Icewind Dale II

Developer:  Black Isle Studios
Publisher:  BioWare Corp/Interplay
Year Released:  2002

Review by Rosemary Young (December, 2002)
After playing the first Icewind Dale I was prepared for this latest trip to be weighted towards combat. It is. Especially towards the end, there are a lot of tough battles that take some serious strategic thinking to bring your party through intact. If you get into deep trouble you can lower the difficulty level (momentarily of course) and this should see you through. Oddly enough I only slipped the difficulty back a notch from "normal" just once in the game and this was at the beginning when my fledgling fighters didn't shape up. By the time the hectic ending arrived I had a sturdy team to rely on.

I didn't do it, however, without a fair amount of saving and sleeping and loading in order to experiment and prepare my magic users for the current battle. No matter what I always seem to have the wrong spells prepared when I run into a hoard of angry monsters. You can bet that I'll have a whole lot of fire power (literally) at my fingertips and the monsters of the moment will all be fire resistant; or I won't have a 'See invisibility' spell in sight allowing someone who has turned invisible to cause me no end of trouble. So reloading, sorting out spells, and sleeping happened regularly throughout this journey, and more so towards the end. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy this experimentation, after a string of failures success is all the more satisfying, but isn't this a teeny bit unrealistic? Silly question, I know, when I'm talking about a fantasy game. But I often wonder if *anyone* plays completely to the rules and survives these games without my terrible try-again habits?

Stayin' alive
As I started this review talking about combat I'll stay here for a while and fill in the details. Icewind Dale uses the now familiar Infinity Engine so many players will know what's in store. Combat is real time but you can halt the proceedings mid battle at any time to review your tactics: swap weapons, organise spells, share potions, and do just about anything, even make a cup of coffee to keep you awake longer. You control each character individually so you can move them around to suit the situation. Keep your healer at the fringes of the battle to heal party members when needed, have someone with a ranged weapon continually harrying an enemy spellcaster to interrupt their spells, or move your delicate wizard right out of harms way if she or he is threatened. You have time to organise all sorts of moves. Once or twice in this game I had my wizard on the run for half the battle when an enemy latched onto her and wouldn't let go. She didn't do much damage but she stayed alive, and she kept one opponent occupied and relatively 'harmless' in the process.

Battles really can be an exercise in strategy and I often used summoned creatures to improve the odds. Counting your party of 6, plus 3 summoned helpers, plus sometimes a whole hoard of foes, it can get very crowded. Especially as the figures are so small, I had some accidents when I occasionally lost track of who was who, but other than that it's all very satisfying. There are heaps of spells, and heaps of enhanced weapons, so if you like carefully kitting out your party and intricately planning out battles then you'll enjoy the combat, but if you are a pure hack and slash fan you might not fare so well.

What else
But fighting isn't the sum total of Icewind Dale II. It might consume a lot of your time but, compared with the first chapter, the story is more interesting and involving and there are consequently more NPC's to chat to and more quests and puzzles sprinkled around. There is quite a variety of things to do including the usual fetch and carry quests as well as such things as negotiating a forest maze, dealing with a time loop segment, mixing special potions, activating machinery, and so on. Sometimes you have to search out answers and think about what you find, and often there are different ways of going about things. You might, for instance, have the expertise to handle a problem or you might have to get help from a local. Nor do situations play out in the same way; it all depends on your characters' abilities. A party member with good diplomacy might talk you out of a fight, sneaking might have the same result; or someone with high intelligence might solve a problem for a reward or, alternatively, you could get hold of that same 'reward' by pick pocketing or, if you are so inclined, by sheer force.

With so much to take care of I quite enjoyed working my way through this game and deciding who might be the best character to deal with the task at hand. Of course this means replaying conversations because different characters elicit different responses, but both the dialogue and voice acting are just fine, there is even some humour, so chatting away is not a problem. I learned very early on when I was short of cash that it was inadvisable for my Paladin to do the talking because she always refused rewards. Such a worthy display of altruism, so I tried to keep her happy by not killing indiscriminately. This was until I struck the only bug I encountered in the game. I was on my second visit to my great friends in the Monastery when a stubborn monk just wouldn't let me leave a room. No matter what he stood steadfast in the doorway. Nothing helped, not even invisibility or haste, because simply entering the room seemed to trigger the situation. Even if I beat him to the door the game assumed he was there and wouldn't let me proceed. In the interests of moving on I solved the problem with wholesale slaughter ... and not a peep from my Paladin.

This was disappointing, she should have at least complained, and this deplorable action by my 'goodish' party lead to another incongruity further on in the game. Admittedly I was secretly thankful, but I was surprised when the order of monks I had treated so badly came to my aid in a subsequent battle.

The game introduction explains that your party is a team of mercenaries bent on saving the '10 towns' of the Forgotten Realms from invasion from the north; and ultimately sorting out the fiend who is pulling the strings.

Of course, if you want to get on with the job you've got to begin by gathering your party. If you don't take one of the 5 rather impressive groups that are ready and waiting to be called to action, then you can design your own. I very nearly engaged the all female party but I just couldn't resist generating my own.

Generating your party of six is made simple by detailed explanatory notes at every step, although the process is quite involved. After choosing your gender there are 7 races to pick from and most of these are further broken down into sub-races inviting many of the familiar inhabitants of the Forgotten Realms to tag along. There are Gold Dwarves and Grey Dwarves and High Elves and Wild Elves just to name a few, and each one has advantages and disadvantages in the form of ability or skill bonuses (or deficiencies), so you can be as meticulous as you like at this point.

Next comes alignment (easy pickings, good or evil or somewhere in between) and then there are 11 classes to choose from and around half of these have sub-classes so that your Paladin or Cleric or Wizard can belong to different orders. Once again your choices bring advantages or disadvantages.

You are half way there ... then comes the opportunity to distribute some Ability points pertaining to the usual Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Skills are next where you pick up such handy things as lockpicking, searching and stealth, and this is followed by Feats which is another serving of skills where you can improve your proficiencies with different weapons, armour and much, much more. After all this it's simple to dress your characters in the colour of your choice and select a voice set before finally typing in your name.

You're ready to go, and it's a long, and sometimes gruelling journey, but ultimately quite engrossing. Visually it is very similar to other games made with the Infinity Engine and as well as having more races to choose from, the 3rd Edition AD&D rules allow for quite a bit more flexibility in multi classing and in other areas such as skill allocation for various classes. On this journey your wizard can wield a sword and wear armour effectively provided you allocate their skills wisely.

Although Icewind Dale II has the same path-finding problems of the first instalment in that your characters still have a mind of their own and brazenly wander off and get themselves into trouble, it's nevertheless a much longer and more intricate game. Personally I would have liked my characters to have had more dialogue to bring out their personalities (see the Paladin comments above) but I still got to know and love them pretty well. All the dialogue is subtitled except for the narration in the opening sequence. Icewind Dale II has a multiplayer mode which wasn't tested here. The single player game, however, is a worthy challenge for players with a taste for strategic fighting, punctuated with some puzzles, and all wrapped up in a daring journey to save the world. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Intel Pentium II 350MHz or AMD K6-III/400MHz, 64MB RAM, DirectX compliant video card, DirectX compliant sound card, 4x CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP, DirectX 8.0 or higher

Intel Pentium III 500 or AMD Duron or Athlon processor, 128MB RAM, DirectX compliant video card, DirectX compliant sound card, 16x CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, Broadband (Cable/DSL) Connection for multiplayer, Windows XP, DirectX 8.0 or higher.
NOTE: For multiplayer gameplay, it is highly recommended that you install Icewind Dale II using the "Full" installation option. (1.5GB)