Icewind Dale II

Reviewed by: Matthew Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Black Isle Studios, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP, Pentium II/350MHz or AMD K6(R)III/400MHz, 64MB RAM DirectX compliant video card, 4x CD-ROM drive, DirectX 8.0 or higher
MSRP: US$49.95

Although I spend much of my time playing First Person Shooter (FPS) and strategy games, I must admit that Role Playing Games (RPGs) have always been my first love. Icewind Dale II, along with several other recent releases in the RPG market, revived this love. The program proves to be one of those rare RPG sequels that actually outdoes its predecessor. Both the game play (control and action) and storyline are superb and the real sense of epic-ness one receives while playing is quite gratifying.

RPG sequels often have one great strength in that the sequels usually build upon the storyline of the first. This is true in any genre, but even more so on RPGs as storyline continuity is of utmost importance. Icewind Dale II does not disappoint, continuing the tales of the Ten Towns and the bands of heroes that come to defend them in time of need.

As mentioned before, the game play is smooth, control nearly flawless in its simplicity despite the unfathomable number of spells (over 300) and nearly as many skills, feats and bonuses of all types. In just picking up the game and playing, without any knowledge of the Dungeons & Dragons basis of the game, one would never know that almost every rule of game play is based upon the newest edition of rules from that aging pen-and-paper game. Immediately after installation, I already had the anxious feeling that I would be rolling small onscreen dice every time I wanted to take a step forward. But I have never been more surprised by such smooth integration of systems like To-Hit Rolls and Armor Classes. Perhaps the only mentionable downfall of the game is the Infinity graphics engine. Infinity was used in the original Baldur's gate in 1998, and is primarily 2D. The unavoidable fact is that the engine is ancient and the graphics heavily reflect this. Despite four years of tweaking Infinity and huge strides in video and CPU power, the game still runs choppily during larger battles even on high-end systems. The multitude of graphics settings and the ease of their manipulation provides some buffer against this sort of occurrence. This is not to say that the game is ugly - far, far from it. The 2D landscapes are so beautiful, I often found myself admiring them as I would a renaissance painting. The snowscapes especially add a real sense of atmosphere and depth to what would otherwise be a flat world. Although character models are disparagingly smeary and undefined, as they get larger the quality becomes better.

Icewind Dale II's bestiary is another area worthy of mention. Simply put, it's enormous. The final areas of Icewind Dale II which really shine are the character builds and customizability. Again, it cannot be over-emphasized that the Dungeons & Dragons presence here provides the basis for the entire game. Nowhere is it shown more than in the character creation. For those who are unfamiliar with D&D, or simply don't want to take the several hours usually required to create an entire party of characters, Black Isle Studios has generously included five different pre-made parties to choose from. For those who are a little more hard core about their RPG experience, everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is here to choose from. Every race, every style, every skill, every feat, every stat, even the appearance of your character can be heavily modified. Not only that, but once characters reach higher levels, they can actually start to "multi-class", which basically means that more skills and feats of other character classes become available as your character evolves and changes. This, combined with the millions of permutations of character developments and combinations in parties, allows for nearly infinite variation in game play.

The storyline may remain the same, but the game never will. Although, as stated before, the D&D element of the game cannot be over-stressed, the fact is that those unconcerned with it will never have to think about it, but those who are interested can spend hours creating their own individually tailored characters. Trust me when I say that you eventually will end up doing just that - the game is just that addictive, and certainly expansive enough to accommodate such endeavors.

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