Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition Review

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Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Overhaul Games
Release Date:2014-10-30
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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Icewind Dale was released by Black Isle Studios in June of 2000.  It is a part of the "holy trinity" of role-playing games that use BioWare's Infinity Engine.  However, unlike Baldur's Gate (1998) and Planescape: Torment (1999), which either focused on story or maintained a good mix between story and combat, Icewind Dale was all about combat, and it turned into a nice vehicle for gamers who were more interested in creating the most powerful party possible rather than learning all about of the motivations of the game's end boss.  It also helped that the action RPG genre hadn't really gotten into full swing yet (Diablo II was released at the same time, but its numerous clones didn't come until later), and so Icewind Dale filled a niche that wasn't otherwise being served.

Now Icewind Dale is the latest game from Beamdog to become enhanced.  The Enhanced Edition includes Icewind Dale and its two add-ons, Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster, plus a slew of improvements.  The engine has been retooled to work better with modern computers (as well as handheld devices), the interface has been improved to make the game friendlier to play, all of the new spells and character classes added to the Baldur's Gate enhanced editions have been incorporated here as well, lots of new equipment has been sprinkled throughout the game, multiplayer functionality has been added, and some content removed by Black Isle Studios prior to the game's original release has been restored.

That is, unlike the Baldur's Gate enhanced editions, which contained a fair amount of brand new content, the Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition (EE) is mostly just an update of an old game, like a lot of the "HD" titles that have been released in the past few years.  In fact, if you own the original Icewind Dale and don't mind installing mods, then there's little in the EE that you can't get for free elsewhere, which begs the question: is there any reason to bother with the EE at all?  I'd say yes, but you'll have to keep reading to see if your answer is the same.

Finally, while the Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is now available for PC, Lynux, and Mac platforms, and will eventually be available on handheld devices, this review (like all of my reviews) is for the PC version.

Starting Out

Icewind Dale takes place in a less-than-balmy portion of Faerûn along the Spine of the World Mountains.  You start out as an anonymous adventuring band in the small town of Easthaven, but soon enough you're recruited to do all sorts of things.  In Icewind Dale's original campaign, you discover that the nearby town of Kuldahar is being plagued by bad weather, monster sightings, and missing people, and you're tasked with finding out what's going on -- and putting a stop to it.  In Heart of Winter, the local barbarian tribes start gathering for a war council, but their leader has just returned from the dead, and he might not be who he says he is -- and so you have to put a stop to him, too.  In Trials of the Luremaster, you're lured to a haunted castle, and all you have to do is figure out how to escape.  For the most part, there isn't much to the stories of these three campaigns.  You're just given enough information so you have a reason to visit crypts, towers and dungeons, and fight the creatures that you find there.

Before you can play any of the campaigns, you have to create a party of up to six characters.  Characters are defined by their race, class(es), and attributes.  There are seven races available in the game: Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Halfling, Human, and, new in the EE, Half-Orc.  Each race has some pluses and minuses associated with it, and the races restrict which classes you can pick.  For example, Dwarves gain a bonus to Constitution but have a penalty to Dexterity and Charisma, and so they're intended mostly for melee classes.  They can only be Fighters, Clerics, Thieves or Barbarians.

The EE includes 11 classes, including old standbys like Fighter, Thief and Cleric, and new options like Sorcerer, Monk and Barbarian.  Some classes allow for sub-classes or "kits."  The original game only had specialty mage classes for this, but the EE includes 29 kits plus an additional specialty mage class.  As an example, if you decide to make one of your characters a Paladin, then you can choose between Cavalier (a "classic" Paladin with bonuses against demons and dragons), Inquisitor (bonuses against mages), Undead Hunter (bonuses against the undead), or Blackguard (an evil Paladin).  Human characters can dual-class two classes together (where they start out as one class and then later change to another), and non-humans can multi-class up to three classes (where they're all of the classes at the same time, but their experience is split between them, causing them to level up more slowly).

There are also six attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.  You're allowed to roll the attribute scores of your characters during character creation, and it's a good idea to take your time with this so your characters are as powerful as possible.  One nice thing about the EE is that along with the attribute scores, the interface also shows you their total.  Since you're allowed to redistribute the scores (up to the maximum and minimum allowed for each race and class), the total score is the most important number, and not having to calculate it each time makes the rolling process much friendlier.  You can also store a roll and then recall it later, which is convenient.

As you play through the campaigns, there are a few places where having a certain race, class, or attribute value makes a difference, but for the most part you're free to create any sort of party you want, and this is only enhanced by the new options available in the EE.  So you can play a ranged party or a melee party, a magic party or a physical party; you can concentrate on swords or clubs, crossbows or darts, fire damage or lightning damage; or you can mix and match and try to include a little bit of everything.  The nice thing about the game is that it gives you a lot of options for creating your party, and it has a lot of replay value as a result.