Review by Majin Zeroth

"Don't be left out in the cold this is one of the hottest expansions yet."

After defeating Belhifet at the end of Icewind Dale you'd think your brave party of adventurers will be in need of some serious R&R but there's a new evil brewing in the Spine Of The World and guess who has been nominated to save the day. Heart Of Winter is unique for a expansion because you don't even need to complete the original game to play it. What it does is expand the northern reaches of Icewind Dale and introduces the threat of barbarian hordes gathering for war against the Ten Towns. Apparently the soul of Jerrod has merged with the body of a recently deceased barbarian chief and proclaimed himself king after rising from the grave. Something about the whole thing is more than a little fishy and your party is enlisted to investigate.

Heart Of Winter starts in the small town of Lonelywood and true to it's name it's in the middle of nowhere. While the expansion can be accessed through the town of Kulduhar back in the original game Interplay recommends a party of at least 9th level characters if you want to survive. After completing the original game I was looking for a fresh new challenge and decided to start an expansion only game with a brand new party. There's loads of little sub-quests in and around Lonelywood that will quickly raise your levels without combat but when it eventually did come down to violence I had a tough time. A better option is to import your characters from the original game or try out a few high level characters which Interplay kindly included. Just in case you thought the game is too easy ( maxxed out all your character levels in the original game perhaps? ) there's a new "Heart Of Fury" difficulty setting which will make all the monsters hellishly tough but rewards you with a lot more experience points. This is probably the only way you'll reach the new 30th level experience cap.

Even thought it's only an expansion HOW adds quite a lot to Icewind Dale. Most noticeable is the graphics which now allows resolutions of 800x600 and beyond thanks to the upgraded "Infinity" engine. All the new enhancements introduced by Baldurs Gate 2 like potion/scroll and gem bags, drop away interface panels and other small touches have all been added to Icewind Dale. There's also hordes of new monsters and something like 50 brand new spells to try out. Some characters classes have also received upgrades and enhancements making them more potent ( believe it or not Druids now rock! ). Although there's only five new areas, Lonelywoods, The Barbarian Camp, Burial Isle, The Gloomfrost and Sea Of Moving Ice each and every one is brilliantly rendered and packed with detail. Interplay has done a great job in creating varied new environments that differ from those in the original game. For those that though there there is only so much you could do with the icy environments this will be a real eye opener.

The audio is still great and the voice acting of a high standard. There's a few places like Burial Isle that's so packed with ambient effects it can actually slow your computer down. The music is great and used sparingly to create a moody and brooding atmosphere. Controls are a lot more streamlined and you can now buy more than one of a item at a time and pixel hunting is kept to a minimum with the hotkey that will highlight all objects on the screen.

Heart Of Winter is an awesome expansion with it's only failing being that it's over all too soon. You'll definitely be left wanting more but the game is addictive enough that you'll won't mind going through it again. Even going through the entire game plus expansion on a higher skill level is a new experience. HOW has a cool storyline with some nice twists to keep you on your toes, tons of new features and challenging gameplay. If that' isn't enough to make a great expansion then I don't know what is.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/01/06

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