Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Review: "Temple of Elemental Evil"

Many DND fans have been waiting for a game that can capture DnD's original tabletop mechanics. Even though Bioware came up with all those amazing DND-related RPGs like Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights, it didn't really imitate the tabletop feel, especially with their added custom mechanics and inconsistencies due to the game being inherently real-time.

Enter Temple of Elemental Evil, a game that attempts to capture the original tabletop's system. Unfortunately, it's made by the notorious Troika. Despite its admirable efforts, the game is littered with all kinds of ridiculous bugs which even makes amateur programmers go 'Why?!'. The company went on to create "Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines" with similar results (great game, bad programming) and it eventually died.

Fortunately, ToEE has a huge fanbase dedicated to fixing their games: Circle of Eight.

ToEE's radial menu neatly covers everything you need for a character

Honestly, I have never seen such an incredibly dedicated fanbase before. Most joke that Trioka should pay them for fixing their games (which they did, imho, very successfully). Not only their mods fix almost every existing bugs, they also added more levels, more spells and even went to improve the AI. Since they are so successful, I'm going to talk about the CO8-patched game instead of the vanilla version.

Back to the game, Temple of Elemental Evil is actually adapted from a pretty old Living Greyhawk adventure module for the tabletop DnD with the same name. For those who didn't know, Greyhawk is an age-old setting for DnD created by the late Gary Gygax (creator of DnD itself, god bless him). If you read the DnD Player's Handbook, you realize that most of the spells are named after famous wizards from the Greyhawk setting (Otto, Bigby, Melf, Mordenkainen, Tenser). Anyway, enough of the background-knowledge rambling...

When you start a new game, you are required to create up to 5 characters for your party. Make sure you have pre-DND knowledge, or at LEAST read the manual before attempt to create your character; DnD is a game that can really punish a badly built character, no difference for ToEE.

Crappy stats >.<

There are two ways you can create stats for your character: Rolling and Point Buy. Rolling is basically rolling 3 d20 dices (or 4 dices take best 3 results? I'm not sure which system they use) for a stat. Point Buy allows you to assign points to stats. The bad thing is that there are only 25 points, barely enough to make a decent character. If you think 25 is not enough, you can always cheat to make it to the more conventional 28 or 32. Anything above that will probably take most of the fun out of the game.

As a starter tip, I'd suggest new players to create 1 melee-tank class (fighter, paladins, ranger to a lesser extent), 1 healer (druid or cleric, bards are NOT counted), 1 rogue (only one class suited for that) and 1 arcane spellcaster aka nuker (sorcerer or wizards, bards don't nuke). The last slot can be anything you wish.

This is actually slower than it looks..

What's great about this game is that it imitates the combat on tabletop DnD. This means that ToEE is a rather slow-paced turn-based strategy game, thus it may not be suitable for some people. Every turn must be planned semi-carefully. A 'Glitterdust' spell one turn earlier or later could make a big difference.

The story is actually very simple and short. Basically you start of at some tutorial level specific to what alignment your party is, get led to a quiet town, kill some bandits at a moathouse and somehow try to enter the Temple of Elemental Evil itself. Once you are at the temple, you can either work for any of the 4 Elemental Node's priest, or just slaughter your way up the temple, eventually killing off the Big Bad Evil Guy. If you are a good party, you will naturally try to kill the BBEG. If you are an evil party, you will kill the BBEG to save yourself. So either way, you have to 'save the world'.

Fighting in town!

It really seems that the focus of ToEE is combat. Most, if not all, of the quests requires you to kill lots of stuff. Almost all the basic combat mechanics from the tabletop is implemented into the game: Defensive Casting, Total Defence, Defensive Fighting, 5-foot step(!), Improved Trip, Cover penalties(!), etc. They also managed to (fairly)correctly implement out-of-combat skills like crafting. Like the tabletop, crafting plays a very big part to the game.

In the end, this game is good for tabletop DnD who wish for a computerized true-to-the-tabletop DnD game. It's great to test out combat/party builds that are within the 3.5 Edition DnD Core Rulebooks. I would definitely say ToEE has high replayability just because of that reason.

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