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Icewind Dale 2 Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Interplay
developer: Black Isle Studios
genre: RPG

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII-350, 128MB RAM, 500MB HDD
ESRB rating: T
homepage:
icewind2.blackisle.com/

release date: Aug 26, 02
» All About Icewind Dale 2 on ActionTrip


In the gaming business (and a good business it is) we are always faced with making the proper distinction between particular genres. Lately, most developers tend to blend various game genres to satisfy the diverse needs of each player out there. As games evolve, this genre mixing becomes more frequent and it sometimes becomes hard to tell which is which. Some of them are unique and some represented interesting mixtures of game oldies. However, there's a corner in the gaming scene that's reserved for traditional genres, away from the 'spotlight' of game modernization. Black Isle Studios is one of the most influential developers in the domain of traditional RPG titles. Happily, they treated us to a sequel to their admired and long-established game, Icewind Dale, so role-up those sleeves as we step further into the Forgotten Realms.

At the very beginning, you'll notice that the plotline is not as linear as in the original Icewind Dale, which is undoubtedly a commendable improvement. You start off as an adventurer that came to the city of Targos that desperately needs aid against relentless raids of Goblin and Orcish hordes. Once you help the town forces fend off a number of serious attacks, you will be assigned to complete several very challenging tasks. One of these is to secure the passage through Shaengarne Ford and help the reinforcements from Neverwinter cross the Shaengarne Bridge. As you progress, your tasks will become more and more challenging; but, as your characters gain experience, various skills, and abilities it will be much easier to go through these challenges and quests.

Before we get deeper into the gameplay details, I should stress that this game was meant for players who are well-acquainted with RPG lore. Although the difficulty issue should not present a problem since the game offers you to adjust it to 'easy,' 'normal,' and 'hard,' that still doesn't change the fact that the game requires solid knowledge of D&D rules. It seems to me that Bioware's Neverwinter Nights presented a far more elaborate approach in terms of general game difficulty optimizations. What I'm trying to say is that in Icewind Dale 2 you cannot possibly just choose a character and expect things to go smoothly. Even if you choose a group of pre-made characters, you still have to know how to employ their magic skills, fighting abilities, and so on. If you're familiar with the D&D 3rd edition rules (like feats, skills, selecting the right equipment, and similar stuff) then you can be sure this is a game made for your taste. The principal of gameplay doesn't differ much from the recently released RPG, Neverwinter Nights. For those of you who have played the first Icewind Dale game, this time around you'll have even more fun journeying through the lands of the Forgotten Realms.

When you modify your characters at the beginning of the game, you will immediately observe how easy it is to make a fresh and unique party of adventurers. Choosing from a wide variety of new classes and a whole bunch of new faiths (for your Monks, Paladins, and Clerics), you can also check out how the new races and sub-races work. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable moments in any RPG, because you have to cautiously distribute points to all skills and feats you plan to use - a successful distribution of these points is best noticed in combat. The most important recipe in any RPG is that you must have the guts to stand up to stronger opponents, because that's where you get your experience and that's what makes your characters stronger. And, more importantly, you'll enjoy the game even more. The great thing about this game is that it really takes all of these RPG facets seriously and by mastering them, you can watch your characters evolve through combat.

The new feats work pretty well and so do the innovative spells. Still, the most crucial innovation in Icewind Dale 2 is the drastically improved interface. Now both the interface and inventory system have some neat and practical solutions that correspond with the intricacies that come with RPG's. Above all, you can now access your weapons, items, and spells, with a single click, which matters a great deal when you're in mid-combat - it basically saves a lot of time and effort. Players who do not wish to burden themselves with various statistics can easily remove the main console so that it doesn't clog the screen. Although, it would be advisable that you pay attention to the console readouts because it is the best way to learn whether your weapons or spells have any effect on the foe. Even so, this can always be detected on screen; if your weapons have any effect on a certain creature, blood or screaming can also be an indicator of successfully inflicted damage :0)

Speaking of monsters and foes, it's nice to see that the game has so many new and interesting entities for players to combat with. The variety is simply amazing and you can be sure that each and every one of them presents a challenge to your RPG skills. The enemy AI doesn't have any particular flaws from where I'm standing. In fact, I really had to concentrate and ponder every move I made in order to lure and defeat some of these bad guys. Still, I was rather disappointed with how friendly AI responds in general. Primarily, your characters do not seem to have the ability to deal with even the simplest situation. The game offers you a chance to turn the friendly AI off in case you wish to personally issue commands. Well, you can call me a nimrod and all, but I didn't exactly notice any difference. The truth is, whether the damn thing is 'on' or 'off,' it won't make a significant improvement of your group's performance in combat. Which means that you are pretty much gonna have to deal with any combat situation by handling your characters individually. Luckily, the developers made it possible for you to pause the game, which gives you a slight breather and you can give out orders by using the turn-based approach. Sadly, this advantage doesn't do much for the obviously incomplete team AI routines.

Another obvious downside, which comes with friendly characters, is the bad pathfinding. For such a complex RPG, I didn't expect such a substandard pathfinding system. To be honest, it really spoils the overall impression of the game, since it's time-consuming and very annoying. The problem arises when you order a character to head for a certain location and you watch him end up in some completely unexpected part of the map. Or, what's even worse, the character sometimes refuses to move at all (!?!). Black Isle Studios recently released a patch for the game, although I don't think it straightens this issue out.

Yeah, yeah, I know you'll probably claw my eyes out if I tarnish the Infinity Engine. So, I'll just be as objective as I can. The point of the matter is that the Infinity Engine is old and that is why Icewind Dale 2 won't make break-troughs in terms of visuals. I fully realize that all you need in order to play a great RPG is some dice and a vivid imagination, but why make a CRPG in that case?! I'll admit that's not where the game's true potential lies. Anyways, the game does feature real-time day and night shifts and some spells cause cool visual effects. Also, you can beef up the resolution from 800 x 600 to an impressive 2048x1536. So that's about all I can mention about the graphics.

I think that most of you shouldn't be discouraged because the game doesn't have any spectacular 3D visuals to offer, because the sound qualities truly make up for all of that. They create are really exciting atmosphere and the huge variety of character voiceovers also does the trick.

On an overall note, thanks to the enhanced character creation system, you now have a chance to make a unique-looking RPG hero of you very own. After creating your ideal character, you're faced with a challenge of properly using all of his/her potentials. Immersed in a good story, slicing enemies, completing quests, advancing you group's experience, are all elements that will keep you going in Icewind Dale 2 and they represent game's essential qualities. These features are all well-balanced and can guarantee some long hours of fun RPG fun.

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7.9   Good


HIGHS
A great RPG experience, the beautifully exercised 3rd edition rules. The sounds and music. New spells, sub-races, loads of new monsters, etc.

LOWS
Awful path-finding and friendly AI, dated visuals.

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