Icewind Dale II - Review

A Dance To New Rules

By: Zachary Lewis

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 3
   Plot 3
   Localization N/A
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Variable
   Time to Complete

40-50 hours


Title Screen

   Where in the world can you find mercenaries from all over the Sword Coast that are ready to throw their chips in with the local villagers in an attempt to thwart the onslaught of the goblinoid hordes? Why, on your computer, of course. Bent to the new 3rd Edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons and using the venerable BioWare Infinity Engine, Icewind Dale II is the summation of all that is good about casting aside your controller for a mouse and keyboard.

   Much like any other RPG that accurately simulates the Dungeons & Dragons rules, Icewind Dale II allows you to create a huge variety of characters, expounds on the virtue of exploration, and simplifies the basic battle rules. By equipping your characters in a number of ways and utilizing the 'pause anywhere' feature, you can easily consider your battle strategy - which is a component vital to successfully surviving each mission. With the huge number of spells, items, classes, stats, and feats all covered under the 3rd Edition rules, it becomes difficult to accurately describe combat as it can be an utterly different experience for each player. In essence, however, you are able to select your targets and use the well designed interface to select their potential doom. Everything from magical spells to alternate weapon settings is but a click away, and with the large number of opponents - be they Ice Trolls, Frost Dragons, Goblins, Orcs or any other of the plethora of mythological monsters - this only makes fighting a tireless and enjoyable experience.

Nothing Like Roast Lizardman In The Chill Winter Morn
Nothing Like Roast Lizardman In The Chill Winter Morn 

   Sadly, the one thing a game with such a huge amount of customization often succumbs to is a lack of originality and a measly plot. Icewind Dale II is no exception to this rule. Though the beginning of the game gives the impression that there is a deeply involved plot, after Chapter 1's completion, it becomes obvious that fetch-quests and exploring the countryside in search of the root of the Ten Town's problems is the wherewithal of the story. And in much the same manner, the game is a sequel, and also one of many using the same game engine which renders a large portion of the possible originality moot.

   Arriving very near to WarCraft III and Neverwinter Nights does nothing to promote the aging graphical prowess of the Infinity Engine. It's fairly obvious from the get-go that the game is no graphical marvel in this age of 64-bit consoles and AGP video cards. The attention to detail, on the other hand, is marvelous. Every tree, cavern, icy bluff, and house is intricately designed to promote an interesting environment to explore. The music of the game has much the same level of authority. Though a few great tracks are heard periodically, it's truly the sound effects that carry the audio experience. Everything from your footsteps to the moaning of the undead can be heard and is presented in Dolby Surround EAX2 for your listening pleasure.

This Amazon Is A Long Way From The Tropics...
This Amazon Is A Long Way From The Tropics... 

   Nearly all the text follows the olde English style that heightens the fantasy nature of the Forgotten Realms. Additionally, each of the voice actors must have thoroughly enjoyed their job as the emotions behind the text really carry through and make what little plot there actually is an enjoyable part of the game. The menus, though, are marvelously designed with easily identifiable buttons - which are further simplfied with the ability to hover the pointer over them for a text description - and are easily navigable. Want to check your inventory? Press one button on the keyboard. What's the most powerful creature your bard has slain? Click into his biography to find out.

   The difficulty you encounter throughout the game is hard to categorize. Each different party will have more or less trouble with different types of puzzles and creatures. Also, with the ability to increase and decrease the power of enemies, the actual difficulty of the game - and hence the overall replay value - are hard to determine. However, since the same scenarios will play out time and again regardless of your party, the replay is generally low.

   Icewind Dale II is an exemplary vision of what the Infinity Engine has to offer. Unfortunately, as that tool itself is becoming older, the marvel that it can grab you with is decreasing. Although this game and many of its predecessors really show the powers of the Dungeons & Dragons rule set as it can be applied to video games, it might be time to design a newer, more amazing, engine to display it with.

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