By ArbitraryWater 13 Comments
Oh hello there. I've actually managed to finish Icewind Dale II, a game that I've been talking about for at least the last century, during the first week of school before it actually gets hectic and difficult. Hopefully the mistakes of the past (namely getting my roommate and several other guys in my dorm addicted to League of Legends) will not be repeated and I can theoretically aim to succeed in my work rather than barely avoiding academic probation. But enough about my hopes and dreams, let's talk about 10 year old CRPGs. And of course, other things! Because I occasionally do other things! Really!
I watched Full Metal Panic. Even despite my limited exposure to Anime in general, I could tell you that I didn't think it was especially great, or rather that the majority of it is especially great. The parts where it is a serious mecha are... kinda dull. The parts where it is a wacky anime high school comedy with hilarious antics? Far better, though the ratio is such that it's only around 25% of the show. The spinoff, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, addresses this problem by making that show nothing but hilarious wacky anime high school antics and is thus a much more entertaining show by far. It's also where's ball-faced avatar comes from. Glad I know that now. Sadly, the second spinoff (which is actually a sequel and apparently much better than the base show, once again) is not on the Netflix, though I'm sure I could find it if I bothered to look. Kinda like how I never finished the second series of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, but probably could if I typed something into Google. (Spoilers: The reason I didn't get around to finishing it is because it wasn't as good as the first series, at least as far as I watched) But enough talk about that. This isn't Anime Vice, though if it was I'd wonder what I was doing there.
Tactics Ogre continues to be pretty good. What that game does to endear itself to me when Final Fantasy Tactics hasn't is up to debate. It's not a significantly different game, as FFT is basically a sequel with more The localization is pretty great in the way it occasionally descends into purple-prose levels of fancy-lad englishe and also the way the plot decides to avoid cliché (I haven't played the SNES original, but if it was anything like this remake that is an accomplishment for sure), though apparently a lot of it is entirely different depending on which route you take (I am taking the Law Route). I would say that the game isn't grindy, because to some extent it isn't (as characters and classes gain experience and skill points just by fielding them), but that isn't entirely true since I've gotten to the point where I've started recruiting story characters with unique classes and better stats than the generics I've been rolling with for most of the game. These characters are clearly worth using, so I now am in the situation of having to grind them up to the rest of my party, which is thankfully pretty painless since I can have them stand in the corner and generally not die while everyone does the heavy lifting (Canopus is probably the single best unit in the game. Still.) Maybe I'll write something, maybe I won't. Either way, it's a nice reminder that the PSP is a pretty great system if you like those kinds of games.
Because it's on sale this weekend, I have two GOG copies of Age of Wonders just laying around the virtual internetspace. If you want one (and I assume you'll at the very least want it more than you'll want Vampire the Masquerade you filthy ingrate), tell me your favorite D&D class and why. Bonus points (which are meaningless) if you somehow justify the concept of the Fighter/Mage/Thief. At this point, I'm keeping that copy of VtM for a special occasion when I can use it in the manner I desire. Really though, even if you don't win it, you should buy Age of Wonders as well as Age of Wonders Shadow Magic (You don't need AOW 2 because Shadow Magic makes it redundant). Oh, and 's favorite game: Master of Magic. Because that is on sale as well.
Oh right. Wasn't this thing about Icewind Dale? Let's get on that.
Icewind Dale II was developed by Black Isle Studios and released in 2002. It is the last game made using the always amazing Infinity Engine and the only one to use full on 3rd edition rules (sadly not 3.5, which makes Rangers actually interesting and unique instead of just crummy fighters who can dual wield and cast some druid spells), rather than the extra character classes of Baldur's Gate II or the weird additional rule tweaks added in the Heart of Winter expansion to the original IWD. It's also probably the worst game made using that engine. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, or that it's a bad game, but there are elements that are not so great to go along with the elements that are great. Let's start with some of the obvious: While sadly no D&D video game has gotten even close to the utterly absurd amount of game-breaking feats and spells featured in the various Pen and Paper supplemental materials, the character development in Icewind Dale II is still broken. The initial blame can be placed on having a point-buy system but not putting the minimum stat cap at 8 (or 6 if penalized) for character creation. This led to my party having more than a few members with 18s in anything that mattered and 3s in what didn't (mainly Intelligence and Charisma). This was also somewhat possible in the first game, obviously, but not quite to the same level of absurdity. It bears note that subraces are in this game and are pretty dang useful. Sure, my Drow Wizard may have been 2 levels behind everyone else, but I honestly wish I had made more characters with magic resistance because of how insanely useful it is. Indeed, I can even see the +3 ECL Deep Gnomes being worth using because of their magic resist (among other things, like being able to cast invisibility once per day). Sadly no prestige classes, but it's not until NWN 2 that we have those and subraces in the same game.
However, I think there is a problem with using 3rd edition; namely that it is implemented somewhat poorly, at least in comparison to something like Neverwinter Nights or Temple of Elemental Evil. Two of the main draws of 3rd edition: skills and feats, aren't necessarily inserted into the game in any sort of interesting or well-done manner. Whereas the first game loved throwing insta-murder traps and a decent number of locked chests at you, the traps in IWD2 aren't that deadly and the locked chests aren't as common. Thus, no real need to heavily invest in a rogue character. Persuasion skills are nice, and indeed allow for some of the more amusing dialogue exchanges the game has to offer, but there isn't anything necessary to gain from using them (That being said, the amount of incidental dialogue based on your character's race and class is quite impressive, though the downside to that is that Paladins and Monks will refuse quest rewards). Stealth is as useful as it floats your boat and then Alchemy, Animal Empathy and Wilderness Lore are all worthless. Feats are similarly truncated, and it wasn't long before my fighter had everything he needed (namely the Maximized Attacks feat, which grants max damage for 10 seconds once per day). The spell selection fares better, obviously, except for the druid spellbook which is kinda a bummer. Only 3 level 8 spells? What. At least one of them is Finger of Death, which totally rocks.
But enough... mechanics speak. The mechanics are fine in that they are Dungeons and Dragons mechanics and I happen to like those rules quite a bit. My real problem with Icewind Dale II is the pacing. Whereas the first game had a single hub town and you tackled one crazy huge dungeon after another, this second game has the unusual problem of having far too much talking. Oh, don't worry, it still does the thing where it throws bajillion guys at you at once and says “deal with this”. It just does that far less in favor of Baldur's Gate or Planescape-style “Walk around and talk with random people to progress. The worst example of this is in Dragon's Eye, where you have probably killed almost everything in the first few minutes but you still have to move between all three floors constantly until you finally, finally, finally can escape... only to run into a fairly interesting but still rather meandering temporal shift. This would not be a problem if the story was as interesting as something like Baldur's Gate. It makes more of an effort than the first IWD, but it's still a pretty straightforward tale of your party of dudes murdering their way to victory against an evil army of half-breeds. It's not that the areas you go to aren't interesting or that the combat isn't good, it's that you often have to stay there too long solving some sort of infernal mirror puzzle (not a joke). The endgame area is perhaps the exception, since it does have interesting writing and scenarios, but it's still a bit too long and a bit too late to change my opinion.
So thus, in TL;DR, Icewind Dale II is a sequel that tries a bit harder to be an actual respectable D&D adventure, but doesn't go far enough for that to actually work. The inclusion of 3rd edition rules is a nice benefit, even for as pointless as half of the feats seem at times, and as always those pre-rendered backgrounds look fantastic (and as always the character pathfinding is abysmal). The soundtrack was sadly not done by Jeremy Soule this time, but the guy who replaced him does a decent job as well. This game is an acceptable send-off to the Infinity Engine, but perhaps not the one I personally would want. Oh well. I still enjoyed it. Really. Don't forget to tell me what your favorite class is if you want a copy of Age of Wonders.