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Review: Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale

Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Editions released for Xbox One October 17th. While it’s nice to see these CRPGs have new life breathed into them, you may want to temper that nostalgia. While the characters and plotline are as entertaining as they once were, the frequent freezing, too-small text, and clunky controller mechanics make this an unnecessarily frustrating play.

For the sake of this article, I played significant portions of both games and the DLC to assess the ports but did not complete them. I originally intended to complete them, but several glitches discouraged me from doing so. Both Planescape AND Icewind Dale froze multiple times.

Glitches and Freezing

In Planescape, I was at a critical point in the Mausoleum when suddenly the game…just…quit. All of my progress was lost. After that, I took to saving every ten minutes or so. If I attracted too many enemies at once, suddenly all of the characters would freeze, and while I could hear the music and sound effects, I couldn’t move anywhere except around the scenery. In one instance, the characters just disappeared off the screen entirely.

I thought, perhaps, that particular experience would be unique to Planescape. Unfortunately, it occurred almost immediately in Icewind Dale. As I was organizing my party for the first time, I suddenly heard a loud BRRRRRRRR through my headphones. Then found myself looking at the Xbox home screen. (The video below is from my stream. It doesn’t feature the noises I heard through my headphones, but you will notice the in-game music suddenly stops and I can’t exit out of the window I’m in.)

Admittedly there were also times in Planescape that I found the clues to be unnecessarily convoluted. I searched frustratedly for the portal to the Siege Tower in Sigil’s Lower Ward. I followed the map directions I had been given. Turns out, the portal simply wasn’t triggering. Turns out I found yet another glitch—after I rebooted the game it triggered just fine. Despite these setbacks, I was charmed by the old-school feel of both games. I appreciate a challenge, and neither game pulls any punches.

At one point I was cursed with the hiccups. When I went to check my combat rolls, sure enough, it logged every one.

Difficult Controls

Going from the control a gaming mouse offers to an Xbox controller was an adjustment as well. I missed the precision a mouse gave me. It’s difficult to select individual items, enemies, and NPCs; this is especially true if you’re in the new “Drive Mode.”  I recognize I’m likely in the minority with this opinion. Many have expressed appreciation for being able to “relax” with a controller. Sitting as close as I was to read everything anyway, however, there was little relaxing about the gaming experience. This was somewhat mitigated by enlarging the text in the graphics menus of both games. I changed it to the largest size available for both. Icewind Dale was the most improved, but I still had to squint playing from our couch, especially with large paragraphs.

I accidentally attacked an NPC when I was still adapting to Planescape, thinking I was selecting him to speak to. (Tip: switch to Tactical Mode by pressing right on the D-pad for better selection control without The Nameless One getting in your way.) Now I can’t go back to that tavern without being attacked by that NPC’s group. If I defend myself, the entirety of the bar comes after me. This has no known reversal. Now, if I have any business in that bar, I have to select those parties quickly before the aggressors can reach me.

This happened again while I was looking through local homes for “junk.” (Junk actually serves an in-game purpose. Nothing goes wasted in the Hive.) While I was casually browsing to see what was in the cabinets, but intentionally not taking anything for myself, the NPC attacked me. Frustratingly, I could never go back to the side quest they had tasked me with. I can’t tell if it was a glitch or merely unique to that character because it hasn’t happened in any other NPC homes since.

Planescape and Icewind Dale Still a Fun Ride

Despite these setbacks, I still found the humor in Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale to be clever and the stories compelling. As a woman, Morte (the floating skull) in Planescape can get a little stale. (His asides about his sexual encounters (actualized or desired) get old quick.) In this way, the game shows its age more than the graphics do. However, the philosophical depth presented in Planescape: Torment was something I had forgotten about. Black Isle Studios’ ability to gamify conversations about mortality and the afterlife is still narratively impressive. Being rewarded for close reading is something I have missed in the modern gaming experience.

Not exactly one for the kids.

Additionally, both games succeed in feeling like one-person campaigns. (You can view your party’s “dice rolls” during encounters to strategize for the future.) Icewind Dale, which originally released for Windows and MacPlay a year after Planescape: Torment, improved upon this model by allowing you to customize your adventuring party just as you would in a real D&D campaign.

It’s nice being able to choose between Story Mode and varying degrees of normal challenge modes. I stuck with Normal Mode because it kept to the AD&D rulebook without making it impossible for me. I later learned that I could switch to Story Mode, which would revive newly dead characters, and then switch back to Normal Mode to return to my intended gaming experience. While you can’t do this in Hard Mode and above, it feels like an odd loophole to overlook. What’s the point in choosing if you can just bounce back and forth?

Verdict

In the end, Beamdog accomplished the main goal: making Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale playable for Xbox One. This doesn’t really add to the experience both games already offer, however. Beamdog will need to make more adjustments before its really worth investing in. The text is still a bit small for a comfortable playthrough, and the finicky controls make me want to go back to a keyboard and mouse. They also need to do another sweep for bugs. It’s a shame because it could attract new players to a style of RPG not often crafted to this level of narrative detail anymore. If you do choose to invest in the games, it’s important to recognize which kind of gaming experience you’re looking for first. If you want customizable strategic combat, go with Icewind Dale. For a compelling narrative with moments of humor, choose Planescape: Torment.

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Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Editions

6

Pros
  • Clever dialogue.
  • Challenging puzzles.
  • Unique narrative.
Cons
  • Frequent crashing.
  • Unreliable autosave.
  • Poor graphics quality muddles strategic decision-making.
  • Loss of accuracy and agility in combat with Xbox controller use.
ashleymowers
Ashley is the Artist in Residence for the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews, where she is developing original material for the stage. In addition to writing for Xbox Enthusiast, Ashley is a cohost on The Min/Max Podcast, where they discuss all things nerd culture and theology.

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