An evil demoness founded a cult dedicated to exploring evil in its most elemental forms. This cult was based in a temple just outside the village of Hommlet in a vile shire known as Nulb. Soon, this cult rose to rule the region with tyranny and grim times of chaos and violence ensued. Hard-fought battles were waged and the war was eventually won by the good armies of nearby lands. The temple was razed, the villains were imprisoned, and order was restored. The temple itself faded into distant memory. Until now…
- A classic RPG based upon the famous Greyhawk adventure and using the D&D 3.5 ruleset
- Parties of up to 5 adventurers and up to three NPCs with 9 starting points, depending on your alignment
- Tons of different monsters, feats, spells and magical items
Recent computer RPGs like the Baldur’s Gate series and Neverwinter Nights, while strongly based on the traditional pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons rules, all made quite a number of alterations to the core rules. They had their reasons, too, as a complete interpretation would probably put off a lot of casual players. Undaunted by these concerns, Troika has made the brave move of bringing the newly published 3.5 edition D&D rules to the PC without adulteration. They’ve also converted a classic first-edition module, The Temple of Elemental Evil, to these new rules.
Compared to the Infinity Engine RPGs, and even to Neverwinter Nights, there’s not a lot of plot to Elemental Evil. Long ago, a war between the evil forces of a temple near the village of Hommlet and the good armies of the lands nearby ended when the temple’s masters were imprisoned. The temple fell into disrepair, and all was quiet for years. But now bandits are roaming the roads around Hommlet, and forces are starting to converge on the temple. This is where your party comes in, tasked with destroying this ancient evil.
That’s about all there is to it, really. Don’t expect BG-style epics, character interactions or even particularly many side quests – this is a classic dungeon crawl adventure. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course, if the combat is up to scratch, and thankfully Troika’s interpretation of the 3.5 rules has been excellently done. You’ll notice this from the very first character creation screen, and if you’re not already familiar with abilities, skills and feats, or you don’t know the difference between a wizard and a sorcerer, be prepared to spend some time digesting the 170-page spiral-bound manual before getting into the game.
The game opens with one of a number of vignettes, based on your party alignment. Lawful parties, for example, get to unselfishly rescue a caravan from a bandit attack. Chaotic parties, in contrast, get to slaughter a village full of innocent peasants for kicks.
True to the pen-and-paper game, Elemental Evil is turn-based in combat, and has an action point system to balance movement, combat and other activities. If you want an overview of the combat mechanics, you’re really better off flicking through a copy of the D&D rulebook. Suffice it to say, there’s no easy difficulty level, no way to turn off friendly damage, and basically, no concessions to novice players. You’ll either sink or swim on your own, and although you should be able to get through the combat in the opening vignettes with your eyes closed, you’re entirely likely to get wiped out in Hommlet if you pick a fight with the wrong person. This game is nothing if not uncompromising.
You can take a party of up to five characters into battle, and hire up to three non-player character followers from the game’s selection. Most of them have some conditions on adventuring with you, such as a flat fee or a share of the loot, perhaps. And here’s where the game starts to miss a human dungeon master. If you have one of these followers in your party, they’ll take their share of the loot before you get a look-in, and they won’t give it back. They’ll sell it next time you visit a merchant, but there’s no way to barter with them or to suggest a different division of the loot. There’s also no way to prevent them loading themselves down until they’re immobilised by the weight of all the junk they’ve hoarded.
Also, when visiting a merchant, these followers are apt to sell most of their belongings, including backup weapons and even quest items. While you can buy them back from the vendor, there’s a price premium. Whether this is a bug or not is debatable, but it’s no less irritating for that. You’re likely to decide the irritation of keeping followers is too high a price to pay for their occasional usefulness.
Another odd issue concerns the game’s “identity” spell. Like other RPGs, it can be learned by your spellcasters, or cast for a fee at a shop. Unlike other RPGs, though, the spell costs your spellcaster money to cast, to cover the cost of its ingredients. Unusual, but not a real problem – where the real problem lies, however, is in the fact that the spell doesn’t give you anything more than the proper name of the item. While in some cases it’s obvious what it does — like a +1 longsword or a ring of invisibility — if you don’t already know what, say, a cloak of elvenkind does, then the game won’t tell you! A bug or a deliberate design decision? We’re not sure here, either.
There’s no such question mark over some of the other problems with the game. It’s intolerably dark on certain video cards, requiring a third-party gamma-correcting utility to be playable. There are an unhealthy number of scripting problems with some of the quests, and some problems with the combat system can cause your characters to attack NPCs unintentionally. Problems with the graphics can cause you to lose player characters or monsters behind scenery. This, in short, is a game in need of a patch.
TOEE does bring the Greyhawk world to life beautifully. The maps are huge — overwhelmingly large, on occasion — and full of tiny animated details like leaves blowing in the wind, or fireflies at night. The character and monster models, while small, are delicately animated and look very lifelike. It also earns kudos for its totally convincing cloth modelling; you’ll be equipping your characters with cloaks and robes just to watch them flow. The spell effects are imaginative, and really make the combat look exciting, which is not easy for a turn-based game. It’s certainly head and shoulders above the Infinity Engine games, with the possible exception of Planescape Torment.
Ultimately what we have here is an excellent back-end and a beautiful graphics engine, with a combat-heavy, plot-light module and a few nasty bugs. One thing’s for sure – Troika is definitely on the right track with Temple of Elemental Evil. With an expansion pack (or maybe sequel) that has more plot depth and variety, these guys could be up there with Bioware. And if they can fix the niggling problems, it’ll be a first-class RPG.
This game is rated with a 71/100 score in Metacritic.