When it was released in 1999, Planescape: Torment was hailed as one of the best computer RPGs of all time, and went on to win numerous awards. Its tale of the Nameless One, a revenant corpse cast on a journey through the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse, remains one of the most compelling ever told in games. Likewise 2000’s Icewind Dale, with its story of a band of adventurers at first recruited as caravan guards, before being drawn into tackling a threat that lies below the “Spine of the World”. Both showed that Black Isle Studios were developers to watch, and the games have stood the test of time.
On PC, at least. Now ported to console by Beamdog and Skybound, they stand as proof that some games really are built to format, and no amount of UI tweaking can make them palatable on another. Like the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition pack released alongside this duo, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale suffer for the translation to joypad, with confusing controls and a near-impenetrable set of mechanics.
As one of the more recent of Beamdog’s Enhanced Editions – originally released on PC in 2017 – PlaneScape fares better in terms of controls. It’s a lot clearer which control scheme you’re using, whether “Drive”, where you’re directly moving the Nameless One with the left thumbstick, or “Tactics” mode, allowing you to select objects in the world to investigate or perform actions on. Icewind Dale is vague by comparison, leaving players to muddle through and figure out what works. Control layouts are buried deep in the settings, but don’t really help much for learning more nuanced commands, such as how to use objects or skills.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the package is that it pre-supposes player knowledge, both of Dungeons & Dragons rulesets in general – character creation and development screens will drop terms like “THAC0” (To hit armour class 0) without a hint of explanation for the uninitiated – and of the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition pack specifically. Where the latter release features some tutorials, along with in-game characters to explain how things work, both of the core titles here throw you in without any guidance whatsoever.
Some may appreciate that raw experience, the challenge of being thrown in at the deep end. Many more, especially those without nostalgia for these games but attracted by their deserved reputation, are likely to find it incredibly off-putting. It shouldn’t be a chore to figure out how to use a key in your inventory to open a locked door, for instance.
Ultimately though, these are roughly two-decade-old games, and it shows. They’re muddy and blurry, despite Beamdog and Skybound’s efforts to make them presentable on modern high-def screens, and the controls feel downright obstructive. While both the Baldur’s Gate and Planescape/Icewind packages suffer from this problem, the latter is worse for not providing any real onboarding process for the very players it’s hoping to attract. Great games both, but stick to the PC versions