Before the Lord of the Rings (the movie) came out, I admit I was not too into the whole Dungeon and Dragons themed games. I loved Diablo and Diablo II, but these are actually hack and slash, real time fantasy games than thinking strategy games. In fact, part of the reason why I bought Icewind Dale was that it involved a combination of the hack and slash theme which I am so familiar with, and an aspect of strategy which I grew to like.
In Icewind Dale, your group of heroes must find what is going in the tormented land of Icewind Dale, and try to end the evil which invades the otherwise peaceful land. You can pick a maximum of six members to build up your troupe and also choose their own unique abilities and skills. Since I became a fan of the LOTR series, I shamefully named many of the characters and their traits after the movie (or book if you prefer). You can pick your racial characteristics (elves, gnomes, dwarfs, human, half-elves) and their specialty (mage, thief, bard, warrior, ranger, cleric, paladin, or a combination of specialties).
The game can be played as if you are playing real time, but a special feature in the game allows an almost turn-based approach as well. This feature is the pause button which allows you to calmly pick a spell, move, or an attack if the going gets too hectic. Pause, click, unpause. Simple. Or you can just click madly, and hope the attack you make is effective, which is based on the roll of the dice as per Dungeons and Dragons.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the game is how your characters develop their skills and proficiency in weapons or magic. After leveling up, my weak, snivelling, backstabbing thief ended up becoming an effective, arrow slinging, backstabbing thief who effectively pick locks and pockets, unset traps or sneak in the shadows.
The game is challenging, which adds to the satisfaction level. I found that leveling up in other games came too often and resulted in significant differences in my characters power and skill. In this game, the process is more gradual and therefore, in my opinion, more rewarding. In fact, it can be said that this game is more realistic as characters can get tired, and have issues such as morale level and even their position on the spectrum of good and evil, based on your actions with other characters within the game.
The graphics are not the selling point of the game, even though the backgrounds are artistically well done and provide a real sense of adventure. No need for a high-end video cards in this game. The sound is sufficient, with the music changing to what is happening on the screen. The funnier sounds come from the characters voices themselves as they hurl or joke their way into battle.
Perhaps one disappointing aspect of the game is how dumb your AI controlled characters can be, as they can sometimes wander away form th
e intended destination. Saving often is advised as your characters can be killed quickly if you are foolish enough to blindly send them into battle without thinking. Furthermore, I found the most effective characters are not the warriors, but rather the archers who can kill from a distance. Mages are easily killed but I am sure that after some time and patience they can be quite effective in killing the many monsters which lurk in the dark.
Overall, I would recommend Icewind Dale to anyone who enjoys Dungeon and Dragon series, or those wishing to try something new from the many hack and slash fantasy games which pervade the gaming shelves today. I would give this game a rating of 8.5 out of a possible 10.