Retro Review: Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter

The expansion to Icewind Dale adds a new, separate area of the game, as well as a number of much-needed convenience features. It is a bit on the short side, but the developers made up for that by releasing free extra content called Trials of the Luremaster to beef up the running time.

Perhaps Heart of Winter’s greatest contribution to Icewind Dale is adding a number of interface features that originated in Baldur’s Gate II, particularly the hotkey to highlight items, doors, and chests on the screen. It also added various containers, up to and including bags of holding in the Trials of the Luremaster. These new features apply to the original game, as does the increased experience cap and a number of new spells and even new abilities.

While Heart of Winter improves Icewind Dale’s gameplay in many ways, the structure of its actual content is a bit odd. You can teleport off to the new areas any time after reaching level 9, though the battles are balanced more for an endgame party from the original game. You can export characters who’ve finished Icewind Dale into Heart of Winter, which even adds a few potential bits of dialogue, but doing so will cost you your money and containers. Finishing both plotlines together in one playthrough makes the most sense gameplay wise, but doing them separately makes more sense plotwise.

The Trials of the Luremaster suffer from a similar conundrum, as it is challenging content contained within Heart of Winter that is nonetheless entirely separate. You could re-export characters a second time to complete it, but that seems pretty extreme. Fortunately the content is difficult but not impossible to complete during the course of Heart of Winter. As a downloadable mini expansion, Trials of the Luremaster is somewhat light on plot but features a sprawling dungeon with plenty of puzzles and enemies to fight.

The only real flaw in Heart of Winter is that it’s short, and its three dungeon areas can each get repetitive. The first of these is a particular issue, as it contains three types of undead that are all quite annoying to fight in combination. But the plot is pretty good, the loot is great, and it contains a few brief but intriguing sidequests in the hub town.

Overall, Heart of Winter is a must-have if you’re playing Icewind Dale, unless you are extremely hardcore and scoff in the face of convenience features. It makes an already good game better, and allows you to get into the higher levels where AD&D starts to get a bit crazy (but in a fun way). It’s not perfect, but it’s worth your attention.

Review Score: B+

Retro Review: Icewind Dale

Following on the heels of the original Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale uses the same Infinity Engine as that game but changes up the style to a more traditional D&D dungeon crawl.

It is difficult to define Icewind Dale except in terms of how it differs from Baldur’s Gate. Both use most of the same AD&D rules, but here the focus is on combat and delving labyrinthine dungeons rather than exploring an area of the world. The plot is interesting but not intricate, and the game follows a linear path that opens up each new area in turn.

One of the biggest differences in Icewind Dale is that you create your entire party of up to six members at the start, rather than creating a single character and recruiting NPCs. This gives you the ability to finely craft a team, and you will need to do so in order to survive the challenges the game presents. No class is truly required, but it is well worth crafting a well-balanced party.

The nature of combat here tends to include large groups of creatures, with less of a focus on single bosses or mages with a variety of protections. Those do exist, but Icewind Dale’s dungeons are more a test of endurance than a test of how well you can exploit the system. The game avoids some of the pitfalls of low-level AD&D by giving you quest experience early and often. Levels are gained at a fairly rapid, satisfying pace, and the game satisfies the desire to gain in power. By the end, your party becomes quite formidable.

There is no one aspect of Icewind Dale that sets it apart, but the game is enjoyable throughout. It avoids any major lulls by keeping the plot moving forward, and the difficulty curve is well-constructed. If a fight is particularly difficult for your party, a change in tactics or the use of consumable items will often make a large difference.

In the end, Icewind Dale succeeds because it never tries to be more than it can be. They took a good AD&D engine and made a good AD&D dungeon crawl with it. If you like the Infinity Engine, you’ll have a good time with Icewind Dale.

Review Score: A−