Fantasy role-playing doesn't get much better than Icewind Dale. You get the whole enchilada -- cool characters, tough villains and a deep storyline all wrapped up in superlative graphics and inventive gameplay with real-time combat to top it off. This much innovation should have some kind of warning label: "Addicts and control freaks beware. Players of this game may find themselves glued to their seats and in full control of nonstop adventuring."
Icewind Dale, which uses the Baldur's Gate engine, doesn't pick up where Baldur's Gate left off in terms of storyline but it does push the gameplay forward in significant areas. For example, clerics in Icewind Dale have a lot more to offer than just healing and affecting individuals; spells like Prayer and Recitation cumulatively enhance your entire party's abilities while Curse encourages groups of your enemies to under-perform.
The user interface is especially good. A nice combination of hotkeys, buttons and menus make it relatively easy to access the numerous screens and functions. Hit point information is handily provided directly on character portraits (of which Icewind Dale offers a very fine selection) in numbers and color (a red wash covers the portrait proportionate to the damage taken). The scrolling environment is seamless and easy to navigate whether zoomed in on the character level or with the aid of overview maps.
Using the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons character attribute generation (based on die rolls) increases the game's complexity and customizability. Furthermore, clever special abilities determined by class and race help make each character's contribution to the party unique. Characters have further chances for development and enhancement through the wide range of armor (many with a unique look), spells, potions and magical weapons you encounter (read "find").
Money tends not to be a factor fairly early on, cutting down on the necessity of tediously ferrying items back and forth for sale. Visuals like spells, ghosts and moving water delight the eye with breathtaking clarity and detail. The real-time combat lets your characters join the fray simultaneously and, following AD&D rules, they have a certain number of attacks per round based on attributes and bonuses. Good strategy helps you pick off the important big baddies while boosting your group's abilities and holding back the attacking horde.
However, even the best products have weaknesses. To begin, the voices and spoken dialogue are noticeably lacking in Icewind Dale. Instead of hearing NPCs speak, you get reams of script and script options. To lend ambiance to certain environments, little pop-up messages (such as "My duty is clear...") float over characters on the screen like ghostly communiqués. There are still relatively fun vocal scripts for your characters but could have done without Female Fighter 4's "dumb blond" rendition of the lines "I'm ready!" and "Ok...I trust you."
Additionally, the pair of CD-ROMs offers only a seven-chapter adventure and some can be played through fairly quickly. The brevity is most obvious when you move from one location to another and find yourself basically faced with a door or a cleverly designed, but clearly marked, path you must follow. There's not a lot of exploration of the surrounding environment and that gives the game a very directed feel at certain times, although the feeling is less obvious when not "outside." Plenty of opportunities exist to skip ahead but that might mean foregoing small battles that win you the opportunity to poke through chests and tables for loot.
The old adage of "quality not quantity" seems to apply in many ways to Icewind Dale. What the game lacks in length and sounds, it makes up for in graphics and ease of use. Icewind Dale is a powerhouse of seductive gameplay that, because of good story development and artistic creativity, performs a rare feat: it actually improves as it progresses.
People who downloaded Icewind Dale have also downloaded:
Icewind Dale 2, Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter, Neverwinter Nights, Diablo, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights 2
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