The Let's Play Archive

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer

by Lt. Danger

Part 50: Unhappily Ever After

The Truth, Part Eight - Making Kaelyn Cry and Getting Kaji All Confused

The events of the next few updates did not occur. These chapters are non-canon. Perhaps they are glimpses of a parallel universe, where the rules are upside-down and the people opposites of their real selves. Perhaps somebody started up Debug Mode and fiddled with all the variables. It doesn't matter.

Today's focus is best illustrated with a comparison. I want to show you two different conversations - the first, a low-Influence conversation with Kaelyn the Dove.

: I am tired. It will pass, do not trouble yourself.
: Oh, I don't care, I was just hoping I was finally getting to you.

: Do you ever feel the urge to change? Even the slightest? Or are you so committed to your path that nothing can sway you?
: [Taunt] After I met you, I decided change wasn't worth it.

: I seek to remove an injustice from the planes, one that threatens to destroy you as well.
: And that is what I find so mysterious about you.
: Evil, in all its forms, whether apathy, indifference, chaos or violence - evil is still capable of bringing you peace.
: And I pity you for it, Calliope.

The second conversation is the Devoted-feat conversation with One of Many.

: :: I do not wish to dwell on this or deliberate. I simply must know... if you feel the same. ::
: :: Yes... I feel your presence even when you are not with me. ::
: :: It is not presence you feel, but your own. ::
: :: What do you mean? ::
: :: I do not know how, but throughout the course of our conquests together, you have... assimilated some of the power I possess, making it your own. ::

Greater Negative Aura is a straightforward improvement on Negative Aura. +1 to Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Constitution, 6HP of Regeneration a round, +9 Intimidate/-9 Diplomacy, and a 20% bonus to Spirit Gorge.

* * *

Okay, so we're obviously looking at Influence today. Just one or two points I wanna make before we move on.

Quick recap of the Influence system in Mask: scale of -100 to 100, seven bands, high Influence unlocks increasingly-powerful bonus feats for both companions and player. It's a very 'gamey' system because it's explicit with its rewards and its mechanics - Influence gains are highly visible and exact Influence levels can be viewed at any time on the Character Record screen.

This is better than the beta-version we saw in the original NWN2 campaign. For half the party, Influence had a serious effect on the plot; for the other half (specifically Zhjaeve and Casavir), it meant relatively little. Either way, there wasn't a consistent, transparent system of rewards in place and as a result there wasn't much incentive to strongly pursue Influence beyond making little yellow numbers go up and down. Unpredictable companion interrupts, no-win scenarios in the early game, no obvious end-goal to plan for... Influence in NWN2 felt like something that happened to you rather than something you did as a player character.

In contrast, in Mask you always feel in control. You know how much Influence a companion has, how much more you need to max them out, what sort of thing you'll get for doing that, and how to make that happen. Opportunities are more widespread, and many Influence losses offer ways to make it back up soon after. You can see the, uh, 'influence' of Mask in later RPGs like Dragon Age and Alpha Protocol.

I got one big problem with the way Mask does it, though, and it's visible in the two dialogues we had with Kaelyn and One of Many. To be specific, there's a ton of dead space on the negative end of the Influence scale.

High Influence is easy to achieve and earns you special rewards. At what point would you ever consider getting low Influence with your party members?

And believe me, you have to try at it. Getting down to -50 and lower requires a deliberate effort to piss off the companions.

It's a shame because there's a fair bit of unique content for low-Influence companions. Kaelyn's little argument is just one example.

Here, for example, Gann's basic dialogue tree changes to reflect his unhappiness. Get low enough Influence and companions will even stop you from examining their inventory or controlling them in combat.

Get and keep it really low (-75) and this happens.

: We were never meant to walk the same path, so there is no use in forcing it.

This conversation is Gann's leaving-the-party argument. We get one chance to persuade them to stick around and it's a tough sell; at DC 40 these checks are some of the highest in the game.

: [Success] You speak the truth - very well, we may share our path a little while longer.

Success bumps the companion's loyalty up to -60. Continued deterioration of relations results in this:

: I cannot endure this any longer - our paths must part.

: These items we have gathered are touched by your acts and your spirit, and I have no desire to keep them... here, take them.
: Now that you are disarmed, prepare to die.

We used this trick on Elanee in the original campaign and it worked a treat. Nobody quits the Firm and lives.

There are two similar conversations for Kaelyn:

: Philosophically and spiritually, we are on different courses, and so must it be in the physical world as well.

: Very well, I shall stay for now. But I do not know if I can commit to following you to the end if you continue acting as you do.

And for Okku:

: I can smell the stink of corruption upon you... I will not stand by and watch you revel in your hunger!

The Intimidate option is probably the hardest check in the game at DC 44.

: [Success] You are right. I made an oath...
: Yes, and I expect you to keep your promise.
: Why do I even... Bah... I cannot ignore my own words...

It's bizarre because there's all this content available that almost no one will ever see because there's absolutely no reason to get low Influence with any of the companions.

The only possibility I can think of is 'role-playing', i.e. purposefully crippling your relationship with party members because that's how you show how Good/Evil/Lawful/Chaotic you are. And even that's undermined by the Bluff options in Kaelyn's dialogue. Perhaps the intention was that gaining Influence was supposed to be difficult, but there's such an abundance of gains throughout Mask that, as I said, you really have to try to piss people off.

Honestly, the reason I'm complaining is that Alpha Protocol handled this so much better. It takes as much effort to get low Influence as it does high - punishing low Influence doesn't make sense because no sensible player will take that option when high Influence is so much better in every way. Alpha Protocol recognises this and gives rewards for getting either high or low Influence, creating an incentive to play the damn game however you want, instead of doing things a certain way because that's the only way to get anything decent out of the system. It's not dissimilar to the way KOTOR2 handled it, and that was the prototype for the Influence system, which makes me wonder why Obsidian took such a big step backwards here. Hell, you can even compare it unfavourably to the Morale system in Planescape: Torment, a system that went almost entirely undetected by the player.

The key point is that the Mask system is attempting to be a crappy simulation of interpersonal relationships and suffers accordingly, while Alpha Protocol is more sophisticated in that it remembers it's a game - its system is a means to encourage player interaction with characters on their terms, in their own way.

* * *

All right, enough whining, here's something else that I haven't shown you before.

Safiya's familiar, Kaji, has a decent-sized conversation tree that we didn't really explore in much depth last time. It's actually not too far behind Okku/One of Many's dialogue trees in length, with the bonus that it actually updates in time with the Story Steps like Safiya, Gann, etc.

Step 1 - Okku's Barrow:


: {Grumbling} Are we going to be down here much longer? This cavern really creeps me out.
: What's wrong - you don't like a little adventure?
: {Defensive} I like it just fine! I also like sunlight and not being shrrrounded by angry spirits...
: Don't worry, we'll find our way out soon enough.
: At least we're out of the acad-mee where me and Mistress live.
: The golems there don't like me since I keep taking the stuff they're 'sposed to guard.

Step 2 - The Veil Theater:


: {Enthusiastic} Khai was pretty dumb to try and kill you and Mistress! Good riddance to him!
: I'm guessing you and Khai never got along...
: {Grumbling} Khai was the worst of the Red Weeezers - he was always making fun of me.
: And he would try to light me on fire when he caught me stealing stuff!
: It's not my fault he couldn't hide his things better!

Step 3 - Spirit-eater:


: So... you're a spirit-eater, right? What do spirits taste like?
: They actually taste like homonculi... which is to say: delicious.
: Aaaaaahhhh! Mistress, help!

Step 5 - Academy of Shapers and Binders:


: So - whaddya think of the Acad-mee of Shapes and Bindings?
: That's the Academy of Shapers and Binders.
: Urrr... what she said.
: It's not a very inviting place.
: You should see Mistress' room - it's full of all of her lesser creations.
: I'm sure you put all of Safiya's other creations to shame.
: One time, Mistress made a hum-uncle-us to carry water from the well to her room.
: I stole its bucket and it was too dumb to get a new one - it fell into the well trying to scoop the water with its hands!
: Kaji! That was your doing? I should have known... that poor creature sat alone in that well for weeks!

Kaji's role in the party:


: So... what exactly do you do?
: {Proud} I can do lots of things! I can... {thinking hard} let's see... I spring locks - that's useful, right?
: Not really, what else can you do?
: I can sneak around unseen... especially if it's really dark. And especially if everyone's asleep.
: That isn't very useful. What else can you do?
: Listen! {Pause} Hear that? That was me being quiet! Wasn't that useful?
: Not really, what else can you do?
: Uh... I can... um... walk into traps and set them off?
: That's not very useful either. What else can you do?
: Blergh! I give up! I'm useless! Leave me alone!

An argument with Kaji:


: You calling someone dumb is saying a lot...
: {Angered} What? Are you calling me stupid? I'll show you stupid!
: That wasn't really a retort.
: {Furious} I'll show you a retort!
: That doesn't even make any sense...
: Oh yeah, well you don't make any sense.
: Well you don't make any sense.
: Oh yeah, well you don't make any sense.
: Well you don't make any sense.
: Oh yeah, well you don't make any sense.
: Well you don't make any sense.
: Oh yeah, well you don't make any sense.
: Well you don't make any sense.
: Oh yeah, well you don't make any sense.
: Well you don't make any sense.
: Oh yeah, well you don't make any sense.
: Well you don't make any sense.
: Oh yeah, well you don't make any sense.
: Well you don't make any sense.
: Hmmm... I guess you're right - that was a pretty dumb comeback.

The best conversation is asking Kaji to say words, though.


: Can you say something for me?
: {Excited} Of course! Mistress teaches me words all the time. Like hum-uncle-eye!
: Say "Chocolate."
: Cho-co-lot!
: Say "Eldritch."
: El-der-itch!
: Say "Explosion!"
: Ex-pull-ocean!
: Try saying "Thaumaturgy."
: Thom...uh... Thom-terr...
: {Irritated} Kaji will ponder that word all day long unless I stop him...
: Kaji, let's go - we'll do words later.
: Thimergy... Thimble... {grumbling} Yes Mistress...

Next update, we'll look at some more cool stuff that we didn't actually do!