Reviewed: November 28, 2003
Released: September 16, 2003
The Temple of Elemental Evil: A Classic Greyhawk Adventure is the long-awaited, much-anticipated RPG title from Troika and Atari and is the first to use the new AD&D 3.5 rules. If you donít know what that means donít worry, and if you do then you are probably already drooling into your velvet pouch of assorted dice.
Veterans of the pen & paper game might remember The Temple of Elemental Evil when it first appeared back in the 80ís as one of many ďmodulesĒ, one of several written by the founder of the fantasy role playing game, Gary Gygax. Troika has not taken this legacy lightly and they have done an amazing job of bringing this module to life on the PC and incorporating the new rule set.
Admittedly, this particular game is a bit light on the story, but keep in mind that traditional D&D is more about action and dungeon exploration, so veteran RPG gamers looking for a deep narrative will likely be disappointed in what is otherwise a new and improved version of Diablo. Story aside, Temple of Elemental Evil is a huge game of epic gameplay proportions that will have you encountering and interacting with countless NPCís and thousands of lines of dialogue (perhaps even more than KOTOR) that are tailored to your alignment and other attributes.
While Troika has delivered all the authentic rules and a quality settings of an AD&D module, the gameplay is a bit repetitive and often lacking in originality and when you factor in an unforgivable amount of bugs and glitches, only the most diehard adventurer will see this game to its ultimate conclusion.
As with any RPG game you begin by creating characters and forming a party. You can either choose from the excellent selection of pre-generated characters or go through the lengthy process of creating your own from scratch. No self-respecting D&D player will pass on the chance to create at least one character and most will probably create all five.
Creating that perfect character can literally take upwards of an hour and if you choose to create an entire party you could spend half a day doing so. Starting with basic attributes then factoring in gender, race, height, class, deity, and picking the right skills are only the first few steps toward beginning your grand adventure.
Your party consists of five player characters (PCís) and up to three non-player characters (NPCís) that you can hire and add to you team during the game. Forming the party takes on a unique approach as you must now choose the alignment of the party. This will then filter and restrict the use of certain character classes and alignments. Donít plan on having that Paladin join the same party as your Chaotic-Evil Wizard. Your chosen alignment also dictates the way the game begins, and while all possible roads eventually reach the village of Hommlet, it is a nice feature to be able to begin the game fresh by merely choosing a new party alignment. You might not play the entire game all the way through but you can at least enjoy the new and varied openings.
The Temple of Elemental Evil can be played in normal mode or in Ironman mode. Normal is exactly that. You can roll your characters for hours until you get those perfect stats and you can save anytime you feel threatened during the game. Ironman mode is designed for the few dozen of you who fancy yourselves as AD&D gods, but even the likes of Gary Gygax himself would shy away from a mode that doesnít allow you to re-roll your characters or save your game, ever. Basically, each time you exit the game your progress is saved and that file is resumed when you start back up. They donít call it Ironman for nothing.
Those of you unfamiliar with D&D rules or the new 3.5 rule set will find the 150+ page manual a welcome addition to the box. Finally, somebody gives us a tangible manual that cannot be stuffed inside a jewel case. Itís a good thing too because the introductory tutorial is fairly worthless and fraught with bugs. I had to play and replay the tutorial four times before it actually worked. There was some funky scripting problem that prevented me from finishing the lessons about halfway through.
This game is massive and there is a wonderful mapping feature that shows your progress graphical but there are no labels. You are forced to manually label any part of the map you want to give specific info on. While manual labels would be a nice feature for Ironman, I would have preferred something a bit more automated for the normal mode. Having to manually label houses and parts of the dungeons was just too much extra work. If I wanted to go to that much hassle Iíd play the non-electronic version of the game.
Troika has made the most of the screen space to give us a non-invasive command system that is very similar to the one found in Neverwinter Nights only much more refined. You basically click on the character or their portrait to get a circular menu hub. Click on menu items will either execute a command or open up an additional ring of options. As good as this concept is there are just so many actions you can do at any given time that the menu become unwieldy and downright counter-intuitive. You will find yourself navigating through multiple rings to do the simplest of tasks.
Combat is handled on a turned-based system where you choose the offensive and defensive commands then initiate the turn and watch the action unfold. All of the dice rolls are handled behind the scenes so all you get are the results. The game also uses an internal clock to deal with issues like healing and spell restoration. You can enter a ďrestĒ phase to heal your party and memorize spells but if you rest in the dungeon you are subject to frequent random monster encounters.
As previously stated, The Temple of Elemental Evil plays like a sophisticated version of Diablo with much more stringent AD&D rules and a methodical combat system. Itís a bold step forward in RPG design mixing action with a complex rule set and the scope of the overall game is amazing and perhaps even a bit too ambitious, at least for the QA testers.
It seems a lot of bugs slipped through in the initial release and even the recently released upgrade patch only addresses a few of them. The bug list is too numerous to go into detail but a few of the more annoying glitches include buggy path finding, monsters getting stuck in walls, grouping characters with the ďselect allĒ feature, and errant notification of characters exceeding their encumbrance limit. Some of these have already been fixed with the patch and others remain.
Of the more annoying bugs is the group movement where your party might not always go where you tell them to or perhaps only some of them will go even though all were selected. This can go from annoying to fatal if you end up in a major encounter and your heavy hitters are back in the last room.
Glitches and repetitive gameplay aside, The Temple of Elemental Evil is still a respectable RPG game that is quite involved and fun to play. It might not appeal to the casual RPG gamer but hardcore fans of AD&D will be lost in this title for months to come.
The Temple of Elemental Evil is a beautiful game that mixes 3D elements on 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. This allows for some incredible scenery and intricately detailed environments that would be otherwise impossible in a texture-mapped 3D game. Each new area looks like a wonderful piece of fantasy art that you would be proud to have as your Windows wallpaper.
When you combine the 3D elements such as monsters and your band of adventurers then toss in some flashy pyrotechnics and spell effects full of colored lighting and particle effects you have one of the nicest looking RPG games this year. My only complaint is that the game is overly dark at times which is nice for showcasing the flashy special effects but can make it hard to play the game in anything less than a totally darkened room.
The characters look really good and you actually see each piece of equipment rendered as you equip it. Conversely, these items are removed from the screen as you liberate them from fallen foes or un-equip them. Those with a careful eye can instantly know who is carrying what with a quick glance at the screen.
Monsters are stunning and have been lifted right from the illustrated pages of the Monster Manual. The Beholders are flawless and you get the full complement of other assorted baddies (more than 100 in all) that not only look authentic but also act and react just as you would expect them to. This is electronic AD&D at its purest form.
Those of you with large monitors can enjoy this game at 1024x768 but anything less than a 19Ē screen should probably have most gamers playing at 800x600 just so you donít miss out on any of the finer details. Some items are quite small and donít ďglimmerĒ as you might expect. Other items like chests often blend so well into the background they are easily overlooked. Since the levels are pre-rendered there is no way for the game to handle transparencies so walls and other architectural objects can block your view of important items.
This lower resolution will also improve your framerate, which can actually get quite sluggish in the more intense combat sequences where flashy spells are being cast and monsters and adventurers are moving about. Considering the 2D nature of the game I wasnít expecting any framerate issues, especially with an Athlon 2800+ and an FX5900 video card.
The music in The Temple of Elemental Evil goes for a more atmospheric approach that tends to be more annoying than enriching. The themes just donít seem to fit with a fantasy game and are as out-of-place as they are repetitive. Itís good music, but just not for this game.
Sound effects are well-suited to the items or environments they are meant to enhance but seem heavily compressed and low quality. With all of the hours of dialogue they had to stuff on these two discs Iím sure concessions had to be made but itís a shame my sound effects had to suffer. The voices on the other hand are better quality but the content is often trite and the voice acting is B-class at best.
The Temple of Elemental Evil is a massive game that is made even longer with some cheap gimmicks that will force you to make lengthy journeys back to town through previously explored areas. Casual gamers can expect 20-30 hours of gaming and if you want to replay with new alignments to experience the subtle changes you can multiple that estimate by however many alignment choices you wish to explore.
There is no multiplayer and the story ultimately concludes the same way despite the slight variances in the paths you take to get there. Chances are if you stick with this game to the finale you wonít be too eager to jump back in for a second pass. Hardcore RPG gamers will probably attempt the Ironman mode at least once or twice. Good luck!
The Temple of Elemental Evil marks the first game using the AD&D 3.5 rules and it pulls this off effortlessly. There was some substantial risk in attempting to convert one of the most popular AD&D modules into electronic form and again, Troika succeeded for the most part.
There are some issues with bugs, some of which have already been addressed in a patch, and the gorgeous visuals can bog down on even some high-end rigs. The music is better if your turn it off and the tinny sound effects are a bit disappointing, but at its heart there is a fun and substantial gameplay experience to be had if you have the perseverance to tough it out.