|Bill Dungsroman 3/14/2004 |
The Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE) is a study of contrasts. The focal point of the
game, the eponymous Temple, is a rock-solid dungeon crawl. The outlying towns, however,
are buggy pointless clusterfucks. The combat system is incredibly refined, one of the best
Ive ever seen in an RPG. Unfortunately, its criminally underused and severely
hampered by the various tics and shortcomings of the engine and interface. In short,
Im hoping Troika gets to make a deeper, more involved follow-up game (with a better
story) using an improved version of this engine (coupled with some significant tweaks to
the interface) it could easily be a latter-day Baldurs Gate 2. In the
meanwhile, you actually have to contend with a latter-day Baldurs Gate 1 for
the most part.
The beginning of ToEE is mostly standard faire for a party-based
D&D game: you roll up your guys and prepare to set out on the adventure du juor.
Based on the newest iteration of the PnP D&D rules set, dubbed version 3.5, the
character generation aspect of ToEE will be no doubt confusing to the uninitiated, which
is most everyone. Character creation itself has its quirks. Choosing your characters
hairstyle is a kind of queer just this side of DOAX Beach Volleyball in any RPG as
far as Im concerned, but some of the options in ToEE are patently ridiculous. I had
to pick a mullet for my paladin and two pigtails that stick straight out of the side of
her head for my druid, just for the sheer absurdity of it all. A slider bar to set your
characters height (within the defined limits from the PnP rules) took far too long
to code for to bother including, Id wager. Voice options arent bad, but
character portraits are terrible with the bonus of being limited as well. That is, unless
you want to be an elf. And dont we all, secretly? Troika thinks so. Also, be careful
when selecting alignments for your characters; parties composed of incompatibly aligned
characters are forbidden, so your True Neutral thief will not be allowed to join your
Lawful Good paladin and vice-versa. I thought you could do that in the PnP game; alas.
However, portraits arent the lamest part and choosing hairstyles
isnt the gayest. That dubious double honor belongs solely to stats rolling. You get
two options for rolling your characters primary attributes. The "Basic" method
is having the game literally roll your stats, so you get six randomly generated numbers to
put into whatever category youd like. The "Advanced" method is to start
with all 8s and then get 25 points to distribute however you want to improve those
scores. Ah, but moving a stat from 17 to 18, for example, costs you 3 of those points.
What does that ultimately mean? It means your Advanced characters will suck and die. Stick
with Basic, because with Basic youll never roll a character as pathetic as the best
one you can craft in the Advanced mode. Essentially this decision is simply a second-tier
difficulty choice. The gay part comes in where the game tracks how many times you rolled
to get those stats, and then brands your character permanently like the Scarlet Letter
with the roll count on your character sheet. Just so what? when you
multiplay everyone can snigger at the fact that it took you 73896 rolls (there are five
orders of magnitude on the counter) to get your characters stats? Ill just
click out and restart character generation until I get the stats I want in less than 20
rolls. I AM THE GREAT MIN-MAXER, YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME.
|Look everyone, it took me 1666 rolls to get my characterís stats! I am so FACED!|
But First, Letís Play The Introductory Module, The Village of Hommlet.
ToEE is based (quite literally) on an old and supposedly great D&D
PnP module of the same name. That module had a lead-in intro module for characters level
1-3, The Village of Hommlet. Wouldnt you know Id miss the fun and play The
Keep on the Borderlands when I was a kid? The modules were written by E. Gary Gygax,
and the brilliance of one of the first fantasy RPG modules ever written must certainly
translate to modern gaming decades later, shouldnt it? I mean, computer RPGs have
essentially been doing storyline donuts since the days of SSIs gold box games.
Dont get me wrong, it was a neat module twenty years ago. That modules
dark spooky cover and the TV movie Mazes and Monsters are what prompted my mom to
ban D&D in my household, which made it about 1000 times more fun to play after that.
But wait! You do not begin the game in Hommlett. First you have to
fight a small battle with bandits or an assassin or whatever, based on your partys
alignment. See, thats one of the things Troika was bragging about during ToEEs
development, how the game "changes" to provide "different"
"storylines" for different alignments (it even has a generic name in your quest
log, "Neutral Good Opening Vignette," all the more glaring since all the other
quests have more creative names). The game half-forgets that encounter once youre in
Hommlet anyway. What you really get is a pointless battle that often kills or seriously
wounds at least one party member before you even get a chance to stop and figure out what
weapons and equipment the game gave you. My favorite: the game doesnt have your
cleric memorize Cure Light Wounds in the beginning. Then before you get a chance to
even loot you are whisked off to Hommlets city limits. Excuse me, how the
hell is this just like a PnP D&D campaign? Dudes run up and attack you
immediately and youre piffed off to some other town with no break or interim period
in between? Whos the Dungeon Master, McG? Rapid-fire editing did wonders for Charlies
Angels; it does very little here.
Since Hommlet is based off one of the original PnP introductory
modules, its boring as hell. Troika does its best to provide you with unique quests,
but many are dull and of the execrable Fed-Ex variety (Unite quarrelling family members!
Play Cupid for some lovelorn townsfolk! Convert people to religion! What is this, Touched
By A Deva?), and are often broken and thus cannot be completed anyway. Some have to be
done in a certain order (with no clues as to why or what order) or you wont be able
to complete them. Search high and low for some lost soul who you will never, ever find.
Feel that all-too familiar sensation of disappointment commingled with frustration as an
NPC once again fails to give you a vital dialogue option in order to complete a quest,
seemingly at random. I would ignore most of the stuff in Hommlett beyond the merchants,
the Inn, and the local temple (for obvious reasons) unless its to pickpocket.
Another major town, Nulb, isnt so stellar either, but it introduces the
groundbreaking concept of having the game play change dramatically for arbitrary reasons.
Simply walk into a tavern and you may be able to freely conduct commerce with the
innkeeper, or you may be inexorably drawn into a large violent battle forcing you to kill
everyone in the bar. The predicating factor: the class/alignment of whichever party member
randomly picked to be addressed first when you entered. It enhances replay, but only in
the immediate sense. I felt a paladin shouldnt just waltz into a bar and massacre
the joint, serving wenches included, so I reloaded. But what the hell do I know?
|How stupid can this game be? Exhibit A: Here I am wondering aloud what the fate was of a woman whom I saw die in the opening scene.|
As you may have guessed by now, my enjoyment of the game was at its
lowest in the beginning as I wandered the bug-ridden Hommlet. However, the middle of the
game was admittedly pretty fun, and shows how good this game could have been overall if it
had been shipped finished with a few key design changes, or maybe if Troika hadnt
been the studio to make it. It has really nice graphics as well. Spell and combat
animations are inventive. Its tough to get over the initial bad taste of a game as
you continue on through it though, as we all know. Combat can often become ponderous,
bloated affairs, but the tactical slant turn-based combat (with a plethora of attack
options) gives definitely adds to the depth and flavor of the game. A multitude of combat
options makes for some interesting fighting styles and greatly expands the sort of
characters you can create. The addition of combat moves like cleave, tumble, and attacks
of opportunity add an element where the tide of a battle may (and often does) hinge on
just one round. Whats bad is, you can never run away from a battle. There is no
waging a war of attrition. Also, the high percentage of misses every character in the game
seems plagued with draws out combat unnecessarily long. Missile weapons rarely hit, even
with the relevant feats (which confounds the Root n Shoot method somewhat).
Ill be the first to sheepishly admit we all got away with murder regarding missile
weapons in BIS games (until IWD2), but the pathetically low hit rate for missile
weapons in ToEE makes them practically useless unless your character is stocked with all
the relevant feats. I stopped playing PnP D&D around the time the Second Edition rules
came out, so someone will have to tell me if the PnP 3E sessions play like this. WHIFF
DANG WHIFF DANG WHIFF DANG WHO WANTS HOT POCKETS? Youll want your party to melee as
quickly as possible, and youll want any non-mage party member prepared to melee for
most battles. The Temple itself is big and is by turns fun and challenging, and overly
repetitive and stagnant, depending on where youre at in it and what mood youre
in for dungeon crawling at its most fundamental. Plus, it takes up the majority of game
time. Sure, thats no surprise, but its still boring. Im no Hollywood
starlet (sadly) but Id still like to know what my motivation is for fighting my way
through the Temple. Because its evil and hath risen again? Weak. The Icewind Dale
games had attacking monster armies. Where are the attacking monster armies? Sorry, but the
thrill of exploring a dungeon simply because its there wore off after my second or
third PnP campaign back in junior high, and thats why I think this notion of
recreating an old (albeit popular) PnP module is overrated. In Baldurs Gate 2,
an evil mage throws you in a dungeon, tortures you and your friends (killing half of
them), and ultimately steals your soul. Thats the sort of shit that gets me
to load up an RPG, not some drunk NPC fighter who mumbles "Dis place is
e-e-evil!" when we finally get there.
|Ze Temple. Like new porn, it has its good and bad parts, you probably wonít last 5 minutes in your first encounter with it, and it ultimately gets pretty repetitive and boring.|