I'm reviewing here Icewind Dale (IWD), it's expansion Heart of Winter (HoW), and the expansion of the expansion, Trials of Luremaster (ToLM) in one blow. The original one, not Beamdog's Enhanced Edition.
Icewind Dale shares the same Black Isle's Infinity Engine that powers other great DnD RPGs such as Planescape Torment (PST) or Baldur's Gate (BG) saga. The combat system is just likeI'm reviewing here Icewind Dale (IWD), it's expansion Heart of Winter (HoW), and the expansion of the expansion, Trials of Luremaster (ToLM) in one blow. The original one, not Beamdog's Enhanced Edition.
Icewind Dale shares the same Black Isle's Infinity Engine that powers other great DnD RPGs such as Planescape Torment (PST) or Baldur's Gate (BG) saga. The combat system is just like Baldur's Gate. It involves six-second rounds concealed behind an appearance of real time combat with the option to pause combat whenever you need (and you'll need it) and jargon terms like THACO, AC, save roll and so on.
Sadly, the game in lacks where it counts. In spite of visual and combat similarities, this beast is much different to BG than I first thought. Gone are the interesting companions with backstories and desires that join your party along the way. Here you start your adventure with six silent and functional playable characters that answer swiftly to your clicks and whose attributes and skills you can customize from the ground up. The story is relatively simple and not told in an interesting way. NPCs are mostly the classic saint-or-evil stereotypes you find on hundred of video games. The first two big dungeons do a disservice to the game, they are 100% barren and essentially act as padding between you and the corresponding boss. Fortunately, after that you start to find some engaging locations, NPCs and quests. The game gets a bit of traction and you finally start to care about this universe and the people that live in it.
Whereas BG was a semi-open world game where you could explore and discover its different areas in any order (with the usual story related restrictions), Icewind Dale takes a totally linear approach. You can't travel to a location if it isn't on your map, and it won't be on your map until you are assigned the primary quest that takes place there, which won't happen until you solve the primary quest you are currently involved in. You'll find and solve all the side quests as you follow this straight line that is IWD, though there are a couple whose resolution require some on purpose backtracking.
Icewind Dale focuses on dungeon crawling and combat but it does not excel in it. For example, on the first floor of certain dungeon you'll be fighting reptile people, on the next one trolls, once you go downstairs again, undead. I would probably equally complain if enemies were always of the same type, but that's because the key here is that certain dungeons are just too long for the sake of it. Nothing really interesting happens as you descend from one floor to the next, just a succession of forgettable mob slaughters until you reach the final boss which offers some decent opposition, whereas I still recall lots of memorable encounters from BG Saga.
On the other hand the expansions are brief but better focused. The backstories and NPCs you find there are engaging and the raw dungeon crawling is less jarring. Unfortunately Heart of Winter has one of the most underwhelming final bosses I have ever met in a video game, rivalling with the last one you fight in Blade: Edge of Darkness. Trials of Luremaster, accessible from the first area of Heart of Winter, consists of a dungeon were you have to kill monsters and solve some riddles à la BG1's Durlag's Tower. Not bad at all, and it has some captivating lore to reveal reading tomes, scrolls and having conversations with NPCs.
I now realise I have mentioned "Baldur's Gate" in six of the seven paragraphs that make this review up. There is no better indicator to what I would rather have been doing while playing this game.… Expand