You'll be glad/distressed to hear that this will be the last blog on Troika's second of three projects (did they know they'd only make three games before going under? Is that where the company name comes from?) The Temple of Elemental Evil: A Classic Greyhawk Adventure. The game is based on one of those notoriously difficult modules for the pen & paper D&D, that alongside Tomb of Horrors (which would make an amazing game if FromSoftware wants to make one with their Dark Souls money) would have gamers in the 80s cowering in fear whenever the DM pulled it out of his nerd bag (which I guess would be a rucksack with d20 stickers on it?) to play through it that session. Seems a bit weird to wait until the fourth blog to talk about this game's pen and paper roots, but hey. "But hey" I say. Like that excuses everything.
So, allow me to lead with this showstopper and lose the respect of almost all of you (the remainder of which never had any such respect to begin with):
The core of the game is its second dungeon, the eponymous Temple of Elemental Evil. You have a really schizophrenic four-floor dungeon full of mini-temples to the four elements, random rooms full of furniture and bugbears just standing around waiting to attack people, weird gardens with ladytigers, storage closet areas with gelatinous cubes (well, where else would you put the vacuum cleaner?) and many other things I don't want to spoil for people who haven't played the game yet. It reminded me a lot of the bonus dungeon in the Baldur's Gate 1 expansion: Tales of the Sword Coast. Not just because it kept on going, but that each floor would be graphically and thematically different and filled with crazy shit and encounters with creatures that have no business living in immaculate, furnished rooms under a church.
Then you have the nodes, where the game really decides to fuck around with you. The nodes are entirely optional: It's basically ToEE's equivalent of those super difficult optional dungeons that you'd want to progress through to get the best ending, or at least make the final boss a complete pushover with the rewards you earn. The above Balor was one such superboss that could be found in these nodes, along with a bevvy of slightly insane NPCs who have been trapped in the nodes for weeks or more. Hey, just like the wizards on that frozen island in the Baldur's Gate 1 expansion: Tales of the Sword Coast! What? You can also recruit a demonic Charisma Carpenter, if hot tanar'ri sorceresses with very few spells that prevent you from being able to sell shit to vendors is your deal. Works for me!
What amazed me most about the Circle of Eight stuff, besides the fact it rarely fixed anything (or fixed so much that I can't even imagine what the original was like) is how they were able to create so much additional stuff with the art assets the game had lying around in its coding. [Disclosure here: ArbitraryWater insisted on a level cap and no fan content to make it a more "traditional" contest between VGK and I. Though I may have broken those rules with the Balor thing above. So let's all pretend that never happened. Okay?] It makes me wonder if a really industrious team could somehow acquire those same assets through legal means, boosting them with their own contributions, and create more 3e modules for the Indie market. A pipe dream, alas, as I can barely follow who owns the video game rights to D&D any more.
That's it for my whole ToEE undertaking. VGK will continue talking about getting killed by low level creatures over on his blog and ArbitraryWater's been talking about ToEE's fan additions in more detail on his latest too. No doubt others will take up the mantle of challenging ToEE and then talking about it. But as for me, I'm all done with this great, Snider-approved CRPG. No more super-tough, quasi-medieval fantasy for a while. Next up: Dark Souls!
I leave you all with this final ToEE comic, all Stand By Me epilogue style:
And now, a different thing:
Continuing the whole "what sets apart the Tales games" series from last time, I'm adding one more this week for Symphonia. Perhaps the best Tales game? Maybe. I haven't played Vesperia yet. Or Legendia. Or Abyss. I am an expert on this series, everyone.