Icewind Dale II

Bill Dungsroman 10/5/2003 

What We Ask For: Torment 2. What We Get: Icewind Dale 2. Thanks, Faggots.

Hooray, a sequel to the pacifier RPG Black Isle Studios (BIS) whipped up a couple of years ago to bridge the (revenue) gap between Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 (BG1 and BG2). The "gold ring" here is that Icewind Dale 2 (IWD2) fully implements Dungeons & Dragons’ "revolutionary" Third Edition Rules, an inclusion practically nobody has been clamoring for in D&D computer games. Since the old rules set sucked as well, there isn’t much difference in learning a new set, since RPG gamers more or less have to do that with each new type of fantasy RPG game anyway. As a side note, the Third Edition Rules are already being rewritten, and revised books are already in print. So, who wants to play a game using a rules set that’s evidently pre-patch? Sounds like a gaming orgasm to me! Anyway, IWD2 is pretty dull. It seems BIS peaked with BG2, since this game doesn’t have near the same excitement, depth, or fun as BG2 did. Sure, it’s got some new bells and whistles apart from the rules overhaul, but so what? It isn’t enough for the most part, and worse yet, BIS inexplicably removed some of the original bells and whistles that helped make these games fun. Too much of this game pisses me off, to the point where it isn’t fucking fun to play it. Many have pondered the immortal question of What Makes a Game, but I really don’t fucking care. I can tell you what un-makes a game: when it stops becoming fun. If IWD2 was made for the fan base, I can tell you all but the most deluded fanboys aren’t going to be happy with it.

Icewind Blows

My party attempts to boldly march down a hallway... with the usual retarded results.
I guess now we know why they call it the Infinity Engine (IE): it never fucking goes away. All of its quirks and apparently unfixable flaws come with it as well, it seems. Could someone explain to me how the fuck the pathfinding is apparently worse in IWD2 than it was in IWD1, the more-or-less second draft of the IE? BIS, who are usually in my Good Book, (or, at least, not permanently in my Must Kill Slowly Book, like those Troika faggots are), get an F- in their efforts to update the IE. How many goddamn times did I try to walk my fucking party through a door, only to have them dog pile in front of it, fidgeting and wiggling about, to no avail? I could almost hear a Three Stooges empty coconut CLONK of their little pixilated heads knocking together in the attempt. It even happens when I try to depart from a map edge outdoors, a problem I haven’t seen since the original Baldur’s Gate. They’ll just stand there and wiggle at the map edge until I back-step them and try again. Or, better yet, since so much of the game takes place in convoluted, narrow pathways (even in outdoor towns – HAHA SNOWDRIFTS), characters will do the hemorrhoid-rupturingly annoying my-party-member-looked-like-a-brick-wall-at-the-time bit by running into each other, then turning around and heading the other way. It’s fucking hilarious, HEE-larious I tell you, when they do it in a really narrow, winding hallway, and they invariably end up pinballing off each other. Hey hey, which way will they end up going? Who knows in the kooky funtime Chinese fire drill that every single fucking attempt to walk down a hallway creates in this game. Most of the time, you can’t put your party in the default two-by-six formation; the passageways are too narrow. Even if they aren’t, your party members in the back will still turn around and head in the opposite direction, if there is another pathway (no matter how distant) to wherever you are trying to get to.

What? I Can’t Use My Stupid Overpriced Books From The PnP Game Anymore?

Goddamn it. I’m way too old, complacent and dumb to try to fucking figure out the Third Edition Rules at this point. But like I said, what the hell. One bright point in character creation in IWD2 is that every character gets the same amount of primary attribute points to work with. Thank God, I couldn’t fucking stand "rolling" my whole party’s stats like in IWD1, even if it let you diddle with the points after that. Just let me get straight to the min-maxing, if you please.

Portrait and voice options for IWD2 are more plentiful (but not necessarily better) than IWD1. All the old IWD1 portraits are available, but only some of the voices. The new portraits are quite a bit better, much better than say, BG2, where you could end up picking a portrait for your main character that was used in the game for an NPC.

Third Edition rules were created to make the ponderous PnP AD&D rules systems easier. It did, much in the way that flying a jumbo jet is easier than piloting a space shuttle, I’d imagine. I did my best, though, and it was enough to figure out a few things. One, you can do just about whatever the hell you want with your characters. Whee, everyone’s multi-class, sort of! My mage can wear armor! I have to tell you, the degree to which my fantasy habits have been ingrained by the old D&D system is apparently pretty severe. It was all I could do to give my sorceror armor, and actually see her (occasionally) cast spells with it on. Or have her use a crossbow. Crossbows! By the way, why the fuck does everyone have crossbow skill? I made a Dwarf fighter, a human ranger, a human priestess, a Drow rogue/ mage, and human monk and an Aasimar (Rule#1 To Making Up Fantasy Shit: invent words that are impossible to pronounce) sorceress. Everyone has crossbow skill. At the beginning of the game, I’m trying to figure out who gets the regular bows, since only the Drow and Dwarf fighter have bow skill. So, there’s something else: fuck slings.

Probably the coolest parts of the 3E rules, and thus IWD2, are the skill/feat options, which allow far more customization of characters than the old rules ever did. As you level up, you can upgrade whatfuckingever with your character: his weapon skill, his magic casting ability, his rogue skills. That’s the best part of this game, the expanded character customization. Plus, every few levels, your characters get added points to put in your base attributes. That always made sense to me; you would expect a fighter to get stronger over time, for example. You can build some pretty formidable characters by the game’s end with these features, as your fighters can have absurdly high strengths and so forth. It took me all the way through BG2 with every side quest and the Throne of Bhaal expansion to get characters this tough, it’s cool to get them a little bit quicker in IWD2. However, you had better know what the hell you’re doing as you level up to maximize these benefits.

The Third Edition Rules streamlined the game, alright. It made single classes like Thief, Paladin and Bard absolutely fucking pointless.
One interesting thing about the 3E Rules (or whatever smelly anachronistic PnP players call it) is that bards are practically fucking irrelevant, at least for the purposes of IWD2. Already fairly irrelevant to begin with, bards did have their place in IWD1. However, since sorcerors rely on charisma for their spellcraft ability, have a ton of low-level spells at hand, and as such with one you can have a mage use all of his slots on Identify, and since anyone can wear some sort of armor and fire crossbows, who needs that lute-strumming faggot? For that matter, fuck thieves. Maybe if you get off on back stab, you’ll have one around, but all you really need is to give one party member one rogue level, upgrade his thieving skills every level, and that’s it for IWD2. Along with experience for scribing scrolls, BIS bagged XP for disarming traps or picking locks, so a Knock spell isn’t going to cheat you out of anything. Plus, I don’t have to make one of my characters a fucking paladin so someone can use the Holy Avenger, I just gave my priestess one level in it, and BINGO! Swing it, baby.

Where’s The First Dungeon?

Anyway, skills and feats and so forth later, you can finally play the fucking game. Well, you could pick a pre-made party, if you’re a complete idiot. Scanning the various forums dedicated to IWD2 on the web reveals that only one party is halfway decent (who cares which one, you shouldn’t), and the rest completely suck. Thanks, BIS. But what the hell, you should be making your own characters, anyway, although the pre-made ones could serve as nice models for you, if they were made well enough. Alas.

The opening movie isn’t bad, as it tries to make up some story device for why your six clowns are gathered together and succeeds for the most part (for whatever reason, you get two movies after Chapter 1, which say practically the exact same thing). I doubt anyone will get headaches over the plot: goblin armies are troubling the Ten Towns, specifically Targos, so with the promise of mercenary riches your party catches a ride on a boat and sails out. Hey, remember the oh-so-convenient plot twist in IWD1 where an avalanche kills everyone but your party? Don’t get shocked when something similar happens to rationalize why your party and your party alone are left to battle the goblin horde. Oh well, it beats wandering a hallway as a ghost and picking your characters out of magic mirrors like you did in Dungeon Master, and that game was still cool. Actually, the opening part of the game is pretty fun, with half-dead soldiers staggering up to you, goblins attacking out of nowhere, and townsfolk taking up arms to help you fight. Weapons and shit lay all around the town, which satisfies my #1 RPG creed, TETINDASI (Take Everything That Isn’t Nailed Down And Sell It). In the beginning of the game, you’ll need to, as money is scarce and most items aren’t worth shit when you sell them (even with a charisma of 20).

Considering all the fucking Fed Ex quests you have to do, increased inventory space is a plus. It’s like driving the big UPS van!
This brings up my next point. Even though those obtuse retards at BIS felt the need to overhaul the interface (while leaving pathfinding alone. I don’t think I’ll ever fucking shut up about this, in case you’re wondering), they did one thing incredibly right: increasing inventory space. Ooh, a whole ‘nother row of boxes to put shit in. When I think of all the crap I like to haul around in these games, and how much of it is weightless (or just 1 pound), I get wood at the thought of this addition (although, considering the things that can give me wood, I don’t know if that’s such a ringing endorsement). Once you get used to the weird toggling between weapons combos, that feature is pretty cool too, since you can stuff more shit in those slots. The weapons slots kind of seem to be waaaay up in the corner, though. Need to make room for the utterly necessary full-size portrait, I guess. It gets real fucking annoying in combat, where you click on your character’s portrait at the bottom of the screen, and then go to click a weapon set in the extreme upper left, then back down to the radial menu at the bottom right. Also, the radial button panel comes off as a little too cryptic in the beginning (three of the six buttons look like a page or book), and it took me forever to figure out how to click back into the game world from an inventory or map screen, which is pressing the same goddamn button again. That isn’t very intuitive, in my opinion, not after every other BIS RPG had a Return to Game World tab. Why make subtle changes that don’t really matter to an interface that’s been more or less intact for the last five years, which just guarantees hardcore fans will fuck it up? They brought the Guard button back, though!

The beginning quests in Targos are of a familiar variety but some new spin is put on them, for the most part. As usual, you’ll need to speak to everyone, and you’ll really want to make sure your high charisma character is doing the talking. You won’t be able to complete some quests without saying the right things, and having a savvy enough character to do the talking. But then, there’s still the same ol’, same ol’, more or less, like when some wounded soldier gives you a letter to give to someone you’ll obviously run into later. Just make all your characters’ color schemes brown on brown and get it over with. Plenty of talk-to-this-character-then-that-one-then-the-first-again bullshit, which affords bonus fun as your wayward clowns wander the map aimlessly (wondering where that brick wall came from suddenly, no doubt) trying to get somewhere. When you get a Magical Little Boy (we’ll all ignore the creepy subtext of that for a minute) to teleport you around town, it’s not a good sign. Putting dialogues in the game that poke fun of just that (as IWD2 does) doesn’t quite offset the tedium either, especially when THE PATHFINDING IS SO FUCKING TERRIBLE. There comes a point when it feels like the game isn’t laughing with you anymore, y’know what I’m sayin’? Just do what I did, leave everyone standing next to the little bastard and walk your highest charisma character around alone.

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