12-Sep-2002 We told Chris Anderson the new Icewind Dale game was just like Baldur's Gate II. We lied
We told Chris Anderson the new Icewind Dale game was just like Baldur's Gate II. We lied
Hopes were high for this one before it even arrived in the office. Given the huge success of Baldur's Gate II we fully expected the second Icewind Dale game to be similar at least in terms of the sheer depth of gameplay. What we were afraid of was another relentless combat-heavy trudge through countless boring dungeons that all look similar (as was the case with the first Icewind Dale). In truth, Black Isle appears to have learned its lesson to an extent. ID2 is still very combat heavy, but character interaction plays a far larger role this time round. Right from the outset, when you find yourself in the town of Targos, there are many people to question and glean information from. This is streets ahead of the NPCs in the first game, who would mutter a single sentence before offering you a quest which sent you off to kill, kill and then kill some more. NPCs in ID2 are a lot more interesting, and the game feels less of a chore as a result.
Telling Tales The main storyline centres around a goblin invasion of the Ten Towns. Your first hint of this is when they invade the one you're in at the time, Targos. Throughout the game you'll be taken to different locations in the Ten Towns in an attempt to repel the goblin invasion and once more bring peace to the Spine of the World. It's as good a reason as any to go bashing goblin bonces, and that's exactly what you'll be doing for the entirety of the game. The story progresses mainly through talking to NPCs, which may be an unspectacular way of doing it, but at least it makes a change from watching endless cut-scenes and FMVs.
The core of Icewind Dale II is centred around combat, but thanks to the excellent NPCs, the battles have a lot more meaning, as there is a strong storyline behind the endless hacking and slashing that ensues everywhere you go. Once you negotiate the less than action-packed opening stages, that is.
From tiny acorns You might be more than a little unamused with your early quests. Fetching and returning mundane items, collecting wheels and buying arrows for soldiers are just a few of the spectacularly unchallenging tasks you'll face when you first start out. It seems Black Isle wants you to get to know the entire town before actually sending you into combat. Fine if you're a beginner, but a bit of a chore when you're an expert dungeoneer, chomping at the bit to get stuck into some toe-to-toe carnage. But fear not, toe-to-toe you will be soon enough, and when you are, depending on your gameplay preferences, combat will be either reassuringly familiar or depressingly old fashioned. Yes, the action is still turn-based. However, you can play in real-time if you wish. If you wish to die that is. Spells still have to be memorised and you still have to rest every time you use them in order to relearn them (see the Some Things Never Change panel for more details). Combat is pretty hard on all your casters when you first start out, since they have very few spells at their disposal, but as they grow in strength you'll find yourself almost wholly reliant on magic, with your melee characters being thrown to the front of your group to keep enemies occupied while your spellcasters wave their wands about and cast Stun and Sleep spells to make the fights manageable. In terms of combat then, nothing much has changed from the first title. Looks familiar
Visually, Icewind Dale II is nothing to write home about, but it does the job well enough. You won't find the beautiful and wildly varied environments of BG2, but the graphics are clear and detailed, though playing in high resolutions reduces your group members to tiny little dots on the screen. We recommend 800x600 if you want to have any clue where your characters are at any given point. Despite the seemingly neverending sheets of white snow that blanket the land, at least the environments are more varied than in the first game, with noticeable landmarks marking your route from one place to the next. The characters in your party are clearly portrayed as well, despite their shortcomings in the size department at higher resolutions.
Stacking up Icewind Dale II is a highly playable RPG that's addictive if not terribly compelling, and the only real downer is the antiquated spell system and the inexplicable necessity to rest after every fight. It's not the BG2 killer we had all hoped for and neither does it stack up to Neverwinter Nights.
However, there are some very well designed areas if you persevere a little, particularly the Ice Temple in Andora. Here you'll find some particularly fiendish puzzles and interesting NPCs. All of whom have a lot to say for themselves, and most of whom contribute to the development of the main plot, which although initially concentrates on the siege at Targos, eventually exposes a far greater and more sinister threat to the Ten Towns.
Anyone will admit Icewind Dale II is not the most original RPG you will come across. It's derivative by its very nature, but a good plot, interesting NPCs and solid combat mechanics place it head and shoulders above the lion's share of its predecessors and make it an essential purchase for all fans of the superb Black Isle RPGs.
Dated game mechanics don't ruin an addictive and enjoyable game
// A step by step guide to your average ID2 mission
A typical quest in Icewind Dale II involves finding and destroying a building or enemy horde, and the further you get, the more combat intensive your adventures seem to become. Here's an idea of what to expect.
This is where Ubrec (head of your starting town, Targos) tells you there is an enemy fortress which needs to be taken out as part of an ongoing quest to protect the area from a goblin and orc invasion.
Along the way you find a friendly scout who has been injured while attempting to explore the fortress. She has lost her partner, so now you have a sub-quest to find him.
The entrance to the main fort is locked, but Ennelia tells you there is a secret entrance to the east. This is it, so without further ado lets venture in and see what we find.
Wouldn't you know it, this gate is locked, so now you have to find the key. Keys are usually found on key NPCs (no pun intended), but you have to kill them first to get them, which brings us to...
This is the meat of Icewind Dale II, relentless combat in an attempt to get an item or clear an area. No matter what you try, this is what you will always end up doing: killing stuff repeatedly.