Publisher and developer Beamdog present the PC Dungeons and Dragons game Icewind Dale on the Nintendo Switch for review. They hope the new control system will allow players to navigate between multiple party members while partaking in the turn-based combat the series is known for. In approximating a D&D campaign, players will guide their avatars – either created or premade – through a winter frontier of danger and intrigue.
The first thing to note about playing Icewind Dale on Switch is the ungodly big text to screen ratio. There’s a little text onscreen just because of how big it is by default and even when lessened the way the screen shrinks to accommodate sections makes keeping up with the text a forever straining issue. First time players will also have to deal with the vast mechanics of D&D upfront. Icewind Dale was based on the 2nd edition, which for good or ill treated complexity as a given. Beamdog does their best to provide plenty of pause options to automatically stop the action so the player has time to figure out what’s going on. The plot is a tabletop campaign at a high level, starting with mysteries of a lost shipment in the snow to evil lurking in the molten underground.
Icewind Dale is for the feel, aesthetics, and mechanics of D&D – less the plot. Beamdog does well transferring those three focus points with a control system that makes controlling the battlefield surprisingly easy. There’s rarely an overabundance of visual effects and what is used has a simple cause-and-effect from the source to the desired outcome. It does take some getting used to when switching between the maximum six party members, but because of the limitations of the platform I found myself far more in control than I ever was on the PC.
It bears repeating, Icewind Dale is not an easy acquisition for those unfamiliar with 2nd edition D&D. Even though I ran Hackmaster, a sort of tongue-in-cheek variation of 2nd edition D&D, and also played a plethora of other tabletop titles, this did not start smoothly. There’s just too much information on the small screen of the Switch and that problem is only magnified in size (though the scope remains the same) if docked. It almost feels like Icewind Dale as a Switch title is taunting the player to make it through the mountain to get at the RPG goodness.
Blessedly, Icewind Dale improves as a Switch experience shortly after creating my party. One of the time consuming aspects of playing on PC is the urge to check every little thing for items of often little value. Since the Switch port has a narrower focus on what the party can attend to at once, there’s not as much of a push to check everything in lieu of moving the primary campaign or side-quests along. The min/max potential of finding every little thing is still there, but I prefer the Switch approach by incidentally discouraging rummaging about to instead keep things moving forward.
This doesn’t sacrifice the additional content I was able to attend to, though not without problems. Navigating and moving my party around is simple but going through my notes took me back to the issues with text space and size. With a mouse, it’s easier to look back at my progress on quests by quickly clicking through to find out where I left off. On the Switch, it means going through the various sizes of text one at a time with a cursor in order to read and reaffirm where I was in a particular quest. This is good and bad because while the Switch control focus keeps things moving it also means that the controls discourage episodic play in favor of sitting down for longer sessions.
This title lives in the spirit of tabletop without being as enjoyable, partially due to the above control issues. Also, since there’s no table camaraderie or people to remind me where I was, it means I’m getting the absolute basics of a D&D campaign without the efficiency or social benefits. This brings us back around to what made Icewind Dale appealing on the PC and the primary reason to play it on the Switch. Love D&D? Icewind Dale on the Switch will provide the fix without the ancillary benefits.
That said, I’ve noticed how many Switch games have been poor ports of existing PC titles and Beamdog does admirable work with the 2000 release. The option to zoom extremely close or far away shows how much care went into making each of the environments alive. The plot of Icewind Dale also makes it so that my party isn’t just in a snowy wasteland. I’m able to visit different parts of the wilderness with animals pooling together in a green field of safety. I can also carefully make my way through an immaculately constructed temple, or brace myself for what evils may emerge from the shadows cast by lava underground. It may be a D&D campaign, but it’s one that shows the variety of experience available in the wild instead of targeting a single aesthetic approach. The roleplaying aspect of D&D is minimized, but the grandeur of the campaign remains.
Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition for Switch
Icewind Dale has never been my choice of classic D&D adventure titles. But for those looking to get a campaign fix and have a couple hours to spare so they don't get lost, it's a streamlined success. Folks new to the experience should enlist the help of a wiki or, even better, a friend knowledgeable in the system to create a team that will suit their play style. Just don't expect much in the way of depth outside the combat mechanics and you'll have a fine time.
- The Switch control scheme and automated pausing make encounters a great back-and-forth while not overwhelming the player.
- The imagined D&D experience of conquering an unknown evil remains entact through excellent translation of the nearly two-decades old art and plot.
- Text infected with gigantism and an overabundance of mechanical information upfront set a high barrier for understanding and processing the game.
Prognosis is Good