I’ve been on a bit of a DnD/RPG game kick of late (or really for a while), so I thought now would be a good time to officially revisit The Temple of Elemental Evil, a PC game based on the old Dungeons and Dragons module of the same game, but updated for the 3.5E rules. ToEE was developed by short-lived studio Troika games, which was founded by some of the devs responsible for the classic Fallout. They had two other games release before folding up their tents and scattering to other game companies.
The story involves the aforementioned Temple being reopened by evil forces, and your group of adventurers has to deal with it. There are multiple ways to do that, however, including joining the Temple (good if you are an evil party). There are some side quests to do as well, and some enemies placed just to challenge you.
The nice thing about ToEE was that it was actually turn-based. So many of the Dungeons and Dragons cames out just before it had been modifying the rules to work in ‘real-time’, usually with the ability to pause, that this was a welcome change. The radial menu, shamelessly borrowed from Neverwinter Nights, worked well for what it needed to do, and could provide you a way to use all the more esoteric DnD actions like 5 foot steps. And since the game follows the DnD 3.5E rules closely, all the cheesy builds you know in your pen and paper game work here. My personal favorite is the reach weapon tripper that can hit everybody with attacks of opportunity.
And there’s good reason to min-max, at least for me there was. This game is pretty tough. Since you start as level 1 characters, it’s very easy to die if you bit off more than you can chew. Trust me, there’s nothing more embarrassing than getting killed after being swallowed by a giant frog.
No review of ToEE would be complete without mentioning the work of the fan coders at The Circle of Eight. With the game not selling well, the developers could barely afford to put out what patches they did, which barely took care of the raft of show-stopping bugs the game shipped with. In stepped Co8. Not only did they pick up bug-fixing where Troika was forced to leave off, they’ve added back a ton of content in the pen and paper module and other additional content. There’s even a conversion of The Keep on the Borderlands being worked on.
Things that suck: the dialogue isn’t great. Even with the improvements, the game can feel a bit unpolished. The interface can feel a bit spare, as I’d like to be able to glance at the inventory and see what each thing is, but it’s workable. Also, it’s hard to tell what each character can use when buying items. It can be difficult to figure out where you are going in town, a quest list with map pointers would’ve been huge. Still, for a game nearly 10 years old, it’s about what you expect. You either see enough here to want to figure it out, or you pass on by. I mean, we’re not THAT far from when game companies expected you to make your own maps and notes, right?
You might be able to find ToEE at your local discount store, but if not, the fine folks at Good Old Games have you covered – $5.99 gets you the game, and it’s ready for the amazing Circle of Eight mods right off the bat. If you’re a DnDer who never bothered with this game because of it’s buggy rep, now is a great time to give it another try.