Product Type: Avalon PC games
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Trudge across the frozen North - again!!
Icewind Dale II (PC)
Member Name: The Daz
Icewind Dale II (PC)
Advantages: Adaptable and varied character builds.
Disadvantages: Not quite the same romance as the original.
Still - the scenery is nice, the music is always good, and you could do with the money after wasting the original hoard from the frozen north on Cormyran Brandy and that castle in Merrydale.
So - the adventure returns to the Spine of the World mountains, deep in the cold, wintry North of Faerun. The old legends of the fabled adventurers remain, and a generation later, new terror and mystery has returned. Signing on to serve on the Palisade at Targos, ostensibly to repulse a Goblin horde, you find yourselves drawn into another endless chase through the more remote locales of the region in pursuit of an ever threatening malice that ultimately leads you back to the Severed Hand fortress that featured in the original Icewind Dale. Along the way you meet some old friends from the original game, a range of new and frightening enemies, solve a few riddles, right a few wrongs, get lost in a maze of a forest, race around a time-looped magma chamber, and try to kill a Temple Guardian that barely fits onto the screen, among others.
The story is certainly different, and a new array of monsters to chop up does provide entertainment, but as with other Black Isle releases, the story is linear and it is the way you approach the adventure rather than the adventure itself that changes each time you play.
Based on the new fangled (well, old-fangled now) 3rd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, the focus is less on the glorious archetypal heroes of 2nd Edition, as the Baldur's Gate and first Icewind Dale game were, but is now on multi-skilled and infinitely variable wannabes who think they can wield a 2 handed sword, wear plate mail and cast fireballs whilst sneaking quietly. Tsk...
The advantages to the new system do include a greater emphasis on multi-classing, far more options for skills and feats - a huge variety of non-weapon proficiencies allow you to tailor your character exactly as you wish - and a wider choice of races and subraces. Your Dwarf can now be a Shield, Hill or Duergar, your humans can have outer-planar blood and be Tieflings or Aasimar, and a Deep Gnome Monk is certainly not be messed with.
Speaking of Monks - the class system is also altered from the previous incarnations. Monks are back in all their unarmed combat fury, and with increasing resistances to all sorts of things as levels progress. Druids are much better spellcasters and have alternate shapeshifting abilities - half-dragons perchance?! Warriors can now be Barbarians and lumber around in furs with enormous axes, cleaving orcs in twain, as is their wont. Rogues can now have a number of offensive skills that go beyond simple lock-picking, and make them much more than just an afterthought.
Level progression is good too - you can choose (within reason) to advance one multi-class level independent of another, tweaking your character as you see fit, and by the time you reach level 30, your party of merry adventurers will be able to take on a room full of demons, invisible backstabbing thieves, conjured giants and merciless priest-knights. Whish is handy because you'll have to!
In terms of Gameplay the excellent Infinity Engine has undergone some obvious improvements as you'd expect after several years of computing advances. The graphics are wonderfully detailed and smooth, and the important bad guys are noticeably grander and more worrying than the last lot. With the ability to import characters and portraits from the previous game, you can even enjoy your original parties' return as they take on a new challenge. The conversation options are a bit more intelligent now, and you will need to choose a charismatic, intelligent and fairly neutral leader to get the most out of this interaction. Make the goody 2-shoes Paladin your commander and you can expect no luck in slipping through some sections to scout about! A wide choice of skills and races used in your party will ensure you get the most of the quest experience on offer, and the game actively encourages tactical thinking, particularly in the larger battles where standing at the front and trying to mow your way through to the enemy leader is doomed to failure.
As with the first game, there are a host of upgrades and enhancements available online. From official patches to fix those troublesome bugs, to cheats that let you improve your party skills quicker, to the ultimate editor that lets you beef up that feeble Orc General with a spiffy weapon or two and more treasure, or the addition of bonus merchants that sell a new range of powerful magical items, as well as walkthroughs, more portraits and sample characters, the online world of RPG tweaking has never been so accessible.
The game is somewhat longer than the first, but with no sequel. The same Heart of Fury mode carried over from the original game is there, and you can expect to spend hours hacking your way through piles of green skinned corpses if you choose this option. There are the same Wizard and Priest spells as the original, with old faithfuls like Fireball rendered in epic room-sweeping might, and with plenty of excellent new additions to help you supplement the more brutal skills of your fighters, you can confidently march through an array of puzzles, traps, alliances and head on skirmishes as you chase your foes across the frozen wastes of the North.
Overall, Icewind Dale II is a good sequel to the first. Fresher, brighter, more intelligent, but with the same feel and charm of the original, this game will appeal to both the old D&D player who wants some authentic adventuring, as well as the neophyte player who fancies some adaptable gameplay and a challenging time.
Summary: Good all round improvement to the D&D fold.