So I’ve gone through both Baldur’s Gate games and enjoyed them despite their flaws. I thought I would have taken a break from CRPGs, but I ended up just continuing on into Icewind Dale right after finishing Baldur’s Gate 2. This time the first game that I had was the Enhanced Edition (by Beamdog), and the second one was the regular edition Icewind Dale 2 as no Enhanced Edition for it exists (nor apparently can exist).
Now, I was expecting something similar to Baldur’s Gate, but some things ended up being a bit different from what I had gotten used to, most likely because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone of playing Good and Neutral characters. Let’s get into it then, shall we?
Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition
The setting of the game is the Forgotten Realms, the same world in which Baldur’s Gate takes place. Icewind Dale takes place in the identically titled region far to the north of Sword Coast, where most of the largest cities such as Neverwinter and Baldur’s Gate are situated. So the Dale is an arctic locale with lots of snow and mountains.
You’re a band of adventurers that came into the town of Easthaven, a part of a collective of independent towns in the Dale called Ten-Towns, and you’ve been invited to join the town’s leader on a trip to Kuldahar, a “neighbouring” settlement. Your party is ambushed on the way there, with only the (up to) six members of your party that you created being able to make it out of the avalanche that the ambushers forced on you.
Enhanced or Not?
The game itself looks what I’d expect out of a game as old as this one, but the Enhanced Edition didn’t seem to do much. This coming from the perspective of someone who has never played IWD before, of course. The EE does, however, add a lot of new spells, class options, and several extra quests. It also comes with some quality of life improvements that would otherwise have to be modded in. Ammo belt, a container into which you can insert your ammo, is probably the best of these. It also features the ability to add features of 3rd edition rule-set that are otherwise unavailable in the original one, which follows an interpretation of 2nd edition D&D rules. The quick loot bar that shows all the loot in a certain radius of a character is quite the nice addition, saving you from running back and forth between each enemy corpse that needs looting. The game also now has a Story Mode difficulty for those who don’t want to keep dying. I’m too much a masochist for such an option though. All in all, I think it might be worthwhile to just pick this edition over the original.
Moving from Baldur’s Gate to Icewind Dale
Now, coming from Baldur’s Gate 2 something just felt off. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but in both the Icewind Dale games the area of effect of AoE spells were very difficult to estimate after having gotten used to Baldur’s Gate. The scale of the game seems to have changed as spells that used to reach all party members or enemies in BG would no longer reach them in IWD. I thus ended up clumping up my guys a lot more in order to ensure that no spell went to waste. I did get used to the new scale, but it’s still an annoyance.
Another clear difference between BG and IWD becomes clear right as you start a new game: you create your whole party right from the start. In this game there are no followers that you pick up with their own stories to explore, you’re just a set of adventurers out for glory and whatnot. This made the story a lot simpler in the first IWD than I was expecting.
There was a lot less fourth wall breaking and jokey dialogue options in this game as well, which I found refreshing. I still didn’t mind them in Baldur’s Gate, but after 200 hours of that it’s nice to see a change.
The focus also went into a much more linear an experience in Icewind Dale than in Baldur’s Gate. While it’s a lot lighter on the story, it still manages to become more linear than Baldur’s Gate. There are next to no optional zones to go to in either of the games, while Baldur’s Gate offered several.
Thoughts and Grievances
While the characters are mostly blank slates, the game acknowledges your characters’ race, class, and alignment at points. I was rather positively surprised by how much it helped with getting invested into your own characters. I still prefer having at least my companion characters be written in an interesting way so that I have something to learn about them as the adventure moves on.
The game both rewards and punishes you severely for being evil. Just like in Baldur’s Gate, there’s the whole mechanic of Reputation: if you kill innocents, you lose it. Even if it’s by an accidental AoE spell. It’s incredibly frustrating to roleplay evil characters because people of the world somehow hear about every little evil thing you’ve done despite there having been absolutely no witnesses to what you did. The lower your reputation, the more it will cost you to buy anything; and if you’re fully evil, you will need all the money you will get with all the reputation loss. Why is that? Well, evil clerics can’t Raise Dead. Indeed, a fully evil party cannot resurrect their party members at all, so you’ve got to buy that service from a town. Yes, this means that unless you’re save scumming and making sure that no one ever dies, you’ll have to run back to the town every single time someone dies. Since I personally could not manage to do perfect runs even with save scumming, I found myself incredibly frustrated and running back and forth between the dungeons that characters died in and the town with a cleric. It became all the more frustrating when I had just ruined my reputation with an accidental bouncing lightning bolt killing a mass of prisoners and had to put out insane sums of cash.
But I did talk of rewarding being evil? The game acknowledges the fact that evil characters aren’t necessarily just psychotic murderers who kill for fun, but practical to an extent to which most other alignments wouldn’t go. For example, you can avoid certain fights by demanding to be taken to the leader of your enemy. You talk things out with him and he asks you to do a task for him to let you pass through on your business. The task could be along the lines of returning his slaves to him, which a certain kind of practical evil character would be willing to do to bypass unnecessary fights and get rewards that make their adventure easier. I appreciated the fact that you could play a ruthlessly practical character instead of the “I’m just an arsehole for the sake of being one” evil character. So a plus for that.
I put about 32 hours into this game. Making a party of six blank slates without too much of a story beyond them being adventurers is a bit too simple for my tastes and the story is very basic. The enjoyment was hampered by the fact that the punishments for trying to roleplay an evil character are far too severe, but in the end the game was rather enjoyable.
Icewind Dale 2 (Not Enhanced Edition)
So I went from experiencing an Enhanced Edition to the regular one. The only meaningful difference that I noticed UI-wise was the loot bar being gone, but that didn’t bother me too much. The greatest change from the previous game is the change to a variation of the D&D 3.0 rule-set instead of the D&D 2.0 that Baldur’s Gate games had used. This means that this game gives you the chance to select feats and skill points on level ups, which gives time a bit more of an impactful feeling. The original IWD didn’t have any of the 3rd edition rules options, as was implied earlier. Compared to the (non-EE) old game, this game added new class and race options such as sub-races and the tiefling and aasimar races. It also allows for you to just delete and create characters on the fly from your party at any part of the game. The new character starts out at level 1, no matter where you create it. This feels a bit odd to me, but someone’ll appreciate it. The character screens now contain an information button which gives you the glossary of the game, explaining all the statistics and many other aspects of the game. This is helpful for anyone not familiar with the concepts introduced in the game. Finally, there more inventory space was added. Thank you.
The game is still set in the titular Icewind Dale, this time starting not in Easthaven, but another settlement of the Ten-Towns called Targos. The game explores more of the locales of the Dale, but some of the previously visited areas of the first game are visited as well.
Story and Characters
Yet again, you are a (pre-made) set of adventurers looking to make a name for themselves and get rich or some other more noble goal. You arrive at Targos in the middle of a goblin siege that you are tasked to deal with. As the party of adventurers deals with the threat, they discover that there is more to this attack than meets the eye.
As before, the characters can’t interact with each other and they have no defined personality traits other than those given to or chosen for them in the form of dialogue options by you, the player. A group of blank slates the meaning of whom you’ll decide.
The game follows a very linear storyline that is, in my opinion, a lot better written than in the first game. This linearity is something that I will go into in the thoughts and grievances section.
As the plot moves forward, colourful characters are found along the way as you try to get to the bottom of the goblin invasion of Targos. The improvements in writing visible in the story are very well complimented by these better written NPCs that you meet during your journey. They were memorable to me at least. As with the previous game, your choices of class, race, and alignment matter as the NPCs will react to these and occasionally decide who of your party members to talk to based on them. The game also allows for you to be evil in a similarly meaningful way as in the previous game, but this time it is without the penalty of any sort of arbitrary metrics for it: no reputation or good / evil points are given out.
Below is an example of a possible discussion with an old acquaintance of yours. It’s only available if you’re carrying a dead cat around in your inventory. One of my characters found one really early on in Targos and kept it with him; it was his thing. Don’t question it, he was a barbarian.
Thoughts and Grievances
Let’s get into that linearity that I mentioned before. While I am a man with a great appreciation for linear experiences over meaningless open worlds with mostly busywork, this game goes to some really obnoxious lengths with its linearity. This may well best be exemplified by the second to last chapter of the game. There are objectives in that chapter that HAVE to be done in sequence or the story can’t move forward. What makes this frustrating is the fact that they can be easy to miss and may require the consultation of guides (as I had to do). For example, there is a torture rack that you have to turn in order to open a door. You’ve been told as much, but the place you have to click is precise and it isn’t highlighted like most objects do in the game.
It took me closer to an hour of going back and forth before I looked up a guide and got very annoyed at missing this. A few things happen after this and then you will have to talk to a character in order to start a line of quests which spawn in various objects into the world that weren’t there even if you already visited the places where they were supposed to be.
All in all this continues on for some time and requires you to do a lot of backtracking. I don’t usually mind it, but in this case it was so annoyingly inflexible that it’s just rustled my jimmies.
Other than that, the odd distance thing of the game is still unchanged and evil clerics still can’t resurrect. For this game, however, I did take a neutral cleric to compensate, while keeping most of the party evil aligned. Never take evil clerics in this game series unless you want to have a bad time. As for other thoughts, I thought that the game had a lot of situations in which it replaced the individual difficulty of monsters with numbers. On occasion you were swarmed by absolutely massive numbers of enemies. You could always defeat them with more or less difficulty depending on your party set-up. It does feel rewarding to cut down a veritable army of weakish monsters though.
Not having an ammo belt, despite being able to stack more ammo into a single pile, was rather annoying. That alone might be worth an Enhanced Edition if they could make one. Apparently the source code is lost and the EE can’t be made of the second game, which is a bit of a shame.
Last thing I’d like to note is that the music appears very sporadically in the game. Most of the time there’s nothing playing in the background. There are some areas where the music always plays, but only in certain floors of those areas. It’s odd.
I put about 52 hours into this game. Icewind Dale 2 is a very linear experience that improves upon most aspects of its predecessor. While I may not have experienced the original game without an Enhanced Edition, I feel I can be safe in that assumption as there were clear improvements over the EE as well. The excessively strict linearity being annoying, the lack of music at times being odd, and the engine-produced problems hampering the previous game still being there don’t diminish the enjoyment of this instalment of the series for me. If you should choose from the two of these games, I’d recommend for you to just play the latter one.