When I first heard that the classic Temple of Elemental Evil D&D module was being made into a computer game, I was enthralled. This was a module that took about an entire summer vacation to complete, back in school when a summer vacation meant an entire summer off, and not just a week or two. Starting at first level, our entire group was at least fifth by the time we were done.
So of course I was ready to return to Greyhawk and find out if everything was as I remember it from those many years ago.
The biggest change that most gamers will notice upon opening the box and going through the rule book is that the computer game follows the new D&D 3.5 edition rules. Obviously the original module did not, but this change is not necessarily a bad thing. Quite the opposite really. The new rules make character creation and leveling easy, and since I have been playing in a pen and paper group using the new rules, I was pretty used to them anyway.
The interface for the game is very much like most RPGs these days. You get a top-down view of the action, like Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale. However, unlike Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, there is a lot more 3D animation in Temple. Butterflies flutter with the breeze, a giant water wheel lazily turns and smoke rises in great white plumes from the many houses in the first village you find. Your characters also look 3D. As you change their outfits, they change their appearance, with different color cloaks or robes trailing behind them as they travel.
Monsters too, look amazing. I remembered something about frogs being bad around the moathouse, one of the first dungeons you will find. But when a giant frog burst out of the marsh and entangled my cleric in its tongue, everything became clear again. I had to crush the frog before it swallowed my party members!
Another thing that will set Temple apart from most other computer RPGs is the fact that while traveling around the world is done in real-time, once combat starts things become turn-based. And I am not just talking standard turn-based either. The combat engine is down-right like a pen and paper game. Everyone gets an initiative roll, and then the order of battle, players and foes, is stacked across the top of the screen.
When one of your characters gets initiative, you can perform an action based on their skills. Mages can cast spells for example, or your fighters can move and attack. Spell effects look amazing too. Whether it is the pink snow that gently falls once a sleep spell is cast or the long arc and explosion following a fireball, you will love the fact that you can cast cool-looking and effective spells.
When a character scores a good melee hit, blood splatters in all directions. Trust me, you will love smacking opponents. Their death scenes are pretty cool too. Some just flop over, some are nailed to the ground by your attack and a few do little theatrical death dances before toppling over.
Accessing your skills is extremely easy, thanks to a radial menu. You right click on one of your characters and you will see basic groups of skills or items around their picture, like spells, inventory items or special skills. When you select the one you want by putting your mouse over it, you will get a second, more detailed list. You keep following this tree till you get to the specific object you want to use or the skill you want to perform.
If you are not a regular D&D gamer, you can still have fun with Temple. Since most of the game mechanics go on in the background, you can play the game without ever knowing much about the rules, though you will get more out of it if you do. There is even a tutorial dungeon that is actually fun to play. I would recommend that everyone go through the little solo dungeon adventure. It will explain almost everything you need to know about the interface. Kudos goes to the development team at Troika Games for not forgetting about a tutorial level.
The only complaint I have about Temple is that it is a little buggy at times. Followers – NPCs that you convince to join your party – get to loot dead bad guys before anyone else. They often take the most boneheaded things, like suits of armor that they can’t wear or weapons they can’t use. Then they refuse to give them up for party members that can use them. Also they tend to overload themselves.
Inside the temple, monsters also spawn inside walls when you camp sometimes. This puts you in combat mode, even though you and the monster can’t fight or get at each other, which is bad because combat mode goes so much slower than travel mode.
A fan group called Circle of Eight developed a patch that fixes the follower looting bug, but won’t help with the wall-dwelling monsters. Atari says a patch is due out any time now, but they better be right because it has been a month and if the message boards are any indication, players are getting a bit angry about the slowness of the patch release.
The Circle of Eight patch also adds a whore house back into the game, which was originally put into the title but disabled, probably to keep their Teen ESRB rating. Remember that Troika’s other major game, Arcanum, was given an M rating because of a house of ill repute inside the main town. Considering there is a potential follower inside the chicken ranch inside Temple, I think leaving it in the game is a good thing, but you will need the COE patch to enter.
Temple of Elemental Evil does a great job overall of recreating pen and paper combat, and mostly sticks to the plot of the original module too. For an RPG with this type of interface, it is by far the best in its class. I often play at 800 by 600 instead of 1024 by 768 mode, just because I like to see this beautiful world zoomed in a bit.
I am going to give Temple of Elemental Evil five GiN Gems for their treasure chest, but take a half gem off for both gameplay and value, based on the bugs. This still gives them a perfect score average, but gamers take note that this will only really be a 100 percent hit once they get all the bugs squashed.