I finished playing Icewind Dale (IW) and its expansion Heart of Winter recently. IW uses Bioware’s infinity engine like Baldur’s Gate (BG). But IW, while good does not have the story depth or character development of BG. That is not to say that IW is not a good game in its own right.
In IW you create a party of up to 6 characters. You will want at least 3 fighter types but also a couple of healers and wizards, so plan on dual and / or multi-classing. Regular fighters are good because they can be skilled more than 2x in one weapon which gives them many attacks. I also liked having both a cleric and a druid since druids have many offensive spells in addition to healing. Magic users who can summon creatures are very helpful as well.
The story in the main game is okay with some interesting twists here and there and lots of subplots and boss battles along the way; the expansion’s story, while not bad is not great. The action and variety of enemies is nice though. Being in a cold environment you fight many new creatures different from the BG games. The spells available are also include some different ones from BG; there are many unique weapons as well, but many are available for purchase once you have a lot of money.
While IW had lots of gameplay, Heart of Winter (HoW) was so short that people complained enough for the developers to create an additional area available with the latest patch. The only really annoying thing I can remember from IW was all of the backtracking after finishing an area to leave and the large area of the main village which made you walk quite a bit if you wanted to sell different items (which required seeing different vendors). Starting the expansion, though, was a tedious process. First, if you loaded the expansion with the main game you could access it from a house in the main town in the game. However, once you finished IW the game just ended; the only way to play the expansion is to start a new main game (again) and import your characters until you get to the town where you can access the expansion or start an expansion only game. I don’t understand why this was so difficult; I don’t think the developers thought this through. This sort of thing continues in HoW if you want to explore the new dungeon. There is a halfling you can talk to in the tavern of the starting village who takes you to the new dungeon, but if you finish the expansion first before going with him (like I did) you can’t get back to him unless you start another expansion game since the expansion ends after you beat the final boss.
A goofy thing that happened when I imported my characters into the HoW is that they lost all gem bags, scroll cases, and potion cases as well as anything that was in them. HoW had some other weird aspects such as subplots which one could easily skip if one did not talk to certain characters in the starting village at certain points in the game or go back to the village right before the final area (which is not necessary). I didn’t understand this and thought the developers could have done a better job moving you to where you needed to go to enjoy these subplots.
Overall I think IW is worth playing; I thought it was long and enjoyable with a decent story. HoW is just okay; there are some new tough creatures to fight and you rise a little higher in level, but don’t expect the length or amount of fun that you had in IW. Either way I recommend Dan Simpson’s excellent walkthrough for IW and HoW.