The Temple of Elemental Evil
Good roleplaying games aren’t exactly dropping out of the sky lately, this year rpg’s weren’t that great and fun (except for Gothic 2). Of course, the year isn’t over yet since recently another rpg was released which was eagerly awaited by numerous gamers, namely The Temple of Elemental Evil. In this game it’s back to the overview and look of the Infinity engine games while there still are some remarkable (positive and negative) differences. Troika Games wanted to create a game that would be faithful to the original Greyhawk-module (made by Gary Gyrax) of so many years back. Let’s see if they have completed their goal and have released a decent game as well…
The game’s fine introduction movie sheds ‘some’ more light on the story; a long time ago a dark cult, which terrorized the surrounding lands while worshipping a demoness, was wiped out by the ‘Forces of Good’. The mysterious Tempel of this cult became forever sealed from the world. Until now, because all kinds of lowlifes are once again gathering in the area surrounding the place where the Temple is located. It’s up to your party of adventurers to examine these events. Everyone will admit it if you asked him/her, the story isn’t quite groundbreaking but it’s the same as the module. This game has more focus on the pure combat and the dungeon crawling rather than a well-worked out plot/complicated quests and that’s doesn’t necessarily need to mean that it’s bad. Something that should be mentioned when I am still talking about the story are the alignments. Depending on which of the nine different alignments you choose for your party, you’ll get a different starting scenario. And depending on the rest of the alignment choices you make during the game there’ll be some different storypaths and endings as well. There where in the beginning f.e. a Neutral Good party is about to inform to St. Cuthbert priests the death of the Canonnes, your Chaotic Evil party would have razed the St. Cuthbert church.:)
An important feature is the implementation of the 3.5 edition of the Dungeons&Dragons ruleset, almost litteraly ‘from the book’. These rules make everything more complex and give more worries to the ones who don’t know them, they’ll have some serious reading to do in the expansive manual. Though it’s all worth it to learn, just hang on for an hour or two and you’re a lot more farther, you’ll only receive more pleasure from it later in-game. It’s advised to try out the tutorial if you want to learn more quickly about the combat and other aspects of the game. You are able to assemble your party (max. 5 characters) out of pre-made characters or self-made characters. Later on you get the chance to hire a maximum of three npc’s. These lads will (automatically) claim a (very) serious part of the loot (and of the experience) so you’ll have to decide for yourself if their abilities are worth it.
The combat part is the biggest point of interest about The Temple of Elemental Evil. It’s all turn-based when combat starts, on top of the screen all the combattants are listed from left (the one who starts the turn) to right. Some people might find it quite boring and slow at times but once again; when you have learned most rules/tricks the personal pleasure you’ll receive after a won battle is very rewarding. By means of a radial menu (cfr. Neverwinter Nights) spells/special attacks/inventory can be selected. It’s a fine feature and it makes the rest of the interface very small so the overview becomes bigger. Even when knowing most rules the game is still very challenging, despite the fact that the monsters aren’t always that smart in combat. Saving a lot is very appropriate here. Quests and such are automatically stored in your logbook, although when looking at the townmap you’ll have to mark the important locations yourself, for the gamers which like to write these marks themselves it’s nice perhaps but for the others it’s somewhat frustrating. Making this optional would have been better.
The Temple of Elemental Evil is an isometric rpg, you have in other words an overview/look like in f.e. Baldur’s Gate 2. The engine is (luckily) more handsome than the Infinity engine. Yes, there are still pre-rendered backgrounds (which look always at least as the best maps in the Infinity engine games) but the main difference are the 3D character/monster models. The character-models looked a bit strange at first (too thin actually) but as the game progresses (and foremost, when you get more equipment and beautiful armors) it isn’t that remarkable anymore. Considering the monster-models Troika deserves a big ‘thumbs up’, really magnificient models which are animated very well also. The spell effects are beautiful too. In general one can say the graphics are very decent but they aren’t that nice that they could be a reason for the many shocks you get while playing. Clearly a performance problem which is hopefully solved in the just released update. The design is well worked out, though I get a feeling it sometimes could have been more. Something that is more disturbing is the low interactivity. Aside from doors/stairs and now and then a chest there aren’t much things that can be influenced in the backgrounds. Another irritating point that keeps returning is the fact that you can’t place your characters everywhere you want them too if the party stands close to each other, even when you can definitely see that there is space enough for them. If I then also mention the pathfinding problems then there are quite some gamespoilers present.
The sound aspect isn’t always that ‘good’. Especially the voice-acting sometimes drops till questionable amateuristic levels (you can’t believe your ears if you hear f.e. some of the npc’s in Hommlet) but is at other times very decent. Some of the voice-sets your own characters have are likewise not always too professional but since you don’t hear them much it’s not that irritating. Aside from voice-acting there are very excellent environment sounds, monsterchills, weapon effects and atmospheric music. In the (too) sober menu you are only able to choose a singleplayer option (with then two difficulties; ‘Normal’ and ‘Iron Man’ for die-hards). So a multiplayer mode is absent, a pity because you also don’t play a normal pen and paper D&D module all by yourself, isn’t it?
Bugs are unfortunately present in every aspect of the game (see the fixlist of the patch to have a glimpse of them). Together with that comes the fact that Atari also made a mistake by removing certain quests/locations in order to get a lower ESRB/Pegi rating. Luckily for them they realised their faults after the many complaints and thus have just recently released a first patch which should remove the most remarkable problems. Although I still have to see the first patch which kills most bugs in a game…
Troika Games succeeded in their goal, they honored the original Temple of Elemental Evil module and have made use of most 3.5 D&D regels to create a complex but amusing game. The combat is very challenging and adds enough new things. Because of the different alignment-playstyles and the large quantity of classes there is a reasonable replayability. The game itself has a normal lifespan for roleplaying games, it kept me interested long enough once I knew most game mechanics. It sure is a bit difficult in the beginning for people new to the ruleset. It’s a shame that there is no multiplayer and that there still are quite a lot of bugs/minor errors present but The Temple of Elemental Evil surely had me firmly in its grip. Now where’s that next module-to-game conversion?