Currently playing: 7 mages, Drive to Moscow, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet

October 23, 2014

Icewind Dale - Review

Game reviewed: Icewind Dale Complete
Version: ?
Created byBlack Isle Studios
Released: 2000
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 5/10
Est. Playing time: 35+ hours
Price$10

I had no choice but to go online to search for a solution of how to kill the shopkeeper and his sentry guards. I tried to use invisibility on my mages and thief and let the fighters take on the shopkeeper but the sentry guards still attacked the invisible characters and they soon died. I also had trouble finding out among the shopkeeper mirror images which was the real one.

I eventually succeeded far above my expectation by using I hint I found online. I cast Cloudkill on the throne where the shopkeeper starts out and himself and all his duplicates died instantly. And thereafter all of the sentry guards. Too easy.

This combat was the hardest in the game

The success only allowed me to climb further up in the tower and the next encounter was with the evil one himself that transformed himself into a great demon. Two iron golemes helped him out. This combat was also really tough.

First of all, the demon cast dispel magic so you cannot enter the combat prepared. Then the iron golems go for your weakest characters and the demon himself has the ability to use huge amounts of fire based attacks against you. After five failed attempts I managed well enough and with only three surviving characters I killed the demon and everything came to an end. After the the ending game sequence and credits I was back at the main menu again.


With the game ended, I wondered how I could access the expansion Hearts of Winter. It turned out I could choose the single player game from the main menu and start from there. Fortunately all my dead characters was resurrected and we started out with the same level of experience although most of our equipment was gone. Right now I will not continue the expansion but leave it for the future. 

Here goes my review of the game.

Gameworld & Story
The story of the game is very straightforward. The village of Kuldahar asks for help since many strange things have happened lately. The nearest settlement of Easthaven forms an expedition under its leader Hrothgar and sets out to reach Kuldahar. Soon the whole expedition perish in an avalance and only your characters survive. When arriving into Kuldahar the elder druid tells of what strange thing have befallen the village and its surroundings. The player is aked to examine the reports and find the source behind them which eventually leads to the mission to aquire the Heart of Stone. When finally aquired, the druid is found dead but with his last words he tells of the only person able to interpret the stones power, the elven person called Larren.

The search for Larren takes the group through an enourmous elven complex with hard battles until Larren himself is found and can help and direct the players where to look....those two last places is also where the end lies.

The gameworld consists of a dozen regions with several levels and maps. They are only reachable in a linear way one after another. Except for chests or drawers there is nothing to interact with in the gameworld. The maps are graphically well made in 2D but it is obvious that even in 2000 this was an old graphical engine.

The only problem with the story I have is that there is no twists, no gray-zones, you never have to make any decisions. All actions that require attacking is always the right decision. That is a pity. The only interesting parts of the story is when you meet the different bosses or leaders. Their dialogues are very entertaining but between them you very seldom initiate any dialogues.

Rating: 2

Economy
In the beginning, I think the price level in the few shops that exists seemed reasonable. They are not exorbitant but feels fully achievable. At least in all cases regarding non-magical items. When it comes to magic items, they are incredibly expensive in relation to their effects. It's rare you can afford a magic item in the store that you have not already found  equivalent of where you are in the adventure. It is a pity that it should be so, and equally a shame that it is exactly the same set available every time in the store. Moreover, it is generally very few places in the game you can buy equipment and it's basically only in Kuldahar with a few exceptions.

At the end of the game, I came up to over 75,000 gold and could have bought almost any object, but then I already had got hold of many good magical items. I am not more than doubtfully pleased with how this system works in the game.

In summary, the economy only works well for the first third of the game then it becomes pretty irrelevant.

Rating: 2

NPC & Interactions
I had hoped for more here. After all, already Black Isles Planescape Torment and Baldurs Gate was filled with NPC:s and dialogues with many roleplaying opportunities. But Icewind Dale seems very conservative in comparison. As some of my readers have stated this is a more direct, traditionally hack´n slash part of the AD&D series. There is basically only at two points you are given some lengthier dialogue options. When you meet the bosses of your opponents or when you get new assignments back at the base (village). Inbetween you could plough through room after room or hall after hall filled with monsters but with few possibility to communicate  with them.

Compared to older games, Icewind Dale still has a few surprise dialogues here and there but I had expected more and this could very well be the weak link in this respect in Black Isles list of RPGs built around the infinity engine.

The NPC:s themselves are well portrayed though with excellent dialogue scripting most of the time and many of them have voiceacting which is pretty good, although noone is near Irenicus of Baldurs Gate II.

The only interactions you have with the environement is when you find and disarm traps, pick locks or open containers of different sorts.

Rating 2

Monsters, tactics and combat system
Combat is based on the AD&D rules. That means that in theory there are a lot of parameters involved. I won´t go into detail of the system here but if you have played any previous AD&D game like the old SSI games you will know what I am talking about. THACO, AC (Armour Class), proficiency in weapon skills are just a few parameters deciding how easy you will hit or be hit. Your attributes like dexterity and strength also affects combat but more importantly is what type of class you have choosen since fighters receive much more bonus and more attacks per round than, say mages.

The problem don´t lie in the theoretical underlying system. It lies in the graphical implementation of the game where you cannot use the environment to any large degree. Often your tactics is about minimising your hit area by fighting from a doorway and let your fighters hold the front so your mages and thieves could cast spells and fire ranged weapons from behind. Often that is all you need but in the end it becomes quite boring. There is no line of sight for ranged weapons. They could shoot across any obstacle in the room except for walls. I felt the cramped spaces in the game restricted the potential for tactical placement.

It was a long time ago I played Temple of Elemental evil (2003). But I would say that game allowed you better tactical opportunities.

As far as monsters AI go they are not very smart. More often than not they queue up to be slaughtered although there is some sort of morale check when they start running away. You still have to hunt them down to the bitter end though to end the fight. Some of your opponents do however target your weakest characters which often pose a serious threat.

Monsters are varied and all have different types of strengths and weaknesses but since most of the game is like a plough moving forward with combat after combat I don´t care much.

Rating: 3

Magic System
The magical system used follows the AD&D rules. There are six levels of spells and there are several different magical schools. You memorise spells for your mages. The higher character levels you attain, the more spells could be learned at once at every spell level. Priests also memorize spells in a similar way but are given spells when they rise a level. A mage must aquire the spells by finding a scroll to scribe or buy it from a merchant.

The system works well and spells differs in casting time, range and durations. Even though there are quite many spells, I ended up to use the same spells over and over again. I do admit there are different playingstyles to be applied here though. The systems works quite good in the end.

Rating: 3.5

Character generation & development
Character generation allows you to roll up your attributes in the old fashioned way. You choose a race, class and any starting proficiencys in weapons. There are no non-combat skills except of the thieving skills. Each class develops individually according to its class table advancement that are listed in the manual. It affects hitpoints gained, thaco bonus and number of attacks per round per level. The different classes differs quite much and you could also have multiple classes for humans.

I was however quite dissappointed with the limited character advancement opportunities that arised. I could choose new weapon proficiencies now and then but that was all. You are not given any attribute points to spend, nor are there any skills. So the development of characters was quite limited, the most important thing was to be getting new hitpoints and better to hit bonus. Overall ok but nothing special.

Regarding development, the majority of magical weapons you will find are either swords or daggers. If you have choosen flails or staves your have very few good options.

Rating: 3

Map design
Maps are pretty well laid out. There are complexes that spans both vertically in serveral levels and horizontally. Each new map has its own atmosphere. I think they where pretty well laid out overall.

Rating: 3.5

Manual
The manual is huge and contains all information you would like and need. This is how old proper manuals should look like. As a reflection, when Rome Total War II was released last year it was never shipped with a manual (not surprisingly) but the online version the game uses was slow and very hard to find information in. You either drown in the information or don´t find what you need. And you also have to be online.

Rating: 4

Graphics, sound and Interface
Graphics in the game are quite ok even tough it is only 640*480. That is the games major drawback in my opinion. The 2D-rendered backgrounds are quite ok as well as animations. Despite the few system resources this game should be using it can be slow at times. But that has to do with bad drivers rather than anything else.

Soundeffects in the game is ok, voice acting is pretty good and when you hear the music it is good  (done by the excellent Jeremy Soule) but often the music is very ambient in the background and never do any appearance worth remembering. I prefer a good, strong lead theme of some sort but the score in Icewind Dale is quite anonymous. Voice acting was excellent thought for the adversaries I met even though I had preferred more.

Interface wise the system works quite well. It is easy to navigate, waypoint finding is quite ok and the interface is quite easy to navigate and use. I did miss a few keyboard shortcuts but overall I have nothing to complain about.

Rating: 3

Gameplay
As with most games I revisit my spirit is the the best in the beginning. Everything is new and you feel very excited to begin exploring. Icewind Dale was no exception to that. After some hours though the feeling had cooled off somewhat and the middle of the game was quite boring and tedious to traverse. Many hard combats room after room with few surprises or alternatives available made it a chore. What kept me going was the hunt for experience points and level rise, new items and the easy gameplay mode. You never have to use your brain to move forward in this game.

Some combat and bosses was interesting and challenging but the difficulty overall was quite uneven. In the end I found some combats to be quite hard but through the game many of the boss encounters was a disappointment.

I never felt I had very good weapons or armours and seldom noticed the effect of them.

Baldurs Gate was a much better game storywise and also regarding environments. Icewind Dale is not bad but it is a disappointment when compared to Baldurs Gate which also had great and strong music. I also liked Temple of Elemental Evil better than this game. Revisiting Icewind dale today is not really worth it unless you really have to play through all Biowares games.

That being said. It is not a bad game. I just believe it to be the weakest part. I might consider trying Icewind Dale II in the future but right now Legende of Grimrock 2 screams for my attention.

Rating: 3

Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2
Economy
2
NPC & Interactions
2
Monsters, tactics & combat system
3
Magic system
3.5
Character generation & development
3
Map design
3
Manual
3.5
Graphics, Sound and Interface
3
Summary CRPG value
25


Gameplay
3


The musician Jeremy Soule is very famous in the RPG industry. While I don´t rank Icewind Dale to his best works, it is still very well made. Here is the full soundtrack of IceWind Dale.



October 11, 2014

Icewind dale - Nearing the end

My now pretty experienced group was reequipping in the village before going to explore Dorn´s Keep. That means I am to sell off all potions I have no use for. I almost never use potions anyway and end up selling or dropping them if I am out of space. A habit inherited from the hard old-school RPGs I suppose.

I also always resupply my stocks of arrows and bolts for my thief and the two mages. Their combined strength are enough to seriously wound any foe at a range. 

Then I am always visiting the blacksmith and carefully examine every magical weapon to find out which is the better one before selling anything. That means to check the damage dealt, THACO bonus, any special effects and weapon speed and also taking into account my proficiency with that weapon type. Unfortunately you have to add upp all numbers by yourself since there is no help in the GUI that shows how much total damage you can deal. 

Last but not least, a visit to the local magician allows me to buy spells I am in need of. 90% of the spells are found during the adventure but you can buy more powerful spells if you have enough gold.

I have now gathered over 50.000 gold so I can buy some expensive magical weapons but I don´t find them better than the ones I have already found so the store is not that important in the game and I am beginning to find it quite limited since the stock never gets updated. It´s the same magical weapons/armours all the time.

When we where finished we set out for Dorn´s Deep.

Dorn´s Deep was a dwarven, underground complex consisting of both natural and dwarven made caverns and hallways. It was a huge complex divided by several large areas, each of which we must progress. Each with it´s own enemies and obstacles.



At this time my group was probably at around level 8 or 9 and I felt we could handle most of the dangers thrown at us without too much difficulty. At least when we where able to rest after every fight. In general there is only at a few places where you cannot rest but that is often solved by going back to a previous level and rest there. This means that I have never felt the need to use my potions. 

In this complex I found out that it seemed there was six major lieutenants to the dark lord, each one ruling over his own part. After having killed the first one I got his badge. I suspected I had to find all of them and gather all the badges and it was exactly that which later turned out to be my goal.



The dwarven halls thrown me my first puzzle in this game. The table below consists of several different symbols. In the next room I found a floor with the circle depicted. When I entered the circle all hell broke loose in the form of traps. The only way to solve this puzzle was to enter the circle from different angles and only step on the symbols that was on the table in the previous room. 




In the end I had to destroy a very powerful undead lich. The only way to destroy him was to get the key to the room where his urn was placed. That in itself was difficult enough. As long as I didn´t get the urn I could fight the lich and his minions over and over again and he would respawn everytime after a certain amount of time.

As always when the combat are a bit tougher I use haste on my group. That is an extremely powerful spell since it not only makes us move faster but attack twice as many times per round. I could quickly destroy my enemies before they have the time to unleash really powerful spells.



Regarding the thief, I use him for scouting and sneaking sometimes and to bring forth hordes of summoned creatures to attack the enemy before they see me but most of the time he points out where my mages could throw fireballs and icerains. I have only once used him for backstabbing. I don´t find that ability useful enough. Instead he use his bow most of the time and protect the mages.

After having completed the whole Dorn´s Deep I found myself in a place called Wyrms tooth. It felt like a continuation but this time I was back above ground on a frozen plain and had to fight ice giants and elementals. This was quite a large place in itself and I rescued a lot of slaves and got much needed experience points so we all reached to level 10 or so.

I had to admit that the variety of the graphics, levels and monsters turned out to the better after the elven part of the game. It felt more refreshing to go around here even though there where as much combats as before.

I quckly entered both chapter five and chapter six...





...and without going into any details I finally killed all major lieutenants and found all the six badges. They where needed in front of a stair to be but into the ground to allow the stair to open up for me. By climbing the stairs I finally met the one evil that lied behind all of it. But that I had thought before as well, only to be let down.

He throwed in a tough fight by summoning huge amounts of minions to fight for him but by using haste and go only for the evil priest I could take him down before being killed myself and then all goes black and I find myself back in the first town of Easthaven. Only now, something is very wrong with the small settlement. It is covered with ice. No humans are to be seen anywhere and cyclops are patrolling. And I thought I had completed the game.....hmm...

The problem here was that I could not rest my party. I was injured by the last fight and also had to fight a dozen cyclops. Fortunately I only had to meet them two at a time at most. It turned out all the humans had been gathered on an island in the center of the town. I managed to free them and the priest among them told me that the evil behind this had broken into the church but he knew of a way in despite the permanent ice that covered each building.


We entered the church but had to look for another way into the deeper part of the church by searching the tower. Fortunately it was possible to rest here.

After climbin the staris to the tower I stumbled upon one of the hardest fights yet. The shopkeeper himself was there, mocking me. He had obviously been placed into charge of this village and was proud of it. Everything was planned he said. The expedition was only a diversion to weaken Easthaven and allow the evil himself to build up forces here. The avalance was carried out by the frost giants to stop the expedition and so on.

I felt I was very near the end now. A fight broke out and the whole room was spawning with creatures while lightning bolts where triggered and moving around the room endlessly. I had no chance to keep my mages out of harms way and they died one after another. I played out this combat several times without winning.

I must find another tactic....

I expect my next post to be the last post in the game.