Ever Get Tired of Being the DM?
Check out all of our past reviews.
Then perhaps Interplay's latest release, Icewind Dale, is what you and your Dungeons and Dragons group may be looking for.
Icewind Dale is the latest in the series of TSR Advanced Dungeons and Dragons PC adaptations dealing with the Forgotten Realms setting. The look and feel of the game resembles that found in Baldur's Gate or Baldur's Gate II. The three quarters view and the activation of various members of the group (in the stand alone game) are identical. The pausing of combat to allow commands to be given to the various members of the group are also similar. All the features that were deemed to be the strong points of Baldur's Gate are to be found in Icewind Dale. Icewind Dale also supports Internet multiplayer games, which I found to be a great asset to this game.
You can play with up to five other gamers, each controlling one of the characters in the adventuring party. This is accomplished via the Internet at a website set up for this purpose. You will need to register yourself to get into this website but it is a no cost registration. I know one of the main 'discussions' my regular weekly Dungeons and Dragons group had was related to who would run the next adventure. We all preferred to play in the adventures and sometimes we had to draw straws to see who would get the undesirable job of DMing (being the Dungeon Master) for our next adventure or set of adventures.
Since each of these folk also had computers and most likely had a copy of Icewind Dale, (I know my friends) I contacted them and six of us were off and adventuring in the Forgotten Realms with the computer being the DM in short order. Though stand-alone play is good - multiplayer using TCPIP connections is GREAT. There is nothing better than running around a new town and hearing the yells of delight as players find what they are searching for in various business establishments. And there is almost nothing like the thrill of wandering the countryside with a group of good friends, meeting and defeating the minions that block the path to success.
The down side of the Internet option is the time necessary to complete a game, and the necessity of the same group of people being available at similar times to do this. Try getting each person to sit at a computer for 60 hours - at the same time. That is why I see games like this as a possible replacement for the weekly D&D sessions. You already have the dedicated group of people and the same time slot each week set aside for D&D, it is just a matter of logging on rather than traveling to one person's house each week. Truly, this is a strong point for this game.
As with other Dungeons and Dragons type games, you get to choose from the standard races and classes that we have all come to know and love in the D&D arena. There are Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, Humans and the various classes possible for each race. Dual classes are also supported in accordance with AD&D rules. Spells and level attainment are also in accordance with the AD&D rules set. The interface resembles that of Baldur's Gate, and is easy to learn and even easier to use. Yes, there is a learning curve attached to becoming proficient with the interface and the manual is only marginally effective at reducing this learning curve. But do not worry as the first few combats are not that difficult and after a few combats you will begin to improve, so when the more difficult battles occur you will be ready.
In the stand-alone version of the game you can pause during combat to give orders to the various characters in your party. Each spell caster can also have a spell memorized for quick cast when needed or drop back from the battle to bring up a new one as necessary.
As with other D&D type games, the main thrust is to beat on the evil creatures that block the way to your goal. There are many battles to be fought on your way through Icewind Dale. This is done in a beautifully rendered world full of surprises and puzzles to solve. Just to wander around the world is a joy - but do not loose sight that there is an evil about in the land that only you and your intrepid band of adventurers can put a stop to.
I have seen many references to Icewind Dale in comparison to the popular online multiplayer game EverQuest. Be very careful here. Icewind Dale is a 6-player D&D game. EverQuest is a massively multiplayer game with nearly 2,000 people on any given server during peak hours. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges - two completely different things - with no viable comparisons to be drawn.
The graphics, I found to be good. The spell effects are awesome. Be warned here, though, that I am not impressed just because a game uses the latest whiz-bang techniques for rendering its graphics. I am a results oriented gamer that is impressed with the GAMEPLAY, and am looking for games that look good and play well on my machine. Icewind Dale meets both these criteria very well. I have read several reviews of this game that criticize the use of 640 x 480 resolution and mention this as a weakness in the game. I found the results to be a game that looks great (but then again most professionally developed games will look good) and PLAYS very well. Not as many games fall into this category.
That being said, Interplay and Black Isle are busily working on the expansion pack Heart of Winter, that will bring 800 x 6000 resolution, gem cases and scroll bags (that hold multiple items and are also found in Baldur's Gate II), 80 new magic items, a possible experience cap boost up to 2,900,000 points and many other improvements.
We would like to put a nearly perfect 4 and 1/2 GiN Gems into Black Isle's gem case for this wonderfully enjoyable title. If you like the Baldur's Gate engine and prefer the more hack and slash style of play - as opposed to the more role-playing oriented Baldur's Gate II, then don't let this title pass you by.
Royce Brainard is a GiN product tester. He has been heard to say "If it is a game, I have probably played it. If it is a good game, then I probably own it." He can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org.