Icewind Dale Review

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Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Interplay Entertainment
Developer:Black Isle Studios
Release Date:2000-06-29
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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The music of Icewind Dale does an excellent job of keeping you immersed in the game. While visiting towns and villages, you will hear some very soothing and tranquil music. Once an enemy approaches, however, the music changes to a very uplifting and aggressive overture of drum beats that pull you into combat.

Sound effects add a very distinctive part to the game. Baldur's Gate veterans will notice the large increase in character voices that they are able to choose from when creating new characters. Adventuring sounds, such as the subtle sounds of footsteps in the distance, the chirping of birds, or the sound of the wind rolling across the snow have been added to enhance outdoor traveling. The creaking of bones when you battle the undead and the hiss of an approaching lizard man are just two examples of additional dungeon delving effects. Overall, I'm very impressed with the ambience that both the music and sound effects create.

Although small, there are a plentiful number of refinements in Icewind Dale's gameplay over that of its predecessors. Some of these are entirely new options and some are the removal or correction of annoying issues in Baldur's Gate. For example, in Baldur's Gate, you could pause the game at any time, but if you were to change to a different screen, say a character's inventory, the game would automatically unpause. This is no longer true in Icewind Dale, and it is a welcome change. Also worthy of note is that the map screen's functionality has been altered slightly. In previous Black Isle RPGs, the game would automatically pause when viewing your current location's map. Now, in Icewind Dale, you can watch your characters travel while viewing the map, thus enhancing your ability to catch any pathing problems your characters might experience.

One of the largest gameplay annoyances of Baldur's Gate was the seemingly endless expanses of wilderness that you would be forced to tread through in search of some sort of excitement or adventure. You do very little outdoor traveling in Icewind Dale (manually anyway). The vast majority of your gameplay resides in dungeons, towers, and caves spread across Faerun. Being a fan of dungeon excursions, I found this difference much more pleasing than trying to cover empty ground in an outdoor zone.

The interface hasn't changed a whole lot from previous Black Isle RPGs, other than some minor tweaks to the icon appearances. I'm not implying that this is a detriment, however, as the interface is one distinguishing characteristic of these games that I have been impressed with from the beginning. It's very simple to navigate through different aspects of the game, as well as use certain items in your inventory, perform various skills, or cast spells. Rest assured, Icewind Dale has only improved upon earlier ease in this facet of the game.

Somewhat of a disappointment, Icewind Dale does fall short in this area. The problem with the replayability of this game can be attributed to both the experience cap that Black Isle has enforced and the (for the most part) linear storyline. Although not nearly as bad as Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale still thwarts your efforts to build ultra-powerful characters by replaying the game through multiple times. For those of you who aren't aware of this problem, Baldur's Gate capped experience at a meager 89,000 points (161,000 for TotSC owners). Icewind Dale did increase this to 1,801,000, but that doesn't even allow for your mages to memorize eighth or ninth level spells. I imagine this measure was taken in anticipation of a future sequel, but it is annoying nonetheless.

Saying that the game's storyline causes its replayability to be diminished may appear to be contradicting myself. Previously, I stated that the story line was captivating and one of Icewind Dale's strong points. I still feel this way, but what the storyline does for a person the first time through the game compared to the second and third is very different. The game travels a very straight path and there are very few deviations from it, aside from a small handful of side quests. Overall, once you've played the game through once, there are very few reasons to start again from the beginning other than to cap your experience for all characters or to obtain more loot.