Computer role-playing games have evolved over the years - D&D games in particular. The basic D&D rule set has been updated, modified, and tweaked time and again, ultimately progressing to today's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 rule set. These regulations were devised to appeal to hardcore RPG masses. Troika's latest project, The Temple of Elemental Evil: A Classic Greyhawk Adventure, is the first CRPG that fully utilizes these rules. Before we go any further, it bears mentioning that Troika is not a newcomer to the RPG genre. Their earlier work includes Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, while some of their staff was previously involved with the Fallout series (for more info on some of the creative minds behind the project can be found in our preview of the game. In any case it's also important to highlight that Temple of Elemental Evil is a single-player-only title, deprived of any kind of multiplayer mode. After our last contact with the game at E3, we finally got a chance to enjoy the final version. So, without further ado, we march into the world of Greyhawk.
Just to remind our readers, ToEE is based on a popular pen-and-paper module, created by Gary Gygax back in the '80's (of which I spent far too much of my youth playing - Six); by the way, we'd like to thank our reader, Komoto, for giving us the heads-up on that one. Apparently, this particular part of the D&D universe provided sufficient background for a CRPG. The game entangles you into an interesting storyline, set deep within the Realms of Greyhawk. At the outset, your main task is to track down a group of bandits that have been harassing the village of Hommlet. Strange things are afoot, and people begin to believe that these villains may have awoken an ancient and mysterious evil. This is, naturally, where your party comes in.
At the beginning of the game players get to choose five characters, among eleven available classes - barbarian, cleric, bard, druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard. Before you set out on your RPG journey, you're allowed to toy with your party's alignment and the specifics of each character individually. Coming up with your ideal characters - exploring numerous combinations of skills and feats and abilities - can keep you occupied for hours. Once again Troika has shown their knack for creating a complex character creation system. Granted this is not the first time we encounter an in-depth character creation system; this has been ever-present throughout CRPG history (Icewind Dale 2, Neverwinter Nights, and the like).
The sheer complexity of the game clearly guarantees some serious RPG fun. But, the problem is that there's a great deal of gamers out there that never bothered to research the intricate 3.5 AD&D rules. The fact is that during the game, newcomers will surely find themselves tangled up in a sea of RPG details. Such players might have a hard time deciding what feats and skills should be improved. Leveling each character has a great influence on how your team handles itself during combat. Most of the characters won't survive through a single battle unless they work on enhancing certain abilities or feats. To cut a long story short, the game becomes increasingly difficult for anyone who doesn't have experience with leveling specific character classes during gameplay. This drawback could've easily been circumvented if the developers took the time to fit in an optional predefined character leveling system that might help gamers get through this. A number of RPG's have already used such methods (NWN, Icewind Dale). Players who wasted their hard-earned experience points on pointless skills or feats will have a hard time keeping some of the party members alive as they progress through the levels. For that reason, inexperienced players are strongly advised to go through the game's manual, which features accurate descriptions of all characters and guidelines to the 3.5 AD&D rules. Just so you know the manual is also downloadable at the official web site of Wizards of the Coast - the file is in PDF format).
Otherwise, if you are a veteran CRPG player and a D&D fan, The Temple of Elemental Evil should meet all of your expectations. Things haven't changed all that much since the 3rd Edition rule set. One of the coolest additions to the system is that you can cast spells while holding weapons - a feature that indeed proved most useful in the midst of combat. Another change is that a character can earn +10 hiding bonus each time they use Cloak of Elvenkind. Also, if you are used to playing games via the old AD&D, consulting the game manual is a must.
The game is challenging all the way. Everywhere you turn around, your party gets a new task or side-quest to complete. Tasks and quests are well structured, giving your group a fair chance at gaining experience before the boss villains arrive. Logically, completing quests also earns you valuable items, gold, weapons, and such. Adding to your skills and feats is a very delicate business, so consider your actions carefully. For example, if you just gained enough points to level a dwarven fighter, it would be wise to concentrate on enhancing feats that can improve his melee combat. Choosing Weapon Focus is a good idea since it allows a fighter to increase his/her proficiency in, say, wielding a Battleaxe or a Dwarven Waraxe. Enhancing such feats can also award the character with bonus attack points.
Corresponding with true RPG lore, The Temple of Elemental Evil boasts a variety of foes, all of which should be considered worthy challenges to the skills and abilities of your party members. Even the weakest opponent can inflict serious damage through critical hits, sneak attacks, and so on. Of course, the boss-creatures are usually tough, especially if they're accompanied with swarms of faithful minions. Regrettably though, I noticed that the player characters were endowed with lousy pathfidning, which can most certainly be attributed to sloppy and incomplete AI patterns. Naturally, this won't make things any easier for players.
Apart from a somewhat steep learning curve and the aforementioned mishap in the AI, the gameplay doesn't appear to be clogged with any particularly major issues. That is not to say, however, that it's not without its fair share of annoying bugs and interface glitches. It takes a bit of time to master the interface, but once you get the hang of it, everything should work fairly smoothly. In other words, you simply get used to it. On the whole, the system is definitely not perfect. It came to our attention that some gamers complained of certain shortcomings in the combat system. For instance, there are several spells and character abilities that act differently than you'd expect them to.
Visually, The Temple of Elemental Evil doesn't have any apparent weaknesses. Although its isometric backdrops cannot measure up to the visual depth of Neverwinter Nights, there's quite a lot of neat effects to behold during gameplay. Most of the outdoor settings feature a vast array of details in the background like cute animals and rich plant life, coupled with very effective animation; leaves and trees sway in the wind, your characters leave ripples and foam as they pass across water surfaces, etc. Roaming through different outdoor sections in and out of Hommlet, gamers can witness sunrise and sunset as the days turn into nights. This aspect makes the atmosphere even more impressive. Once the action begins, players can feast their eyes on an extensive scope of colorful spells, a lot of which display first-class animation, lighting, and shadows. What eventually came as a disappointment is that a great deal of the game takes place inside the large sections of the temple, and not so much outdoors where the visual effects can shine. Still, this won't be much of a problem, given that the temple is extremely huge and complex, offering you many areas to explore. A slight drawback, however, is that most of the objects dropped by dead foes are rather small, which usually makes it difficult for players to see items that are of any use. This might appear annoying at times, particularly if you've set the game to run in higher resolutions (1024*768 or 1280*1024). The audio design, on the other hand, deserves credit. In addition to a solid range of ambient noises, voiceovers, and other sounds, every section in the game is accompanied by a beautiful tune that gently hums in the background.
All of its shortcomings aside, it's safe to say that the hardcore D&D pen-and-paper crowd will find what they want in Troika's latest CRPG achievement. Certain inconvenient moments in the gameplay might draw back average gamers. On the other hand, more experienced players might complain about some rather sloppy work on certain aspects of gameplay that can at times thwart its fluidity. Still, we feel that these issues could very well be straightened out with a patch or two. Overall, The Temple of Elemental Evil has several good points, which is why we recommend you to give it a try at least.
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Delivers everything you'd expect to find in a CRPG (quests, feats, NPC interaction, and the lot). Excellent animation, a beautiful array of cool-looking spells, and nice backdrops. Sweet music and lovely sounds;
No multiplayer. Can be extremely tricky for gamers who are unfamiliar with the 3.5 AD&D rules. Lousy character path finding, bugs and interface issues.
A few odd bugs