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Icewind Dale II Review

EverythingXen, 2002-10-21

When I was asked to review Icewind Dale 2 I was a little wary. On the upside, it was D&D... on the downside I didn't enjoy the first Icewind Dale at all, finding it horrifically flat. Furthermore I was being asked to review it right after Neverwinter Nights. Still, I promised myself to keep an open mind and give the game a good play through.

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This Looks Familiar

Alright, unsurprisingly the graphics look much the same as the graphics in all the other Infinity Engine games. There have been some notable improvements to the monster graphics, though. Everything is scaled properly and the background scenary does a nice job of displaying how many shades of snow there are in Icewind Dale. There are a lot of click-over descriptions built into the background this time around... some of which are pretty amusing. If you're looking for some sort of revolution in Infinity Engine graphics... well... don't. Overall they're no better or worse than the graphics in BG2.

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound Of...

The sound effects are pretty good. The familiar spell chanting and echoing while casting as well as some pretty decent monster sounds and ambient sound isn't grating. There are several voicesets to choose from for your intrepid band of adventurers. Furthermore, the voice acting for the enemies is pretty solid all around. The musical score is very pleasant... not once did I feel the urge to turn a track down, even while getting the living daylights pounded out of my party... which brings us to:

... Thousands of Orcs, Goblins, and Things that Want to Tear Your Lungs Out

There is one great new feature about IWD2's interface when compared to the other IE games: It's customizable. You can put your feats wherever you want on the bar with a simple right click. This allows a wizard to have seven spell slots instead of three, if they're so inclined.

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I'll take a moment right here to talk about the 3E Implementation. Overall, it was very sound. Fighter and wizard bonus feats were given a lot of leeway to take whatever feat you wanted, which isn't how it's supposed to work, but beyond that it's handled well. Purists will note that there are no attacks of opportunity. The most notable change from the true rules has to do with the skills. For some reason they really dumbed down how many skill points a character gets in a some cases. Rogues, for example, could really use a few more... the 8 they're supposed to be alloted, actually. I think they were knocked down to 4 or so. This means that a few skills need to suffer a bit. Fortunately skills aren't all that important for the purposes of the game. Attribute wise you get a decent amount of points to spread around (a few more would have been nice for a computer game) and the feat scheme is untouched (and most feats work properly).

Alright... to the actual gameplay. Well... as expected there's a WHOLE lot of combat... and it never lets up. Your characters are wretchedly underequipped for most of the game, however. At level 16 I finally got a set of full plate +2 for my heavy fighter. Also, the game is fond of throwing several enemies at you that are incredibly resistant to everything except one type of damage, rendering specializing in weapons not always the best thing to do. Keep the most powerful weapon of each type (slashing/piercing/blunt) you can find AT LEAST. Without spoiling anything... for the love of all that is good KEEP POWERFUL BLUNT WEAPONS. You have been warned.

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Some equipment woes aside... several encounters are horrifically overbalanced against you. This is, indeed, a 'killer' dungeon. For half the game I refused to let people die... reloading whenever that happened. That stopped. Keep the cleric back... and resign yourself to the fact that raise dead is there for a reason. It took me eight tries to win the last fights of the game... and all that was left of my intrepid level 16 party was two fighters with single digits of hit points left. This game IS out to get you.

However, I expected that. Still, if you're really not into the whole 'I have to play this battle three times or more so I can figure out a strategy that will beat it the fourth time' then Icewind Dale 2 probably isn't the game for you. If someone out there can play it on normal difficulty and not lose a single fight all the way through... you are my new CRPG hero.

(Gameplay Tip: Watch out for improved invisible mage opponents. The developers didn't put the spell 'true sight' in the game... and see invisibility and invisibilty purge are so low level (and only 'fire' once per casting) that any serious foe with magic resistance will resist it and remain invisible.)

Was All the Reloading Worth It?

The dialogue trees are very well written (Some of them are hilarious). The story is sound and they made a point to have many, many dialogues depend on the race and gender of who's speaking. I was impressed... I really wasn't expecting much in the story department and the game surprised me.

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In addition, the puzzles were well done (for the most part). There are one or two which require a lot of patience to get through... and one in particular stopped me for about three hours until I went to bed... and bolted upright 20 minutes later with the answer. I love when that happens almost as much as I hate when that happens.

However... I must confess that, especially nearing the endgame when the party is severely overpowered and you're losing one or two people per fight if you're not careful, the insane combat overpowered my enjoyment of the story. It was partly my fault, I know. My characters were built for roleplaying reasons (mistake!), not maximum efficiency (though I had all the bases covered... 3 fighting types, a rogue, a cleric, and a mage). Let's just say if I played again I'd take all evil characters and do a few things differently. There was more than one instance where I bulled through only because I believe in completing a game before writing a review for it. Still, it's tempting to go through it again with a different party to see if things change much... I know the dialogue will. I get the impression that if you really liked Icewind Dale 1 and you liked the rules used in Neverwinter Nights that you'll really enjoy the game.

So The Verdict Is

This is a very technically solid and challenging CRPG. If you're not adverse to being knee deep in the dead (including your own party at times) and hitting the pause button every six seconds then you'll probably really enjoy Icewind Dale 2. It's not just a hack and slash fest... there is some excellent dialogue and challenging puzzles thrown in as well. I got really tired of having to reload fights... and I don't see how I could have won them first time out of the gate, either. Still, I won't rule out the possibility that I suck. :) If you're going to get IWD2 expect a lot of high stress combat. If that's what you like this is a great game. If it's not then don't. If you're in the middle, like I am, there are times in this game where you'll cheer at a victory... and times where you'll want to throw your monitor out the window. The game's a nice solid 80% in my opinion.

The Verdict
Graphics (15%) 80%
Sound (15%) 90%
Control (25%) 90%
Fun (45%) 75%
Overall 82%

The ups and downs:
A well written storyOccassional nearly ridiculous.
Excellent Music...overpowering battles
Solid 3E rules implementationAging game engine
No crashesLots of reloads

Reviewer's System
Version: 2.0
CPU: Pentium 3 1 GHz
RAM: 256
Graphics GeForce 2 MX (32MB)
Sound SB Live Value
OS: Windows 98SE, DX 8.1

Average Reader Ratings: 7.85 (88 votes)
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