Yeah. That was unexpected. After the first two chapters of Icewind Dale II kind of underwhelmed me, and my brother took the TV to play Call of Duty (thus interrupting my
And get killed people will in TOEE. Indeed, what separates Temple of Elemental Evil from all it's other D&D brethren of that era is its strict compliance to the Pen and Paper rules of 3.5 edition and the classic adventure module the game is based on. That means Attacks of Opportunity, Trip Attacks, Spiked Chains and the ability of my wizard to enchant said spike chain so it's a +2 weapon that also does fire damage. I guess another thing that separates it is that nobody has heard of it. I didn't until it was ranked #1 on Dave Snider's top 10 CRPG list that was a few April Fools ago. Sadly, no prestige classes or subraces though, but I could make an argument that they go against the scale and tone that this game is trying to achieve. Oh, and it's also really hard. Partially, that difficulty comes from the part where the game doesn't convey information to the player very well except through an occasionally arcane help menu, and also the part where some very tedious fetch quests in the initial town are practically required if you want to not be one shotted by the enemies in the moathouse (keep in mind that the New Content version of the Circle of Eight mod adds an area that is meant to get the player characters to level 2 without doing stupid fedex quests. I, being a purist at least for the initial playthrough, played with the version that makes the game work). Even then, it's still harder than anything I had to do in Icewind Dale.
Indeed, if you are playing TOEE for the story, you are playing the wrong game. Nonetheless, there's a really weird dynamicism to the way the game can play out because of its roots in the module. Once you get to the temple especially, there are multiple ways anything can turn out, and as I said previously I could join the evil temple forces right now if I wanted to. This authenticity doesn't entirely work though, since this is a single player game and part of the fun of P&P Dungeons and Dragons is the social experience (on a side note, I watched the episode of Community where they played D&D. I recommend it) and so it also kind of feels dry in spots. Nonetheless, I think I prefer this game's weird humility to the stereotypically Bioware feel that made the original campaign of Neverwinter Nights such a dull affair (and really, when I use the phrase Bioware-ass Bioware game, I'm mostly referring to NWN or Jade Empire).
Needless to say, the bulk of what you are going to do in TOEE is combat, and making it a purely turn based affair and adding all these complex rules was an excellent idea. Certainly, when you are in the level 1-2 range and your party misses all the time it's not so great, but once you get to the upper echelons of the level cap, the number of things you can do that are actually effective (unlike say half the abilities in Neverwinter Nights) is staggering. Trip a dude! Do a whirlwind attack with a reach weapon! Cast Fireball! Stunning Fist? In fact, the combat is so good that I find it a bummer that it's not structured around a better game. Don't get me wrong, I think the weird adventure module thing makes it unique, but I also feel like it would do more good in a more traditional CRPG. In fact, I think this could've been the next Infinity Engine in some sort of alternate universe, except for the part where it was totally broken and unstable at launch in typical Black Isle spinoff company fashion. So, in typical fans of Black Isle Spinoff fashion, some fans went and finished the game for the developers. How nice. Everything I've heard suggests that the game is playable without the Circle of Eight mod (unlike something like Might and Magic IX, which even with a fan patch still manages to only scrape competence), but that it's a much smoother experience with it.
Graphically speaking, I think it looks pretty good. It thankfully uses pre rendered backgrounds like the Infinity Engine, which makes it hold up better than it might have otherwise. As for the soundtrack, I actually really like it. No orchestral epics, instead a lot of atmospheric techno and such. Why not take a listen?
So, thusly speaking, I think I have to give Temple of Elemental Evil my recommendation. It's not a wholehearted recommendation like Icewind Dale, Wizardry 8, or X-COM. It's a very unique and super niche game in a world where most RPGs are developed for the consumption of the general public instead of nerds with computers and a lot of time on their hands. It's fairly short, but at $6 on Good Old Games, I suggest anyone who enjoys more tactically focused CRPGs to take a look.
Oh yeah. Monks are actually good in this game. I ironically put one in my party, expecting him to be crap like Monks are in Icewind Dale 2, but the Half Orc monk in my party actually pulls his weight, unlike my Halfling Rouge. Who knew that there wasn't a single enemy who used slings in the entire game?
EDIT: So I beat the game with the "not the best ending" ending, because the things the game demands of you at the end are totally insane. You have to go through all 4 elemental nodes and in the Fire Node is a Balor who will resist most of your spells and murderize your melee dudes. As far as I can tell, I probably wouldn't be able to beat it with my current party makeup. Same goes for the final boss Zuggtmoty, who apparently becomes easier if you destroy the orb of golden death but I don't want to go on a scavenger hunt for a masterwork maul and a scroll of gust of wind. Probably wouldn't be able to win even if I did that. Ridiculous ending nonsense aside, this is still a game you should play if you are into RPGs. Who knows, maybe the additional content makes it way better?