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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Icewind Dale

Icewind Dale (Game release date: 2000)
The brawny, less sophisticated kid brother of the Baldur's Gate series, Icewind Dale makes a fun dungeon romp.

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Highlights: Fun dungeons, incredible music, interesting tactical combat, original environments to explore Lowlights: Party movement problems, annoying spell management, not as interactive as other Black Isle games

Another offering from Black Isle Studios, who brought us the spectacular Baldur's Gate series. Icewind Dale is an old-school AD&D hack-and-slash adventure, though, with none of the innovative play of Baldur's Gate or Planescape Torment. For what it is, Icewind Dale is quite good, with fun character advancement, interesting combat sequences, and a soundtrack that's worth the price of the game on its own. But don't expect beef from a chicken: IWD is not another BG2, and this game is linear, has little plot or character interaction, and very few puzzles.

Style: Icewind Dale is a D&D-based CRPG with a third-person birdseye interface. You control and develop a six-person party. The plot is a role-playing adventure and there are fantasy and mystery themes. The game is untimed and requires no manual dexterity. Combat is turn-based.

Series: Icewind Dale belongs to the same game universe as the Baldur's Gate series and Planescape Torment; however, its plot and characters are completely independent of those masterful games, so there's no need to play one to enjoy the others. Icewind Dale has also had one expansion pack, Heart of Winter, and one longer sequel, Icewind Dale II. There's little reason to buy these games separately anymore, though, as they've all been bundled together into one IWD Ultimate Collection for less money.

Finding Icewind Dale: A lot of software stores still carry this one bundled together with its sequel. You can also buy it online for either PC or Mac.

Getting Icewind Dale to Work: Icewind Dale is a recent game and ought to be plug-and-play. I didn't encounter any fatal bugs while playing it, but there are a number of minor gameplay bugs (characters getting stuck or running into dangerous areas despite your best attempts to guide them past), so save often.

Hints For Icewind Dale: I don't have an Icewind Dale walkthrough or hints page of my own (yet), but the UHS hints are always a good bet--because of the unique site design, you can reveal only the solution you're looking for without your eye accidentally skimming over any other spoilers you didn't want. Or, if you prefer, you can buy hint books for Icewind Dale, Heart of Winter, or Icewind Dale 2.

Game Length: 50 hours, about standard for a CRPG.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up) due to violence and bad language.

Lora's Icewind Dale Review: (Very Good)

Plot and Quests: Icewind Dale's plot is basic; uninspiring, extremely linear, but well-paced and fun. More like something your high school dungeonmaster would have come up with than anything reminiscent of the Baldur's Gate series, but there are worse things in life.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There aren't a lot of puzzles or whodunnits in IWD. Most of the mental exertions here are classic dungeoneering tricks and traps. Not especially challenging, but a lot of fun in places.
Characters: You get six player characters of your own in Icewind Dale, which adds to the charming old-school feel of the game. There are a number of very interesting NPCs around too, even if they're not as interactive as the NPCs in Baldur's Gate 2 or Torment.
Gameworld: Icewind Dale takes place in the Forgotten Realms, so the setting doesn't have any surprises in it for the veteran player of either CRPG's or tabletop D&D. Unlike a few of Black Isle's other games, seldom does IWD rise above the stocky familiarity of the setting to offer up any surprises. On the bright side, many of the areas within the game are brilliantly conceived.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): Straight AD&D-based, a good solid rendition of that game system. You get a lot of input into your characters' development and can really build out a full party.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): The player has an Ultima-style birds-eye view of the party and the world they're interacting with. Party movement is problematic; keeping your characters in formation requires a good deal of effort. Combat is turn-based and very tactical, and success often depends upon spending fifteen minutes prepping your party for combat by having all your characters cast enhancement spells and activate items in the proper order before entering battle. Unlike some games, there is no way to automate this protective spellcasting fest, and it gets very tedious manually casting the same eight spells over and over again.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The game looks surprisingly good for a 2D birds-eye environment, and the voice acting of the NPCs is quite good. What's really stunning about Icewind Dale, though, is the music. Holy shit, I have never heard music this good in a computer game before. This music is to CRPG's what John Williams scores are to action movies.

Lora's Recommendations: If you're a fan of old-fashioned CRPG's, or of tabletop D&D for that matter, you're likely to enjoy this one. Baldur's Gate 2 it ain't, but sometimes a rollicking hack and slash is all you really wanted on a rainy Thursday night.

If You Loved Icewind Dale: Then you should definitely play Shadows of Amn, if you haven't already; same engine, fewer bugs, longer and more compelling game. Even more innovative is Planescape Torment, also by Black Isle Studios; this is a very different style of CRPG (darker, more story-driven, your character is immortal), but its ambience and NPCs are wonderful. If it's the hacking and slashing you can't get enough of, you may enjoy Wizardry 8 or Morrowind, both of which offer fun combat, leveling, and general dungeon romping.

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