Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is the second of the five classic Infinity Engine RPGs to come out for Android, following the release of Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition earlier this year. Icewind Dale was designed to be much more combat-heavy than the other Infinity Engine games: where those games focused on story and characterization, Icewind Dale focused on pure dungeon crawling and advanced combat. Because it’s based on early Dungeons & Dragons rules, Icewind Dale offers a nearly unmatched level of strategic depth and some of the best dungeon crawling ever designed. What’s more, the game feeds back on the minutest details, whether that be the spell disrupting attacks of your wizard slayer or the nuanced dialogue choices given to your charismatic, chaotic neutral main character. While it’s not easy to learn for players who don’t already know the rules and shouldn’t really be played on a phone, Icewind Dale is an amazing RPG that deserves its classic status.
It’s pretty rare, especially of late, for games to suggest that their own story isn’t very important. That’s a common thing to hear about Icewind Dale, though, because the game jettisons the pre-made party members that defined earlier Infinity Engine games and invites you to simply make your own party. Bioware-style party interactions are sacrificed in order to give you the freedom to design a well-balanced party however you like and tell your own story. That’s not to say that the plot of Icewind Dale is bad or nonexistent: it actually beats most modern RPGs, especially mobile ones. It’s just minimalistic, relying on great level designs and smart, subtle writing to convey atmosphere while leading you from dungeon to dungeon.
The commitment to well-designed combat pays off: other Infinity Engine games have good combat, but Icewind Dale really benefits from letting you design your characters however you want. No limits on what you can do with your party means that your enemies don’t hold back either, so you have to be ready for anything. The Dungeons & Dragons combat system is so deep because it was originally designed for tabletop players and dungeon masters trying to outsmart each other, so it needed to be both entertaining enough to keep them interested and balanced enough to stand up to people actively trying to break the game. Icewind Dale and its sequel are two of the only games that really use this system to its full potential, and as a result, they’re treasures of the RPG genre.
The other side of the coin, though, is that D&D rules are fairly complicated, especially in the early edition that Icewind Dale is based on. It’s also a fairly old game that was released to an audience that was more likely to be familiar with D&D, so it’s not especially helpful at showing you the ropes or explaining some of the more counterintuitive rules. One notorious example is THACO, an accuracy stat that gets lower the more accurate you get. THACO, along with a bunch of general tips on the game, can be explained by searching around on the internet before you play, but it’s unfortunate how hard it can be to go in blind.
Hopefully, all five Infinity Engine games will eventually make it to mobile platforms, because each one that does is a major addition to Android’s library of RPGs. The thing about these games, though, is that they’re really too in-depth to be played comfortably on anything smaller than a tablet. From shops to dialogue windows to the pausable real-time combat, all the game’s buttons become very small when scaled down to the size of a phone screen and the game suffers for it. Moving your party is especially difficult on a phone, because characters often get stuck around corners and it’s hard to be precise. Playing Icewind Dale on a PC or tablet is highly recommended over playing it on a phone, but that’s really a compliment: the game is too deep to fit onto a phone’s screen.
Anyone who likes RPGs or tactical combat and hasn’t played Icewind Dale is highly encouraged to pick it up, especially because the recently released Enhanced Edition comes with the original expansion packs and adds new character building options. If complexity, good design, and challenging gameplay are things you value in games, then Icewind Dale should be at the top of your list.
But is it Hardcore?
A well-designed classic RPG with great combat and level design. Just make sure you avoid playing it on anything smaller than a tablet.