Can you believe it has been six years since I reviewed the first three “Infinity Engine” games; Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, and Planescape Torment? It doesn’t seem that long ago. For the longest time, these titles were mostly forgotten by everyone except for CRPG enthusiasts. Then, earlier this year the third entry in the Baldur’s Gate saga was released… and it took the world by storm. I’ve not personally sat down to play this new chapter in the Baldur’s Gate series. But I have spent the last month devouring the fourth game created for the original Infinity Engine – the legendary Icewind Dale. After putting over sixty hours into this title, I have plenty of thoughts to share.
As is the case with the other three games listed above, Icewind Dale is a top-down, point-and-click role playing game based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2E rules. Originally released in 2000 for the PC, the game was popular enough to spawn two expansions; Icewind Dale – Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster. In 2014, Icewind Dale received the same “Enhanced Edition” treatment as the other Infinity Engine games. This update includes the base game and both expansions. It also provides compatibility for modern hardware and resolutions, as well as a number of gameplay tweaks and quality of life improvements. This update also provides cross-platform multiplayer, although the online scene is typically limited to closed “friends only” games. For this review I played the Enhanced Edition.
If you’ve played any of the other D&D Enhanced Editions, or even if you’ve read my reviews of Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, or Planescape Torment you already have a pretty good idea what to expect. All of the basic gameplay elements, mechanics and even the UI will be immediately familiar to anyone who has experience with those titles. Still, there are some important differences this time around. For starters, there’s no “main character” in which the story revolves around. This time, you get to roll characters from scratch. All of the classes and mechanics from AD&D 2E are present in this game. The Enhanced Edition also adds a handful of character kits from the previous games into this new version as well. Of course, if you don’t want to roll new characters there’s a pre-built party available as well. But, these pre-generated characters don’t really represent the best options available. Once your characters are created, the game begins.
This time, instead of the game’s story focusing directly on a main character, the experience is more like an actual session of D&D. The game begins when the party ventures into the northern frontier town of Easthaven. After visiting the tavern and talking to some of the townspeople, it becomes clear that there are some strange happenings in the nearby town of Kuldahar. It seems that people have gone missing and the area surrounding the town has been plagued with unusual weather. Once the party arrives to investigate, they are thrust headfirst into an epic adventure that takes them all over the wintery northern reaches of the Forgotten Realms.
Even though this game is similar to Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, it has a very different feel to it. For starters, this game reminds me a lot more of a classic 1E dungeon crawl than some of the more role-playing focused 2E adventures. The combat in this game is plentiful and the various caves, castles, and dungeons you will explore are vast. Of course, players still have an wealth of options at their disposal. Monsters can be charmed, important items can be stolen from NPCs, etc. Violence isn’t the only solution. So in that regard, this game still contains all of the classic staples of an Infinity Engine D&D game.
Personally, I found the fast-action gameplay of Icewind Dale to be a refreshing change of pace from the previous titles. But, I also understand that fans of the previous games could potentially be turned off by it. Admittedly, by the end of the game, I did find myself getting a little wore down from all of the endless fighting. But, by that point my party was so overpowered that the majority of enemies weren’t really that much of a threat.
Regardless of you how to feel about the meat-grinder dungeons, it’s nice to see another part of the Realms in a game. The Ten-Towns area of Icewind Dale lies far to the north of Baldur’s Gate and the other cities of the Sword Coast. Plus, the icy atmosphere seemed a bit comfortable to me considering I was playing this game just before Christmas.
If you like classic CRPGs or if you’re a fan of the previous Infinity Engine games, you should give Icewind Dale a try. Even though the core mechanics of the game are a bit dated by today’s standards, there’s plenty of dungeon-crawling fun to be had with this game.
Version Reviewed: PC
Difficulty: Variable– Icewind Dale features a number of difficulty settings so players can customize their experience. The options are as follows: Easy, Normal, Core Rules, Hard, and Insane. The Enhanced Edition also features a Story Mode which essentially makes the player characters invincibile. There’s also an option for something called Heart of Fury mode. This difficulty setting will give you the most unforgiving and brutal experience you can imagine. I spent a little time tinkering with the various settings and I can tell you that all of them seem to be named pretty accurately. Personally, I found the Normal setting to be my go-to for a first time playthrough.
Multiplayer: Online Co-op – The Enhanced Edition does feature cross-platform online co-op play. However, to really get the most out of it, you’ll need to organize with a friend or group of friends. This isn’t really the type of game to play with random folks. For me, I had little interest in playing this title online. I’m certainly glad the option is there, but this is just a single player game as far as I’m concerned.
Story: Despite being a bit more action focused than similar games, the storyline is still fantastic. Aside from the main story, there’s a ton of sidequests to explore as well. Many bits of lore and backstory are uncovered by talking to NPCs. The more you’re willing to put into these NPC conversations, the more you’re going to get out of them.
Originality: By this point, we’ve had three Infinity Engine games and virtually all of them (with some minor tweaks) have followed the same core gameplay. What sets this game apart is the the ability to create a full party from scratch instead of relying on pre-made characters, a new locale to explore, and an experience that’s more rooted in dungeon-crawling than in open world exploration.
Soundtrack: As is usually the case with these games, the music is somewhat subtle and more for mood than anything else. Still, the tunes are fitting and pleasant. There’s not really anything about the soundtrack that stands out, however. The voice acting in the game is very well done, but somewhat repetitive. Thankfully, the frequency of the party member “feedback” can be adjusted to taste.
Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGs and/or Dungeons & Dragons (especially 2E), you’re probably going to have a good time with this game. But, many players may simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here. The Enhanced Edition does make this title a bit more approachable that the vanilla version did.
Graphics: At the time this game was released, the Infinity Engine was starting to get a bit long in the tooth. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition, it still looks quite dated. But most of the re-rendered textures are a considerable improvement over the original.
Playcontrol: Many of the odd playcontrol issues from Baldur’s Gate I and II don’t seem to be as prevalent in this game. The AI is responsive and accurate, unlike BG and BG2, the controls in this title just work. I did not experience any of the strange and weird issues that I encountered with Beamdog’s other D&D games. I played this game on the PC with the classic keyboard and mouse combo. This game is also available on consoles, but I cannot speak to how it plays using a controller.
Downloadable Content: No
Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes
Value: This game currently sells for $20 but can often before on sale for more than 50% off. Even at full price, when you consider the amount of content packed and the overall quality of the game, it is well worth $20. There’s also a physical copy of this game bundled with Planescape Torment for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4. The price for this bundle varies and can often be found for anywhere between $20-$50 new.
Overall score (1-100): 80 – Icewind Dale takes the tried and true formula that made the Baldur’s Gate games such a hit and puts on a fresh coat of paint. What we have here is a solid CRPG that’s sure to please fans of that genre. Players who are not accustomed to this type of game may have a bit of a learning curve ahead of them.
Original System: PC
Available today on: PC, PS4/PS5, Xbox One/X/S, Switch – (Updated as of Late Winter 2023)
Best Experience: PC – (Updated as of Late Winter 2023)
Other Reviews In This Series:
Icewind Dale – Icewind Dale II
Neverwinter Nights – Neverwinter Nights 2