We've been waiting for the release of Ossian Studios' Mysteries of Westgate (also available from Atari), the first Neverwinter Nights 2 Adventure Pack (=Premium Module), through so many delays that we've all but given up hope on it ever seeing the light of day. Though the pack has been finished more than a year and a half ago, its release has been rescheduled a number of times by Atari for various reasons. Now that Atari has finally managed to pull off MoW's public release, it's time to take a closer look at what we've been waiting for.
Beren plays through and reviews the module.
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Mysteries of Westgate is a mid-level adventure pack for Neverwinter Nights 2. As the name implies, the story and game play take place entirely in a city on the Dragon Coast of the Forgotten Realms, Westgate. Overall, the adventure pack provides a roleplaying experience that is on par with that of Mask of the Betrayer. Some of its good points are bright indeed.
The Adventure pack resembles a pen and paper adventure book in that there’s plenty of side quests to occupy your time, if and when you decide to get around to them. Nonetheless, there is a compelling central story that keeps everything together.
The launch point of the story is that you’re saddled with a cursed mask that fills your sleep with nightmares, and you can’t get rid of it. You arrive by ship at Westgate’s harbour to find answers to your problem. You will find three companions that are willing to help you out, and this sets up the classical cliché of mismatched traveling adventurers who have a lot of differences with each other, and don’t mince words in expressing them.
The plot itself is derivative of several well established cinematic genres. This reflects a deliberate effort to steer away from truly high fantasy, and instead achieve a remarkably successful realism in the setting. You won’t find any Mary Sues and Marty Stus in Westgate. Indeed, more than one criminal faction is vying for power, while agents of good-aligned deities have an apparent interest in containing the chaos, or even benefiting from it. Everybody in this town is looking out for number one, even the ones who are ostensibly on the side of law and good. The degrees and specifics by which everyone’s self-interest finds expression is what sets them apart from each other. In a sense, this pervasive sense on literally being on your own against a hard-bitten world made me compare some of the story arcs to classic crime dramas like Heat, the French Connection, and The Corruptor.
There are other literary influences as well. Fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean series might recognize a certain amount of homage here. There are also definite horror aspects to the plot as well. Fans of vampire flicks might recognize influences from Interview with the Vampire or Underworld, while others might recognize the influence of the Japanese sub-genre of horror that focuses on vengeful spirits. (e.g. Ringu)
Despite these derivative influences, the producers manage to pull it all together into a coherent and compelling story that makes sense. Once a critical point is reached, the drama kicks into high gear, and the game does a wonderful job of keeping you guessing as to who the ultimate villain truly is.
A high point is that many of the battles are challenging, and fun. Even experienced players may be in for a few surprises when they undertake a new battle for the first time. Even when you get the idea of it, you often still need to be careful and thorough after a reload. The opponents you face are variegated, yet integral to the storyline.
Your three companions will seem a tad weak at first, but once they hit their stride, they can more then hold their own and contribute to the fun of the game.
Puzzles are usually of the same caliber, challenging yet solvable without too much effort.
Some of the voice acting was very good. In particular, the voice acting for some the final villains of the game was spot on, and helped infuse the plot’s conclusion with both horror and tragedy. But therein is also a source of dissatisfaction. Not all of the cinematic sequences are voiced, and thus the player somehow has to content himself with part-time graphic movie, part-time silent movie. This can make the gaming experience awkward at times, or even dissatisfying, as there were some arguments between my companions that I would have loved to hear full volume. Maybe Atari should have assisted Ossian with the resources to have the voice actors do every cinematic just right.
Another thing that I could live with, but that could have been improved, was to tie up certain loose ends. The story is overall very satisfying, but there was the odd place where I was left wondering why this character did what he did, why another character ended up in the place or in this fate, and so on.
There was one instance where I thought the ball was dropped outright. To solve a certain quest requires remembering the stanza of a riddle. I didn’t get it, and when I reloaded, I realized that the text of the stanza was no longer available. Strangely, it wasn’t recorded in my journal, which in my opinion should be standard practice by now. So I had to leave this quest for a future replay.
Despite these criticisms, Mysteries of Westgate is still a joy to play. In a way, it makes its own contribution to the Neverwinter Nights 2 experience. Sort of like … while the original campaign and Mask of the Betrayer are going on, there’s this great intrigue and drama unfolding in this part of the world. I earnestly recommend playing it at least once, and rate it 8 out of 10.