Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Editions is by Skybound Games and is available on Nintendo Switch, which we have reviewed the game on along with PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
In the late ’90s, gaming was in a strange position. The decade had marked a turning point in the medium, with many studios pivoting their efforts into 3D graphics and the evolving console market. Video games were truly entering their own space, and as you can imagine many tabletop gamers – players of Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun etc – began to investigate this new world of possibility.
It wasn’t long before developers began tailoring their RPG’s to this market, combining slower combat with much deeper stories, much more flexible writing and shedloads of character customisation. The CRPG was born, with Interplay leading the charge with the Fallout franchise and Baldur’s Gate welcoming players to a whole new experience. Based on DnD 2nd Edition, BG1 told the story of your self-designed protagonist and his companions as they searched for clues to his true heritage. Viewed from a not-quite-birds-eye perspective you could control your party independently or all together, have them steal, cast magic and just generally play the way you wanted to. It was an instant hit and gained a still-existent cult following. Of course, sequels took hold and a slew of high-quality games on the same engine followed. The genre lost its lustre and time began to take its toll.
That was until 2012 when a small studio headed by a number of ex-Bioware developers re-released Baldur’s Gate on PC in an enhanced form. Kicking off a revival of the genre, the studio followed this up with revamps of BG2, Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment and Neverwinter Nights; as well as a completely original BG expansion.
That was a while ago, yet they weren’t quite finished, with plans always in place to eventually bring these titles to console. The biggest problem? CRPG’s are tricky and fiddly and designed for PC.
Now they’ve finally reached the hand’s of the “console peasants,” but have Beamdog and their friends at Skybound found a happy compromise in terms of control, and do these two lesser-known Infinity games still hold up?
Mechanically, both games are practically identical, so we’ll go through the mechanics of the gameplay itself here.
Both are based around the second edition of Dungeons and Dragons, using dice rolls to determine the success or failure of your actions. Every character has their own skill-set created from a combination of their race, class, ability scores and proficiencies which dictate how likely it is an action will succeed. All characters have 6 basic stats; Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, which range (at character creation) from 3-18, though there are some exceptions to this rule. These stats adjust your rolls – which happen in the background – and can be manipulated through levelling up and building in certain ways. The actions a character can take are dictated by their class – a Mage can cast spells and a Thief can steal – and sometimes by race or the items, they have equipped. It’s solid, forcing you to take a crew of individuals around who each makeup for the other’s weaknesses with their own strengths, and gives plenty of structure and flexibility to the world.
The random element exists in combat to determine whether you hit an enemy, whether you or hit, and how much damage you deal, but it extends to the world around you too. if you have a high Charisma you’re more likely to convince people to help you. If you have high Dexterity you have a better chance of picking locks. There are lots of other examples, but the basic truth is this; everything revolves around your stats and your choices in some way, shape or form; and even then an outcome isn’t guaranteed. Yes, this can be frustrating at times, but as long as you plan ahead for the worst these bumps in the road become a part of your journey.
We’ll now move on to what’s different about the two titles in this pack…
Whilst set in the same world as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale is a far cry from the character and NPC-based narrative found in BG1 and BG2.
In the first infinity engine games, you would create one character and recruit companions as you go; leading to interesting inter-party conversations and a variety of sidequests which built on your relationship to each one. In IWD, you create your whole party from scratch. Granted, you could do this in BGEE, but the most striking thing about IWD is the lack of character your party ends up having. It’s great to be able to put your whole self into your team but this leads to a lack of character and heart; leading your team feeling somewhat separated from the plot itself.
IWD begins in the snowy village of Easthaven, where your team is quickly recruited by Jim Cummings (or Hrothgar as the game insists on calling him) to join a caravan headed for Kuldahar. Once you reach the town the true plot spirals out of control and after plenty of twists culminates in a magnificent showdown between good and evil. It isn’t the best story in an infinity game – partially due to the lack of protagonistic involvement – but it’s still relatively compelling with plenty of twists and turns. I do feel, however, that the writing isn’t anywhere as good as that of Baldur’s Gate, and that at times it feels like an afterthought.
You’ll also find a much heavier focus on combat in IWD than in many of the other Infinity games, with almost constant threats on the horizon. A lot of your time – more than you’d expect in a CRPG – is spent in dungeons, and whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing it does lead to a somewhat grindy feel. There is a definite focus on mechanics over plot – for better or worse – so your personal preference for this balance will determine how you see IWD as a whole.
When you aren’t in a dungeon you’ll be trudging across the ice. The landscapes in IWD are beautiful and match with the best of what this genre has to offer. Whilst dated nowadays, there is still a true magnificence to what they achieved and how seamlessly integrated objects were into the hand-drawn world. My only aesthetic criticism of IWD is the lack of environmental variety. Yes, it’s a snowy area, but you can still do different things whilst maintaining a cold environment and I feel it was a missed opportunity.
Planescape, on the other hand, sits completely at the other end of the spectrum. Set in the Planescape setting (essentially DnD’s version of an afterlife-mythology multiverse,) Torment puts you in the shoes of the Nameless One; giving you a blank slate for you to scrawl all over, but one which eventually becomes an established character in a sense. Your character has no memory of his past life and wakes up in Sigil, but is soon told that he has been cursed with immortality and has lived countless lives. This protagonist sets out (along with a floating skull names Morte) to find the truth behind his curse and his most recent death. In complete contrast to IWD, PST has an amazing plot which jumps from plane to plane and forces the player to confront their own morality. With both excellent mainline and side quests, it bombards you with information and lore – again, for better and for worse.
The setting is also very different from any other DnD game. The Planescape multiverse is home to a huge range of weird and wonderful creatures and locales; there’s no Tolkein-esque wandering here. During your adventure you’ll encounter some of DnD’s most bizarre creatures and locations; from recruiting a Modron to visiting the Brothel for Slaking Intellectual Lusts there is plenty to do.
There is very little combat in PST, however, instead offering a number of ways for your character to resolve things without bloodshed. Whilst I personally love this, it leads to the game having a ridiculous amount of reading and not much actual “gameplay,” which many would see as a downside.
What makes PST stand out is this writing, however, as I can honestly say it is all excellent. Characters all feel distinct and interesting and the worlds you explore are all unique and vibrant, with the descriptions given through books dialogue painting the action fantastically. I found myself absorbing every word and struggling over every choice. This is easily one of the best-written games of all time and contains some of the most philosophically interesting writing I’ve ever encountered.
Interface and Port Report
Both games are an excellent fit for the Switch, with the smaller screen lending itself well to the now-dated graphics. In this form, it is great for short or long sessions, and whilst I would have liked to have seen a quick-save feature in both titles it isn’t uncommon for one to be missing on the console. The gameplay is smooth and the visual and audio enhancements both come across nicely in handheld mode. Docked mode, I wouldn’t bother with. As much as I love the visual style it’s difficult to handle the stretching on larger screens.
They’ve also done a surprisingly great job of the interface, with circular selection wheels helping with the lack of buttons. It isn’t perfect, and you could even argue that the lack of a mouse cursor makes the games feel a lot slower, but I loved the inclusion of direct movement and thoroughly enjoyed re-playing these classics on a console.
This is certainly a mixed package, but one I can certainly recommend if you’re a fan of CRPGs. What’s undeniable is the sheer value for money in this package; each game will take you upwards of 40 hours to complete, so even if you only play one you’ll still be getting bang for your buck.
On one hand, you have Icewind Dale; an overall lesser game, but one which takes the excellent combat mechanics of DnD 2E and gives you the opportunity to create your own adventuring party and slay your way to glory. I relished the chance to insert my personal DnD group into it and send them on a new adventure, and as long as you are fine with your characters being very much arbitrary to the story you’ll enjoy it too. On the other you have Planescape Torment; a fascinating look at an often-ignored setting which will confuse and excite you in equal measure – as long as you appreciate a great deal of reading. There really is no other game like this.
Game scores 8/10
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