In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s developer Black Isle Studios released several games based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. Originally on PC only, these games were a faithful recreation of what a pen and paper game of D&D would be like in digital form. Now, they have been released for PS4, Xbox One and Switch. Two of the most popular games are now in one collection: Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Editions.
Out of these two games Planescape: Torment came out first in 1999. Players take control of the Nameless One, a seemingly immortal person whom every time he dies forgets everything. At the beginning of the game you wake up in a mortuary, so naturally you have amnesia. Soon after you come across a floating skull named Morte and he befriends you, giving you advice on how to escape the mortuary. The first clue comes from an unlikely source, your body! It turns out in some previous life you have etched a tattoo on your back warning you to not lose your journal because it holds the key to everything. If you find yourself waking up without it, you are to seek out someone named Pharod. This beginning area serves as a sort of training ground before reaching the main hub, the city of Sigil.
Sigil is located on top of an infinitely tall spire at the center of a multiverse. Within its borders lies portal to other realms. There are several factions that control the city, and the Nameless One may join several of them during the game. Part of the mystery of the game revolves around your amnesia and trying to piece together what has happened in the past. You’ll come across other characters that can join your party. They vary wildly in backstory and skills and are quite diverse. One is a Tiefling – a sort of half-demon, another is a mechanical being called a Modron, and you can even recruit a Succubus to join in on the fun. The maximum party size is six, including yourself who of course cannot be removed.
Normally during character creation in AD&D an alignment is chosen and kept during the character’s tenure. Alignment ranges from Good to Evil and Chaotic to Lawful. Typically a player would pick an alignment like Chaotic Good, or Lawful Evil. However, the Nameless One is unique in the fact that during the game his alignment can change depending on the choices he makes. If it does change alignments characters will react to him differently.
Originally released in 2000, Icewind Dale is a little bit of a different beast. The beginning of the game players are treated to an introduction narrated by David Ogden Stiers, known for roles in M*A*S*H, as well as several Disney animated movies. Here players are tasked to create their own party, complete with gender, stats, and classes for each of the six characters slots. This gives the player complete control of the makeup of the party.
The game takes place in the Forgotten Realms universe of Dungeons and Dragons. In a region called Icewind Dale. Tribes of barbarians lived in the region until the arch mage Arachon arrived and attempted to enslave them. But the tribes united against him and drove him back. While Arachon was being forced back, he opened a portal to the underworld. Demons came from the portal and instead of helping Arachon and his army of mercenaries, turned on them. Barbarians and mercenaries alike attempted to drive back the demon horde, and fell together as one. During the battle, a barbarian shaman had a vision from his god and charged into the portal, pulling the demons whit him and sealing it.
Beginning in the town of Easthaven, the adventurers are met by Hrothgar the town leader. He invites the party to join him on an expedition to the town of Kuldahar, where strange happenings are afoot. During the journey the party is attacked by frost giants, which cause an avalanche blocking them from returning to Easthaven. With their path back blocked, their only choice is to move forward. A magical tree that provides warmth protects the town of Kuldahar, but the power has begun to recede and the party is tasked with discovering what’s going on.
Both Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment play very similarly. Using the Infinity engine, the game uses an isometric view above the players as they explore the game world. The parties can be controlled by point and click – simply move the curser to where you want the party to go and click, or you can use the left Joy-Con for direct movement. Switching between the two modes is as simple as a button press. Up and down on the d-pad zooms in and out of the field. The shoulder buttons are used to cycle through the different characters in the party. ZL opens the party menu, which allows players to select multiple party members or all at once, whereas ZR opens selections like inventory, priest and wizard spells, and game options. I’ve played these games for years on the PC, so it definitely took me some time to get used to the command wheel and button functions.
Graphically the games do look dated. They are about 20 years old after all! That being said, the developers did a good job in updating the backgrounds and various character models. Part of the reason the game’s visuals look a bit old is because the game uses pre-rendered backgrounds with sprites on top – all the rage back in the day of Final Fantasy VII. Text in the game is rather small, especially if you’re playing on the TV. I enjoyed this one more in handheld mode, although there is an option to increase text size I still found it more readable on the smaller screen.
The difficulty of the games can be steep on normal mode. A small warning about combat, especially when using spells. Friendly fire is a thing in this game. If players are too close to a fireball when it goes off, the spell doesn’t care if the character is friend or foe, they will be damaged. The same goes for other area of effect spells as well. For example, casting Entangle causes an area to be overrun by vines and the vines will strangle whoever is in the vicinity – they’re not picky! This will take getting used to, as most RPGs, especially in today’s environment, do not feature friendly fire.
The soundtracks in both games are great and Icewind Dale especially features some great tunes. One of the early things that I noticed in Planescape: Torment is that when moving around the city, if moving close to a bar for example, the ambient noise from the bar is heard as the party walks by. Little touches like that help with the immersion of the game. The voice acting is strong as well. Big names like Dan Castellaneta, Jim Cummings, Keith David and John de Lancie are featured throughout.
Overall, this is a well-done enhancement of a couple of older D&D games. Anyone who has played these games in the past couldn’t go wrong with picking them up on Switch, especially for on the go play. New players may find the challenge a bit steep, especially in normal mode, but if you are up for a challenge this is a great collection of games.
Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Editions Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Although the games look a bit dated even with the visual enhancements, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Editions are still fun to play today. Veterans of the PC games should feel right at home here and the ability to play on the go is great. Newcomers may want to push the difficulty down for their first time through.