Twenty years ago on June 29th, Interplay Entertainment released Icewind Dale, a game based upon a Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms campaign setting of the same name. It was an instant hit, with first-week US domestic sales of 39,285 copies, and it would continue to perform well, selling over 400,000 by early 2001. It was loved by both players and critics, and even now it’s still ranked high on top game lists. So what was it that made this game a hit, and why is it still loved and played to this day? Come with us as we journey back in time, and explore the origins of this iconic game.
While The Forgotten Realms was the original creation of Ed Greenwood and predates D&D, Icewind Dale is the creation of R. A. Salvatore and first appeared in his debut novel The Crystal Shard. It would later be the setting for his next two novels, Streams of Silver and The Halfling’s Gem, the three novels became known as the Icewind Dale Trilogy. In addition to creating Icewind Dale, Salvatore also introduced Drizzt Do’Urden, a drow. Drizzt features heavily in Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels, including prequel and sequel trilogies that, when combined with The Icewind Dale trilogy, make up the Legend of Drizzt books.
Icewind Dale is a video game released initially for PCs, joined 2 years later by a Mac release. It takes place in Icewind Dale, a region of The Forgotten Realms. The game is based on a modified version of the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and uses an adapted game engine from BioWare, built with D&D video games in mind. This was also used on titles Planescape: Torment and Baldur’s Gate. The view for the player is a pseudo-3D isometric view utilizing sprites overlaid onto pre-rendered backgrounds. This was a popular way of having a ‘3D game’ while still using 2D mechanics.
There is a star-studded cast behind the games audio that features the voice talents of David Ogden Stiers (Lilo and Stitch, Justice League), John Kassir (voice of the Crypt Keeper from HBO’s Tales from the Crypt), Michael Bell (animated TV series Transformers and GI Joe), Tara Strong (Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans, My Little Pony), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Shrek), and Tony Jay (Reboot, Talespin).
The game, as previously mentioned, is based in a region of The Forgotten Realms known as Icewind Dale. Gamers already familiar with the setting through the works of R. A. Salvatore will be glad to hear that the game does not follow the events of the novels and instead has its own story arc. Icewind Dale is a region of Faerûn in the most northern point, named after the deadly winds that is capable of destroying all in its path. Its inhabitants experience freezing temperatures for most of the year. The ‘Ten Towns’ is where the majority of the people reside and is a partnership between the town leaders. The towns surround the lakes Redwaters, Laac Dinneshere and Maer Dualdon. Kuldaha, where the adventure really begins, lies the southeast of Easthaven towards the northern reaches of the Spine of The World.
It is populated by the usual denizens of human, dwarf, elf, halfling, half-elf, and gnomes. Adventurers need to be cautious when exploring as the wilds contain bears, demons, lizardmen, orcs, ogre, squirrels, and more.
Players manage a group of adventurers by giving them orders to complete. This could be moving around the map, engaging with NPCs, or manipulating objects. Pen and paper D&D players may find the absence of dice rolling a bit strange to begin with, but the game’s computational efforts and record-keeping mean the player can concentrate on the story.
The party can comprise up to six people and they are created using a similar system to the pen and paper version. During gameplay, experience points are awarded through the successful completion of tasks. Characters’ abilities automatically increase as they level-up.
The success of the game led to an expansion, Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter in 2001. It was warmly received and saw mainly positive reviews. The few criticisms received surrounded the length of the campaign when compared to the original. A free download expansion Trials of the Luremaster was released to address this. A new dungeon-style location featuring new enemies and items was included alongside bug fixes. This would be the final version of the first Icewind Dale.
In 2002, Icewind Dale II was released. The sequel gave the developers several challenges as they upgraded the outdated engine to use the third edition ruleset. Some of the rules had to be excluded due to technical limitations with the engine. Icewind Dale II is the final game to be developed using BioWare’s Infinity Engine. Critics gave mostly positive reviews, but alongside gamers, they thought the graphics to be lackluster when compared to other titles of the time. The gameplay, however, was very well received and saw the addition of a local LAN multiplayer option for up to six players. The switch to the third edition saw focus move towards a more combat centered game that uses a real-time adaptation of the turn-based combat found in the tabletop version. One downside of the game is that characters of the previous game could not be uploaded to Icewind Dale II, players had to create a new party.
In 2014, Overhaul Games released a remake of Icewind Dale. It featured all of the content of the original game and expansion but has been brought up to date with remastered graphics. Available on initially on PC, Mac, Linux, and mobile it saw console adaptations five years later. The game’s multiplayer option has been improved and now features cross-platform play. The interface has been redesigned to make the game easier to play, especially on mobile platforms. The render engine has been replaced with one that allows multiple viewing angles to enhance play.
Due to the similarities between Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate, many of the improvements to the Enhanced Version of Baldur’s Gate saw inclusion in the Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition. This included new items and equipment, as well as a new class. The inclusion of these new features has arguably altered the balance of the original and some argue should be seen as a new game independent of the originals. This did not affect the reception of the enhanced edition, receiving mainly positive reviews
Icewind Dale II: Enhanced Edition is unlikely to see the same treatment due to the loss of the original source code.
The story begins in a tavern in Easthaven, like so many adventures do. Your party meets the town leader, Hrothgar, and is invited to join him as he sets out to investigate Kuldahar, a town south-east of the Easthaven, following reports of strange goings-on. As you travel to Kuldahar your party is surprised by Frost Giants who causes an avalanche that blocks the way back. Your party are the sole survivors of this encounter and must continue on their journey. Are you up for the task?
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