Black Isle Studios have really got into their stride. Following the huge success of Baldur's Gate - and the forthcoming Planescape Torment -the California-based developers are rolling towards a Spring 2000 release date for the next tide in the series, Icewind Dale.
Icewind Dale will be set in the Forgotten Realms, a traditional Tolkienesque fantasy campaign setting, where your own personalised party of up to six adventurers will face standard fantasy fodder, ranging from goblins and lizard men to giant beetles and the enormous cyclops and frost giants.
Icewind Dale will use an enhanced version of the Bioware Infinity engine as used in BG and Torment and this means much bigger monsters and better animated backdrops and scenery. Spell effects will look especially cool as Black Isle has a single designer working purely on that very thing. There will also be a shedload of new magic items, weapons and artefacts, and page after page of new spells to experiment with, not to mention some 40 new monsters - each with more than one animated attack routine.
Perhaps the best news is that 3D acceleration support will be included using OpenGL to create smooth fogging effects and improve the in-game lighting, although you won't need a 3D card to run it. Hardware requirements are likely to be steeper than for Baldur's Gate with at least a Pentium 300 needed for comfortable play.
Like Baldur's Gate, the new title will follow the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules but, to keep the game playable, there will be very few changes to the basic game system. It will concentrate on role-playing and party development, so no single character will hog all the limelight. This means you'll have to choose six balanced characters right from the off and you won't be able to boost your team with super-skilful NPCs or replace the ones that get the chop. At least this approach should make the game more multi-player friendly than its predecessors, opening up some interesting cooperative play possibilities. Of course, you'll meet plenty of NPCs - and they may even accompany you for a time - but they'll have their own motivations and allegiances.
No new character classes or races are being introduced, although new higher level skills, spells and abilities will be introduced for each class. Your characters will be able to gain ninth level spells but some of the really catastrophic ones will only be usable by the bad guys.
The plot is inevitably going to be linear. However, the dozens of minor quests will help you earn experience and build your characters up to the 15th level. You won't be able to import BG characters as, according to Black Isle, this would ruin the game balance.
"There's less open and random exploration in Icewind Dale as most quests and dialogues will relate back to the main quest," says producer Chris Parker.
The game's emphasis will be on the 50 or so dungeon levels, although several towns and outdoor locations will be visited. These will include icy mountain passes, geothermal caves, haunted ruins and a web of intricate tunnels and underground chambers and according to Black Isle should give up to 80 hours of gameplay. You'd better buy shares in Nescafe...
If you're the kind of role-playing nut who prefers classic dungeon-based adventuring to wandering through the hills and dales of some far-flung fantasy land, then Bioware's forthcoming Icewind Dale, based on the trilogy of books by Robert Salvatore, should be right up your street.
Using a modified version of the famed Infinity engine (as seem in Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment), and fashioned from the omnipotent Forgotten Realms AD&D campaign setting, Icewind Dale is a six-party single or multi-player RPG with more than 50 deep, dark dungeon levels to hack and slash your way through (the developers are saying that this number will increase as production continues). These dungeons will be accessible from ten completely diverse environments, from ice-filled mountain passes leading to steamy geothermal cave systems, to tunnels carved through the heart of a living glacier, all of which will be populated with some seriously huge new monsters (Black Isle are sticking to the Monstrous Manual on this one), plus the usual shedload of yappy NPCs.
Baldur's Gate was a huge hit for Interplay at the end of 1998, and deservedly so. Inevitably, an expansion pack followed, and that was pretty good too by all accounts. Nothing much happened on the RPG scene after that, well nothing of any note, until the stunning Planescape Torment came along, and what a game that was. So began the wait for Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate 2. BG2 is still some way off, but those lovely people at Virgin/lnterplay have decided to release another game from the BG team (ie Icewind Dale) to fill the gap while you wait for the sequel to the big one. It's at this point that everything seems to have gone ever so slightly awry. Icewind Dale has been pitched as an action/RPG right up to its release. Hack and slash action in dark and dingy dungeons was the alleged premise for the game. Let's clear this little misunderstanding up right now. Icewind Dale is basically an expansion pack for Baldur's Gate. The gameplay is absolutely identical to that in BG. It even says on the back of the box that it uses the Baldur's Gate engine and we always believe what we read on the back of boxes.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's certainly a major disappointment. We were honestly looking forward to this game immensely, expecting it to be a major improvement on BG il not exactly the next 'big thing' in RPGs.
What we've got instead is a game that looks very dated now (it wasn't particularly impressive graphically when it was released) and plays just like its best-selling predecessor, which must mean it's a bit good, right? Almost...
The most noticeable difference between Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate comes right at the beginning of the game on the character generation screen. Baldur's Gate only gave you the option to create one character to begin with, and there were others you could recruit as you went through the game. With Icewind Dale, you create six characters before you even start. Bizarrely, if you don't create a whole party, you can still 'add' people in the middle of a game so if you have four characters you've levelled up a bit, you can add another two that have no clue what they are doing. Top tip then: create your whole party before you start. I would suggest three 'tanks' at the front (warrior, paladdin, ranger) one healer (cleric) one mage, and a specialist mage (enchanters are very useful in combat with charm and sleep spells). From here on in it's the usual BG scenario: talk to everyone in your starting town and solve a few simple quests. As was the case with Baldur's Gate, the nature of the game dictates you must complete allot the quests you are given in towns and villages. This is not because the game forces you to do so, but rather down to the way the experience system works. You get a lot more experience for solving quests than you do for killing monsters (kill a tough monster in a dungeon, get 100 experience points, deliver a loaf of bread to a villager, get 1000 experience points, how does that work?). So no matter how laborious it may seem to run errands in villages that seem to make no sense, you'd better do it. If you don't, prepare yourself for a very long wait as your characters literally crawl towards the next level.
Your starting town also serves as a launching point for an introduction into what passes for a plot. A warrior tells you there is trouble in a nearby land, and asks if you'd like to join an expedition to investigate the problem. The plot is structured in such a way that you are always travelling to the next part of the map, and is more linear in this sense than Baldur's Gate was. Either way, it's just an excuse to go off somewhere for a bit of a scrap. Which brings us to combat and in turn places us firmly on familiar territory once again.
Combat commences in real-time, but if you play the game that way you will die in about one minute flat. Pressing the space bar pauses the game so you can issue commands to the members of your party before unpausing and watching the combat. So, it's basically a turn-based game with the action played out in real-time. Nothing wrong with that, Planescape Torment is similar in this respect but, for some reason, Icewind Dale feels distinctly archaic in its style of play. I suppose the graphics don't help, looking, as they do, two years out of date. But it is by no means a bad game. Indeed, it can be very engrossing once your characters level up a bit. But it most certainly is not the next step beyond Bahint 's Gate as we were led to believe in the run-up to its release. A disappointment then, but I'm sure Baldur's Gate fans will take it to their hearts nonetheless. The rest of you would be advised to steer well clear of it.
Download Icewind Dale
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Icewind Dale Screenshots and Media
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