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The Infinity engine strikes again

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If there is ever a full-scale nuclear war, only three things will remain: cockroaches, Styrofoam, and the Infinity engine. It was around when the gaming world was created, and will persist many years after the demise of humanity.

The Infinity engine is Bioware’s brainchild — the programming heart and soul of every Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale game to date. Debuting in 1998 with the release of Baldur’s Gate, the Infinity engine provides an intense blend of tactical turn-based or real time combat and traditional RPGs. Built upon the 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rule set, the Infinity engine utilizes a third-person isometric perspective common to many party based RPGs. The appeal, and resulting longevity, of the engine comes from the efficient, yet complex, gameplay it provides. Although not greatly changed since its debut, it has been constantly refined to the point of perfection. Finding success in game after game, Bioware has continued the Infinity tradition with Icewind Dale II.

At the start of Icewind Dale II you take control of a party of mercenaries who have just arrived in a town besieged by goblins. Your party, armed only with bow staffs, must rid the town of the invading baddies. After killing off the goblins, you, as in any RPG, discover this attack is only one component of a more sinister plan, and (of course) that the fate of the entire land rests on your shoulders.

After the initial confrontation with the goblins, your party is almost constantly involved in large, incredibly challenging battles. Although this keeps experienced gamers happy, its a gigantic pitfall for newbies to the series. This is a prime example of a sequel that, while amazing for someone who has played the preceding game, stands alone poorly. This does not mean that Icewind Dale II is impossible for a new player — just that they should expect an extremely steep learning curve. This is in no way aided by the complete lack of a tutorial, a much-needed aspect of such a game.

Learning curve aside, Icewind Dale II is one incredible RPG. Interplay has always made very extensive, indepth games, and this one is not exception. From detailed character generation, to rich landscapes and NPCs, this game has an overabundance of all the things that make an RPG great. One could easily get 150 hours of solid, entertaining game play out of this game.

Although the gaming aspects of the Infinity engine have stood up to the test of time, one place where its age is evident is in the graphics department. The first 10 minutes of the game had me completely convinced that it was Baldur’s Gate all over again. They look exactly the same, from the spells to the characters. The similarity is only be skin deep, but it’s a tragedy to take such great game play and package it with graphics that, while amazing 4 years ago, cannot hold a flame to such games as Neverwinter Nights and Morrowind.

Any hardcore RPG gamer cannot afford to pass up this game. It’s incredibly complex, lengthy, and constantly challenging. But, if you shy away from reading long conversations and immersing yourself in the fantasy world, or are not looking for an especially challenging game, look elsewhere.

Reviewer’s Scoring Details

Gameplay: 9
After years of refining, Interplay has worked almost all the bugs out of the Infinity engine. This allows for a very solid game. Unfortunately, the game is over saturated with battles, making it repetitive for experienced players and incredibly difficult for new ones.

Graphics: 7
While the game play has aged well, the graphics have not. The Infinity engine is way overdue for a complete visual makeover.

Sound: 10
This is another place where the game really shines. Background music is diverse and adapts well to the changing situations. Voice acting is nothing short of amazing, and adds a high degree of enjoyment to the game.

Difficulty: 9
There is such a thing as too challenging. I am veteran of this series and still found parts of this game almost impossible.

Concept: 9
Icewind Dale II does a very good job of building on the story of the previous game while adding its own degree of charm and originality.

Multi Player: 8
While the multi-player support is lacking, games such as these do not lend themselves very well, if at all, to multi-player gaming.

Value: 10
If you’re looking for a quality game at a good price, look no further. A lot of games boast 150 hours of game play, while only having 75 or so in reality. This game, like Morrowind, could last an incredibly long time.

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