14 September 2011

Icewind Dale I, Heart of Winter, Icewind Dale II

I'm a huge fan of topdown perspective RPG games, imo there are few exceptions where 3D games work to create an immersive RPG experience. Morrowind and the Witcher games are a few examples. However I grew up with the topdown perspective games such as the Fallout 1 & 2, Arcanum, Baldurs Gate series, Icewind Dale series, Temple of Elemental Evil and Planescape Torment. And I can safely say that all of those games hold up remarkably well even to this day.

Why is that, one thing working in favor of these games are the old school graphics, that often had a painted background which looked fantastic and only had the heroes and enemies being computer animated. None of these games suffered the horrible dated "ugly 3D" transition period that can look jarring in games like Neverwinter Nights.

These games are also the one's that I have played and replayed over the years and still play to this date. Luckily they all still work even on Windows Vista and Windows 7 compared to a lot of nice titles that just refuse to work on anything beyond a Windows 98 rig (Grim Fandango ... *sigh*).

The Icewind Dale series started out just after Baldurs Gate 1. The difference between the two series is that Baldurs Gate is a much more open world character driven experience where you create  a single protagonist and then have other characters join you on your adventures as you progress through the game. In Icewind Dale you create an entire 1-6  character strong party which you control from the opening scene to the end of the game. As such you do have a bit more control over the skills and abilities of your party members, though it may be a bit confusing and hard to grasp for a complete beginner to games based upon the D&D rules.

I love the Icewind Dale series, not necessarily because they take place in and share the name with the R.A. Salvatore novels with the same name, but because of the setting and atmosphere, the music and the storyteller especially in the first game created a rich gaming experience. I actually replayed IWD:1 and the Heart of Winter expansion less than a month ago and still found it to be a solid game.

The first game, Icewind Dale, takes place in the "Spine of the world" area and the Ten Towns. The game starts out with your party standing around in a tavern in the town of Easthaven. You are soon recruited to join an expedition to the nearby town of Kuldahar where troubles have been reported, people gone missing in the night etc.  After solving a few newbie quests around Easthaven you join up with the expedition which becomes ambushed before they reach their destination. What few survivors remained are cut off from you and have to return back to Easthaven. Your party being cut off on the other side pushes on towards the town of Kuldahar which becomes the major hub where you will receive most of your quests, stock up on weapons and magic items.

The game may be hard for beginners in the party creation segment, but the Icewind Dale games are much more newbie friendly in the story department as you have to solve parts of main quest in order to unlock new locations  and as such the plot is pretty linear and more easy to keep track off. It all moves on with an even pace, introducing you to various really cool locations filled with thick atmosphere and lovely musical score. From the eerie music in the empty "Vale of Shadows" to the full orchestra playing while your heroes wander around deep down in the bowels of the earth. The plot in the first game, its expansion and the sequel takes place after the events in the books. But the plot device of the first IWD game is the evil  crystal shard "Crenshinibon".  I won't spoil to much off the locations and events because part of what makes the game so damn good is how you explore these areas for the first time.

The Heart of Winter expansion for Icewind Dale becomes an integral part of the story, and can be accessed once you reach a high enough level through a door in Kuldahar. It is really recommended to be pretty damn high level and maxed out on skills and spells before you enter as the Heart of Winter provides a damn hard challenge. I had my party around level 16 and were slaughtering their way through the enemy hordes with the close combat characters and raining death with my wizard - only to watch my characters get their asses kicked brutally by the expansion monsters  and foes. You can either import your characters into the Heart of Winter expansion after finishing the main game, or enter the expansion area midgame and return to the main plot once you're done with the Heart of Winter quest. Heart of WInter also includes a slew of new features and items that you really can't live without (Gem bags, scroll cases to mention a few).

While Icewind Dale along with Baldurs Gate 1 marked the beginning of the RPG games using this particular visual style and gameplay Icewind Dale II became the last game to use this technology. It had expanded greatly on character classes, included dual wielding weapons, new races and more dual class options. It also had improved graphics a ton of new spells and really marked the high point of what these games could be.

Icewind Dale II starts off in a more epic fashion than its prequel, you arrive by a boat being part of a mercenary band. The city of Targos is under siege and you are tasked with various quests to defend it, hunt down enemy patrols, and scout enemy movements. Eventually you wander beyond the palisade walls to learn about the new threat to the Ten Towns - this time something called "Legion of the Chimera" is amassing armies of various monsters such as bugbears, goblins, orcs that descend upon the settlements and threaten the existence of the Ten Towns.  The story is larger in scope, but also features locations from the first game - now inhabited by new kinds of evil, though most of the game takes place in completely new areas.

I loved these titles and really recommend them to anyone who likes these old school topdown perspective RPG games.

5 comments:

  1. I've played Baldurs gate so many times its great! I wish manufacturers would bring back the top down RPG's.

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  2. They where all so in depth they rocked I still have all mine. Fallout 2 was my first but I picked up the rest over time. I have Icewind Dale 2 but never played it yet (fingers crossed)

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  3. There will be a review of the Baldurs Gate series tomorrow :-)

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  4. All fans of the isometric perspective (that's how the top-down 45 degree view is called) should check the Torchlight RPG. The pet system is one of those "bloody brilliant" cocnepts ...

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  5. Yes, those games are truly beautiful.

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