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The Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is played using an isometric view. You're not allowed to have your characters on two different maps at the same time, so you have to keep them together to some extent, although it's always a good idea to have your thief scout ahead for traps. Most actions are performed using the mouse. Left-clicking moves characters, attacks a target, or causes you to talk to an NPC. Right-clicking typically gives you more information about something (such as a spell or a piece of equipment). You can press the spacebar to pause the game, you can roll the mouse wheel to zoom the view in or out, and there is a hotkey bar for each character where you can place a few spells or inventory objects for easy access (sadly, the EE uses the same restrictive hotkey bar as the original game; this is a place where Beamdog could have done some modifying for better results).
There are a few towns in the game where you can go shopping and talk to people, but most of the time you find yourself in the field with enemies lurking all around you. Combat proceeds in "rounds," but this is just how the game measures time, and all fighting is actually done in real time. Characters can fight with an equipped weapon, they can use spells or skills, or they can use inventory objects with charges (like wands). If you want to, you can control every action of your party, but I found that the fighting moved along quickly enough -- and usually involved so many enemies -- that I had to rely on scripts for my characters, or else I'd risk belatedly realizing that some of them were standing around doing nothing. The game comes with 25 scripts built in, including specific ones for Clerics and Mages.
Along with combat, there are also numerous quests for you to complete. Most of these quests require you to kill some creatures, but in others you might need to find some objects or (in the add-ons) solve a puzzle. To help you out with the quests, Beamdog improved the journal in the game. Now when you open it up, you can simply click on the name of a quest to instantly go to information about it, rather than having to scan through all of the notes to find relevant text.
As an example of a quest, early in the game you stumble into an ogre named Ghereg. He tells you that he has a headache and he asks you to help him with it. You can "solve" the problem by killing the ogre, but if you have a druid in your party or wait until you meet a druid later in the game, then you can learn the recipe for a headache remedy and relay it to the ogre. Either way you earn some experience points, but if you follow the more involved path, then you earn more.
If you've already played Icewind Dale, then I haven't mentioned much at this point that you didn't already know. So let me take the opportunity now to list some of the differences I noticed between the original game and the Enhanced Edition. In no particular order:
- The weapon proficiencies have been reworked so that they're for more specific weapons. For example, instead of having "large swords" as a catch-all, there are now proficiencies for long swords, bastard swords, scimitars, and katanas. There are also proficiencies for four weapon stances -- single handed weapon, weapon and shield, two weapons, and two-handed weapon -- which give you a bonus regardless of the weapon you're using, as long as you're in the right stance. Among other things, the stances mean that dual-wielding is now possible in the game.
- Three classes and 30 sub-classes were added to the game. So now you can play as a barbarian, monk, or sorcerer, or as a variation on one of the more traditional classes.
- New equipment was added. From what I can tell, this was mostly to support the new proficiencies and classes, so you can now find wakizashis, katanas, and monk gear. Beamdog didn't want to mess with the balance of the game though, so there's still a scarcity of cloaks, helmets, boots and gloves.
- New spells were added. Just for clerics there are at least 24 new spells, including Zone of Sweet Air, Mass Cure Light Wounds, and Shield of Archons, and mages and druids received a similar treatment. Plus, some spells are now restricted to certain alignments, so good clerics can't cast Harm and evil clerics can't cast Heal.
- Some previously removed content was restored. If you've seen the restoration mod for Icewind Dale, then this appears to be roughly the same thing. As an example of the restored content, when you reach the lower part of Dorn's Deep, you meet a soul-infused suit of armor called the Voice of Durdel Anatha. The armor keeps showing up and trying to block your progress, but like a lich you can't kill it. After a while, it just gets back up and tries again. However, eventually you free the soul, which puts the armor out of commission. The restored content is pretty minor, but it's also interesting, which makes it worthwhile.
- Various tweaks were made to the interface to make the game friendlier to play. Some examples for this that I haven't mentioned yet include colored borders for spell scrolls, so it's easy to see if you've already learned the spell or not; an increase in the stack size for arrows and bolts (from 40 to 80) so rangers don't have to waste as much inventory space; new annotations on the maps to show important locations like exits and quest NPCs (now Beamdog just needs to give us the ability to add our own annotations); a menu to reconfigure most of the hotkeys; a slider to change the size of the game's text so you can keep it readable; and the ability to play the game using any modern screen resolution whether it's wide screen or not (and unlike the wide screen mod, all screens in the game use the resolution, not just the main screen).
However, something that got removed from the interface is a key to highlight the interactive objects in the world. This was a very handy tool in the original game because Black Isle liked to put containers in unusual places, and the key was the easiest way to spot them. I have no idea why Beamdog removed the option. I probably missed a lot of good stuff by walking right past containers without noticing.
- There is a new Story Mode difficulty setting, where your characters can't be killed. You can change the difficulty at any time, so I guess Story Mode is a possibility if you get blocked by a fight that you can't seem to win. Still, it's disturbing to me that anybody might actually use this mode.
- You can now play the game cooperatively over the Internet, regardless of the platforms being used by the players.
Otherwise, the EE is roughly the same as the original game, with the graphics, sound and text unchanged, at least as far as I could tell.