The Temple of Elemental Evil

Only proper patching can kill Temple’s nefarious bugs.

10_1Back before the dawn of time, around 1985, Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons published its first adventure, using the D&D 1st Edition ruleset. The Temple of Elemental Evil was a romp through vileness populated with the worst sort of fallen priests, undead hordes, and tax collectors. The computer game with the same name should have been a glorious return to the past, a wonderful blend of old and new that would leave both veteran players and new blood who’ve never seen a pen and paper RPG equally impressed. If only. Delayed and pushed back, the game was ultimately released in a somewhat sorry state.

One of Troika’s trademarks, and tenets of real role-playing, is the idea that you should choose your own path and not be shanghaied by the designers. Consequently, the first choice in starting a new game is picking an alignment for the party as a whole, to reflect its overall moral compass and determine how the game starts. Goodie-two-shoes hero types might start out by attempting to save a merchant caravan under attack by bandits, while less scrupulous adventures might begin by torching a small country village for fun and profit. Whether your ultimate goal is world peace or just the biggest piece for yourself, all roads eventually lead to the Temple itself, and all that is entombed within.

Creating your intrepid party is handled in a manner that is likely to please just about everyone. For old-schoolers and power gamers, characters’ stats can be rolled as many times as you can stand to click the reroll button in search of the ultimate badass. For those wanting a faster, more meticulous way, a point-buying system is also available, as well as a full stable of premade characters to choose from. Parties can house up to five player characters, although three more NPC companions can be added during play for a grand total of eight. Though there is a hard experience cap of 10th level, there’s plenty of room for characters to grow from scrawns to studs and the cap doesn’t feel too limiting.

In bringing the rules of Elemental Evil up to date from Gygax’s 1st edition to Wizard of the Coast’s latest version 3.5 and translating it to the computer, Troika has managed to create one of the best and most faithful renditions of D&D style turn-based combat ever. Considering that a large majority of the game involves hacking and slashing your way through the darkened corridors of the Temple, this is a very, very good thing, assuming of course you like turn-based combat. The mostly 2D engine sometimes becomes difficult in the Temple’s narrow corridors where things tend to pile up, and the graphics lean a little toward the dark and muddy side, but these are fairly minor complaints.

4_1The biggest hurdle for some people is learning the D&D rules (about 150 pages of which are included in the manual) if you aren’t already intimately familiar with them, as knowledge of the battle system is imperative if you hope to succeed. A pop-up panel showing all of the rolls made behind the scenes helps tremendously, for newbies and vets alike, and learning the ropes is well worth the effort. With a wide variety of monsters to fight, and a considerable arsenal of (mostly) well-implemented feats and spells to learn for your characters, the combat is a real joy.

Combat alone doesn’t make a role-playing game, however. Ironically, The Temple of Elemental Evil’s open design makes it feel somewhat disjointed. Though quests and story elements are available if you go searching for them, getting to the crux of what’s really going on can be more like pulling teeth than unraveling a tantalizing mystery. A system of skills like diplomacy, bluff, and intimidation are supposed to allow for a deeper level of dialog interaction, but there often aren’t enough options to make it feel like you really have control of the conversation, and it’s sometimes difficult to arrange the right person with the right skill to be the one speaking, not even counting the quests and conversations that are just plain broken.

15_1Which brings us to the game’s greatest flaw, a smorgasbord of bugs, glitches, and blatantly missing features. Whatever motivated the release of the game in this state, it is excruciatingly clear that it was not finished. Granted, most of the bugs aren’t game killers, but they are annoying. From the game’s rich magic item crafting system laid low by elements that simply don’t work properly, to bugs with spell effects and durations that can cripple characters, forcing you to kill them and resurrect them at significant expense to return them to full strength; these lows build up.

Perhaps most shocking are the missing magic item descriptions, leaving you with only the name of the item to derive its function even after the cost of identification is paid. While even RPG novices are likely to figure out what a cure light wounds potion does, only the most intrepid of nerds will know what to do with items like Keoghtom’s Ointment. Such is the fate of The Temple of Elemental Evil, a game that could have been, and still may be, great, but exists now as a disappointment and a warning to be careful what you wish for.

System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, Windows 98

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