I have a confession to make: when the first IceWind Dale came out I bought maybe the first copy and rushed home to immerse into it. It was summer of 2000 and I had just polished off the excellent Baldur's Gate and the incomparable Planescape: Torment. A day into IceWind Dale and I absolutely hated it!
The graphics were comparable (all three games share the same engine) and the gameplay was almost identical. The music was excellent and certain tunes stayed with me ever since. The storyline was nothing to complain about - after all, any story set in "the spine of the world" can hardly go wrong! What I did not appreciate was the rushed feeling of a job on an impossible deadline.
In order to prolong the duration of the game, much smaller maps were stuffed with a far greater number of powerful foes - and almost nothing could be solved without combat. As a result, what was expected to be an enjoyable experience turned into a chore of endless autopausing, retargeting and constant battling.
Having said the above, I must admit that, in hindsight, my complains seem trivial. Little did I know at the time how far into hell greed would drive the gaming industry. Compared to 3-4 hour games, extra charges for essential content, Limited Installations and RootKits (of the likes of StarFORCE and SecuROM), well, games such as the IceWind Dale saga stand out as landmarks in PC-gaming history.
The expansion (The Heart of Winter) improved things somewhat but the series did not find its stride until the very good IceWind Dale II. I remember spending endless hours with the sequel and can compare it to the original Baldur's Gate.