As I finished writing this post about my impressions of this game's early access and started to proof-read it I felt I sounded like a real a-hole. It's difficult to present one's criticism in a manner that would suggest a positive approach to the thing criticized, which is why I decided to add a short disclaimer to make my attitude towards this game clear. I am one of those players who is extremely upset that this game is called “Icewind Dale 3,” as it has nothing to do with the series that bears that name apart from the title and the setting, the latter being clearly distinct both in its 3D presentation as well as its design, offering, in my humble opinion, barely a hint of the charm of the originals. It also saddens me that there are very few places where I am able to find people sharing the same sentiment, maybe it's because Icewind Dale was never meant to be a multimedia franchise so even the most hardcore fans of the game are somewhat dispersed and a minority compared to D:OS fans waiting for this game to be a continuation of Larian's creative output. I am aware that the ones to blame for the game's name are WotC, but I still consider Larian to be responsible for the way they handle the project and it saddens me that they clearly have no intention to make ID3 feel like its predecessors, instead opting for a fresh take on D&D 5E (to give one simple example, it wouldn't cost them much to have the character circles be colored in a way which would reflect the way they were in the Infinity games, and yet they completely disregarded that and I fail to see why). That said, I have already changed the game's name in GOG Galaxy and on my desktop to 'Divinity – Forgotten Realms' and (if it proves entertaining) will probably mod it in the future to remove any reference to the Icewind Dale name (apart from the geographical location itself, obviously), so that I can enjoy this as a new game set in 5E just like Sword Coast Legends, and not the black sheep to my favorite cRPG series. I remember I had a similar approach to another D&D game which used the name of a great series – Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. I remember enjoying those games thoroughly and being grateful to their creators for using a subtitle.
I have to say that I have had some fun with the game so far and that I am sincerely interested in contributing my opinions to help make it even better – if it were otherwise I wouldn't take the effort to write so much on the subject, let alone pay for the game. I've already had my sufficient fill of complaining about how every thing one holds dear always gets to be destroyed by base human greed and it would be foolish to think that my favorite game series will be exempt from this, so this is absolutely not the goal of this post. But I am also aware that most of my criticism will probably stem from the fact that this game is not meant for players like me, who consider playing an RPG to be an exercise in imagination, akin to reading a book or telling a story, and not a passive past-time, like watching a TV series or film. Games have changed a lot since the 80s, even though it would be very nihilistic to say that there are no examples of good modern games or reimaginings of classic titles to be had in this new era. To illustrate my position in this: after purchasing and downloading ID3 I played it for 20 minutes before turning to my pencil and notebook and resuming my playthrough of Pool Of Radiance on the Amiga – a game where I am responsible for the stories that are told within the boundaries of the game's design, and not just subjected to cutscene after cutscene of characters created in a way that is completely alien to my way of telling a fantasy story.
Also, I will be comparing this game to its cRPG predecessors, not because of this new game's cheap title grab or because I don't like change, but because the genre has an elaborate set of traditions which have been established through years of developer and player experience and I believe this should be taken into account.
Having explained where I'm coming from, allow me to go through my criticisms and examples of my appreciation of this new game one by one, starting with the negatives.
I pay a lot of attention to music in video games. Fantasy-themed games are among some of my favorites when it comes to game soundtracks. It's amazing how music in fantasy games can stick with you for many long years. I never liked the music from Divinity: Original Sin (I've only played the first game in that series, so I can't say anything for the second one) as I found it to be very bland and uninspired. I'm glad they didn't hire the person responsible for it to make the soundtrack to this new game. But I cannot say I like the music in ID3. Actually, I can't stand the main theme – it sounds very artificial to me and I know this is all very subjective, but that's my honest experience. When I first heard the “down down down by the river” motif when creating my character I had to turn the music off as it ruined the experience for me. But the damage is done – every time the main “theme” pops up, be it in a calm tune accompanying my walking around the forest or during combat, all I hear is “down down down by the river”. I don't know if one can change one's composer during early access, but I sure hope it is possible, because a game of these proportions deserves a much better score. We may have lost Jeremy Soule for good, but there's still a lot of great talent around to choose from (I'm just saying this because of how bad the music makes me feel, I know that there's no chance of changing it). A good score can make even a mediocre game more enjoyable (as is explicit in the case of Sword Coast Legends), while a poor score makes even a great game frustrating.
Basic stuff. I'm the kind of person who missed out on the Witcher game series because I felt like an idiot running around in the first installment and not being able to walk. This is a real pet-peeve of mine. Why do I have to keep running in a game that is about role-playing? It wasn't possible to run in ID, and I do appreciate that you can run in this new game, but you can't really walk – you can theoretically, but it's very tedious. I have to click on a spot near my PCs feet and hold the mouse button down without moving the pointer too far away from the character to make them walk. Please add a walk button.
Radar: Please let me turn off the radar in the upper-right corner. I was raised on games where you had to draw maps in a notebook to keep from getting lost. I'm not using it.
Message log: Please let me make the message log bigger. Please put a slider so that I can freely move up and down – right now it's a chore. I really like reading the message log, it makes me understand what's going on in the game.
No-HUD: The game's graphics are pleasing. It'd be nice to be able to temporarily turn the HUD off with the press of a button to enjoy the views.
Actions as lightshows
I really disliked this in D:OS. I never enjoy this. I appreciate simplicity and practicality in design. Which is why it pains me to have to show off to my enemies that I am engaging dash mode instead of just dashing.
No fog of war
It's not at all exciting to be able to see what's behind closed doors. This takes away the mystery from the exploration bit of cRPGs, which is a core element of the experience. Also, it's very practical, as it shows much better than a radar the places that the party has already visited. I personally hold the fog of war mechanic in such high regard that I put the extra effort to implement it in my tabletop games.
'Chaining' mechanic and formations
Another thing I couldn't understand as I was playing D:OS. Why fix something that isn't broken? Please let me drag a rectangle across the screen to select my characters. Right now, when I'm preparing for a fight I have to 'unchain' every character, select them and move them one at a time instead of just clicking on them and being able to easily control them. Formations would help a great deal too. There is also a psychological aspect to this. Formations in the Infinity games make me think of discipline within the party. The chaining mechanic makes me feel like my party members are my pets.
I remember being very disappointed when I learned of the maximum party size in Neverwinter Nights 2002 when it came out. I considered it to be a very big step backwards from the standards of the Infinity games. In those games, I felt like I wanted to have every joinable NPC available to join my party so that I could get to know them – they were all exciting (at least most of them). I do not enjoy jNPCs in this new game and I'll try to explain why, but it still feels very limiting for me after all these years not to be able to utilize the classic six-character party. Many games that have been designed for a full party can still be completed with less, sometimes even a single character – and this often adds a nice challenge to the gameplay. It'd be great for ID3 to also be one of these games.
I've already seen people complain about this, and I concur: all the jNPCs in ID3 that I've encountered so far (gith lady, lady banging on the door, vampire guy, badass swordsman) are condescending and unfriendly. There's little color to them apart from their backgrounds. The world is a sad place. That's why fantasy is supposed to be fantasy. I've seen many people talk about how serious the Infinity games were. But I think there was a lot of humor in them too (and I don't mean the quirky and infantile humor of D:OS). Here – everything is depressing.
But there's also another issue. ID3 jNPCs are fully developed and independent, which makes it almost impossible to have fun with them. Icewind Dale is known for using parties made of exclusively player-made characters, so that all of the roleplay is left to the player. But there's another cRPG game I remember that used jNPCs in a manner similar to this new ID3 game – Baldur's Gate. I distinctly remember that one of the first NPCs encountered in that game was a guy complaining about two unfriendly characters he had just met on the road – Xzar and Montaron. Compared to the gith lady or the lady banging on the door those two were charming. Now the only thing the game's designers used to present the characters to the player was a template composed of a short bio entry, the alignment (a great roleplay mechanic that somehow got abandoned in ID3), a beautiful portrait (remember those?), a small set of voice-over files and a couple of lines of initial dialogue. The rest was left to the players. Every avid BG fan remembers who Jaheira or Edwin were. But they don't know the things that Jaheira and Edwin were to me. They don't know how Jaheira got turned to stone and was backstabbed by Edwin as the rest of the party was busy fighting basilisks and couldn't notice that happening. Let's say 80% of who the BG jNPCs were, was created by me and only 20% by the game's designers. In this new game I feel like these proportions have been reversed. I'm struggling to provide these fleshed-out characters with my own motivations and involving them in dilemmas and adventures I have created by myself. I'm just left with what the game designers intended them to be.
This is also related to cutscenes. The minimalist graphics of the BG/ID games made it possible to play with jNPCs as if you were playing with toys, or writing your own story. In BG2 this was handled a bit differently, with most of the jNPCs having much more to say – something I found to be a detriment more than a boon. In this new ID3 game, the 3D generated characters are very real, but too much detail results in severe limitations to player creativity. But, I guess this is a lost cause and I'm wasting time complaining about it, since this will never be a 2D game with portraits and limited voice-over.
jNPCs cannot interact with things
This is something that was missing in the Infinity games as well. You could start a dialogue using a jNPC, but they would still act and talk on behalf of your PC. In this game jNPCs cannot interact with most of the things available for the PC. It would definitely take a lot of work to make every encounter and object usable by every member of the party, but hey – it's 2020, right? This is supposed to be a state-of-the-art CRPG, so maybe it's time to fix this.
Also, you should always have a chance for a member of your party to act when you're attacked, even if it's part of a dialogue. So far I've learned that even if the vampire guy tackles my PC and is holding a dagger against their throat, the other party members wait for you to choose an appropriate dialogue response and remain passive.
This is something that drove me nuts in D:OS – characters that have a scripted interaction going on in the distance and keep repeating the same voice-over dialogue over and over again, quarreling or worrying or crying about something until you talk to them (sometimes they would resume their repetitious chatter even after you've talked with them). There was a volume setting for this, so that I was able to continue playing the game. But I'm distressed to find that this is back in this new game. I'm on the illithid ship and I can hear a demon and a mindflayer acting out an endless battle and screaming at each other even though I am in a completely different part of the ship. This is another reason why fog of war would work wonders for this game.
I realize that certain things have to be acted out through cutscenes, like a ship falling from the sky with the party on board. The only thing that is irritating is how your PC reacts to certain things happening in the cutscene. If I want my PC to be stoic, it ruins the role-play entirely when he reacts to any kind of danger with the face of a terrified four-year-old.
Attacking the air.
When using the mouse to choose the opponent for a spell or attack you have to be very exact, or you risk attacking the air or wasting a spell. I don't understand why this is in the game. Is it supposed to give the player a sense of freedom? It think it isn't very liberating to know that you can waste you're attack any time you want to.
Turn-mode unavailable when monsters are around
Perhaps this has already been fixed, but not being able to enter the turn-base mode because there are enemies nearby prevents me from planning out my attack.
jNPCs don't react to monsters
This is something that was also missing in the Infinity engine games. I'm running away from a group of monsters. I come across a jNPC vampire guy standing in the middle of the road. The monsters catch up to me and are killing me. They will probably attack the vampire guy once they're done with me. And yet he's just standing there and waiting for me to initiate dialogue. Why wouldn't he help me fight them off or perhaps just flee? I have personally successfully modded this in to BG (and I am no programmer). I bet it'd be a simple thing to implement for ID3 too.
This is an interesting mechanic for cRPGs, and, at least to my knowledge, quite a novel idea. I'm not sure of it's exact purpose though. I'm pretty sure this isn't an attempt at introducing platforming elements to the role-play, as was the case with Ultima 8. I guess it's supposed to give the player more freedom? I don't know why that should be the case – I've never played a cRPG and thought to myself “I wish I could jump up there” – it's just something that doesn't fit the play-style of this kind of games. But I guess it's ok if you find some way to make it useful and interesting. So far it proved to be a chore for me. “Oh, there's a chest up there. I guess I need to jump there somehow.” Or: “Oh, I can't walk into the river. I have to frogger my way onto these stepping stones.” In the Infinity games there would always be a way to reach elevated places or cross a stream on foot with a single click and it worked fine. Actually, having the option of jumping in this ID3 game leads to some frustration when you feel like it would be useful to jump somewhere, but it's not possible because of unexplained terrain limitations. I've had this happen to me many times during my playthrough, usually during battles. “All I need to do is jump up there and I'm safe.” But no – somehow that piece of elevated terrain is inaccessible. Also... right now jumping looks silly. I'm sure it's hard to make it look realistic – but hey – Prince of Persia did it in 1989, so I'm sure there's some way for it to look good and work right in this new game.
No day and night cycle
I can't understand this. It's unforgivable not to have a day and night cycle. I'm sure this is just because of the game being in early access. Any other explanation is unacceptable. But then again...
Time makes no sense in this game
Time in this game is a relative concept. This is something I absolutely abhorred in D:OS – the fact that one of my party members can be locked in combat, while the other is free to roam the world and do whatever they want until they move too close to the combat area. It's absurd. You could escape during combat with 1 HP and teleport to a distant location to heal, talk with people and perhaps even buy equipment to send the other party members via 'magic pockets' or some such thing. I am certain there is a better way of doing this, even if you don't want to implement RTWP. Also, I still don't understand this 'go to camp' mechanic. I understand having it function as a story-telling area between chapters like in Sword Coast Legends, but what's wrong with having a long rest without a locale specifically designed for it, and during the day?
'Magic pockets' or some such thing
Please give players the option to turn this absurd mechanic off. Don't force us to ignore it and resort to self-imposed limitations, please make it possible to have the game cleaned of its unwelcome presence.
This is not about turn-based vs RTWP. Just please let me pause the game at any moment. Maybe I want to look closer at this cool creature that is currently having its turn in battle. Maybe I want to stop and read the message log for a moment. Maybe I just need to take a leak and right now even going to the options screen does not pause the game. This is most painful when I'm sneaking. Let's say I'm in a tight spot and there's only a 2 second gap in an enemy's patrol route for me to walk to a certain spot before he turns around. With no pause I have to be a mouse expert to click on the exact spot, most often panning the camera with the keyboard at the same time, or else I will fail. Switching to turn-based mode does not help in this situation, since once I reach the right spot and end my turn, I cannot move at all while the enemy gets to enjoy his entire patrol route. Ok... this actually is about turn-based vs RTWP. RTWP is much more fun... Which brings me to...
I understand it will stay. I understand that D&D 5E is turn-based so this game HAS to be turn-based, even though 2E and 3E were also turn-based and yet the previous two Icewind Dale games were not and still came out great. I get it, please don't hurt me! But please let me choose the speed of the combat, just like a 1988 game called Pool Of Radiance did, so that I can skip the boring parts. I don't like to do other stuff while I'm playing video games, I like to focus on the games. When I got involved in combat with more than 30 people in the druid place I honestly started laughing to myself. Especially since I didn't care about any of the parties involved and just wanted to get out of there. I didn't wish to follow the combat, as a result of which, what is currently one of my fondest memories of playing ID3 is finishing the entire “D&D Arts and Arcana” book between my turns. Also, fighting 30 goblins in Icewind Dale would take me 3 minutes and would make me feel good about it. Fighting 30 intellect devourers in Icewind Dale 3 would surely help me catch up on my book reading and I'd feel great about that, but it makes me feel bad, because I'd like to be able to play the game. Even if an opponent skips their turn I am forced to read 'Aargh!' or 'Roar!' or whatever before moving on and this costs precious time in the case of battles I don't really care about (and to be perfectly honest, I cannot remember a single instance of memorable fighting in this game. The goblins vs tieflings fight at the gate was somewhat enjoyable, though I felt like my help was not required at all since they had a wizard that could cast spells from a mile away and stole the entire show). Allow me to speed up the combat and read the log afterwards in case anything interesting happens...................
….......or just bring back RTWP because it's great!
NOT like in D:OS, where it was absurd. But just let me sneak out with dignity and not have to walk a day's distance for my enemies to finally leave me alone. In ID escaping was limited by the game being divided to areas. In ID3 the game has much greater areas, so there needs to be a smart way to let the party escape.
Please make it possible to have limited arrows. OPTIONALLY – people who consider this to be 'micro-management' shouldn't need to worry. It is beneficial to the roleplay. I like it when I run out of arrows during combat. It means that I have to look for other solutions to win. It also means I'm a dumbass because I didn't manage my resources properly.
'Leave' options in dialogues
It's usually there, but there was a couple of instances where I was unable to leave the dialogue on my own terms, by ignoring the other party. There should be consequences for such rude behavior, of course, but please don't force me into being inquisitive and having to choose the option to keep talking during dialogue when I don't feel like it.
And now for positives. Thank you for:
No quick time events
I believe many would think that they'd fit the cutscenes in this game perfectly. Thank you for not having any.
No story mode
I'm sure WotC will churn out a series of novels based on these games and there's already too many playthrough videos so there's no need to neuter an RPG game for people to experience the story.
I like the graphics even though I think they are the least important element of a video game, especially a cRPG. But the world looks pretty and doesn't look as cartoony as DOS, which is a relief. On a negative note: I find it hard to accept that every character in a video game has to look like a fashion model just because games have now basically become the new Holywood in this regard.
I like it that I can drop things just like in ID. I remember missing that fundamental option in Pillars Of Eternity.
I like it that I was able to survive most encounters even when having a one-man party. True, this was mostly due to the game's limited early-access AI, but it was fun. I was able to use a 5E goblin strategy of shoot, move behind a stone, hide and watch your opponent skip their turn because they can't see you. But it felt good to be able to survive on your own by using your wits and not die at every turn. This could be something that would make the game very enjoyable if properly implemented. To give an example, I think that Skyrim had this feeling of being in control of what's going on – if you're losing a battle, run away. You didn't need an entire party of characters to survive out in the wild, and yet the game wasn't too easy, at least the way I see it.
Quests being dynamic
I liked it that when I went back to a location that I had visited earlier, a certain quest was no longer available. I'm not sure if this was because I had done other things in the meantime and it was just a scripted response (since time doesn't seem to function in this game, as noted earlier), but it was a pleasant surprise.
I liked the magic missile spell icon. It made me think of a great series of games I once used to play...