Black Isle Studios’ Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale are two classic RPGs built on the same game engine that really couldn’t be more different from one another. On the one hand, you’ve got the almost completely narrative focus of Planescape, where combat is mostly an afterthought and pretty much every situation you find yourself in can be defused more creatively through the right dialogue choices. Icewind Dale, on the other hand, takes the Baldur’s Gate mould and scoops out the morality and alignment systems, inter-party dialogue and relatively open world format in favour of laser-focusing almost solely on funnelling players through endless dungeon-crawling action. They certainly make for an interesting pairing in this enhanced edition bundle, which also comes complete with Icewind Dale’s expansions Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster, but are they still worth your time and money in 2019?
Beamdog has taken both these award-winning classics and given them the same treatment as the Baldur’s Gate enhanced editions which also release for Switch this week. These aren’t remasters or remakes, but mostly subtle upgrades, certainly in terms of graphical enhancement; twenty-year-old adventures presented how you remember them, rather than the reality of how they actually looked. Beamdog has updated their cruddy old UIs, provided native support for high-resolution displays and added new content to Icewind Dale – including new character builds, skills and some quest content which was cut from the original release. The biggest addition here, however, is a brand new control system designed specifically for consoles.
In both games, players are now able to switch between “tactics mode” (which sees you use a pointer assigned to the right analogue stick to move your party around the screen and interact with objects) and the all-new “Drive Mode” (which gives you free control of your group using the left analogue stick). Just like in the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Editions, it's a control system which works impressively well here; making your way around levels is a breeze and it also does away with the incessant path-finding problems which have tended to plague all these old Infinity Engine games.
Changing party members is assigned to the L and R buttons, whilst holding in both L and R will see you regain control of your entire squad. Journals, spellbooks, formations, inventories, maps and deeper party management have all been tidied onto neat little radial menus which are assigned to the ZR and ZL buttons, making everything delightfully easy to navigate. It all feels much more natural, especially for newcomers who may be coming into the games off the back of more recent RPGs. The camera will also now automatically snap to objects of interest or importance in a scene, and there’s a new highlighting system which makes tedious pixel-hunting for items or exits a thing of the past.
Upon digging into the slightly older enhanced editions of these games which were released a few years back on PC for a little bit of close comparison we did notice that, where Icewind Dale has the exact same set of gameplay and graphics options available, Planescape: Torment is missing a handful of features – the ability to switch between the original and enhanced version of the game being the most notable omission. We’re assuming this has something to do with the implementation of the new control scheme, but it still would have been quite nice to see it kept in place, just for the fun of seeing what's been touched up.
It also seems Beamdog has stripped away a few choices from the graphics menu, stuff like adding an outline to characters to make them easier to see, instead deciding on an enhanced edition for Nintendo’s console that by default has all these little bells and whistles turned on. It may irk some folk who like to get some control over the nitty-gritty details but for us, it just adds to the ease with which you can dive straight into these versions. Decisions have been made with clarity of purpose and ease of use foremost in mind.
With regards to graphics and performance, both games certainly look and play as smoothly as their PC counterparts and colours actually seem to pop more on the Switch’s portable screen. Put simply, these just feel like really nicely put together editions of two classic old games that give new and returning players alike a chance to jump into massive RPG adventures with minimal fuss using a control set-up that, for us, makes them just as easy to play on-the-go with your Switch as they are sat at a desk with a keyboard and mouse. No small feat.
It is a little disappointing that multiplayer isn't available from launch, as is the case with the Baldur's Gate bundle, but it is noted as "coming soon" in the game's menu and really there's more than enough content here to keep you busy until it arrives.
In terms of the games themselves, Planescape: Torment is, in our opinion, the strongest of the two offerings and it turns out, almost twenty years down the line, that eschewing combat for the most part in favour of a narrative-heavy experience has helped it age much better than the rest of its Infinity Engine brethren. Taking on the role of The Nameless One – a refreshingly morally dubious character compared to traditional RPG heroes of the late nineties – you begin your grim adventure in a morgue, covered in strange tattooed messages that lead you on a journey across through the city of Sigil (and various other planes of existence in between) as you try to piece together the mystery behind how you came to be immortal and why you seem to forget everything about your previous life every time you die. It may be twenty years old, but we still find ourselves curiously keen to avoid spoilers here as it's a game that really should be experienced without knowing anything if you can manage it.
Planescape: Torment’s immersive dialogue, bizarre set-up and off-beat cast of characters and enemies have aged wonderfully well, and it’s still an amazingly malleable game. Every choice you make during conversations – and there are a ton of conversations to be had here – affects the alignment of your character, in turn affecting how NPCs and the world, in general, react to your version of The Nameless One. As an example, we played through the opening dungeon area a couple of times at the start of our journey and were still impressed at how differently things played out depending on how we responded and interacted with the characters that we met during this one tiny introductory area. It’s a level of choice that’s maintained throughout your entire playthrough in Planescape: Torment, and it’s easy to see how this game garnered such critical acclaim upon its original release back in 1999 and is now regarded as a cult classic.
Icewind Dale, on the other hand, is possibly the weakest of the Infinity Engine games being released on Switch this week. That's not to say it's a bad game – it's far from it – but the fact is, because the focus here is almost entirely on combat (and we're talking about combat that has aged quite a bit since it released in 2000), this one has started to feel like a real challenge to get back into. This is pretty much Baldur’s Gate without a lot of the elements of that game which have kept folk returning to it: its amazing narrative, strong cast of characters and deep morality systems.
Icewind Dale is really more of a straight-up dungeon crawler than RPG; everything within it is designed to funnel you as quickly and smoothly as possible towards more loot and more engagements with the enemy. Having said that, what narrative there is here is well-written, there's still a huge adventure contained within this game and more than enough story to keep you pushing on to the end and into the included DLC, which is actually much more satisfyingly story-driven.
The real strength of Icewind Dale – and the reason it remains a true classic – is that it takes the Infinity Engine combat, refines it, pushes it to the fore and delivers dungeon upon dungeon of meticulously-crafted battles against a ton of different enemies that will really put your skills to the test. The combat here is as deep as Infinity Engine combat ever got, and although it's absolutely hard as nails compared to what we may be used to nowadays, if you're up to it, you'll find a hell of a lot to love. This is a fast-paced and beautifully-designed game.
Also, for those among us who do want a ton of old-school combat, this enhanced edition also comes with an expanded roster and new classes which add even more depth and choice to its already almost overwhelming party-building systems. We should also mention the magic in Icewind Dale. It's possibly the most robust representation of the arcane arts in any RPG to date; so much so that Beamdog has even seen fit to enhance the visual effects of your spells here so they look better than ever.
This is another strong showing from Beamdog that sees a real odd couple of classics in the best shape they've maybe ever been, coupled with a control system designed for consoles that makes them as effortless to play on the move as they are sat at a keyboard and mouse. Icewind Dale is probably as good as old-school combat ever got and is still an absolute gem for fans of epic dungeon-crawling who don't mind the brutal difficulty involved in getting the hang of its action. Planescape: Torment, on the other hand, is a narrative masterclass which still feels fresh as a daisy and is as bizarre, funny and endlessly replayable as it's ever been. Together, these two make for a pretty essential addition to your Switch's RPG library.