Several years ago, Black Isle, together with Bioware engine, began releasing games based on the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms universe. Using a new game engine called the ?Infinity Engine,? the two companies released hit after hit. Starting with Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment, their success was assured. At the tail end of this time, the final game using the older Infinity Engine was released - Icewind Dale. Even though it was a good game, the style was getting stale. Even in 2000, the engine was starting to show its age, and seemed ready to be replaced with something newer and better. Our patience was rewarded by Neverwinter Nights. Terrific graphics and flawless gameplay made Neverwinter Nights an instant hit. But, strangely, Black Isle had little to do with its production. It didn't seem a big deal because of the already released information regarding a second installment of the Icewind Dale saga. After a two year wait, we finally have Icewind Dale II. But using the Infinity Engine? Isn't that two years old now?
We enter the Icewind Dale story as mercenaries from Luskin. The Ten Towns have recently come under siege by a force of goblins sweeping out of the Spine of the World. Taking a ship upriver to Targos, our party has arrived to help defend the town, to be paid well in gold.
Where to start... Do you remember the voices from Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate? Its the same ones. I couldn't believe it. Admittedly, I used one of the pre-rolled parties, but I can't believe they could not find new voice talent after two years! From what I can tell, all the sounds are the same. The exact same. No improved quality, even. The good news is that these sounds were great quality and wonderful. The bad news is that was two years ago. I've gotten so used to depth and distance, thuds and amazing new compression rates that I thought something was wrong with my computer.
Did I mention that the Infinity Engine is two years old? The graphics are dated and ugly by today's standards. Everything seems to be brown yellow or green. Spell effects are the only stand-out feature. Spells are bright and good looking, but definitely not enough to carry the game.
The old Infinity interface is still here. It has always been a good set up. Starting with character generation and management, the interface is intuitive and like an old friend. Any fan of the other Black Isle games will be able to move around with almost no learning curve. Movement and fighting are a no-brainer. Left click on anything and the game will do what ever action it can to that item. The biggest issue has always been pathfinding. Leading your party through an area with obstacles completely negates the ?formation? buttons and commands. Invariably, when trying to move to another area, you have that one strangler that went the long way around. Also, Black Isle has not fixed the annoying issue of your own players blocking your way. Click to go somewhere in a tight space, and you will normally be blocked from moving by one of your own party. Even being dated and needing an AI update, there were no issues with gameplay itself. I did have a strange problem with random crashes, though. At times it was almost every 5 minutes. I'm not talking about a crash to the desktop, either. I mean a full blown hard reboot type of crash. Complete and total lock-up.
Multiplayer is difficult to start. The game lacks an in-game server browser or any sort of built in connection finder. If you don't know the IP of your host, you can't just look for it in the server list. Starting your own server is a serious hassle, and is unintuitive. For the first time in quite awhile I found myself reaching for the manual trying to figure it out. Once in the game, it plays like the single player mission, fun, but not as fun as many other games of the genre that have come out recently.
I have to say: what were they thinking? The Infinity Engine? This is not a new game. Its an expansion pack that has taken too long to get to market. If it had been released two years ago, shortly after the first installment, it would have been worth it, but now? With dated and ugly graphics, little improvement over the original and no easy way to start or join multiplayer, this is just another mediocre title.