GB Feature: Icewind Dale: The Past, Present, and Future Editorial

Despite the fact that our interview with Obsidian Entertainment's Feargus Urquhart from earlier this year was never able to be published, I think it's fair to say that its contents would have had you believing that Icewind Dale III will likely become a reality in the not-too-distant future. There are no guarantees, of course, but it's this possibility that had us return to the original games for a new three-page editorial entitled "Icewind Dale: The Past, Present, and Future". An excerpt from the section dealing with Heart of Winter:
While not a massive commercial success, Icewind Dale was well-received by critics and fans alike; given these conditions, an expansion pack was a pretty sure bet, and Interplay obliged with Heart of Winter in 2001. Heart of Winter kept much of the focus on dungeon-crawling of the original game, but exposed more of Icewind Dale's lore and world than the original game ever did, with a plot revolving more around conflict between the Ten-Towns, the barbarian tribes of the Dale, an ancient frost wyrm, and a cryptic, blind seer. Set in and around the village of Lonelywood, Heart of Winter provided more in the way of character interaction, side-quests, and even some mild choice and consequence that was lacking from the original story. Technically, a number of improvements were made to the game and its engine, most notably a higher resolution, a slew of extra high-level spells, a raised level cap, and the Heart of Fury mode, which substantially increased the difficulty level and made replaying with a well-developed party a more fulfilling experience.

However, there was one glaring flaw with Heart of Winter, one which saw fans opinion grow sour towards Interplay, and that was its considerably shorter length when put next to Icewind Dale's original story. Though few expect an expansion pack to provide massive amounts of gameplay, Heart of Winter was but a third of the size of Icewind Dale, with only a handful of dungeons to explore. Furthermore, many of its dungeons were little more than long, winding, straightforward corridors, in stark contrast to the multi-floored, more open-ended labyrinths in the original game. While it did introduce a variety of new enemies, items, and made further changes and improvements to the core gameplay, including the Heart of Fury mode, the relative briefness of the campaign and the lack of gameplay variety led to some backlash against Interplay and Black Isle.

To retroactively play devil's advocate, Heart of Winter is still a fine expansion pack. Played today back to back with the original campaign, it's hard not to notice how much more limited it is in terms of scope, but many of its improvements, including a wider world that included more than just dungeons, a greater number of quests, and a more immediate narrative still elevate it beyond its relatively poor reputation. Compared to the rather anemic Baldur's Gate expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast, Heart of Winter feels significantly more coherent and substantial, and is well worth playing through after completing the main storyline.