I play old games: Temple of Elemental Evil

Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -

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

 Dave Snider Approved!
time to play Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, still in progress), I started playing this game, formerly a member of my "I wish I was capable of playing these games" list, and am only a few hours away from completion. Yeah, I know it's a bad habit of writing about games before officially finishing them, but if I wanted to I could get one of the lamer endings right now. Of course, I'm not going for that ending. I'm going for the one that requires me to go through all the elemental nodes and kill Zuggtmoty, which should be 3 or 4 hours at most, depending entirely on how much I have to restart because someone got killed. 
 
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. 
 
 I guess this game is Troika's shining achievement, unless Vampire: The Masquerade is somehow better. Which I doubt.
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?
#1 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -

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

 Dave Snider Approved!
time to play Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, still in progress), I started playing this game, formerly a member of my "I wish I was capable of playing these games" list, and am only a few hours away from completion. Yeah, I know it's a bad habit of writing about games before officially finishing them, but if I wanted to I could get one of the lamer endings right now. Of course, I'm not going for that ending. I'm going for the one that requires me to go through all the elemental nodes and kill Zuggtmoty, which should be 3 or 4 hours at most, depending entirely on how much I have to restart because someone got killed. 
 
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. 
 
 I guess this game is Troika's shining achievement, unless Vampire: The Masquerade is somehow better. Which I doubt.
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?
#2 Posted by Jimbo (10001 posts) -

Also the absolute pinnacle of PC game packaging.

#3 Posted by Mento (2810 posts) -

Man, a 2003 release counts as an old game? *counts on fingers* Damn, that's 8 years ago so I guess so.
 
I think the CRPG is the only genre that got LESS complex as the years went on. Besides maybe turn-based strategy games, but they tend to have a "complexity" slider that casuals stay way on the left of. I usually only play Master of Magic on Easy because that mode eliminates all the headache-y parts and leaves me with my Super Rampaging Monster Army Funtime Mode in peace.
 
If you want some to play an oldish, goofy CRPG/Strategy-Sim with some complexity and a tenuous connection to D&D modules, you should try the Birthright game next. I wouldn't say it was great, but it's certainly interesting. Or Descent to Undermountain, because that was bizarre. I'd hesitate to recommend paying for either though, even with GOG's nominal fees.

Moderator
#4 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -
@Mento:  Technically, the newest title I've played for this blog thing was Metal Gear Solid 3, which came out in '04. However, I tend not to go past anything that came out the last console generation. I guess I also blogged about Alpha Protocol, but that's because it was a RPG with Black Isle roots and also relevant. Unsurprisingly, it also got a lot more views and comments than my blogs usually get. 
#5 Posted by Raven10 (1925 posts) -

I remember when this came out. Doesn't seem that long ago. I guess it sorta was though. Glad you enjoyed it. The CRPG really has died down in the past ten years. Kinda sad.

#6 Posted by jorbear (2517 posts) -

I really need to play this game still.  
:(

#7 Posted by mewarmo990 (838 posts) -

I recently got into pen-and-paper D&D, so all of BioWare's old (and best!) games suddenly have a ton of appeal for me. I always wanted to try this one, in particular.

#8 Posted by Hailinel (25205 posts) -

I'd like to play this game, if only for the fact that it's very unlikely that the D&D group I run with will ever have interest in a Temple of Elemental Evil run in the near future at least.  A balls-hard module from the old Greyhawk D&D universe?  That's something I'd love to try.

#9 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -
@mewarmo990:  This game was actually developed by Troika, a now defunct studio that was founded by some of the main people behind the original Fallout. They made two other games besides TOEE. Much like this game, both were broken and unfinished at launch. I haven't played Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines yet (and will not until steam bothers to lower the price from $20, which I find insane for a 5 year old game), but I recommend you steer clear of Arcanum, their first game, having played far more of it than I probably ever should have. Nonetheless, Baldur's Gate and its sequel are both classics, but the first one especially is a little rough in this day and age even with mods. In fact, you probably couldn't go wrong with any D&D game released in that era. Except for that Pool of Radiance game that nobody remembers. Apparently that's crap.
 
@Raven10: I'm apt to agree with you. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic was my first real exposure to that genre, and going back to it now was a painful experience for me. It's not that it's a bad game so much as it is really simple and kind of for idiots, while simultaneously making me realize that that and the first Neverwinter Nights are the exact games I can blame on where CRPGs are today. 
 
@Hailinel: If you play real P&P, then you'll probably have a deeper appreciation for it than someone who's only exposure to 3rd edition is Neverwinter Nights (although, this is the first game to use 3.5, marking the general transition when Rangers started being cool instead of just Fighters with "Favored Enemies"). Still have to warn you though: this game is kind of crazy.
 
@jorbear: Yes. Yes you should. Actually, I fully acknowledge that this game isn't for everybody.
#10 Posted by mewarmo990 (838 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater:  I played VtM:B and Arcanum. I got a friend to gift me Bloodlines thinking it would be a Source engine shooter, and boy, was I wrong. Still, it was fun until I ran into some game-stopping bugs and I haven't looked back since. I've only barely played Arcanum and it gave me a bit of a Fallout feel, though the UI was very confusing at first. And NWN... failed to live up to my expectations. Maybe I've just gotten spoiled on more current games.
 
So the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series, then? I am into the lore enough that I won't mind playing old games, but occasionally their very 'oldness' makes them difficult to play (poor UI design), and I hate that. What about Planescape Torment?
#11 Posted by Raven10 (1925 posts) -

Well the personal computer just isn't as viable as it used to be with piracy so rampant. So most games are made with both PC and consoles in mind, and console gamers of this generation expect action in their games, not strategy. By the way, I prefer the old Sandro look. Was this from IV? I don't remember when they changed it.

#12 Posted by Skald (4370 posts) -

I miss the old-school RPGs. Mass Effect just doesn't scratch the same itch, you know? 
 
Anyway, Temple of Elemental Evil was a weird game, but it was also really cool.

#13 Posted by Ghostiet (5336 posts) -

Try the Circle of Eight mod. It really makes the game better.
 
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is okay, as long as you use the custom patches. Without them it's a mess, really. The adaptation of the Vampire system is janky, but it's really Goddamn fun.

#14 Posted by endaround (2147 posts) -

Did the mods fix the terrible path finding?  I got this game for like $5 and played a bit but since they were such sticklers for rules traveling across the village took forever.  Add in that half the party got stuck on terrain and I just couldn't take it.  ToEE always seemed liek a quick job Troika took on when VtM:B was delayed because they were dealing with that fancy new engine from Valve. 
 
Also NWN2 is a much better a single player game than NWN.  Its a full implementation of the 3.5 rules set.

#15 Posted by niamahai (1394 posts) -
@mewarmo990:
" @ArbitraryWater:  I played VtM:B and Arcanum. I got a friend to gift me Bloodlines thinking it would be a Source engine shooter, and boy, was I wrong. Still, it was fun until I ran into some game-stopping bugs and I haven't looked back since. I've only barely played Arcanum and it gave me a bit of a Fallout feel, though the UI was very confusing at first. And NWN... failed to live up to my expectations. Maybe I've just gotten spoiled on more current games. So the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series, then? I am into the lore enough that I won't mind playing old games, but occasionally their very 'oldness' makes them difficult to play (poor UI design), and I hate that. What about Planescape Torment? "
Planescape Torment will rape your eyes in 2011 with its default 640x480 resolution. 
I recall there was mod to make the resolution higher.
#16 Edited by dr_zero (9 posts) -

I still have this in storage (the original boxed version) to play. So many games so little time....
 
@ niamahai :
There is a good summary of how to improve the Planescape Torment experience at: 
http://thunderpeel2001.blogspot.com/2009/01/planescape-torment-fully-modded.htm

#17 Edited by Egge (448 posts) -

A great and characteristically perceptive description of TOEE; I agree with pretty much everything except the lack of wholeheartedness in the recommendation. Games like Wizardry 8 (and maybe even IWD to some extent) may provide a more "epic" adventure but - as you yourself point out - it's only in the very specific context of where the RPG scene as a whole is currently at that such a grounded, sensible and faithful D&D experience as TOEE could in any way be described as "super niche" within the genre.

#18 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -
@mewarmo990: Planescape apparently has amazing writing but dull combat. However, I haven't played a whole ton of it mainly because it's fairly intimidating and I feel like I would need a large chunk of time to play through it. I guess I'll get into it in earnest this summer. However, as seen by my previous blog I find Icewind Dale to be pretty awesome, and I don't need a blog to tell you that I think Baldur's Gate II is in a lot of ways the pinnacle of CRPG game design. The first Baldur's Gate is fun and all, but there are certain aspects of it that irk me.
 
@Raven10: It's the Heroes III incarnation of Sandro. Generally speaking, it's my go-to avatar but I occasionally switch to Heroes I and II Sandro when I feel the need to mix things up. My favorite hero from those games, regardless of the fact that Sorcery isn't a very good specialty. Much like the rest of the art design in that game, Heroes IV Sandro's portrait sucks.
 
@Ghostiet:  I believe I mentioned somewhere that I was using the CO8 mod (Just not the NC version). I know well enough that any game developed by an offshoot of Black Isle is in need of some modding or patching before I play it.  
 
@endaround:  Ehhh... Kinda? The pathfinding still isn't amazing. Really, the biggest trial of anyone's patience in that game is going to be the first hour or so when you are just running from house to house in Hommlet doing all those stupid fetch quests. And I'm aware that Neverwinter Nights 2 is supposed to be a much better game. I bought it on steam, but my computer probably isn't good enough to run it. I guess I could try to, considering that my computer shouldn't be able to play King's Bounty either and I've sunk 20 hours into that game. 512 MB of RAM somehow manages to pull through on occasion.
 
@Egge: Even in the era when it was released, the tail end of the Renaissance that started with the original Fallout and Baldur's Gate, Temple of Elemental Evil was still considered a really weird game. My lack of wholeheartedness partially comes from the difficulty, and partially because of the way its structured, which while it would make sense in the context of a social P&P experience, is kind of insane for a single player game to have. It's very much a double edged sword in that regard.
#19 Posted by Raven10 (1925 posts) -

Ah. Well Sandro from 1 and 2 is the true Sandro design imo. In 2 he was even on the box. I still think 3 is the best Heroes game, but I kind of prefer the art in 1 and 2. And as you said, IV didn't happen as far as I'm concerned. I'm worried about what they are doing with the series with Might and Magic: Heroes VI. Kind of wish they had made a straight up Might and Magic RPG.

#20 Posted by endaround (2147 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: My computer should be able to run rings around NWN2 and I still had to downgrade the resolution.  Now my computer isn't the best in the world  (quad core 2.5, 8 GB, Geforce 9800 GT) but should be enough to pump out NWN2 you'd think.  But it looks to scale fairly well.
#21 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -
@Raven10:  My opinion on Heroes IV has softened over the years. Sure, the art design is horrible, all the terrain themes sound the exact same, and the AI is retarded in multiple ways (even with the Equilibris mod), but I can appreciate a lot of the ideas it presented, even if a lot of them didn't pan out so well. Something similar could be said about Might and Magic IX, except that game is still not good regardless of how you look at it.  
 
@endaround:  I have 512 MB of RAM in my computer, which reaches the minimum requirements, so I can run NWN2 if I lower the settings most of the way. It's kind of baffling how ugly that game looks in proportion to how much of a system hog it is though. But even though I know I can run it, I'm probably going to finish some other games first.
#22 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

Wait, you haven't played Vampire: The Masquerade? The hell? I thought you'd have played that by now. Then again, you said nothing of it in my anime blog. Also, the subtle changes to Giant Bomb's looks are kinda weirding me out.

#23 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -
@Video_Game_King:  It's still $20 on steam and I really don't feel like resorting to piracy. I'm sure it will come to Good Old Games eventually, considering that the other Vampire game that isn't an RPG is on there.  And Vampire the Masquerade is a roleplaying system, so why would I mention it in your anime blog?
#24 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: 
 
Remember the video? The game/system/whatever just looks like something you'd probably play.
#25 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -
@Video_Game_King:  You're right. It is something I would play. But I'm not paying $20 for a 6 year old game everyone admits to be deeply flawed.
#26 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: 
 
Would I? *checks* Not really. Looks like I emulated a game from 2005. Yay.
#27 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

It took me a while to warm to IWD2, but maybe it was the game I was specifically looking for to fill a gap because at one point it hit all the right notes and I was very pleased. I don't expect everyone to share that opinion, though. And yeah, Monks feel a bit broken to me. I want to kick mine out of the party.
 
Your Neverwinter articles that follow I can't really participate in since I never could stomach the first game enough to get past the first part.

#28 Posted by Shaden (11 posts) -

Check out www.co8.org. They have modded ToEE to make it bug free, lets you level to 20, and added tons of content.

#29 Posted by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -
@Shaden said:
" Check out www.co8.org. They have modded ToEE to make it bug free, lets you level to 20, and added tons of content. "
Once again, I explicitly mentioned somewhere that I used the Circle of Eight mod when I played through this game. Not the New Content version, and I deliberately set the level cap to 10, but I wouldn't have even touched this game had I not known of an obligatory fan fixpack.

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