Icewind Dale II Preview  

 

Icewind Dale II Preview

 

Icewind Dale II Preview

 

Icewind Dale II Preview

 

Icewind Dale II Preview

 

Icewind Dale II Preview


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Icewind Dale II Preview

Platform: PC

Developer: Black Isle Studios

Publisher: Interplay

 

Genre: RPG

 

ETA: May 28, 2002

Icewind Dale II

What a pleasant surprise it was to hear that RPG gurus Black Isle have a sequel to Icewind Dale in the works.  The original was quite arguably one of the best excursions into hack ní slash role-playing to hit the PC in quite some time.  Taking the combat elements from Planescape Torment and the Baldurís Gate series, while stripping the non-linear plot development, the original Icewind Dale and its subsequent expansion packs provided enough tactical combat to keep most fans of the genre occupied for a very long time.  Now with Icewind Dale II on the way, it looks like Black Isle plans to take what worked in the original and run with it.

The game will take place about one and a half generations after the events of the original, continuing to allow players to run around the Spine of the World, whacking and hacking Yeti, Ice Trolls, Orcs, and such to their heartís content.  No word on what, exactly, we can expect from the narrative in the game, but that would be treading into spoiler territory anyway.  So far, players are simply told to go to the town of Targos, one of the Ten Towns far to the North, where goblin hordes are up to no good, from there the plot unfolds in a manner equally linear to that of the first Icewind Dale.  What we do know is that none of the mythological Forgotten Realm characters from the Spine will be in the game.  According to the gameís timeline, Drizzt DoíUrden is still in the Underdark, and Wulgar has not yet been born.

The thing about Icewind Dale and the other games that share Biowareís Infinity Engine is that these titles really have an ďIf it ainít broke, donítí fix itĒ style of gameplay.  This mentality looks like it will be carried on into Icewind Dale II, so instead of a completely re-tooled experience for the sequel, expect Black Isle to add onto the existing formula, enhancing what already exists.  A lot of what looks like will be done to achieve this is the tried and true method of adding more, more, more.

Letís start things off with the magic in this sequel.  The nature of the Infinity Engineís battle system makes it so that how, where, and when you cast your spells as well as what types of spells you cast has a very strong impact on how to implement tactics.  Most of us have probably at least singed a comrade at one time or another in a large, hectic battle.  With the last Icewind Dale we had a sizeable amount of spells at our disposal, from offensive, to curative, to condition altering.  Now there will be 50 new spells added for the sequel.  These spells will be divided among the druidic, priestly, and the sorceries schools of magic and will include spells such as a Delayed Blast Fireball, Reflective Image, Wondrous Recall, and Negative Plane Projection.

Also being beefed up is the number of races that players will have to choose from when creating their party, adding more selection beyond the standard Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Halfings, and Gnomes.  It wonít so much be that there are completely new races, as the Half-Orc is the only wholly new race, but sub-races will be added to quite an extent, as players are able to now use Drow Elves (dark elves), Gold Dwarves, and Tieflings (a sort of human tip-toeing on the evil, or at least not-so-straight-and-narrow, side of life).  As usual, all the races will have their strengths and weaknesses affecting their core stats as well as giving them particular offensive or defensive abilities / penalties. 

The bestiary will be seeing some new additions too.  So far we know that the Bugbear, a giant, furry member of the goblin race, who really pack a punch, and the Hook Horror, a large denizen of the Underdark, resembling a vulture/humanoid hybrid with large hooks for hands will be among the new additions.  Also new are the Worthog riding Goblins.  While I think I may be suffering from a bout of wishful thinking, it would be nice to see these monsters actually act as cavalry, constantly moving, forcing players to uses archery, slings, or magic to stop them, or finding a way to corral them into the slower melee fighters.  The last of the known newbies in Beasty Town is the Neo-Orog Shaman, so if you thought it was annoying to be swarmed by regular Orog in the first game, better get used to dealing with their magic using buddies now.

Of course, what would a game based in the Forgotten Realms be without a wide range of character classes to choose from?  So far itís looking like 3rd Edition fair.  We have three types of warrior (the Mercenary, Kensai, and Mage Slayer), three different types of druid (the Avenger, Shapeshifter, and Aes Dana), and three different types of cleric, one for each of three major religions in the realms, in this case Tempus (god of war), Selune (goddess of the moon), and Bane (god of strife, hatred, and tyranny).  Rangers will also be back, and will have the ability to pick a new racial enemy every 5 levels as well as receive a +4 to Damage and a +4 to Hit against their racial enemy.  For ranger types, there are, you guessed, three different types: the Giant Killer, the Archer, and the Stalker.  The religious champion, the paladin, will be making a return with three types of sub-classes to choose from (Cavaliers, Inquisitors, and the Votary), while their social polar opposite, the thief, will also return with three character classes (the Assassin, the Swashbuckler, and the Arcane Rogue).  But if sinister deeds, and clobbering trolls with warhammers isnít your thing, there is also the bard as a daintier, musically inclined class, with its three sub-classes to choose from (the Blade, Skald, and Riddlemaster).  There is also extremely vague mention that barbarians, sorcerers, and monks will be included as optional classes to choose from, so for the magic lovers out there, while you may have more spells to play with, you may also have less magic users to choose from, unless the specialist mages and the often unpredictable Wild Mage are somehow snuck into the fray.

One unfortunate aspect of character creation that will appear in Icewind Dale II is that players will not be able to import their characters from the first game.  Entirely new characters will need to be made from scratch.  I suspect this is largely due to the potential for inconsistencies in character classes, since 3rd edition characters are present in the sequel, and some classes are gone all together, so it is understandable, despite the bad taste it leaves.

There are also planned to be a number of new items thrown into the mix, though what they are Black Isle wonít say just yet.  However, there appears to be some sort of random treasure generator being implemented into Icewind Dale II that will add more variety to what fallen monsters drop.  As small a thing as this may seem, I find this quite interesting as I wonder whether it will mean getting my hands on more magical items, uniques, and such.  Whatever the case it looks like we wonít have to be quite so disappointed about defeating our umpteenth goblin horde, then say to ourselves, ďOh yay, another 37 hand axes to weight me down, and sell for next to nothing at the store.Ē

The game is looking like it will be a reasonably lengthy affair, clocking in at about 30-40 hours of gameplay, and even more if you play in the improved Heart of Fury mode (thatís the exceptionally high difficulty mode, for those who donít know).  The game is not only looking fairly large in terms of time consumption, but in the sheer girth of the world to be explored.  The game is slated to be larger than that of the original Icewind Dale.  However, what is not clarified is whether it is larger than Icewind Dale Proper, or if this includes the size of the game once you factor in the Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster expansion packs.  The level cap will also be set at the 31st level for those in Heart of Fury mode, and slightly lower for those playing at easier difficulties.  

One final area of concern is the rumblings in interviews and such that battles will be more broken up, so to allow more interaction with NPCs and to perform puzzle solving.  The problem I have with this is that these sort of things hardly seem in the spirit of Icewind Dale.  It set itself apart by primarily being about beating the tar out of enemies, leveling up, and finding really nice weapons, armor, and items.  What they propose to do by breaking up the battles a bit more sounds like the game will be made to play a lot like Baldur's Gate.  While emulation is one of the finest forms of flattery, we already have a Baldur's Gate, why not enhance the battles, which thus far appear to play out in the standard manner found in the original game, or any other aspect of Icewind Dale that set it apart from its Infinity Engine brethren instead?

Black Isle certainly did a good job of keeping info on this keep hush-hush, as it has apparently been in the works since the summer of 2001.  Of course what this means is that it is that much closer to completion, at least in theory.  So, if youíre just about through the epic juggernaut that is the Baldurís Gate series, it looks like youíll have something fresh to dig into soon enough.

- Mr. Nash

Review: Icewind Dale (PC)

Review: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC)

Review: Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (PC)

Review: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (Playstation 2)