Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?”Â Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:
Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.
Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.
Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.
Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.
This week we’re looking at Black Isle Studios’ last PC franchise. The first game in the series came out in 2000 and used the 2nd Edition rules of TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons‘ tabletop series. The second game would come out two years later and feature the 3rd Edition rules created by Wizards of the Coast. The first game in the series was both a critical and financial success, while the second game sold well but was considered by critics to be a bit outdated compared to things like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate 2. Still, actual gamers appeared to love it and it sold almost as well as the first. Unfortunately for Black Isle, its parent company Interplay wasn’t the best with finances and to save themselves, they dissolved Black Isle, which angered PC gamers across the globe. With members of Black Isle scattered to the four winds (although many are with Obsidian), is there still value in the Icewind Dale brand name? Three Diehard GameFAN staffers take a look.
AJ Hess – Sequel
Kind of amusing to think about: “Icewind Dale 3: now with 4th edition rules!” But they should absolutely do it. A lot of this is wishful thinking, but I still love the first two games in the series. Keep it a bit old school. It should be slower, but still real time. You know, just a solid hack ‘n slash featuring Dungeons and Dragons’ most recent rule-set. Icewind Dale was a departure from the traditional Black Isle epic in that the story took a back-seat to the mechanics, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Just typing this out has me ready to track down the discs and see how the game plays on Vista.
Alex Lucard – Sequel
I loved Black Isle Studios. Every game they made was a serious GOTY contender, if not outright winner. Troika and Obsidian (BLS’s descendents) haven’t been anywhere as awesome, but they still make (or made in the case of Troika) good games. Icewind Dale is perhaps the least remembered of the Black Isle games, but that’s a bit of a misnomer as games like Baldur’s Gate, Dark Alliance, Fallout, and Planescape: Torment are four of the biggest, most critically acclaimed and popular RPG series EVER. Icewind Dale could be given all of those adjectives as well; just not to the degree of Black Isle’s other series. Perhaps this is because Icewind Dale was more combat oriented instead of story oriented like the other titles and it is the tales Black Isle told that captured the hearts of gamers rather than the gameplay.
The sequel had a much stronger story, but the gameplay took a hit that time around. As it came out slightly after Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate II, Icewind Dale was again left to linger in the shadow of other better known D&D titles.
I actually preferred the Icewind Dale series to Baldur’s Gate, but I would like to have a third game in the series made. I’ve pretty much loathed the fourth edition rules and how it’s really taken the heart and soul out of most of the classic D&D campaign settings. Vecna knows I’m dreading this summer when we see the new versions of Ravenloft and Darksun. However, 4th Edition seems better suited to a video game than a tabletop game so who knows, perhaps we just have to get the chance to see it. However there are two problems with that. The first is that Atari was sued a few months back by Hasbro for shady things that they have done with the D&D video game license and the second is that once Atari loses it (and they will), you have to wonder who will get it. Aside from Black Isle, Bioware, and SSI, no one else has made a truly great D&D game that has withstood the test of time. Bioware doesn’t need the license, while SSI and Black Isle are both dead. That really only leaves Obsidian Games to handle the license and while I actually preferred Neverwinter Nights 2 to the original, I also accept I’m in the minority there. Plus I want to wait and see what Alpha Protocol plays like before I feel confident in saying I would trust them with arguably the biggest RPG license there is.
So if all the stars align (and not the in Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtgan! way…), I’d love to see Icewind Dale III with 4th edition rules. However, I’m equally optimistic and pessimistic at this point that Wizards of the Coast will ever do anything better than half-assed with D&D at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were rolling around in their graves at this point due to what Hasbro, Wizards, and Atari have done with their creation. Still, there is a lot of potential left in the D&D license and Icewind Dales especially. Let’s hope all the parties involved get their collective acts together and give us a chance for one more trip through Faerun.
Ashe Collins – Spinoff
Icewind Dale was the next in the Dungeons and Dragons PC line after Baldur’s Gate. It spawned a sequel and an expansion much like Baldur’s Gate, however the sequel employed the 3rd Edition table top rules for the game while the first used the older 2nd edition rules. Both games had an excellent story to them and were both near and dear to my playing experiences as Baldur’s Gate was. I actually much prefer Icewind Dale as I was more familiar with the Dale Lands and setting in the Forgotten Realms (the campaign world where both Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale were set).
Interplay originally put this out with Black Isle studios, and Atari currently holds the D&D license, although if the law suits go the way they have been they won’t have it for much longer. If a new one was made it’d end up using the 4th Edition rules for D&D and probably the updated campaign setting, which quite frankly has lost a lot of what made the Forgotten Realms a rich place to play in by cutting out a lot of what was relevant and exciting to play with.
Even then, the developer that got this as a sequel or spin-off would have a tall order to live up to. It’s been almost a decade since Icewind Dale II and at least a decade since the first initial release of Icewind Dale, and they are still regarded as some of the best RPGs ever released on the PC, and yes that does include Dragon Age (the spiritual sequel to Baldur’s Gate), Mass Effect, and a number of other PC RPGs like Fallout and the Elder Scrolls series.
Personally I’d like to see them hit up a different area of Faerun, with a different set of characters if they do decide to take this up again and to leave these PC classics alone. So I’m saying spin-off. Return to the Forgotten Realms, new characters, new area and leave what is so great about this series of games alone and come up with your own new tale to dazzle us with. If you want to reference what has come before, that’s great too, but be original. It’s a rich deep campaign setting and there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Sequel – 2
Spin-Off – 1
Stay Dead – 0
Start Over – 0
Well, it’s obvious that we have a lot of D&D and especially D&D video game love on this staff. Those of us who commented this week would love to see something involving the Forgotten Realms hit either a console or PC, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens with the current lawsuit and who gets the license after Atari.
Join us next week as we return to the PC and look back at the series that single handedly sold PC users on the CD-ROM drive. It’s gone from the biggest selling PC game of all time to little more than an afterthought. Is the franchise as dead as Old Man Stauf? See you then.