RETRO – Are you better than Drizzt Do’Urden? This is the question you’ll have to ask yourself if you wish to fight the ancient evil, who has an army of Undead, Heretic Priests, and Monsters the towns of the mountain. Icewind Dale can be seen as a partial sequel to Baldur’s Gate, as both take place in the universe of R.A. Salvatore’s famous book series. Fans of RPG series should prepare weeks of food, and hot tea: it’s going to be freezing, and will be away for a long time.
If I would need to make a comparison between Black Isle, and a car type, then It would be a Porsche, or if to a movie it would be James Bond series: elegant, refined, stylish yet popular and all of them are professionally made. The 1997 game Fallout shook the world of RPG genre; the real push was the 96’s Diablo. While later was more action oriented than a pure RPG. Fallout also provided new blood to the old Dragons and Dungeons RPG trope, and the story was also top notch.
The RPG fans, however, are nostalgic: a lot of them were waiting for an original game set in the AD&D world – such graphics and complexity of gameplay like Quake. In 1997 rumours circulated that Black Isle that an epic, beautiful game is in the works, and seeing the preview pictures and news, a lot of us were hyped for it.
However, there were many more years till Baldur’s Gate (1998. December 31), while waiting we got Fallout 2 in November so I passed the time with that. When Baldur’s Gate came out everybody loved it, even those who never played an RPG in their life. It was also unprecedented that it was able to beat Lara Croft, and Quake-like games in sales chart and was number one for a while.
The game was immense and could be felt that a lot of walkthrough guides were silent with regards to Baldur’s Gate. To make matters longer, an expansion pack was released called Tales of the Sword Coast, that did not provide too much new to the game but added three new locations. Then Planescape Torment was released, and while the sales were lacklustre, the quality is still there. One issue with Torment was the wall of text” and the lack of focus on combat, which even the most on hack and slash players could not enjoy. That is why it seems that Black Isle wanted to create a combat-centric game, where instead of the walls of text, there are weapons and destructive spells. At least that was the initial idea…
XP, “levelling” and other fun parts
Around 94 during an Amiga party, an RPG friend was explaining to someone how he was able to get an old Pool of Radiance game: “ You know the real classic RPG game! Nothing fancy, go into the town, accept the mission, go to X location, kill a bunch of monsters, get the XP, and then repeat from the start. Damnit I’m going to Pool for a week and no sleep.
Icewind Dale is mostly a collection of these nostalgic feelings: the missions are collected in the towns and focuses on combat and character progression. After completing the quest we’ll have to go back to the town, who will think out loud for a while and then give us the next one. The quests take place (as any Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game) in catacombs, caves, and other underground places.
On the contrary to Baldur’s Gate, we now have to generate now more than one character in Icewind Dale, which reinforces the CRPG (computer role-playing game) rules. Personally, I missed encountering new party members and enjoyed Baldur’s Gate method more, where the character alignments mattered within a game.
I enjoyed the parts for instance where the Halfling would make comments about Jahiera the Half-Druid women, who would also talk back to the Halfling, while Khalid just kept quiet. Plus some of the characters knew each other which also had (although minimal) influence on the story. Well, here we can forget all this.
(Although some people might love to manage all party members, and dislike the Baldur’s Gate version, while for me it is only a personal preference).
Tactical practicalities, practical tactics
Baldur’s Gate method of combat was genius back in the day. While combat was in real time, by pressing space, it could be paused, and the battle orders could be given: the barbarian to charge the line, the mage, druid stay behind and cast wicked spells, the cleric to heal the wounded, and the others could use arrows against the enemy (well I just provided a good tactic), in this way the combat was more tactical than say in Diablo.
You could think off great strategies against a large number of enemies. This is no different in Icewind Dale, as the method was copied entirely. There is only one difference when in combat trying to find something, the paused time resets, and the enemy would kill us if we’re not careful. A lot of people did not enjoy this, so this is now not in Icewind Dale.
It saddens me a bit that this function is not here, and while I swore a lot when I died in such situations, it did seem more realistic. (Of course, I did not scream in rage against the cutting of this feature, as I was now able to add armour or weapon to the mage’s body without any problems, to prepare for close quarter combat). Combat is basically the same, the rules are the same, maybe only one other change is the pointless encounters are less in Icewind Dale. I mean that we don’t get to battle so many enemies that are not related to the quests. Of course, this is not an accidental new thing…
Such a small world!
…as in Icewind Dale, the world that is available to the player is much smaller. The gameplay is way more linear: you cannot roam for hours to reach the mission location, but instead, you can click on the map and be transported there if we know the place already. Due to this structure, we do not return to old locations in the game.
Whether this a new feature of a cut depends on the person. I was happy for this as I was not too great on the constant walking to point A to point B games that much (Does not mean that I will not play Baldur’s Gate II with my saved characters)
Because of the smaller world, there are fewer NPCs in the town that can be interacted with. This has negative and positive implication: For one that while there are fewer characters there are better designed and sometimes more interesting that in Baldur’s Gate. I especially liked that how in one of the taverns the pretty barmaid will have a larger role, and that we can talk to the bar owner about her, and how she would like to enjoy a night with her, but is afraid of barmaid due to her frosty glance. ( I did not like how a few things came to light about the barmaid, well I don’t want to spoil it )
If the sword is too short, use a few sentences
Icewind Dale has great lines of dialogue, conversations, and their outcomes are good to watch. The tone and what we say to a character can affect the gameplay. Of course, this was in Baldur’s Gate also, but it seems that Planescape Torment’s RPG rescue traits had an influence here. Even though this game was touted as more combat oriented, there are still a lot of texts and conversations. Those who do not love the walls of texts well they can have Diablo 2. So those who were expecting a 90% combat – 10% conversation are in for a disappointment.
However the mix was brewed equally here: there are Planescape-like conversations but not too much to get me bored of the story, and Baldur’s Gate combat but not enough to make it monotonous.
The story at parts is well crafted and great, even though the primary focus of the game is dungeon exploring: the quests are better designed, and the motivations of the characters, plus the story is clearer. The quests are also interesting, and at times better than Baldur’s Gate. Although we are far from Planescape Torment’s tier story, it is more refreshing than Baldur’s Gate tiresome clichés.
I loved that in Icewind my characters progressed faster, and more dynamically. They learned the smaller spells quicker, and I did not need to wait until the end of the first half to use my fighter mages spell abilities here. The quick progression also means that the game is a lot shorter than Baldur’s Gate ( can be completed in 30 hours), but the maximum XP is 1801000 ( if I remember correctly it was only 1600100 in BG), and our characters can reach 14-18 level – which means the level up more frequently.
They also dosed the enemy encounter’s difficulty superbly: we’ll have a hard time in large battles, but it won’t be as frustrating as in Gate/Tale’s.
The icy wind cuts deep into us
I did not mention a thing about Icewind Dale’s graphics. Just as in Baldur’s Gate, we have the hand-drawn, fake 3D engine that did not change too much over the years. That can be a personal love and hate regarding graphics I like them, and the near painting detailed backgrounds are well done, but those who die for the pure 3D graphics will find it lacking.
Even though it is an old engine we still find some pretty new effects, for example, the reflection of scenery in water, and spell effect are well done.
The sound and music are well crafted: at times it reminds us of Clannad, eerie music, or at times light-hearted music will uplift the game.
„Baldur’s Gate light”?
The makers of Baldur’s Gate released another great game, fans of RPG will love it once they complete it. It’s nice to see the developers listening to the fans, and trying to fix issues compared to Baldur’s. (Although there were many bugs in this also, and while writing this review a second patch was already released).
All in all R.A. Salvatore has nothing to be ashamed about and his novel got an excellent adaptation, although Drizzt is not in the game, we’ll take his place instead.
+ Classic AD&D
+ Artistic and beautiful graphics on Android as well
+ RPG elements
– No interaction with the team
– Story is simpler
– Smaller world
Publisher: Black Isle
Publication: June 2000