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Isewein

Belated Appreciation

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It seems Domi has not been seen around for a while, but I nevertheless felt it was the decent thing to do to leave some remarks upon completion of this wonderful mod. At the very least, it might encourage someone else to give it a try. Icewind Dale II is not an easy game to enjoy. While writing and scripting are well executed in some areas, others are lacking even the most basic aspects of immersion. This is exacerbated by the bad pacing and gratuitous padding of some of the more tedious dungeons, especially during the mid-section of the game (the Ice Temple and Dragon's Eye are the worst offenders). Apparently the game lacked an effective lead writer, accounting for the disjointed impression different sections of the game give. In some corners of the internet you can still trace the development of this last IE game, which was intimately linked to the planned Baldur's Gate 3 (foreshadowed in the IWD2 intro). It is but a slight exaggeration to say that the real history of Black Isle of the time is in many ways more intriguing than the lackluster narrative of IWD2. To be frank, I think it highly unlikely that I should ever have finished Icewind Dale II at all, were it not for my curiosity about this mod considering Domi's excellent writing for the BG1 NPC Project.

Following advice on the forums, I went with the core party of Sir Nord, Hildury, Salomeya (multiclassed to Demarch of Mask), Diriel and Nikosh. I could easily imagine swapping out Nikosh or Diriel, but I did not want to play a rogue myself and wanted to try out the infamous Diriel romance option. That team worked very well on core difficulty, and thanks to 3rd edition rules you can really customise these characters in any direction you want in IWD2 anyway.

Initially I wasn't all that sold on the tone of IWD2 NPC, which seems to follow the style of BG2 (that strange combination of mature themes and absurd humour) more than the IWD1 NPC Project does. The straightforward, classic heroic fantasy of Kulyok's IWD1 NPCs went well with the feel of that game and kept me going through the infinite hordes of enemies. I therefore feared Domi's more 'realistic' writing might clash with the game, but I'm happy to conclude that, for this party at least, it turned out not to be the case. IWD2 differs from its predecessor in that it essentially pushes you towards playing Lawful Neutral-verging-on-Evil mercenary types (albeit unintentionally so, I presume, simply due to the unpolished nature of the game). The touches of moral ambiguity introduced by leading what is essentially a band of dregs of whom most hate each other contrast very nicely with the heroic band of adventurers feel of IWD1 NPC Project, and fits right in with IWD2. I also found it nothing short of a stroke of genius to solve the so frequently problematic issue of lacking character motivation for an Evil PC to take up sidequests by having Sir Nord be the factual co-leader of the expedition. This allowed me to roleplay the sort of Elf that would actually take up with Diriel without ignoring major parts of the game’s content.

One criticism I have is that the mod was obviously written with a human PC in mind. I recognise that romance options for non-human PCs (such as Diriel) were added later on following popular demand, and while they themselves are written flawlessly, the character background assumed for the PC in Sir Nord's talks especially really only works for a human or at least half-elven PC. But it’s a minor inconsistency and only comes up occasionally. With some mental gymnastics I could make it work regardless. In general, there are some other parts of the mod which the forums show were introduced later on and not really integrated into the rest of the mod as well as they could have been (a very important and obvious event for Hildury’s character development, for instance, is never referenced by other characters).

Enough has been written on the Diriel romance, but it really is exceptional. It is far more than just a romance, because it essentially upends the whole narrative of the game, offering a motivation and goal for the final part of the main quest which goes beyond the mercenary attitude assumed by the game. And Domi managed to integrate it seamlessly without even coding any new areas or quests; it’s extremely impressive.

All in all, this is one of the most ambitious mods ever created for any game, and I really do wish it received more of the recognition it undoubtedly deserves outside this forum. For some reason it has become infamous as an example of fanfiction-y romance mods instead, when it really is so much more than that. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone thinking of going through IWD2.

 

PS: ASOIAF readers will particularly enjoy the many little touches and hommages to characters of the series which clearly served as inspiration to Domi. Personally I think those were well done; they never feel like a blunt crossover. Sir Nord taking Cera Sumat gave me goosebumps; that was some great characterisation. The Hound always has been one of my favourite characters in phantastic literature. ;) 

Edited by Isewein

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