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.