E3 2002: The RPGs

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Icewind Dale II: On the second day of the event, Black Isle's Josh Sawyer gave me a lengthy tour of Icewind Dale II. I have always been a huge fan of the cinematics in the original Icewind Dale, so I requested that he start off by showing us the game's opening trailer. As I had hoped, the trailer is very similar to its predecessor's, with the story progressing as each page is turned within an ancient tome. This method always made me feel a lot more engrossed into the storyline, with the deeds of my band of heroes chronicled as I completed them.

Using the notorious Infinity Engine cheat codes, Josh teleported his party throughout the game, showing off many of the new 3rd Edition skills and the ease of the new interface. From what I saw, the inventory screen looks a lot easier to manipulate than it was in the original Icewind Dale, and allows you to switch between your quick weapons much more efficiently. In addition, the spellbook screen is refined and contains a whole slew of new spell icons.

When I asked Josh if Icewind Dale II would incorporate a lot of the puzzles and decision-making that Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster did, he showed off quite a few areas. One in particular allowed you to disguise your party in stolen robes and make your way through a Yuan-Ti temple unharmed, with the occasional priest asking questions to ensure that you are not an imposter. Another such area was a vault that required a series of stones to be depressed in order to enter it. As some of the stones were pressed, others would return to their original place, making the puzzle very tricky and time-consuming. If you're not interested in gaining entrance that way, however, you can use some of the new 3E skills to convince one of the nearby guards that the vault is under siege, which gets him to open the vault for you.

Once we had seen several of the above areas, Josh brought his party to Kuldahar, which has changed quite a bit since the original game. A new druid now makes his home there, and Oswald, the alchemist with the airship, continues to flourish in the city. That's not the only face I recognized, however. Josh teleported his characters once more, bringing them face to face with the mage Malavon. He didn't tell us specifically why Malavon is still alive after you snuffed his life away in the original IWD, but it looked as though there was quite a bit of storyline to go with the encounter.

Overall, I think the sequel looks to be a huge step ahead of the original Icewind Dale, both in terms of functionality and gameplay. We can certainly expect a game that encourages a lot more thinking with all of the puzzle and skill-oriented areas, and it sounds as if we're going to get a much lengthier game this time around. When I asked how many hours of gameplay he felt would be available in the finished product, Josh boasted that Icewind Dale II would be longer than Icewind Dale, Heart of Winter, and Trials of the Luremaster put together. Needless to say, I'm excited =).

Lionheart: Interplay's press release that Black Isle would be announcing a new RPG at this year's E3 had everyone wondering just what to expect. There was quite a bit of speculation that they would be continuing the Fallout series, but instead BIS decided to develop an all-new medieval game based in a historically skewed 16th century Europe.

What do I mean by (skewed)? Well, according to the producer, Chris Parker, Lionheart will take place in a Europe far different than the one that *really* existed. Sometime within the 12th century, a cataclysmic event occurred that released sorcery and demonic creatures onto the earth. Even with these changes, however, many of the great historical figures that are found in today's history books will play a part within the game. For example, Chris mentioned that players may run into Leonardo da Vinci during their adventures. In fact, not only will he make an appearance, but some of the inventions he never built may come to life in the world of Lionheart.

The game uses the two-dimensional Velocity engine from Reflexive Entertainment, which reminded me a lot of Bioware's Infinity Engine, but with better graphics overall. Because the engine is 2D and not 3D, the system requirements are a lot lower than one would expect from a brand new game. Regardless, the areas in our demonstration looked very good and should make for an excellent environment for the kind of RPG Black Isle is used to making.

Although the announced RPG is not a continuation of the Fallout games, fans of the series should be happy to hear that Lionheart will use the SPECIAL system, the same character development system used in both Fallout and Fallout 2. Essentially, the SPECIAL system uses statistics, skills, perks, and traits to define a character, rather than a class, and makes for a very robust method of character development.

After the demonstration was over, I left with the impression that Lionheart has a strong storyline, a unique setting, and a refined method of character development. If the overall gameplay is as good as Black Isle's previous RPGs, I think Lionheart will easily live up to our expectations. I guess we'll have to wait until Lionheart gets closer to release, which, according to Parker, should be towards the end of the year.