Before beginning this review, I would like to bring forth a little history of the game developers known as Black Isle and their repertoire of released games. In 1997, the company released Fallout, a game that started a running title of "RPG of the Year". The year after, using BioWare's Infinity engine, they released Baldur's Gate, bringing to every RPG and AD&D fan alike a revolutionary mix of excellent graphics and fantastic gameplay. The game would go down in history as 1998's "RPG of the Year".
Following the success of Baldur's Gate, Black Isle released yet another AD&D-based game, once again using the Infinity engine, called Planescape: Torment. This time, Black Isle took the graphics and gameplay of Baldur's Gate and added a storyline unequaled in any other game of its time. As the game progressed, there was an incredible sense of immersion, slowly unfolding the story and revealing areas of the character's past. It came as no shock that this impressive game once again gave Black Isle their "RPG of the Year" award for 1999. Now, in the year 2000, Black Isle has released Icewind Dale. How does this new title compare to its earlier contenders? Let's take a look...
BioWare's Infinity engine has made some additional progress since Baldur's Gate, giving Icewind Dale a familiar, yet more sophisticated look. One nicely added touch is the size of some of the adversaries in the game. Ettins, cyclops, and giants take up much more screen room in relation to your characters, adding an additional sense of realism to the game. Weapon effects, ranging from diseased halberds to flaming sling bullets, are also a welcome addition. Along with weapons, spells have also been given additional effects that didn't exist in Baldur's Gate. With the advent of a summoning restriction (you can only summon six creatures to your aid in Icewind Dale, whereas previous Black Isle RPGs didn't have a limit), combat is considerably fluid and only when letting loose a barrage of heavy spell casting and executing multiple weapon effects does the action slow down whatsoever.
One significant difference between the graphics of Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale is their cinematics. This is one place that Icewind Dale truly shines. Throughout the game, you slowly unravel more of the story, narrated by an unseen reader out of an ancient tome. These cinematic sequences dazzle the eyes with candlelight flickering upon the pages of the book and the turning of each page in perfect animation. Together with the captivating storyline, the cinematics could almost be considered hypnotic at times.
Overall, BioWare's engine is a stable and excellent piece of work, but it does have a few drawbacks to its design. Most of these drawbacks can be attributed to the 640x480 resolution in a two-dimensional world that the engine has produced since its beginning. It's a bit behind the times and will hopefully be enhanced in future Black Isle RPGs.
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