Sunday, November 18, 2012

Icewind Dale 1's Add-Ons

Well, y’know, I enjoyed the Baldur’s Gate series fairly well, so I figured I’d check out some of the other Dungeons and Dragons games made in the same vein, starting with Icewind Dale 1. And lo and behold, what do I find, but another game that had add-ons. Well, it may be over a decade late, and nowadays any reliable retailer you can purchase ID1 from is going to sell the add-ons bundled with it...but like I said in my Baldur’s Gate series add-on rant, some day (soon, for that matter) EVERY add-on rant I do will be out of date as every game is eventually automatically packaged with all its DLCs and expansions, so why not just do a rant rating the expansion and DLC of Icewind Dale 1 anyways?

Heart of Winter: With a story that’s just a tiny bit interesting, a villain with a smidgen of character depth, and a plot whose events actually have some halfway decent narrative structure, the Heart of Winter expansion is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of Icewind Dale 1. The fact that it contains a guest incarnation of the character Ravel Puzzlewell, of the infinitely excellent Planescape: Torment, is a nice bonus. In fact, even though the Seer of this expansion is at best a weak imitation of the amazing PT character, she’s easily the best part of Icewind Dale 1 in its entirety. Still, even if Heart of Winter is superior to ID1’s main game, I’m not sure I would have advocated paying for this expansion, because it’s still a bit lackluster in its story, and its cast, with the Seer’s exception, is not particularly interesting. Nonetheless, Heart of Winter was at least a step in the right direction from the main story of Icewind Dale 1, so it earns some appreciation from me, I suppose.

Trials of the Luremaster: Released after the Heart of Winter expansion, Trials of the Luremaster was a free additional DLC to go with Heart of Winter that added a challenging extra dungeon to the game. As the story goes, according to Wikipedia, there was some criticism by audiences that the Heart of Winter expansion wasn’t big enough, so Black Isle Studios whipped up this lengthy super-dungeon to compensate.

By itself, I can’t say I really think much of Trials of the Luremaster. All it is, honestly, is a new dungeon with some (admittedly excellent) stuff to loot, a lot of tough battles, a few puzzles, and a very weak story. The premise is that the adventuring party is tricked into being taken to a dangerous, cursed castle, and they have to match wits and swords against the ghost bard that runs the place to put him to rest and escape. The story behind the castle, which is mostly revealed through reading some of the literary items you can find within it, is okay, I suppose, but it’s kind of generic, really, and not very interesting. I’ve seen this kind of DLC before a couple times now (Dragon Age 1’s Warden’s Keep, and Baldur’s Gate 1’s Durlag’s Tower, for examples), and honestly, this is the weakest iteration of the Cursed Historical DLC Castle/Tower/Fortress idea that I’ve seen. DA1 did it well enough with the Warden history tied to the place and thematic use of blood that relates to the rest of the game, and I actually thought that BG1’s Durlag’s Tower had an almost riveting way of telling its tale. Highest praise I could give to Trials of the Luremaster is that it’s dead-middle okay.

However, I still judge this DLC positively, because, well, they made it free of charge, so it’s not like it cost any extra to experience, and it’s not like it’s bad at all, or anything like that. And I really appreciate the idea of a developer taking the time to make something like this, responding to its customers’ disatisfactions in a positive and proactive manner by giving them what they felt was missing, and doing it all free of charge. And all of it seemingly without complaint, or smug, snide PR statements about the grandness of the favor! Really puts Bioware to shame by comparison, doesn't it? Yeah, I'll give Trials of the Luremaster a thumbs-up.

And that’s it; Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster were the only add-ons made for Icewind Dale 1. How do they measure up? Eh. Could be worse. If we compare to ID1’s peers, they were certainly better than the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion for Baldur’s Gate 1, but at the same time, the Throne of Bhaal expansion for Baldur’s Gate 2, released the same year as Heart of Winter, is a heck of a lot better. Still, it’s not a lot of add-ons I can definitely say are better than the main game. I mean, if you can already put up with the nigh-mindless slog-fest that comprises 90% of Icewind Dale 1, then Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster are worth checking out and will seem really good by comparison. In the end, Icewind Dale 1 gets a pass from me for its add-ons.

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