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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: April 4, 2001
There’s no doubt that digital role-playing has seen a sort of rebirth these past few years, a feat that can almost exclusively be attributed to the geniuses over at Black Isle and BioWare. Between Planescape: Torment, two Fallout titles, and several trips to Baldur’s Gate, these past couple of years have seen some of the absolute best RPGs ever seen in the genre’s digital history. Epic stories combined with stellar graphics, terrific interactivity and solid gameplay have been classic hallmarks of each of these — a tradition that continued with last year’s excursion into the Spine of the World, Icewind Dale. Considering the critical success that followed its release, it seemed natural that an expansion was to follow; now, after months of eager anticipation, fans can now get their hands on Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter, which seeks to cement the foundations set by its predecessor.
The offer to push further northwards into the frozen hills of the land isn’t without its own story. After installing Heart of Winter, your party will finally find themselves able to open one of the perpetually locked huts in Kuldahar, wherein they will find an old man named Hjollder. Referring to himself as the shaman for one of the more powerful northern barbarian tribes, he informs you that trouble is brewing, and should it go unchecked, the whole of the Ten-Towns might find itself at risk. It seems that his clan’s deceased and once-great king, Wylfdene, has risen from the grave, though not entirely of his own volition: apparently, the legendary Jerrod — who sacrificed himself to save the lands from demonkind — has fused his spirit with that of the king. Together, they have decided that they must annihilate any and all “civilized” settlements that they come across in order to preserve the barbarians. Having seen your party in his visions, Hjollder hopes that you might provide a peaceful solution to the problem and asks that you accompany him north, to Lonelywood. Agreeing to do so will initiate the beginning of this expansion and will whisk you away to a troubled realm.
Although it may sound as though the expansion is only open to those who have yet to finish Icewind Dale, this is certainly not the reality of it. If you’ve worked your way through the original, you can choose to play through the expansion using your party from the completed game, with the dead resurrected and all injuries healed. In fact, some might find it preferable to wait until this point, as the manual suggests that only a ninth-level party or higher attempt to brave the frozen wilds around Lonelywood and beyond. If you feel that you’re more than capable of surviving, however, you might even dare to take advantage of the ominous Heart of Fury option; once activated, the difficulty is increased drastically. Creatures become much stronger and tougher to beat, though you’ll earn much higher amounts of experience from their destruction. In fact, this is essentially the only way to take advantage of the newly-set 30th-level experience cap, which like the rest of the additions to the game, is applied to the regular Icewind Dale, if you’ve yet to complete it.
Heart of Winter features a range of new class-specific abilities that have been created especially for the expansion, should you choose to take advantage of them. Some are helpful but relatively minor, such as the Paladin’s immunity to fear at 3rd level, or their access to spells at 6th level. Similarly, Rangers are able to employ the use of Tracking once per day, which allows them to determine the number and type of creatures that might have passed through the area, though success is dependant upon level and wisdom. Other changes prove to be much more drastic, such as those seen by Druids. The wait for the shape change ability is considerably reduced, arriving now at 5th level; additionally, they gain a new shape every other level up until 15th. By that point, they’ll also be able to convert their form to that of various elementals, including earth, fire and air, thus rendering them a much more powerful class than was previously possible.
Thieves also see a host of changes, including the ability to drastically improve their chances at evading damage from 7th level and beyond. More controversial, however, is the use of the Sneak Attack. If it is to be used, it replaces Backstab as the Thief’s underhanded offensive skill: provided they’re behind or flanking an enemy, they can do a one-time damage bonus of 1d6 for every four levels, with the advantage of not needing to be hidden. They’re also able to access a new kind of effect known as the Crippling Strike, which is as functional as it sounds: from fifth level on, a successful Crippling Strike can cause the targeted enemy to lose -1 to hit and damage for every four levels of the Thief. As though that wasn’t enough, Bards gain six new songs, which range from The Tale of Curran Strongheart — which removes and wards against fear effects, to The War Chant of the Sith — which accords -2 AC, 10% resistance to slashing, piercing, crushing and missile attacks and regenerative abilities to all allies.
Of course, no Dungeons & Dragons expansion would be complete without new spells and items, which Heart of Winter has in plentiful supply. Mages will find that their spellbooks may now be bolstered with the likes of Shout, which deafens for 2d6 rounds and does 4d6 points of damage, and Soul Eater, which does 3d8 damage to all creatures in a certain radius, with those killed as a result becoming skeletons in service of the caster. Priests benefit the most from this expansion, earning such spells as Beast Claw, which gives the caster a strength of 18/72 and enables them to do considerable amounts of damage; Shield of Lathander, which gives its target immunity to damage for 3 rounds; and Blade Barrier, which creates a wall that inflicts 8d8 points of damage if crossed. Magic items are no less impressive, with countless blades, cloaks, rings and suits of armor gracing the land for those lucky enough to encounter them; finally, those who grew accustomed to Baldur’s Gate II‘s use of bags and scroll cases may now rejoice, as they too now appear within Icewind Dale.
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