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Icewind Dale

Scorecard:
Gameplay:
95%
Visuals:
90%
Aurals:
100%
Solo:
90%
Multiplayer:
75%
Fun Factor:
95%
Overall:
91%

Audience: Fans of Baldur’s Gate or Planescape: Torment should find some familiarity with this one. A highly recommended game to enjoy while you wait for Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn this fall.
Traditional RPG fans and those who play primarily pen and paper D&D might want to give this one a try too. Although the game puts a heavy emphasis on combat since it is a dungeon crawl, there is a pretty decent story tying it all together that is well worth at least one play through.

Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Black Isle Studios
ESRB Rating: T (teen)
Platform: PC

Review By: Chris Johnson
Published On: July 2000 at GA-RPG

Introduction

AD&D gamers rejoice, at least those who enjoy the campaign world of the Forgotten Realms, for Black Isle Studios' latest RPG masterpiece is upon you. In an attempt to offer up a more pen and paper feel to their latest creation, the amount of combat has been increased while the storyline is much more, how should we put it, to the point. Things are definitely looking great for computer RPG fans that enjoy D&D as well over the next year with a multitude of titles coming out.

Now if only we could get someone to make a Dragonlance massively multiplayer online role-playing game where I could be a black robed wizard, I will rule the world!
Well having said all that, the game we are talking about here is called Icewind Dale, that draws some influence from the highly acclaimed fantasy works of R. A. Salvatore, aptly called the Icewind Dale Trilogy. This is one of the first games that I’ve had the oppurtunity to cover here at the site from beginning to end. All I can say is that Black Isle Studios delivered on the game they promised, as you can find out in more detail in the paragraphs that follow.

Gameplay

Icewind Dale plays almost identical to previous offerings published under the Black Isle Studios banner for their AD&D licensed games. The difference is an obvious shift to a combat emphasis, while the story really doesn’t suffer that much except for its length. While combat never was handled extremely well in Baldur’s Gate, it definitely is more enjoyable with this game. The use of the AD&D ruleset is superb this go round, and the game pulls off that “dungeon crawl” style the designers envisioned for the game.

In the background during combat, the AD&D rules are definitely in effect, so you will not have to worry about this facet of the game if you are not a big AD&D player. Although there is some deviation from the AD&D rules, the basics are still in place when it comes to such things as the spells available at a certain level, stat bonuses, and experience towards the next level. You also have the choice to play as any of the standard races / classes most CRPG players are all too familiar with, where certain class / race restrictions are in place, so I will not go into detail with those here.

The interface is easy to use, and far from clumsy. The available options for your character can be found at the bottom of the screen, with more information displayed on either side of the screen. Nothing more complicated than a few clicks will accomplish anything in the game, and the action can be paused at any point with relative ease as well.

Combat occurs in real-time, while each character does have a delay for their next attack round. Through the correct use of the pause button, players can effectively turn combat into a turn-based system. The proper use of the pause feature is a definite requirement to make it through the Icewind Dale campaign. The combat is definitely challenging in this one. While we were told Projectile weapons would be toned down in Icewind Dale, I found them to still be by far the best attack in the game. Make sure all the members of your party have some form of ranged attack.

Black Isle has definitely taken away a lot of the necessary note taking with automatic journal and quest entries. These entries are triggered by accepting / completing a quest or finding out something interesting from a NPC. There is also a working map that gets put together as you make it to more areas, which makes travel easier especially later in the game. Speaking of maps, the running speed to get around these has been increased from Baldur’s Gate, and the path finding AI is much better as well.

The game can be saved at any moment in Icewind Dale as long as there are no enemies within about a screen and a half from your party, and the game has an auto save feature that kicks in every 10 minutes or so. When we talk saves here at GA-RPG, we also couple that in with the game's death system because we normally are saving a lot when we die a bunch, and we did find death early and often in this one. Death in Icewind Dale is exactly the same as Baldur’s Gate, which is still a pain. Unless you have a cleric who can resurrect your dead party member, you will have to make a journey back to the local healer. Upon death, your character will dump all their equipment on the ground, which is the biggest pain for dying since you can travel to any destination on the map easily enough. If the party leader is killed in Icewind Dale then the game can continue, unlike Baldur's Gate.

Visuals

Icewind Dale offers up the familiar 2D isometric 640 x 480 resolution of past Black Isle efforts , but the addition of 3D lighting effects using the OpenGL API is a welcome addition for a little extra eye candy, primarily for spells. The 3D additions are minor in comparison to the great artwork you will find in the game, which includes quite a few dynamic backgrounds. The interface from Baldur’s Gate has been given a new look with a more earthy tone to fit in with the setting of Icewind Dale better, and a completely new set of impressive looking portraits can be selected to represent your characters. The cinematics used for the game are very effective and fit well within the narrator telling the story impression the developers were pushing for, although they will probably garner little critical acclaim in the graphics department.

Aurals

The overall sound quality of Icewind Dale is simply great. The sound effects and background music both hit their respective marks, and only add to the gaming experience. The character voiceovers for the narrator and many of the major NPCs were nicely done, but the voices used for your party were for the most part annoying. The available option to tone down their bantering is an option many will be using. Icewind Dale also features three-dimensional sound quality support for those who own sound cards that support EAX.

As with our previous review for Diablo II, I couldn’t really find anything wrong with this aspect of the game, and therefore we gave it a perfect score for that very reason. I could have harped a bit more about the character voices for your party, but by simply toning them down they were acceptable. The sound quality of games released this year has definitely improved, and we may have to become a bit more critical on future games. For now though, you will not be disappointed with Icewind Dale in this regard.

Solo

Icewind Dale shines in the single player game, with a variety of settings to adventure through. The settings are broken out into the various chapters of the game, and the use of a narrator setting up these chapters is quite effective. The few puzzles in the game aren’t too high on the difficulty level, and the what you need to do next is pretty straightforward for the most part.

The story is fairly good, but not as in-depth as previous Black Isle releases in order to appeal to wider audience who might not enjoy reading a book when they play a game. The only real problem with the story was the length, where it seemed to come to an abrupt ending about five hours shorter than I would have liked. The combat while fun and challenging, was pretty difficult at times. You almost get the impression that you need to cheat to get through a few of these encounters. Strategy plays a key role in all these fights, so make sure you develop yours early in this one.

Multiplayer

Icewind Dale comes with full multiplayer support that allows for up to six different people to join a game, i.e. the six members of your party in the single player game. Supported connections include LAN, the Internet via a TCP/IP connection, and direct connections (two players, head-to-head, cooperative mode) via modems or serial cables. It should be noted that there is no difference in the single and multiplayer versions of the game. The person that begins the game must stay logged in for the session to continue.

Due to the linear gameplay and smaller size of the game world in Icewind, I figured that it would be easier for players to jump in and out of multiplayer games without trying to figure out just where everyone is or what needs to be done. However, I still can’t get that much enjoyment out of this facet of the game. You can tell the game is primarily a single player adventure, with multiplayer tacked on. I gave the game about four hour’s worth of play in multiplayer, and switched back to single. The experience is much better playing solo. For those that enjoyed the multiplayer experience with Baldur’s Gate; this one is more of the same in that regard. It would be nice to see a proprietery system like Blizzard Entertainments’ Battle.Net used for Black Isle Studios AD&D games, but this is highly doubtful with BioWares’ Neverwinter Nights being the publisher's multiplayer focus at the moment.

Fun Factor

Icewind Dale should be able to keep a wider audience of gamers entertained than past Black Isle Studios efforts. The AD&D 2.0 rule-set coupled with a lot of challenging combat seems to mix well in this one. A large variety of creatures and settings keep the game from getting too mundane and repetitive. While the story is very linear in nature, it is well written and enjoyable. Your characters level at an accelerated pace from previous AD&D computer role-playing games, and there are scores of magical items of all types to be discovered.

Having said this about the game, it should be noted that the game is a bit hard. You will find yourself saving the game early and often. Almost every major fight within the game will require you to rethink your strategy a few times after reloading. If you’re not really into a heavy dose of strategy in your role-playing game then you should probably take a pass on this one.

The Questions

  1. Does it advance the genre? No, it doesn't break any new ground.
  2. Does it offer anything new? Yes. A more pen and paper feeling than past Black Isle AD&D titles.
  3. Does it offer a decent amount of gameplay? On the borderline here.
  4. Is the product relatively bug free? Yes, the latest patch fixed many of the issues I experienced while playing.
  5. Does the documentation thoroughly explain the game? Yes, great manual.
  6. Does this game have any features to keep it from getting outdated? No, the next generation of AD&D titles are coming, so this one's time in the spotlight will be short.
  7. Is the game worth the retail price? Absolutely.
  8. Is the game FUN? Absolutely.
Pros: Great artwork, attractive spell effects, nice soundtrack / sound effects, a lot of challenging combat, a multitude of magical items to found, great use of the AD&D 2nd Edition rule-set, and an entertaining storyline to boot. Cons: A few game crashing bugs, party member voice selection, game length, combat difficulty, and low resolution graphics.

Final Thoughts:
Icewind Dale is a surprising title that should keep the more traditional RPG fans happy with the multitude of hybrid RPGs released this summer. Although the game has an emphasis on combat, the character development and storyline are both handled extremely well with this one. The promise to deliver a pen and paper dungeon crawl with Icewind Dale is apparent, and Black Isle Studios has delivered. Although the game doesn’t revolutionize the CRPG, it does offer one of the better gaming experiences of the summer. If you’re a fan of single player games or don’t mind the mutliplayer you found with Baldur’s Gate, then you should grab this one.

The only real problems the game suffers from are the difficulty level and the low-resolution graphics. Being put on store shelves the same day as Diablo II was an interesting move on Black Isle Studios part, but depending on the type of gamer you are then you can’t go wrong with either title. If I were to pick up one of them then I’d take Icewind Dale without a doubt because I actually like a story.

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