I'm not a fan of Heart of Winter, the expansion adventure to the excellent CRPG Icewind Dale. However... I know that I'm in a minority in this respect amongst Icewind Dale fans and so heartily invite anyone to counter my negativities with the many positives they feel this expansion adds to the original game and hope that, by use of point and a counter point anyone stumbling across this article will find it more useful than the kind of reviews which offer either drooling praise or irrational hatred and not a lot of informative guidance/advice. Point 1 - The Adventure... ...Is very short. You arrive in the town of Lonelywood and everything looks and feels great. There's lots of people to talk to and lots of little quests to solve and one is duped into thinking a great adventure is about to unfold. For a while this feeling lingers, but gradually, bit by bit, it dawns on you that not much is really here. The first location is a large crypt on an island. This is a fun section full of interesting and varied characters and monsters. However, as others have noted, it is just plain too hard. This would be ok if the rest of the game was hard, but it's not, it's just a messy imbalance. Once this section is completed the rest of the game seems like a rather dull wander trough the gloom, but many will find themselves quitting here before they've even began. The Polar Bear, for example, is actually harder than the end-of-game-boss fight. The middle section is a very very very long hike down a very very very boring single-lane dungeon trail where, every now and then, the monsters will change to a different type of monster for no apparent reason. The beauty of the original game was that all the mosters had a reason for being where they were, it made sense atmospherically and logically. For example, in the original game you would enter a cave area and it would be more maze-like than trail-like, suggesting thousands of years of varied occupation instead of a purpose-built road. And, in the original game, in this cave would be monsters that would likely be in that cave behaving how they would behave, little nests of insects, a web or two of spiders, some Trolls wandering about looking for food and a posse of evil clerics who had captured the villagers that you needed to save who had some Trolls they had charmed as slaves, and, on top of this, there were even some Lizard Men who were on patrol from the level above. Now, compare this to a cave in Heart of Winter where it's just one long road of the same monster. The end of this road, once arrived at in the Gloomfrost section, is a nice ending and you do get to meet an operational Blacksmith (something glaringly missing from the original), but the journey just isn't worth it. The odd-one-out section is the village of Barbarians. This is one of those really annoying moments in these kind of games when you know you're just going to end up in a big fight, but it wont let you until you've drained lots of impatient dialogue and been teleported into the middle of them all, to which even more nonsense has to be exchanged before you can finally have the punch-up and move to the end-game section. The dialogue here would be interesting if the game had built up to this point in a more intriguing way, but, like most of this expansion, it's not really doing anything to make you care about any of it anyway. The final section is yet another wander down some very dull corridors, defeating the same foes over and over with the odd bit of variety, but, essentially, it feels like you're just back in the Gloomfrost caves again. Then, finally, you get shoved in front of the Dragon and do the end-boss routine. And that was that. So, to conclude, it is excellent that the expansion offers a few more areas to explore, but, by the end of it, you're just left feeling like you can't wait to get back to the original Icewind Dale quest now that the expansion is 'done with'. Point 2 - The Expansion is Accessed by... ...Visiting a man in a house in Kuldahar. When the expansion is not applied to the original game this house is locked, but with the expansion installed it is open. Many will not realise that this will permanently export them from the original quest until completed and I suspect many will venture forth at an inappropriate moment. Admittedly, the man does advise that it's best not to proceed until you are of great enough level. But what exactly is that level? For a power-gamer, probably a lot sooner than a first-time-out player. The recommended level is level 9, but this is going to confuse a heck of a lot of gamers as, for example, a Druid levels up three or four levels quicker than a fighter by this stage, so the level required would also entirely depend on what characters you chose to play with. I think it would have been a lot more user-friendly if the start point was a designated start point at a specific point in the game. To have an unkillable quest-giving-NPC demand you visit the Expansion area prior to further progression. This way there would be no vanishing too soon, no missing the option altogether and a general guarantee that the player's characters would be of the right kind of level. Either that or just have it as a separate game entirely that you simply import your victorious characters from the original into - which you can do, but it still enacts devastating changes to your original campaign... Point 3 - The Expansion Changes the Original Game... ... In almost every respect. The price you pay for getting to visit a few more areas is to have your entire original game altered, almost beyond recognition. So, if you liked the original game for what it was and knew it inside out, you'll now have to completely alter almost every aspect of your play. In terms of mechanics, no end of stats are altered, as are skills options, spells and the level cap. On top of this the AI is even altered so you have to perform your battles with entirely new tactics. In the original game the monsters would only attack when they are 'in view' - you could pop into a room, see something horrible, then run for your life and the chances are the monster would stay put where it last went out of view. With the expansion installed, once you have entered a room that's it, the swarm is on. Heart of Winter therefore infects the entire original game with it's 'boring factor' by turning *every* battle into a bar-room brawl instead of the variety of battle-style encounters you could experience by just playing the original. With all these blanket changes to the mechanics it also becomes a heck of a lot more difficult to communicate information about the game. Now every time someone asks a question the first thing you have to ask is: are you playing with or without the Heart of Winter expansion? And since many will not realise one entirely disrupts the other there will be vast quantities of people who enjoy the game but find themselves talking at cross purposes. One player will be talking about killing an Ettin with a level 8 fighter/mage with no expansion installed while another will be talking about killing the same Ettin with a level 15 fighter/mage who has entirely different stats and spells due to playing with the expansion installed - neither person is talking about the same game, even though they are! Point 4 - The Expansion to the Expansion... Is a lot better than the first Expansion. The second expansion to Icewind Dale is titled The Trials of the Luremaster and is only accessible in-game via the Heart of Winter expansion adventure. So, for people like me who want to play the second expansion in-game but not the first, there is no option for this. I find this to be really... annoying. To Conclude... ...I'll probably have to repeat myself first. The expansion is nice because it offers some new areas to explore, however, and it's a pretty big however, those new areas don't really amount to much in the context of the supreme neatness and continuity of the original game and even add boredom to an otherwise interesting game. The changes that are made to the original by installing the expansion will only really be of interest to people who like the increased level-cap and more varied spells/skills, but these people are likely to be experienced Icewind Dale travellers rather than people going for their first play-through of the game. I recommend, if it's your first time playing Icewind Dale, not to play with the expansion included, but rather take in all the original has to offer first and then decide, on completion, if you want to play it again, but as a different game entirely, with the expansion loaded up. The original game is neat, tidy, nicely scripted and paced and an atmospheric masterpiece as it is and there is nothing to be gained from these aspects of gameplay by having your first experience dragged out by the rather tedious, but level-up friendly, expansion.