Atari Games‘ 1990 arcade game Rampart is a strange but compelling single-screen castle-building action game, with artillery-based shooting sections.
This Enhanced Edition of Icewind Dale brings the Infinity Engine up-to-date, with nice zooming and screen movement options, and clearer icons, so playing the game has never been easier or more fun than this.
And does Icewind Dale succeed as a remake? Yes it does. On many levels. Number one: the game feels a lot less clunky to play than the original. Number two: Icewind Dale is significantly different to the Baldur’s Gate games that it is worth playing in itself. Number three: the game is a great challenge, requiring tactical prowess during combat in order to survive. Number four: it’s also an item-hoarder and level-grind fanatic’s wet dream – there’s just so much stuff in the game. Number five: Icewind Dale‘s inventories are different to Baldur’s Gate‘s inventories, although the basis of the game is the same: talk to people using a multiple choice menu system to find quests that you must complete to gain experience. The usual ‘Fog of war’ and day and night cycles are present, as they are in every Infinity Engine game, new or old.
While none of the wonderfully-drawn original graphics are disrespected in this remake, it is a bit disconcerting that the graphics go blurry when zoomed right in. Why Beamdog didn’t use a different kind of interpolation in their engine I don’t know. Other than that fault, though, I think the enhanced Infinity Engine works brilliantly. Having a mouse wheel and a middle mouse button (to ‘drag’ the screen into view) speeds up gameplay no end.
Personally, I think I might even rate the Icewind Dale games above the Baldur’s Gate games, because they’re different to the ‘generic’ medieval fantasy style of Baldur’s Gate, and because the interface is slightly better, IMHO.
Levelling-up your characters seems to take a while. I think I played for seven hours before I got my first characters to level two, and even then the game didn’t seem to apportion them any extra skill points to spend. So not quite sure what to think of that.
The Enhanced Edition also features the Heart of Winter expansion pack, which is played separately when chosen from the main menu. It’s another set of landscapes to explore and quests to fulfil, based on the tribal clans of Icewind Dale.
When Canadian company Beamdog/Overhaul Games decided to remake the Baldur’s Gate games, they began by remaking BioWare‘s Infinity Engine – the engine that underpinned the entire series. Calling their new improved version the “Infinity Enhanced Engine“… (A snappy name, I’m sure you’ll agree…), they then set about importing all of the original assets from Baldur’s Gate; remaking stuff where necessary; and created a whole load of new content in the process themselves, eventually releasing it through Atari as Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition in 2012.
While that might sound like they rushed it – they didn’t. The initial contract negotiations alone (between the D&D brand owners, Wizards of the Coast, and Baldur’s Gate‘s owners, Atari) took 14 months. And, while the Enhanced Edition isn’t perfect, it is quite a brilliant repackaging and reworking, and is a wonderful RPG in its own right.
All the menus and inventories have been modernised, without removing what made them good in the first place. And of course the higher resolution gives a much wider view of the world in the main window. The updated ‘side bars’ have buttons to the area map, the journal, the inventory, the character statistics, spellbooks, and options (access to saving and loading) on the left. And – depending on context – there are other buttons too, like the ‘rest party’ button (represented with a closed eye with eyelashes), the ‘pause’ button, and ‘Quick Save’ and ‘Help’ buttons. On the right are the character portraits of your party members, plus – at the bottom – the essential ‘select all party members’ button, the party AI on or off button, and the ‘labels on or off’ button. The updated interface is quite excellent, and it is made even better in my opinion if you switch on ‘Scale Interface’ in the graphics options (it’s off by default).
Whether you’re playing Baldur’s Gate again, or playing it for the first time, there are a number of good reasons to play this game. It’s very atmospheric (the music is especially good), involving, challenging, tactical, rewarding, and pretty much harmless in terms of ‘risk of wasting life doing’.
If you like RPGs you’re almost certainly going to get something out of any of the Infinity Engine game remakes, even if you’ve already played the originals.
Icewind Dale is the second Infinity Engine-based RPG, developed by Black Isle Studios and released by Interplay in 2000. It’s based on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, with a 2nd Edition AD&D ruleset.
Story-wise, Icewind Dale is centred around a quest to save a besieged fortress from an evil priest, called Brother Poquelin. But just getting to the evil priest plotline is an undertaking in itself…
Technically, this game is very close to Baldur’s Gate in terms of visuals and gameplay, except that there seem to be far fewer trees. The explorable world is represented as scrolling, 2D backdrops, and you explore with small animated characters who are largely controlled by AI, and who scurry around doing things to your mouse-clicks.
At this stage of CRPG evolution the Infinity Engine preferred to be played at 800×600 resolution by the looks of it, and it therefore looks a bit clunky by today’s standards. With Icewind Dale II the interface was improved even more, which gives it the edge in the series in my opinion.
An enhanced remake of Icewind Dale was released in 2014. These grabs are from the original 2000 CD-ROM version – not the remake.
Baldur’s Gate was the first game to use the BioWare Infinity Engine and was released by Interplay in 1998. It is set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, with a 2nd Edition AD&D ruleset, and is therefore a fantasy RPG adventure with castles, magic and monsters in the grand sense of the fashion.
To be even more specific: this first Baldur’s Gate game is set in The Sword Coast region, along the western shoreline of Faerûn. A ‘fog of war’ hides any part of the map you haven’t yet explored, which is a feature of every Baldur’s Gate game.
Gameplay is tuned to adhere to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition role-playing rules and is mostly played in real-time. During combat, though, you are at least allowed to pause the game and prepare your characters for action. You can even have the game do this for you when combat engages.
There are around 25 different Non-Player Characters (NPCs) who you can meet and get to join you at certain points in the game. Various quests await as you play a young man on a journey into adulthood via the method of solving mysteries. Not to mention: the cleaving of many monster (and human) skulls.
Anyone who’s ever played either a Baldur’s Gate game (of which there are quite a few), or an Icewind Dale game – or any of the Forgotten Realms/Infinity Engine games – will recognise many of the character portraits. A lot of the characters are canon and appear in every Forgotten Realms-based game.
As well as the essential single-player game, there was also a multiplayer side to Baldur’s Gate. In it you could play the single-player game, with quests and suchlike, alongside friends who were online and could connect to the same game.
Baldur’s Gate definitely broke new ground when it was first released, and it was a big commercial success, but there have been so many Infinity Engine games since then that it now looks a bit dated. It’s not my favourite Infinity Engine game, but is still good gameplay-wise.
An enhanced HD remake was released in 2012, and which is still available to buy now through the usual outlets. These grabs are from the original version as played on CD-ROM back in the late Nineties.
A brilliant sequel to the tile-based RPG of 2012, Legend of Grimrock II is more of the same atmospheric adventuring from developer Almost Human, but with 2014‘s new content and ideas.
Grimrock 2 begins after a shipwreck; on a beach, with rocky, exterior locations, which is a surprising and refreshing way to start a game like this. You can even walk in the shallow water, which is nice, and on the very first level the shallow water holds an important secret. Don’t miss it.
As the sun goes down, though, you know you’re going to be in for a hard time with the local monster population, and keeping death at bay is often a game of split-second reactions and clever movement, than anything. At times, in the heat of battle, you have to remember how different enemies react to your movements in order to beat them, or not fall into their traps. For example: early in the first level you meet some little blue creatures (Goblins) who are very aggressive and attack you with no warning. They come at you in small groups. If you sidestep next to one, to try to get a hit in, they will jump backwards to avoid your blow. So you have to remember to sidestep once more, before you can get a hit in. So the tactic for beating Goblins is to try to separate them, then try to get one into a corner, where it can’t jump backwards to avoid your side-swipes. Magic is good against certain enemies. The creepy mummies are weak to fire spells, which is good because that’s the way the game introduces you to the magic system, which is done by clicking a series of runes on the menu, then clicking the ‘cast’ button.
All the monsters in Grimrock 2 are well thought-out, and have their strengths and weaknesses; move speeds, and move tactics. The mini tree-like creatures – the annoying ones that hide in the trees and leap out at you after you’ve passed – I think they’re called Ents, have a really tricky move pattern, where they move towards you sideways and attack really quickly. So unless you’re fast they can overwhelm you quickly. Others spit poison at you from a distance. The world of Grimrock 2 really is a deadly hunting ground for some of the scariest monsters you’ll ever meet in an RPG. The skeleton guards especially put the willies up me! Their real-time shadows as they move across the corridors into view are really quite astounding. The atmosphere generated by the lighting and music is just sooo good! You’ll be gripped by the precise WSAD/mouse combat, and cursing certain monsters when they kill the front row and force you to re-load.
A very practical enhancement to Grimrock 2 is the ability to have alternative weapons setups on your characters, and the ability to quickly switch between them when in combat. This gives the player the chance to experiment with more weapons and items, which is good.
Grimrock 2 also has its tense boss battles. There’s alchemy this time, and plants to pick up and make into potions. There’s digging (for buried treasure). An improved automap system. A mysterious, unfolding storyline. And even a simple-to-use dungeon editor, for making your own custom dungeons that anyone with a copy of Grimrock 2 can play. The gameplay, and the whole package, is top quality. And it is a tough challenge too. Getting all the achievements is way beyond my capabilities…
Legend of Grimrock II is a worthy sequel to a great first game. It expands and enhances the Grimrock experience immeasurably, and the result is arguably one of the best tile-based RPGs ever made.
Click: The original Legend of Grimrock on The King of Grabs.
First released in 2015, CD Projekt Red‘s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a third-person, open world Role-Playing Game that is based on a series of novels by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.
Obviously it is the third instalment in the series (and last, according to the developers), and in it you play a monster-hunting detective badass called Geralt – a Witcher; a carrier of two swords (one steel, for killing humans, and one silver, for killing monsters); and a superhuman solver of problems with acute senses and no emotions.
One thing that immediately becomes apparent, when playing this game, is that it is a VERY adult game – it is not for kids. Which is a good thing, in my opinion, because video games have incorrectly been labelled as “for kids” since the dawn of time. The Witcher 3‘s dialogue is peppered with laugh-out-loud humour, profanity, and great characterisation. There are sex scenes, but these are not gratuitous – they actually add to (and change the course of) the story. And, of course, there is violence galore, with both monsters and people being hacked-up in the most gruesome manner (again: not gratuitous, but relatively realistic).
The second thing that becomes apparent when playing The Witcher 3, or at least it did to me, is the fact that this game is VASTLY better than Skyrim. A game I love to be honest, but one that seems second-best when compared next to this. Comparing The Witcher 3 directly to Skyrim is not entirely fair as there are a number of years between them, and developer CD Projekt Red have openly admitted to loving Skyrim, but not wanting to make the same mistakes that Bethesda did in making that game. And – on the whole – they have succeeded. There are less game-breaking bugs in this, less illogical paradoxes in the script, and the story and dialogue is a DAMN SIGHT better than Skyrim‘s. In fact: I might have to say that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is arguably the best-written game of all time. Not to mention fantastic to play on all levels… The combat; the quests; the side-games (I’m not particularly fond of Gwent, the in-game card game, but I can at least see it is a sound creation, if a little difficult without a decent deck) – it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into how the game plays.
And it certainly looks amazing too. The environments, weather and light modelling, and all the models and animations are – quite frankly: amazing. It’s an incredible piece of world-building.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t perfect. I could give you a list of ten things that bother me about the game, but at the same time I could give you a list of a hundred things that are absolutely great about it. And – on balance – this game is certainly one of the best games ever made.
There are no two ways about it: if you like story-driven, single-player RPGs, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a MUST PLAY game. If you don’t yet own it: wait for the next Steam/GOG.com sale and get it bought; get it played; and let it own you.
Note: I have filtered out all the swearing and nudity from these grabs, because that’s not what this blog is about. Although I very much love the profanity and humour in this game I wanted to keep this post relatively clean. Profanity is not “bad language” – as some people like to argue – but is a colourful and common form of language use.