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Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 6
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Heart of Winter, as an expansion pack for Icewind Dale, carries the same look-and-feel of the aforementioned game. That's not to say that it's a bad thing, mind you -- the wind-torn dreary frozen steppe look of IWD was quite appealing, and it stays as such in Heart of Winter. Sprites still scoot around prerendered maps, as they've been doing since the original Baldur's Gate.

Notably, however, Heart of Winter adds a higher resolution officially, and quite a few higher resolutions unofficially. Those of us with more modern systems can now enjoy our Infinity Engine gaming a little less up-close-and-personal, much like in Baldur's Gate II. This is definitely a nice feature, although you have to know about it to enable it.

Just as the graphics are a continuation of the first game, Heart of Winter's score follows the same path. It's good stuff, and you'll inevitably find yourself humming it after playing for long enough. The voice-acting is high-quality, as is usual for the various Black Isle games, and the sound effects are solid. You certainly can't fault any of the Infinity Engine games for their presentation.


It's a shame, then, when Heart of Winter ends up feeling more like a super-patch than a real expansion. Don't get me wrong -- there's quite a bit of stuff here, more than enough to keep you going for a while (especially if you start the game over) -- but in the end it feels more like an upgrade and less like a true add-on.

The actual area that Heart of Winter takes place in is separate from the Dale, and is reachable both inside the main game (remember that locked cottage?) and separately. As it's higher in difficulty than the start of the rest of the game, it's suggested that you not jump in unless you're above ninth level. There are a few new areas to explore in Heart of Winter, notably a new town (Lonelywood), but the expansion pack doesn't add much more than a weekend's worth of additional play to the original game.

The true improvements crop up everywhere, not just in the new area. There have been quite a few tweaks to the Icewind Dale base game, making it all the more enjoyable. Perhaps the most relevant is the experience cap, which has been raised to level 30. Of course, that's absolutely ungodly in AD&D, not to mention damned near impossible to reach. So a new difficulty level has been added as well -- Heart of Fury mode. If you enjoy getting completely humiliated by a game, then this is the difficulty mode for you.

New spells have been added to all of the classes, making life all the more interesting. Quite a few character classes have gained new abilities (my favourites are the bard songs, but that's a holdover from Final Fantasy IV that I don't want to get into). The various stores in the Dale have had quite an increase in their items, allowing for a large assortment of new goodies for your characters to run around with. And the ever-popular 'bags of collection' to store all of your potions and gems [and cases for your scrolls] are here, so your inventory can be de-cluttered.

To truly appreciate the new features, one must really start the game over. While this is certainly doable if you've never played the game again, those people with time constraints on what they can play may not have the time to play Icewind Dale all the way through again. And a good deal of the charm of the expansion pack is lost.


Like all Infinity Engine games, Icewind Dale has configurable difficulty levels, and Heart of Winter doesn't break that tradition. Indeed, it adds a new difficulty level that makes the game even more difficult, for all of the hardcore players out there. The creature AI has also been improved in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, so prepare for many of the old-school [read: hit and run] tactics to no longer work as well as you wish they did. If the going gets too tough, of course, you can always lower the difficulty level. The actual new areas in Heart of Winter are quite challenging for low-level characters [read: impossible], but once your characters are in the teens, they shouldn't have too much of a hassle with Lonelywood and the surrounding area.

Game Mechanics:

Nearly all of the improvements in Heart of Winter are in the mechanics area. Besides those that were already mentioned, there is now a hotkey to show you where all of the items and doors are in the area. This doesn't let you cheat and see invisible things, but it does keep you from having to pixel-hunt for your items. It reminds me of the old Hellfire expansion for Diablo, which had a similar feature to assuage missing important items. The core interface is still the same, of course, and the only really visible change when you start a new game is the ability to throw your characters into an Expansion Only game. Word of warning: don't even think about throwing green recruits into the expansion. They will die, quickly.

Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter offers quite a few improvements to the Icewind Dale experience, along with a few new interesting areas. It may feel more like a major patch than a true expansion pack, but it is a definite winner if you have either never played Icewind Dale or don't mind playing it through again. Those who don't have the time available to slash their way through the Dale again may want to pass Heart of Winter up -- despite its new features, there's really not enough meat here to warrant a purchase all by its lonesome.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x, DirectX 7.0+, P2 233, 32MB RAM, 300MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM, sound card, video card, keyboard, mouse. The original Icewind Dale is required to play.

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Independence War 2: The Edge of Chaos Windows Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated