Welcome back to the Sword Coast. Icewind Dale II from Back Isle is the latest D&D game making use of the famed Bioware Infinity engine. IDII takes us back to the Spine of the World for some more good old hack & slash as the role of mercenaries hired to help ward off a sudden attack by goblins.ID II is a D&D RPG based on the recently released 3rd Edition rules. In ID II you can choose either a pre-made party of six adventurers or create your own party of six or less. Upon leaving the boat your party of adventurers begins the first of many battles to come.If you’ve played any of the previous Infinity Engine games (Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate) you will find your surroundings familiar. Game play flows about the same as in those games. The biggest difference here is the institution of the AD&D 3rd edition rules. Essentially what we have here is serious amount of hack and slash RPG. Also worth noting is that ID II isn’t quite the story you may be used to seeing in this engine. There is no stand-alone novel contained in this game. However the story does provide a good vehicle to get you from place to place.Most PC RPG’s have a couple of staple parts, the first being character creation. One of the most enjoyable parts of any RPG for me is this first part of the game and Icewind Dale II is no exception. If there is one area where this game excelled well beyond my expectations it is level customization. This goes from the configuration options such as the unsupported higher resolutions to character creation, to keyboard mapping. IDII does a great job of making all these things straightforward and easy to change.
Character creation is quite enjoyable. As opposed to past games you no longer “roll” for your attribute points, you are a*igned a default number of points to distribute as you see accordingly. So in this edition we have no more fighters w/ an 18 intelligence unless you’re into your fighter barely holding their sword and running around naked. However in the 3rd edition as one goes up in levels you receive additional points to add to your base stats. As I was initially unfamiliar with all the changes in the 3rd edition this was a nice surprise. Multi-Classing is also painless. When you level up one has the opportunity to add a class, nice and easy.New to this edition we see skills for all classes emerge. These range from things like intimidate, to disarm traps, to alchemy. I am still not sure how I feel about these. The biggest reason for my indecision is because often in the conversation trees just having high charisma isn’t enough, often you need high “diplomacy or intimidate” skills. As you are from time to time not allowed to decide who talks for the group, it can be annoying to miss out on something just because the lunk-head I have running point for the group didn’t go to charm school. However it is nice to be able to a*ign my magic users certain other thief type abilities such as search for traps. Their high intelligence levels made this skill quite useful and allowed me to dumb down my thief and concentrate on the more dexterity based skills.
Customization takes another change in the form of “feats”. Each character gains access to certain feats, some are available to all and some only to certain classes. One of the neater ones I enjoyed was the ability of rogues to avoid spells. Late in the game I would make my thief invisible, and caste haste on her, and equip her w/ a ring of free movement, and have her run around most of the level setting off most of the traps and mapping the place out. This system eliminates the restrictions on weapon use, so my magic-users quickly became back-up archers.Onto the actual game play&h**ip; As I said earlier if you’ve played any of the Infinity engine games maneuvering within the game will feel quite natural. If you’re new to the series you’ll find a polished interface. One of the beauties is how the game mostly eliminates the proverbial search for the needle in a haystack. By pushing the “alt” key one highlights almost all doors, switches, tables, barrels, etc. that can be manipulated in game. Unfortunately there were a couple (and I do mean only 2 or 3) things that need to be turned or switched etc. that are not covered by this, and this stopped me in my tracks twice because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was supposed to push. But other than that, I had little to no trouble finding things. Aside from the all-important “alt” key there is plenty more that make game play a joy. The short cuts for each character are fully customizable so that you can make your 3 or 4 favorite spells one click away, or bring that barbarian’s rage front and center much like a panic button. The quick save option makes the life of an RPG player so much easier by allowing you to save the game in one step.I found myself using this feature a lot as I actually found ID II quite difficult at times. The box boasts, “Auto-balancing game play balances the conflict to match your skill level”. I had a hard time appreciating this feature. I found myself loading the game several times to get past a certain spot as often as I was able to move at a consistent pace through the rest of the levels. I understand needing to fight a “boss” a couple times as you need to figure out their particular strengths or weaknesses but in my opinion just encountering a group of “normal” monsters on a given level shouldn’t create as many speed bumps as I encountered.Another problem was the path finding ability of the PC’s. Often after clicking somewhere to the north three characters would turn around and walk south. Even with the path finding nodes set to the maximum my party of adventurers rarely got it right.I also encountered a couple of bugs, the most frustrating being that when I went to the world map the game would crash. There is a patch out that fixes this, but if I didn’t have access to it I would have been stuck back in chapter 2 of the game or at the least had to start over. Also even after the patch was installed the game booted me to the desktop a couple more time times when heading to the world map.Other than that the game ran fairly smooth w/ the exception of a few slow downs when I had four monsters summoned and was fighting multiple enemies. The game also has quite a bit of variety in location and enemies. You fight everywhere from towns to tundras, to caves and across dimensions. Some of the puzzles used do get annoying, but most of them vary just enough from the standard delivery boy format that by the end you’re not ready to beat the next person who needs a new pair of pants and it’s your job to run to the tailor.ID II does a great job of having the generic NPC’s react to your deeds as the game goes on. They often shout your praises and thank you when you talk to them, a*uming you’ve taken the “good” route. When you kill eighty-six orcs it’s nice to have someone give you a little more respect.Additionally one is often presented with good / evil or even a gray choice when it comes to solving problems, or looking for a reward. This is nice, and as before the in game characters seem to respond to the choices you make. While not exactly an immersive game world, things like this go a long way to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something.The game has some replay value in that you can change your party up to different classes, be good or evil, etc. But if you’re looking for lots of replay and brand new experiences every time through this isn’t the place for you to go.Finally, the a*ortment and amount of equipment is enormous. ID II provides constant new toys. Toward the end of the game I had a fighter swinging two +4 swords. When I’m playing a D&D game this is something I find immensely entertaining.ID II is a solid dungeon romp. The story is a mildly entertaining distraction, and provides a good vehicle for the diverse experiences throughout the game. Despite a couple bugs (which are fixed for the most part via the patch) and the occasional graphic slow down the game ran pretty smooth. Although the Infinity engine is starting to show some age this latest edition is still fun for D&D fans, and the new 3rd edition rules definitely make it a new experience worth giving a try.