do you plan on adding in the expansion? Will there be any totally new weapon/armor categories or notable changes/additions to the game's crafting system?
Kevin: We're making crafting easier for the player by simplifying the new recipes and having the component items themselves better explain their purposes. Also as an added convenience, you'll also be able to enchant items without needing a workbench handy, which should make things easier for players who enjoy crafting. Overall, we've worked hard on making the process of enchanting items more intuitive.
NX1 will be more about customizing your equipment through enchanting you'll be finding many more essences and their role is expanded. You'll also find new items, but they will be less common and more powerful than those in NWN2. We are adding new armor and weapon appearances, but not really new categories.
GB: What new environments will we be traveling through in Mask of the Betrayer? Are there any specific areas you can describe for us?
Kevin: The story primarily takes place in distant Rashemen, near the infamous kingdom of Thay. We have carefully chosen specific locations, such as the snow-covered Ashenwood, to be tailored to this region while also allowing us to create new tilesets and terrains that will be broadly useful to the modders.
GB: What new monsters can we expect to see in the expansion? Will you be introducing any new D&D favorites?
Kevin: We'll be adding many classic D&D creatures, such as the treant and the night hag. We're treating the game's setting very seriously you'll find a number of the new creatures described in the pages of Unapproachable East. We'll share more in upcoming weeks. =)
GB: Once Mask of the Betrayer is released, what is next for Neverwinter Nights 2? Are there any plans to release more retail expansion packs or even introduce a premium module program?
Kevin: Well, as you might guess, we can't really say much yet. =P But keep your eyes and ears open! We (Atari, Hasbro, Obsidian, and Wizards of the Coast) plan to continue supporting the Neverwinter Nights 2 community in every way possible.
Thanks for answering our questions, Kevin!