by Interplay Reviewed by: Margaret Danielson
An ancient evil threatens to unleash unspeakable horrors upon Faerun, and you are the only thing standing in its way. As the leader of a hardy group of adventurers, your journey begins in the untamed wastes of Icewind Dale, deep in the Spine of the World Mountains in the Forgotten Realms. This harsh and unforgiving territory is the setting for your adventures to come.
In this frozen wasteland the only thing keeping the cold at bay is the Heartstone gem, which has been stolen. Your stalwart band must battle its way through hordes of Ice Trolls, Giants, Elementals and the Undead in its quest to save the little hamlet of Kuldahar, and ultimately the world. This seemingly simple premise turns into a tale of vengeance and revenge that spans time and space.
Icewind Dale is a roleplaying game based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition rules, much like another title developed by Black Isle Studios, Baldur's Gate. Be prepared, though, for a vastly different game in terms of storyline. This time revenge is not your motive; rather you are the leader of a team of adventurers looking for excitement. What starts out as mere adventuring turns into a race to stop two warring demigods from destroying the world.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Icewind Dale is a classic RPG in the three-quarter or isometric view. Gameplay icons are located on the left, right and bottom of the screen. You may either click on the icons or use hotkeys to bring up desired menus, such as the inventory screen, maps and spell books. Use the mouse to move your party from point to point. Because of the "fog of war" feature, only part of the play screen is uncovered at a time, so be careful as you dungeon crawl -- you never know what you may uncover.
Those familiar with Baldur's Gate will notice immediate similarities -- both use the Bioware Infinity engine from Bioware Corp and both games involve you having to play the delivery/errand boy role. This is an extremely linear story. There is no random wandering around the wilderness looking for things to do; it is always clear-cut as to what needs to be done next. The one real advantage Icewind Dale has over other RPGs is the ability to create up to six player characters without having to create a multiplayer game. Since you do not have the luxury of picking up NPCs in Icewind Dale, take advantage of all six slots and create a group to your liking. This way you get to customize your party to your particular play style. Select a team of heavy fighters or create a more balanced group with mages and clerics, but be sure to have a thief in your midst or the traps will kill you. Think of this game as a classic linear AD&D campaign. You are led from chapter to chapter in much the same way that a dungeon master would lead you along.
You start in the tutorial town of Easthaven, running from point to point and finding and retrieving various items for the townsfolk. Easthaven allows you to learn game basics quickly, such as moving and buying and selling gear. From Easthaven you go to Kuldahar, where the real story begins. There the Archdruid Arundel, who becomes your mentor, will direct your first few missions; then you are abruptly left on your own. Fortunately your path is always very clear.
The constant dungeon-crawling will deter all but the most determined gamers, as your party is faced with legions of almost unbeatable foes and it takes a long time to build your party up to a decent level. Additionally, there are no peaceful ways to resolve conflict; almost everything will end in a battle unless your foes decide to run. This is fine, considering it is the only way to acquire better armor and weapons. Many of the monsters in Icewind Dale are tough enough that only weapons of +1 or more power will work against them, which can be frustrating if only a few of your party members possess these items. The only thing this game really lacks is a momentary pause alerting you to important information. Since combat is mostly done in real time, this information scrolls by quickly if you are not paying attention, so be sure to learn and use the pause feature.
Traveling has been simplified in Icewind Dale. The area maps only allow you to visit areas you have already learned about. Sadly, this takes away from the fun exploration aspect of travel. When traveling, you go straight to your destination; unlike similar games, you are not subjected to ambushes and the like on your journey. Your party is not fatigued when you reach new areas and your wounds are usually healed if you have traveled long enough. While I thought the healing when traveling factor was a bonus, I was moderately disappointed by the lack of ambushes and other random events while traveling. In my opinion, if this were a true AD&D game it would allow for more exploration. The linear storyline could also use a few side quests.
Icewind Dale is very different from Baldur's Gate in terms of art style. The world map is now an impressionist painting. The character portraits are much more artistic and stylized. The backgrounds are vivid in detail, especially the water and ice -- the reflections of the pools and impression of bitter cold make you feel just how desolate these locations are. However, don't be fooled into thinking the entire game takes place in frozen wastelands. You encounter underground Dwarven holds, ruined Elven strongholds and destroyed temples, which gave the designers ample opportunity to show off varied environments. I was impressed with the graphics talent displayed by Black Isle, particularly the rendering of the Severed Hand, the destroyed Elven stronghold. Icewind Dale is a graphics masterpiece in terms of setting and environment. I really felt the cold displayed on screen.
David Ogden Stiers does an excellent job as the narrator. His masterful storytelling ability and sense of pacing really moves the game along. His baritone voice makes the ending much more enjoyable. The background music has a melancholy feel with a bit of a gothic tribal sound. In my opinion, the music was able to create the sense of foreboding that the game required. Finally, the background sounds were impressive; listening to the snow crunching underfoot and the clang of metal added to the whole game experience.
Since the story is so linear, the game functions best as a single-player experience. However, the game does support LAN and Internet play, allowing you to add individual gamers to your party of six. If you do decide to play a multiplayer game, be prepared to find a compatible group -- nothing is worse is worse than a bunch of leaders and no followers. Finding enough players online who complement your style of gameplay can be challenging at best. This reviewer found it difficult to locate other players online. It seemed to me that most players were looking for the single-player aspects of the game. Once I joined a group, unlike other online games, I experienced no lag on my DSL connection.
Minimum required: Windows 95/98 with DirectX 7.0 or higher, Pentium II 233 MHz, 600 MB hard drive space for installation, 4X CD-ROM drive, DirectX certified sound card, 100% Microsoft compatible keyboard, mouse.
If you are a fan of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and you enjoyed RPGs such as Baldur's Gate, you will like Icewind Dale. Overall, the game has all the elements of a classic fantasy and mystery story, with surprising plot twists and unexpected turns. It should leave the most seasoned adventurer hungering for more. The hack-and-slash battles and the progressive storyline should keep the most demanding RPGer happy. Unfortunately, the game's linear plot does have a tendency to lead players around by the nose. The varied character classes and the outstanding finale only add to the game's replayability.
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