Icewind Dale was was originally developed by Black Isle Studios and released on June 29, 2000. Icewind Dales Enhanced edition was later developed by Beamdog and released on October 30, 2014.
Evil stirs beneath the Spine of the World.
In the northernmost reaches of the Forgotten Realms lies the region of icy tundra known as Icewind Dale. Journey deep into the Spine of the World mountains, a harsh and unforgiving territory settled by only the hardiest folk. Encounter fearsome beasts that have learned the cunning and ferocity needed to survive among the snow-shrouded peaks. Confront an evil that schemes beneath the carven glaciers and mountainsides to wreak destruction upon the face of Faerûn. This is the world of Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition.
This month I totally dived into Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition. I had such a great time, I managed to play through and finish this classic off in a little more than a month (a rare feat for me).
I watched a video recently that compared the western role playing game style (WRPG) to the Japanese role playing game (JPRG). Many people simply consider that JRPGs consists of those games which come from Japan and WRPGs come from just about everywhere else! For others, JRPGs include those games with anime tropes and characters, with nearly everything else falling into the other bucket. The speaker on the video challenges us to consider a different perspective. He proposes that JRPGs consist of those games where you play the puppet master on another’s journey. When you think of games like Dragon Quest IV or Final Fantasy VI, the story and characters are largely predetermined. You simply experience their story while calling the shots from the back.
In a WRPG, you play the central role, and you call nearly all of the shots. In this subgenre, you make the character(s), you determine what to do next and you just feel that the story revolves around your decisions or your team. Icewind Dale certainly exemplifies many of these characteristics. It does lack an open world structure that you see in well known WRPGs such as Skyrim, as it forces you to play through a largely predetermined plot. However, it makes up for this in other areas. Primarily, in this game, you create a party of six characters from scratch, choosing race, gender, class and appearance for each one. Personally, I found this very refreshing. I created myself (as a wizard), and created my wife and friends as party members and instantly felt connected.
The original Icewind Dale allowed players to get pretty deep in customization already with hundreds of spells, a dozen weapon proficiencies, and more. The enhanced edition goes the extra mile in this regard by adding numerous new classes and class kits. For one of my fighters, I choose the wizard slayer kit, which allows an innate resistance to magic, but comes with the drawback of an inability to utilize most magic items. While I did not always make the best decisions, this group felt like my team, imperfection included.
Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition tells a fairly standard Dungeons & Dragons story about a great evil trying to take over the land, with a few twists and turns that most will see coming. NPCs in town will chat with you and offer plenty of dialogue options to work through, with many villains doing the same during confrontations. Most eventually lead to the same end, however a few conversations will allow the player to bypass a combat encounter if they choose wisely. Of course, as I mentioned above, as a WRPG, Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition feels like my story. For example, in speaking to friends about the game, I may mention how Sharlina, my rogue, would carefully scout out enemy groups, occasionally getting into big trouble when spotted. Or I may mention how Phil, my wizard, would constantly cause monsters to trip over each other through his potent combination of stinking cloud and grease spells, allowing the other team members to tear enemies apart from a distance.
Along those lines, Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition features countless spells, magic weapons, items and more. One of the awesome things about a single player focused game like this is that developers do not mind giving players truly awesome items that have the potential to change the way a character plays. Lothar, my dwarf, found a really awesome axe that returned when thrown. This made him one of our best ranged characters, as it allowed him to utilize his strength at range, something most distance weapons do not do. I had not planned on this, but finding this effectively changed his role on the team in many combat encounters. Then there was the scroll of farsight that Phil the Wizard found. It allowed him to contact entities from other planes of existence. Normally, I would not consider spending precious coin on a spell like this as it seems somewhat gimmicky. However, since I found it freely, I gave it a try. A spirit appeared and agreed to answer all kinds of questions for me. While others may look up treasure locations in an online walkthrough, real adventurers reach out to greater powers to obtain the answers they seek! Moments like this really made my experience memorable.
Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition utilizes the Dungeon & Dragon’s 2nd edition ruleset. These rules have unnecessary complications and unintuitive design choices making it harder for new players to approach. For example, the lower your armor class is, the better you are protected. An armor class of -10 is vastly better than an AC of 5! While I did not review it, I recall that the instruction book itself had dozens of pages (many dedicated to spells and monsters). These elements make this game intimidating for most, but I highly encourage RPGamers to take the time to dive into it. The depth offered in character creation and combat pays off those who carefully plan their parties.
Combat feels well balanced, with some difficulty spikes in places requiring the player to consider new strategies. One of the encounters I ran into had me reloading over a half dozen times. I walked away for a bit, pondered the challenge in front of me, and reviewed my team’s abilities. After much thought, I devised a new strategy and approached the fight from a different direction. It worked, and I enjoyed the satisfaction that came with a victory well earned. I honestly wish that the combat system stuck to its turn based roots. I feel this pain especially in spell casting area of effect spells where groups of enemies can move to an entirely different place between the time I start casting and finish casting a spell, causing it to miss entirely. The series as a whole lost some tactical control and depth with the move to pause and play. However, I eventually adapted and really enjoyed my time with the game from beginning to end.
I dare say, I even enjoyed this more that the original Bauldur’s Gate. While I do not dispute that Baldur’s Gate had superior writing, and memorable party members, they were not truly mine. The trade off for this, the ability to create your entire party from scratch, made for a unique experience apart from its more famous processor and for me, it had a more distinct WRPG flavor as a result. In conclusion, I totally encourage old school RPGamers to dive in and play this game. Because of this experience, I’m looking forward to replaying this in the future, as well as other games in the series. As such, I give it the best official rating possible, “Complete it!”