Icewind Dale is one of the Infinity Engine games by Black Isle Studios. Now, the Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale two-in-one pack is out for consoles but is it worth your time if you're a fan of classic RPGs?
Before you begin, you have to create your party. Icewind Dale uses the 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons rule set. You have fighters, paladins, and monks for your melee fighters; mages, clerics, druids, sorcerers, illusionists, and shamans for your spellcasters; and rangers as a specialist ranged character. Thieves and bards are also fun supporting characters. I hope I didn't miss a character class because there are a lot. Anyway, you can make a party of up to 6 characters and it's possible to beat Icewind Dale with as many or as few characters as you'd like. XP is shared among all characters in your party so the fewer party members you have, the faster you'll level up. Humans can dual-class but not other races such as elves, half-elves, gnomes, and dwarves (with a few exceptions).
Combat also follows 2nd edition D&D rules. You'll see words like AC and THAC0 so be sure to read up on the rules first. Basically, THAC0 is accuracy and the lower it is, the better. Meanwhile, AC reduces the accuracy of your opponents' attacks. Icewind Dale has a real-time combat system where you tell your fighters to attack the enemies and they'll do so automatically. There's a lot of dice-rolling behind the scenes but you don't need to worry about that. Also, you can pause at any time and you'll still be able to give your party orders.
Casting spells is a little bit trickier as you can only cast 1 spell per day for a new character but you'll earn more casts as you level up. After you use all your spellcasts, you have to rest in the radial menu. Keep in mind, not all characters can cast spells; for example, fighters and thieves can't cast spells at all. If you want healing spells, you'll need a good-aligned cleric or druid while mages have access to more arcane magic. Your spellcasting characters start with around 10 spells but those are only the level 1 spells. Once you get an extra level or 2, you can use any of the level 2 spells; of which there are also 10. At the highest level, you can use level 7 spells which are the strongest.
Icewind Dale is heavily story-driven. In the prologue, you and your band of heroes go on an expedition to investigate some disturbances that befall the town of Kuldahar, a place of sanctuary where the Great Oak provides warmth and protection from harsh winters. From there, you must find the reason for worsening weather, increased monster sightings, and disappearing villagers. There's not much dialogue and the cutscenes are few and far between. I was hyped when I reached a new act because it meant I'd finally find out what happens next in my journey. There are 6 acts and each one can take several hours depending on how much resting and backtracking you do. At the end of the game is a rather hair-raising conclusion so keep your eyes peeled!
Icewind Dale lacks tutorials so I had to figure out how to do things completely on my own which is more difficult than you may think. I didn't know why my spells weren't coming back, how to heal, how to identify those purple things I kept picking up, or how to use the scrolls I kept finding. The penalty for dying is a little extreme, especially early on when you have no funds. It's not an easy game even on normal difficulty so you'll have to be extremely careful or just save-scum. There's also the issue that if you pick a bad party composition, it's exceptionally difficult to finish the game. You'll need a healer to deal with injuries and a mage or druid who can cast fire spells to kill trolls which I learned the hard way! You'll also want a thief so you can disarm traps; I can't imagine getting through the end of chapter 2 without one. A mage who can cast the identify spell is also helpful as you'll otherwise have to backtrack to temples to identify items.
Needless to say, unless you're a Baldur's Gate veteran, I highly recommend finding a good guide and using it because as I said, Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition doesn't include any tutorial even though it's a very complicated game. Funny story: I had to go through the tutorial in Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition to actually learn how to play this game.
I can see why people enjoy the old Infinity Engine games as much as they do. There are so many ways to beat Icewind Dale that it's mind-boggling and that spans from character creation to the vast spell selection. There are also many side-quests to undertake such as restoring a ruined garden in the Severed Hand or killing a stray wolf in a shopkeeper's store. There's a lot of room for creative tactics or you can just stick to the spells that you like best.
Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is a little rough around the edges so you won't see many conveniences that you get all the time in modern RPGs such as fast travel. Instead, you'll be spending a lot of time walking around to various stores and have I mentioned how big the hub town is? You can't even revert the decisions you make regarding character creation and leveling and even worse, permanent death is a possibility. That's why I recommend keeping a recent save file handy at all times.
If you enjoy retro RPGs, strategy games, and Dungeons & Dragons, you'll likely have fun with Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Just throw everything you know about RPGs out the window because this game is not going to hold your hand.
- + Loads of gameplay variety when it comes to classes and spells
- + Wealth of side-quests to complete
- + Solid replay value
- - High difficulty curve for new players
- - Unable to respec characters
- - Lacks fast travel