Review: Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition

I’ve never played an Infinity Engine game before I played Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition.  Infinite Engine games have long been considered some of the best games the PC has to offer.  Some games are remembered more fondly than others, such as Baldur’s Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment.  I’m not sure what drove me to play Icewind Dale first, other than remembering reading somewhere that it’s fairly short.  So what do I think of the game?  It’s a good RPG with often unforgiving combat, but it has well written dialog and interesting side quests.

There’s a story to this game but it’s really not worth mentioning.  This game has more in common with Diablo than your typical Western role-playing game.  Orcs, yetis, giants, and more are wreaking havoc on the land, and you go from the comfort of a town to the wilderness to fight these monsters.  The combat is really unforgiving.  The game sort of plays itself, as in your party of up to six will just automatically attack the nearest enemies, but you can pause the game and dictate individual character actions.  Due to the game’s intense difficulty, two of my characters died in the first skirmish of the game.

You can revive your characters at a temple, but it was 100 gold per character to do so at the first town’s temple, which was more than I could afford after outfitting my team with weapons and armor.  Perhaps it was just a bad dice roll, but every time I went into the first battle, the same two characters died.  I did some internet searching to learn that the game has a difficulty slider (not sure if this is unique to the enhanced edition) in the options that you can lower.  Set it all the way to the bottom, and you’re pretty much invincible.  I felt a little cheap spending a lot of time playing this way, but I couldn’t get past the normal game’s difficulty.  No matter how good the armor was, the same two characters would die.  Maybe I just needed to drop them from my party (which you can do).

The game starts by being in a town, finding out that the town has a problem (a caravan of goods hasn’t arrived) and leaving the safety of the town’s walls to investigate what happened.  There comes to be a deeper story by the second town, and in the second half of the game, you’re mostly in dungeons. There are side quests in the towns as well as dungeons, which are usually worth doing as they net you a lot of experience.  The side quests are fun, and range from clearing a cellar of a rodent problem, to getting an innkeeper to admit to town elders he took the inn against the will of the previous owner.  I found side quests gave the game’s character’s personality and added nicely to the story.  I was disappointed to learn that in town, for the more generic of townspeople, the dialog options are exactly the same between all of them.  I understand Icewind Dale is really mostly about combat, but it would have been nice if the individual characters all had unique dialog options.

Almost every enemy you face in the field has some sort of loot on it, and if you’re in a dungeon, there is loot scattered about there as well.  There is so much loot that it’s usually not worth carrying all of it back to town, as you only have so much space in your inventory.  This means cherry-picking the good stuff, and selling the rest to the local blacksmith or general store keeper.  I found that after the first town, there’s enough high quality loot in the dungeons that you don’t need to spend a lot of time in the stores picking items.

The game still looks good graphically.  I assume a lot of the art is hand drawn, and it still looks sharp.  I don’t know a whole lot about what changed in the Enhanced Edition, but there’s been an increase in supported resolutions.  Also, there have been some interface tweaks, which I wouldn’t know about having not played the original game.  One cumbersome thing about the interface is not being able to do a side-by-side comparison of two pieces of armor or two weapons.  You need to right click to get an item’s stats.  Other than that, I have no qualms about the UI.

I enjoyed my time with Icewind Dale.  I can’t help but feel I would have had a lot more fun playing multiplayer.  I tried researching to see if you can actually play with six people, but I didn’t find a conclusive answer.  Even so, two player co-op would have been more enjoyable than a single-player go.  The game is good for fans of games like Diablo and Torchlight, with a difficulty level that can be punishing.  All told, it’s an enjoyable RPG that would be made better if played with a friend.

3/5

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