Icewind Dale II
There’s really nothing new to be seen in Icewind Dale 2. Much like its predecessor, and the Baldur’s Gate series, it’s a party-based romp through the D&D world of the Forgotten Realms. It’s actually a bit like that favorite pair of old shoes. Incredibly comfortable, wonderfully easy to slip into, but starting to get a little tattered around the edges. Sure, they may not be quite the same color as when they came fresh out of the box, they may have a thread or two dangling off the side, and they may even leak a bit more than is really appropriate for footwear. But for all those little problems, you’re still willing to keep wearing them until they literally fall apart at the seams.
If you’ve played any of the previous Black Isle D&D outings, you’re already quite familiar with this style of RPG. ID2 uses the Infinity Engine, the same game engine powering Baldur’s Gate and the original Icewind Dale. There have been some major tweaks and adjustments since the engine’s initial outing several years ago, but the basic gameplay remains mostly unchanged. The most noticeable upgrade in ID2 is the move to an almost-3rd Edition D&D ruleset, complete with new class types, feat systems, and a few new playable character races. No more of that negative Armor Class adjustment, no more 18(99) strength, and no more calculating the best possible THAC0 (have the computer “roll” a die, subtract your amour class bonus, unless of course it’s negative, add your DEX score, divide by the current date in the Julian calendar, and then round off. Or something.)
In keeping with the tradition set by the original Icewind Dale, ID2 is primarily a dungeon romp with some story thrown in. It’s a pretty good one, but it’s easy to see that the story only serves to get the party of up to 6 heroes from one massive combat to the next in the quickest way possible. Set a few decades after the events in Icewind Dale, there is once again something Foul brewing in the frozen Ten Towns region. Hired on as mercenaries to help out the town of Targos, Our Heroes soon uncover something much more menacing than a simple goblin raiding party. I won’t give any story away here, other than saying that ID2 is much bigger than the first game. In fact, ID2 is longer than the original, its expansion pack, and the additional downloadable add-on combined. Characters can be advanced from lowly First Level Pushovers to 20th Level Powers-to-be-Reckoned-With. And, once you’ve finished ID2, you can try again with the “Heart of Fury” mode, letting you restart the game with your UberParty with almost insanely difficult monsters and tremendously powerful magic items (and the ability to reach level 30). So there’s a lot of play time here.
Did I mention that there was a lot of combat? Sure, there are the occasional “FedEx” missions, a few puzzles to work through, and a very annoying maze, but mostly it’s lots of fighting. And many of these combats are brutally difficult. This game is not for the tactically impaired. I found myself reloading battles much more often than in previous Black Isle games, many times just happy to finish with a few party members alive. Switching up tactics is a must, and many battles can be “solved” by using the surrounding environment in interesting (and often amusing) ways.
Speaking of environment, the old Infinity Engine still manages to do a remarkable job. Graphics are much the same as in Baldur’s Gate 2 or Icewind Dale—isometric 2D characters on top of lavish pre-rendered backgrounds. There are some new spell effects and a few new character and monster types, but it’s mostly the same old, comfortable graphics. Likewise, sound is quite familiar, and of very good quality. The music is excellent, the sound effects decent, and the voices almost exactly the same as in previous games (with many of the old sound files available for character banter).
So is ID2 a good game? Yes. It’s not groundbreaking and it’s not original. But it is fun, and that’s really the most important thing. Rumor has it that this will be Black Isle’s last game using the Infinity Engine. And I am really quite sad to see it go. Sure, it isn’t as flashy as some of the newer D&D games, and it may not have all the bells and whistles. But it’s such a wonderfully refined engine that designers can concentrate on gameplay and storytelling, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. And players can jump quickly into the story, completely familiar with the way it’s being told. It’s just a brand new trail walked in old, comfortable shoes.
A very good RPG that fails to bring anything new to the table.
Rating: 8 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.
Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.