The late 1990s were an amazing era for computer RPGs, and Black Isle Studios titles in particular. 1997 saw the release of the first game in the Fallout franchise, followed by Fallout 2 in 1998. While no one can deny the impact that franchise had (and continues to have) on the video game industry, the game they released just one year later is the one I’d consider to be their magnum opus, 1999’s Planescape: Torment.
The year after that, the studio released Icewind Dale and now Beamdog and Skybound Games brings us a compilation of Black Isle Studios D&D releases with Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Editions for the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Planescape: Torment was built with a modified version of BioWare’s “Infinity Engine”, so the gameplay is very similar to Baldur’s Gate and other titles built with that technology. It’s an isometric RPG adapted from tabletop Dungeons and Dragons rules, with real-time combat that can be paused at any time. That’s about all Planescape has in common with other Infinity Engine games however. The setting trades the Forgotten Realms of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter, and countless other D&D based video games for the utterly unique city of Sigil, the City of Doors, where any doorway or arch can lead to a different place in the multiverse and 17th century English slang is abundant (almost making it seem like the speak a different language).
The story places you in the role of The Nameless One, an immortal who awakens on a mortuary slab and from there you set off on a quest to find out who you are, how you got there, and many other questions that need answering. Much like the BioWare RPGs you encounter and recruit a number of characters to help you on the journey, each with deep backstories to discover and delve into. The combat and looting definitely takes a backseat to the story in Planescape: Torment, which is dense. At times the amount of text almost seems like a visual novel rather than an RPG, and it keeps you enthralled the entire time. The gameplay itself is a bit simplistic and dated, but on the merits of the story, voice acting, and music I would still rate Planescape as one of the best games of all time.
Icewind Dale unfortunately doesn’t hold up as well as the other Enhanced Edition games. Unlike Planescape, Baldur’s Gate, and other games in the BioWare redemption, the player creates their entire party of one to six characters from scratch, using Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition rules. You roll your stats, choose a race, character class, weapon proficiency, etc and then repeat that up to five more times (this edition also offers pre-generated characters you can use to jump directly into the action). From there it plays almost like a typical table-top D&D campaign- you explore dungeons, crypts, and caves to fight monsters, find magic items, and talk to townsfolk to advance the plot, defeat the Big Bad Evil, and save the day. I’m not trying to be dismissive of the story telling, I did find it perfectly enjoyable, but it’s definitely missing the strong character work that makes the other games Beamdog has remastered and enhanced so memorable.
As far as the Enhanced Editions themselves go, many of my thoughts are going to echo what I wrote in my review of Baldur’s Gate I&2 Enhanced Editions. Graphically, I think Planescape: Torment hold up slightly better compared to its contemporaries due to the larger and more detailed sprites, but it does still look a bit muddy at times. The music and voice acting however more than hold their own with releases of today. I found the controller support for Planescape: Torment to be a bit more finicky compared to the other titles, in particular when I would try to loot enemies it would sometimes focus more on examining nearby objects so I would have to switch to “tactics” (cursor) mode to manually select what I wanted to do.
Compared to the extra content added to the Baldur’s Gate compilation, this release feels a bit empty. You get the original games plus the Heart of Winter expansion for Icewind Dale, but no new content or extras have otherwise been added to the collection so on the one hand it may seem like a bit less value compared to the Baldur’s Gate 1&2 Enhanced Editions, however I do feel like the strength of Planescape: Torment’s story makes this compilation well worth checking out. Also, even without any new additions to the games it would take dozens (if not hundreds) of hours and multiple playthroughs to explore everything Planescape and Icewind Dale have to offer. Trophy hunters especially will have to make multiple runs in both games on their quest for Platinum trophies.
Both of these games are among of the best PC RPGs ever made and were so bound to the mouse and keyboard controls of the platform that it is no small feat that Beamdog has made them playable on modern consoles. Planescape in particular is a must-play experience for anyone who is a fan of deep storytelling in games. They definitely still play best on PCs, but having two great RPGs available in one bundle would make Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Editions a welcome addition to the library of any PS4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch owner.
Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Editions is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. This review is based on a Playstation 4 review code provided by the publisher.