Review by velmarg
"The Infinity Engine's Last Hurrah"
Bioware's Infinity Engine has given us some of the finest role playing games out there; Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale. As technology advances and companies make changes, it becomes necessary to move on. Black Isle figured they'd give this wonderful engine one final salute with Icewind Dale 2. Is it the best of the bunch? No. Is it a damn good strategy RPG? You bet.
There was a lot to like about the Infinity Engine, but there was a lot that wasn't so likable. The graphics are perhaps the most complained about issue. It's certainly not an ugly game, but this isn't something you're going to show off to your friends because of how it looks. The still backgrounds are beautiful, as are some of the monsters (represented by sprites) and some of the spell effects. In the end, it's not something to ''Oh!'' and ''Ah!'' over, but it doesn't look bad enough for it to really impact the overall enjoyment of the game.
Sound has never been a big issue with the Infinity Engine; there's just not a whole lot to hear. You've got some ambience and some grunts and some voices here and there, but it was never considered a real strongpoint or weakness. Having said that, there's really nothing bad to say about the sound. The voices are probably the best you're going to find in an IE game (the voice choices in BG and BG2 were a bit lame). It reuses all of the voice sets from the original Icewind Dale, and throws a bunch of others in for good measure. The spoken dialogue from NPC's in the game is excellent as well. One notable difference between the Icewind Dale series and Baldur's Gate is that in Icewind Dale, combat sounds much more authentic. You hear the clanging of steal on steel; not just the sound of a blade whipping through the air. This is easily the best sounding IE game.
The real strength in the sound department, however, lies in the game's score. The music in this game is simply fantastic. There isn't a lot of it (in fact, there's not enough of it), but what's there is arguably some of the best I personally have ever heard. Music usually isn't a huge factor when deciding whether or not to purchase a game, but if it is for you, dear reader, then don't fret. This game's music, to put it bluntly, kicks ass.
The Infinity Engine interface is a love it or hate it affair, mainly because of the stiff learning curve. If you've had any experience with previous IE games, you should feel right at home (though there have been a few changes to the interface; the party portraits and menu buttons are all at the bottom of the screen). If you haven't, be prepared for some confusion. It'll take a while just to get used to where everything is on the screen; after that, you have to learn the classes and weapons and worst of all, the spells. This can take a long, long time. If you're someone who's familiar with Dungeons and Dragons (3rd Ed. rules, to be specific), you might fare a little better. If not, you'll probably just push the game aside at first. One of the biggest mistakes some people make with these games is that they start to play them, find that they don't have a clue what's going on, shelf it and never touch it again. Trust me, once you figure everything out and get comfortable with the interface, these can be some of the best games you'll ever play. Just takes a little bit of time.
Now for the specifics. The game screen is divided into 3 main areas; the actual game screen where everything goes on, the action bar (which is where all the buttons for the different commands and menus, and where all the portraits for your characters are located), and the dialogue box, where all the dialogue is presented and where a lot of important combat information is displayed.
I've sort of made it a rule for me not to ruin any specifics as far as stories are concerned. Suffice to say, this isn't the game strong point. It presents a decent story that you might get interested in to a point, but it's nothing to get too excited about.
This is the heart and soul of Icewind Dale 2; it's gameplay. You start off by creating a party of six characters from scratch. You choose their gender, race, class, and stats, give them a portait, a voice, and some color; biographies are optional. After that, you move into the game. You move your characters around by click on their portrait or sprite in the game screen and clicking where you want them to go; attack is done in the same fashion. There are a lot of screens in this game, but the five imporant ones are the main game screen (where everything goes on, as I said), the map screen (a zoomed out view of the game area), the inventory screen (where you equip or look at items), the records screen (where all the information about a specific character is displayed), and the spell screen (where you assign different spells). It's a little overwhelming at first, but once you figure it out, it works quite well.
Icewind Dale 2 is a very combat driven game; in fact, you'll rarely find yourself in a moment when you're not killing something or preparing to kill something. Luckily, the combat is a blast. It's no cake walk; this might be the most difficult IE game yet... But it's very well executed.
There's a multiplayer mode, but it's nothing really worth explaining. It's basically the same as single player, except that each player controls a character or two.
The real saving grace in this game's lifespan is the ''Heart of Fury'' mode. Basically, you play through it once, import your party into a new game, and play through again against some truly beefy monsters. The game's guaranteed to get at least two plays before you shelf it (if you enjoy it the first time through, anyway). After that, you'll likely come back to it every now and then.
Closing Comments: It's sad to see the engine go, and even sadder to see the demise of Black Isle Studios. This game will be forever remembered as the last hurrah for this great engine. If you like action, and are willing to spend some time getting accustomed to the interface, you'll find this to be a very good game indeed.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/20/04
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