It’s cold so it’s time to play Icewind Dale classic RPG

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s cold so it’s time to play Icewind Dale classic RPG

Despite counting Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 among my favorite games of all time, I resisted playing Icewind Dale for literal decades. I’ve always heard this icy CRPG was similar to BioWare’s seminal D&D adventure series, but with a laser focus on combat. A feature-length dungeon crawl with basically no story or exploration. But whoever said that was wildly exaggerating and in fact dead wrong, and I blame them for the fact that it took me too many years to lose myself in this amazing video game. Icewind Dale is easily up there with Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and all those other great CRPGs from the 90s.


Related: Final Fantasy 8’s triple triad is the best minigame

Here in the northern hemisphere, the days get shorter and the air gets colder, and it’s this time of year that, for some reason, it feels good to play Infinity Engine RPGs. I went back to Icewind Dale, this time on Switch, and was struck by how sublime this game is. The idea that he doesn’t have a story to tell is complete nonsense – he just does it in a different way. While you spend much of your time in Baldur’s Gate wandering through towns and having long chats with furry weirdos, Icewind Dale tells his story through his world. Dungeons aren’t just dirty labyrinths filled with loot and monsters – they have stories to tell.

THE GAMER VIDEO OF THE DAY

When you start a new game, there’s no elaborate cinematic intro sequence to set the stage and set up the story. You and your party of fellow adventurers are in a cozy tavern, and it is from here that your adventure begins. EITHER its adventure if you are one of those masochists who like to play solo. It’s entirely possible to finish Icewind Dale without the help of a group, but this self-imposed trial isn’t for the faint of heart: it’s a terrifyingly difficult game, especially in the final act. You can at least lower the difficulty if you prefer to smash every enemy you see and focus on the story and world, which are great.

This is a classic fantasy world of caves, catacombs, temples, and other deep, forgotten places, each teeming with strange D&D creatures, traps, treasure, and intriguing stories about the history of your surroundings. There are a couple of cities, Easthaven and Kuldahar, but you don’t spend much time in them. Icewind Dale is like a grand fantasy road trip, taking you on a long and dangerous journey through the game’s titular frozen desert. You meet the occasional NPC, but for the most part it’s a quiet, lonely game punctuated by the sound of clashing steel, snarling monstrosities, and the repetitive banter of your hero and party.

Some of Icewind Dale’s dungeons are the best in the entire genre: Severed Hand in particular. This ominous elven fortress was once a thriving and vibrant community, but a tragic event in the past left it ruined and forgotten. As you explore its haunted halls, you meet the ghosts of the fallen elves, who tell you of the terrible things that happened there. It’s a perfect dungeon in every way, from the layout and combat encounters to the narrative that holds it all together. It puts other RPGs to shame, and Icewind Dale is worth playing for this alone, although you’ll have to play a good portion of the game before you can access it.

Icewind Dale is showing its age, but the quality of its rich tactical combat, evocative world-building, and compelling storytelling makes up for the elements that time hasn’t been so kind to. However, I still think he looks beautiful. Those pre-rendered backgrounds are packed with character and look especially good on the Switch’s crisp OLED display. Just be prepared for a tough challenge when it comes to combat, of which there is plenty. On all but the lowest difficulty, you have to think tactically and make smart use of D&D buffs, spells, and other sorceries to survive their challenge. This is not a hack and slasher.

Next: The gas-guzzling, kick-ass brilliance of the classic ’90s high-speed biker adventure

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT