Review by darthpoke

"A lengthy take on IWD2"

Introduction

This is one game I have been waiting for. Even with Neverwinter Nights arriving earlier and promising much more, I have found it hard to reconcile Neverwinter Nights with good single-player gaming. Icewind Dale 2 does just that. I have been brought up on the old breed of CRPGs; in particular Dark Sun 1 and 2, and I have enjoyed all the Baldur's Gate games, Planescape: Torment and the original Icewind Dale. Nothing captures my imagination more than multi-character single player CRPGs. Neverwinter Nights might be the way to go with multi-player CRPGs but in my humble opinion (IMHO) the Infinity Engine represents the best of what single player gaming has to offer.

First off, I should mention that I do not have a pre-disposition towards role-playing and computer gaming. I do not condone min-maxing stats (personally, I prefer to imagine role-playing) but neither do I oppress it. As such, I will not be reviewing based on whether people can abuse the game system or not. There is no point whinging about this because every game system can be abused.

Gameplay

The first aspect and perhaps the most important aspect. Many people have criticised the Infinity Engine for it's remarkable similarity to real time strategy game engines. Somebody once whined that Baldur's Gate was nothing more than a ''glorified RTS with dialogue options''. Yet, as combat plays an important role in RPGs (has anyone here ever mass-managed a tabletop PNP battle with over 30 foes?) it is imperative that it gets handled properly. I like the pause option of the Infinity engine. The minor niggle in gameplay seems to be the awful pathfinding that people seem to always moan about. It's awful, yes, but it rarely gets in the way of enjoying the game. This does not at all detract from the overall enjoyment of the game.

Combat, as mentioned earlier, is the bulk of this game, if not the entirety. Rather than wham bam action and tirelessly watching your sole hero swing at his/her foes (a la Neverwinter Nights) you really get deep strategy here. Of course, there will be stronger strategies and weaker ones, and there will be those overused and over-abused ones, but nevertheless, this is a game for a thinker. Most of the time, how you manage your characters in combat is equally important to the sort of equipment available to you. Likewise, how you chose your characters in the beginning of the game will have a profound effect throughout the entire game. But, I must add, even the weakest parties will find their way through the game with a little more thought.

Also new to this installment of IWD is the introduction of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition rules. The 3E rules seem to have been muddled up with AD&D 2nd ed rules in this game. This is fine by me as I've always considered 2E ''artifacts'' like weapon speed and casting time to be more realistic (you don't hit with a sword as quickly as you would a dagger). Also, the feats were well implemented and I do prefer the Black Isle introduced feats like Aqua Mortis as opposed to standard feats like Maximize spell. However, I would have given an arm and leg for Whirlwind attack. 3E functions well here with conversation skills and BIS seems to have made these skills useful even in this combat-heavy game. Overall, I much prefer BIS intepretation of 3E than Bioware's in NWN. All we need now is a game with Prestige classes (implemented by way of special quests and guild membership), strongholds (A la BG2) and psionics. Then D&D will be so much more fun to play.

Overall, gameplay is fun and challenging without being frustrating.

Graphics

If you're looking for pretty graphics, you'll have to first ask yourself what IS pretty graphics. People seem to always fight and debate over graphics quality.

For me, IWD2 looks pretty enough. I've always enjoyed hand-painted backgrounds and PS:T really did it for me. Suffice to say, the quality in IWD2 has been maintained if not improved.

If you're looking for the latest 3D effects with pixel-shading support and all, don't look here. You just won't find it.

That said, the graphics go well with the game. After switching to IWD2 after playing NWN for so long, the graphics jarred my eyes. But as I played on, I began to love the graphics again. Nary will you find a building obscuring your vision. Nary will you find a killer lag or a corrupted screen.

Audio

Sound in IWD2 is wonderful. Magnificent. But all too short. I'm presuming that this can be fixed because the score seems to play for a little while when you enter a new area and then is followed by *silence*. This is a bit frustrating as I would like to hear more score and less *silence* as I play the game. Sometimes, there are areas (particularly small buildings) which don't have score as well. That said, I suppose this could be easily fixed in a patch, so I wouldn't count this against the overall quality of the game.

Voices and sound effects are, as with all the previous Infinity Engine games, recycled. The trend is that with each new IE game, all the old sound effects are recycled and new ones are added in. I am satisfied with this method because the sounds in all the previous IE games were very good to begin with. The new voice sets are great, if not better than the previous ones. This time, they've come up with some very specific character vioce sets like drow and monk sets. However, I still can't find the perfect voice for my Deep Gnome Monk yet!

Replayability

I am a gamer who gets driven by the plot rather than leveling up and getting new weapons. For me, I would try to replay a game, but if the repeated plot bores me, I would stop halfway. I replayed BG2 twice with different characters and that was fair enough. IWD2 would have great replayability for you if you like more levels and more weapons. The Heart of Fury mode would also add more challenge to combat. So far, I have not been bored by the repeated storyline. It's still great fun and there is noticeable difference between having a goody two-shoes Aasimar Paladin doing the talking and a Half-wit Half-Orc Barbarian. I must say that the combat remains refreshing and interesting and surprisingly varied enough even with two runs that replayability would seem high in this game.

Conclusion

IWD2 is a great game to have. IMHO, this game is better than its predecessor in many ways. It is a bit difficult to compare it to BG2 or PS:T as it makes no illusions that it really is a hack-slash fest. Still it is a more than worthy addition to anyone's collection with the sheer amount of enjoyment time you get from it. IWD2 is a classic in it's own right; no need for comparisons with any other game, they just don't fit in the same category.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/01/02, Updated 10/01/02


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