So, despite the fact that I've played the BG series to death, I've only ever finished PST once, and never got out of Chapter 2 of IWD. Well, since I went and dropped money on the new EE-ed versions of both, I figured I owed it to myself to finish them. To be up front, I had a mixed experience with IWD, and as you read, you'll see my overall opinion fluctuate back and forth.
MOD NOTICE: after getting a recommendation, I played through with the IWD NPC Project mod, which adds 5 BG2-style NPCs to the starting tavern. I found this added a *lot* to the game for me, as a BG fan, and is largely what got me through my rougher moments: I wanted to see how the characters stories ended. I also used Tweak Anthology and a few QoL stuff, but nothing heavy in terms of mechanics changes. My Party
This is for anyone who's not familiar with the mod to get an idea of my rough party composition.
* Alaric, Elven Fighter/Mage/Cleric NG- My PC. I'd read triple multi-classes were much stronger in IWD so I decided to give it a whirl. Also let me have the Mod NPCs stay true to their original designs, more or less.
* Holdir - Human Undead Hunter Paladin LG
* Nella - Human Fighter/Druid N
* Korin - Elven Ranger/Cleric NG
* Teri - Half-Elf Fighter/Mage/Thief CN
* Severn - Human Bard CGMy ExperiencePrologue/Chapter One:
This was fairly smooth. i'm a BG veteran, and I play with SCS installed, so handling goblins and orc archers weren't too tough. i was a little taken back by the sheer number of mobs, but that got me into careful pulling and use of Sleep (aka the Level One PC's Little Helper). The story was basic, and had no real surprises at this point. I was enjoying the banter of my companions, and the writers of the mod did a good job keeping their personalities in keeping with the tone of the game. The standout early on was Nella, as she was an apprentice to the Archdruid of Kuldahar, so her commentary really got me connected more with events than my previous attempts years ago. All in all, a pretty good, if slow, start.
One negative is the layout of Kuldahar. Dear Sweet God, I *hate* moving between building in Kuldahar. The tree roots made going around town such a needlessly tedious chore! I eventually got to the point I just started using the CLUA console to teleport between shops, just to cut down on time wasted. I don't care if its a cheat! No, I don't need hand-holding game design with a single vendor. But I do ask that you not make the act of traversing the ONLY TOWN a teeth-grinding frustration. Dragon's Eye:
Ah. Dragon's Eye. I always gave up in frustration here. Because here is where I got really familiar (and sick of) the average encounter design of early IWD. It's 5 levels deep, most of the levels are rather sizable. But that was only half the problem. The other was the enemies. Let me put it in perspective.
In BG, even with SCS, encounters are believable. Most are broken up and have lulls in them. Bigger fights come at spots appropriate to the narrative. The biggest challenge were other adventuring style groups. Adding SCS (at least, my setup of it) improved the AI and upped the challenge, but never in a way that felt "cheap."
For Chapter 2, and much of IWD, encounter design is "THROW AS MANY ENEMIES AT YOU AS THE ENGINE CAN HANDLE!!!!! Oh, and be sure to pack them in tight! Don't let the player walk more than 5 steps before pulling another bloated mob! I almost forgot! Make sure we have enemies magically "spawn" in for cheap trap moments, too!"
This was annoying enough, but it was further hampered by the bad AI of the unmodded IE games. Mob tactics and multiple spellcasters in almost every group turned every fight into a tedious slog. Not because they were "challenging." Oh, they were at first, but once I figured out which crowd control spells IWD favored (spell tactics were different than in BG, took time to adapt), and stuck to longer-lasting buff spells, gameplay quickly devolved into "fight 2-3 encounters, run back to rest, return, rinse repeat". The challenge was in its tedium, not its strategy. Oh, and let's not forget how the engine is designed to nerf the player's die-rolls, in general, my most hated feature of the IE series.
Also, Dragon's Eye was just... WTF? Each level had its own monster theme, and it made zero sense (until the final level explained it), why these various groups were all sharing a dungeon. At first, it just seemed like a bad GM's meat-grinder dungeon. I nearly rage-quit twice, but I pressed on, cursing the entire time. I spent most of that run watching the Cinema Snob on my second monitor while I mindlessly went about the busy work of "walk, fight, rest, pre-buff, walk some more".
This is a good time to get my other major gripe about IWD out of my system. The Loot System. I'm sure volumes have been written over the stupidity of the randomly generated loot, so I'll just put myself down as being very much in the "hated it!" camp. But I also didn't like how so many weapon enchants were all about "x% chance to do something". I'm an old hand at D&D and I swear I don't remember that many magic items like that in the old AD&D 2nd Ed DMG. Again, it just seemed like a way to needlessly water down the experience, and further disincentivze my player experience for no reason other than "The GM's an Asshole."
Alright, before you think I want to do nothing but hate on the game, let's continue forward.The Severed Hand:
This was where the game began to improve again. Sure, there were still tons of mobs, but the dungeon itself was nice to go through. But it was when I reached the Tower of the Seldarine, things got better. Suddenly, the mob packs were a bit more spaced out. Some had huge numbers, but not all of them, and the encounter design felt more natural. I cautiously began enjoying the game again. Also, the ghosts of the tower were the first real dev-created NPCs besides a couple back in Kuldahar to have *real* personality. The story was still simple, but the lore behind it was getting interesting. Heart of Winter:
After finishing off SH, I decided to give the expansions a try. It seemed like a natural stopping point to go off the plot rails and do something different. Well, this is already becoming ridiculously long, but I just have to say, that I really enjoyed these two little sidelines. HoW was how I wish more of the early main game had been designed. There were side quests in town. I got to know the inhabitants, and the dungeons weren't huge, bloated expanses. Also, the last battle was probably the best fight of the whole game, for me. Trials of the Luremaster:
I went in expecting to hate it, based on word of mouth I remember seeing back in the day. But once again, i found myself *really* enjoying ToL, with a few hiccups. The main sticking point, for me, was the Spectral Guards, which seemed ludicrously hard hitting with copious amounts of HP. The big swarm fight in the main hall of the castle is probably the biggest BS fight in the entire game. After five tries, I finally got through it, via exploiting the game's systems rather than a fair strategy.
But that was just one small section of an otherwise enjoyable experience. ToL reminded me a lot (and I'm sure it was supposed to) of Durlag's Tower, and I enjoyed going through it. in fact, I was so enthralled by both expansions, that I beat them both in a single day, playing almost non-stop. Dorn's Deep (et al):
Again, this is getting ridiculously long and many points would just be me repeating myself. Broken into its three main sub-sections, i was kind of dreading going into this. I was expecting another Dragon's Eye. Instead, I got something closer to Trial of the Luremaster, only with more sidequests, and quite a bit of backtracking. usually that later is a negative, but for the nature of the dungeon(s), it worked in its favor, more or less. I'd like to say this is where the base game's encounter design finally got balanced, but it may also have been that I was over-leveled, thanks to expansion content. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated. The Grand Finale:
This is where my over-leveling became more apparent. The final fight was... um... over in less than 2 minutes. Even with 2 extra demons and 2 giant golems, the final boss went down surprisingly easily (especially considering how much harder he is in a more recently released IE title). The story hit all the points I expected, with the sole exception of the reveal of the narrator. That was brilliantly done.Final ThoughtsThe Reader: "Thank God, he's finally shutting up!"
All in all, I'm glad I finally pushed through IWD. The dungeons (barring Dragon's Eyes) had personality and unique visual designs that put the original BG to shame. Jeremy Soule's soundtrack is wonderful. It's still not my style of game, but I don't regret my time with it. I prefer RPGs to rogue-like dungeon crawlers (which is what I assume this was trying to emulate, after a fashion). If it hadn't been for the IWD NPC Project, I doubt I 'd have made it this time. And honestly, I doubt I'll ever play the *base* game again. But I can easily see myself sitting down to do a HoW/ToL run with a full custom party, one day.
Now... I have to decide if I want to tackle IWD2 (heard some not so good things about it), or just go onto Planescape: Torment EE.