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Icewind Dale

Set amid the chilly wastes of the Ten Towns area in the popular Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms game world, Icewind Dale challenges you to assemble a party of adventurers to investigate a growing threat to the region. Trade caravans have been disappearing, hordes of monsters have been spotted just outside settled areas, and rumors tell of even more sinister happenings abroad.

Gamers familiar with the Baldur's Gate series of RPGs will feel at home in Icewind Dale, the newest PC port from MacPlay. The game utilizes the same third-person isometric perspective as its cousins and has an identical, straightforward interface; it handles combat and movement similarly, and with few exceptions the magic-using characters have access to the same lists of spells. You can torch the enemy with Fireballs and heal your own party with the trusty Cure Light Wounds spell, to name just a few.

You begin the game by creating a party of six characters, so you can balance the strengths and weaknesses of the various class (fighter, mage, and so on) and race (human, elfin, and so forth) combinations. Finding your single-class human thief, armed with archery, a bit weak? Create a dual-class halfling fighter-thief and watch him pick off goblins with ease. This is a boon for players who love to create combat-savvy parties and dislike relying on sometimes-lame nonplayer characters (NPCs). On the downside, Icewind Dale lacks a feature we really enjoyed in Baldur's Gate: interesting interplay between your character and the NPCs that join you on your journey.

Once you create your party, you'll find yourself immersed in a beautifully rendered fantasy environment. You'll hear the snow crunching beneath your boots as you tread the haunted Vale of Shadows and see skeletons crushed to powder by the mighty swing of your cleric's mace, and it's all augmented by stunning artwork, especially in the character portraits and chapter introductions. The game played well in OS X, with only a slight slowdown in the action when we loaded large numbers of spell effects and combatants.

The AD&D 2nd Edition rules form the basis of gameplay. Familiarity with these is a plus, though not entirely necessary, as the manual clearly spells out the system's important aspects. Combat lies at the heart of Icewind Dale, and mastering its tricks and tactics is vital to your survival (see "Know Your Enemy," left). Thinking out a strategy pays off, and the depth of spells and combat options offered will complement your master plan.

The game is split into chapters that start and finish when you've completed certain quests. After you survive a treacherous journey through the monster-infested Kuldahar Pass, for example, Chapter One unfolds with excellent artwork and a spoken introduction to the town of Kuldahar. The plot has little complexity, unlike that of Baldur's Gate, and you end up on a very linear path that suffers from the lack of an engaging story line. Icewind Dale is more pure dungeon crawl than deep RPG experience. That said, the game is still worth seeing through to the end, so dust the snow off your two-handed sword and enjoy! —Dan Dudziak

GOOD NEWS: Eye-catching artwork. Detailed combat system.
BAD NEWS: Rigid, linear plot. Not much role playing for an RPG.
PRICE: $49.99
REQUIREMENTS: 233MHz G3, Mac OS 8.6 or later, 160MB RAM (128MB in Mac OS X), 690MB hard disk space