Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe
This must start with a huge disclaimer. Firstly, I am not a seasoned Dungeons & Dragons player. The only time in real-life that I have dipped into that realm, my behaviour was a mixture of gentle subversion and flippancy, but also tinged with the excitement of making stuff up on the spot. To summarise, I didn't care for the rules too much. Secondly, role-playing games on PC aren't my poison of choice though I got a fair few hours out of Baldur's Gate 2 and Fallout 2 especially.
So, how indeed do I expect to shed any worthwhile light on Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition, seeing as I haven't even played the unenhanced edition. Simple, I dragged my cohort Dan O'Shea, seasoned role-player in and picked his more experienced brains. We made some characters, slapped them in a party and had a jaunt around the Spine of the World.
At first glance, I was nostalgic. The sprites brought back memories of Baldur's Gate, and this led me to wonder aloud whether there had been much change visually. Dan noted that not much had. He seemed to be pleased with the ability to zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. The backgrounds are well rendered, character animations are simplistic, but functional. On further play, however, it seemed to us both that most of the enhancements had come in the form of sleekness of interface, features and interpretation of the various (so Dan noticed) D&D rule-sets.
From my perspective, without prior experience of the original, I still find the manner of this particular brand of RPG off-putting. It certainly helped seeing how Dan chose to attribute ability points in a way that made sense in terms of the mode of the game. I have always struggled with this more archaic character creation, preferring a more emergent character through play. I was surprised, however, how attached I became to my character (a gnome assassin-thief), and how much I wanted to carry on playing. The main quest is linear, but there seemed to be dotted side-quests here and there. The real nitty-gritty comes in load-outs, abilities, party balance and experience.
Little additions, such as more clear character identification rings, a very convenient mass-pick up loot bar and more elegant HUD, pleased the veteran player. I found some of the symbols familiar from Baldur's Gate, but there isn't a huge amount of help available for the novice. It is in the tradition of taking your time, immersing yourself in the world and enjoying the journey. On the way, the interface becomes second nature. What helped my understanding of the statistics was the (so Dan noted) clear, “show yer working” calculations for the characters. So I could follow why my charisma was at the rating it was at. On more aesthetic notes, I love the artwork of the cutscenes and the music is spot on. I'd recommend getting some custom avatar pictures and your own vocal sound. Well, I certainly will when I restart without a chaperone.
It is hard to predict the appeal of this. On one hand, fans of the original may get a big kick out of the extended main quest, squashing of bugs and more elegant presentation. Beamdog have done a good job of updating in lots of ways, despite Dan not immediately being blown away. It is clear to see that these classic role-playing titles can benefit from a little buff, here and there, but the guts of the engine and design still hold up well. I was pleasantly surprised with my first go, and look forward to another bash. Maybe it's time I learnt some patience.