Product Type: Avalon PC games
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Geeky hack and slash greatness!
Icewind Dale II (PC)
Member Name: sagat
Icewind Dale II (PC)
Advantages: Addictive, new classes to try
Disadvantages: Linear plot, hugely addictive!
Whilst a hugely enjoyable game, this sequel is not for newcomers to the genre. As with all of these games (Fallout (to a lesser extent), Baldur's Gate, Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale), you view the action through the Infinity Engine in isometric 3D. The action is generally easy to follow, although invariably, you will find the odd party member wandering off when the action gets cramped, which can be frustrating. Characters are easy to distinguish, making it easy to work out who needs to do what in the heat of battle and the graphics are bright and colourful. It may not be overly exciting by modern standards, but it more than does the job.
The sound effects carry over from previous games, alongside some new additions, which is good for fans of the series ('To the pain!' is a favourite of mine and no doubt other Princess Bride fans). Weapons clash and spells impact with satisfying clarity alongside the odd speech sample and these are spread out enough so as not to become tedious and repetitive. The music is slightly more intrusive than in the original, on occasion you will enter an area and ambient music will assault your senses, but this is easily fixed in the options screen.
The story is far more interesting than the original (and the Heart of Winter add-on) and far larger as well. It has more depth and substance to it, but still does not compare to the likes of Fallout, Baldur's Gate and Planescape unfortunately, which may put off seasoned players. As with Icewind Dale, there is little in the way of side quests to investigate. Similarly, due to party members all being created by the player, you do not have some of the character specific quests from other games.
The problems with this sequel are generally those that existed with the original. Firstly, there is a MASSIVE bug which prevented me even getting past character creation on certain classes. A quick download fixed this, but if you did not have internet access, then you quite simply would not be able to play the game, which is shocking. Whilst I appreciate that just how massive this game is, it is infuriating that developers allow products to be released with glaring faults in them. Sadly this appears to becoming increasingly common in console games, as well as PC games, but I digress.
Once this fault is fixed, the character creation is an arduous/enjoyable process depending on how geeky you are. As usual, you assign roles to your characters, choosing whether you want them to be fighters, wizards, thieves and the like, before assigning skill sets. Icewind Dale 2 varies from the original formula in that you can assign skills to characters that would not normally use them. So, barbarians can learn to sneak and steal, and wizards can now wear heavier armour, although these characters will be handicapped when using these skills, for example, the heavier the armour, the higher percentage of spell casting failure, so choose wisely!
As the game progresses, you are able to multi-class your warriors, which may or may not be of use to you, depending on your party setup. Every so often, you will also be able to add additional skills to your character and further perks. This range from increased haggling skills, to weapon proficiency and the like. Your party leader seems to make far more difference to your team than in other games, so ensure they have high charisma and reasoning skills. Whilst this is more realistic, it is frustrating when your chosen leader is a Sorcerer, yet the battle formations insist on keeping them at the front of your team. I thought this was editable in Baldur's Gate 2, but cannot seem to do it in this, which is annoying as you obviously want your puny wizard hiding at the back for battles.
Whilst this is great fun, carrying it out six times is pretty wearing, especially if you are a newbie who needs to read every bit of information and find out what everything does. Even seasoned veterans will need some adjusting, for example, a high armour score is now the sign of good quality armour, as opposed to a low score. Some players may find themselves putting loads of effort into three characters and then just rushing the rest in order to get to the game. This issue has been addressed in some respects as you can choose from a selection of predetermined teams, all with their own skills and back-story. Despite this, I cannot help preferring the Baldur's Gate method of creating yourself and then building a team of companions.
Although the story is deeper than before, it is still extremely linear with little in the way of side quests to explore. Newer players may enjoy this as it is less to keep up with, but considering how this is a game for experienced players, this is curious.
The game is incredibly enjoyable, and although your character may lack the substance provided in other games, you will find yourself up until 1am promising yourself that you will explore just one more area. The game is a massive increase in size over the original (as similar a jump as from Baldur's Gate 1 to 2) with plenty of different areas to explore and new enemies to kill. There is little variation in the way of quests, but this is supposed to be a more action based game. I found the game a hell of a lot easier than its predecessor, cruising through on medium difficulty, whereas on the original I had to adjust it for certain fights, especially early in the game. Generally, the quests do not feel like a grind (although quests such as the Battle Room) did feel like a chore, and guiding your party to victory is excellent fun.
The pacing of the game is generally very strong. It is a good balance of exploring and solving the odd puzzle followed by intense fighting. The original frustrated me several times with the amount of running around involved in certain quests and this seems to have been avoided here bar the odd exception.
I am unsure as to who this game was really aimed at and where it fits into the Black Isle catalogue. It is far more complex and larger in size than the original, which will appeal to fans of the original, but put off newcomers. Veterans from other games may find it enjoyable, but due to its linear nature, there is not a huge amount of replay value for plot, only for character variation. In its defence, it was marketed as a linear game, and not as another Baldur's Gate style adventure, but for me unfortunately, the comparisons remain. Newcomers to the genre may play the original and then this to learn the ropes, but when they move onto something such as Baldur's Gate, may find themselves disappointed at how many features are missing. This game may appeal to more impatient role-players, who just want to blitz through a game and not worry about reading reams of text, and in that aspect this is definitely a winner
I know that this review probably comes across quite negative about the game, but that is only due to the high standards of other releases. This is an extremely good game, but for me, it is not as classic or as enduring as some of their other titles.
Summary: Improvement on the original, but still not the best in the genre