The Temple of Elemental Evil Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Atari
Developer:Troika Games
Release Date:2003-09-16
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
There's a been a lot of arcane discussion on various boards about the new 3.5 D&D rules, and their partial implementation. Partial it may be in TOEE, but it adds a level of combat detail that's unparalleled in PC RPGs, at least since Origin Systems' GURPS-based Knights of Legend (1989). There are an array of feats, and a host of defensive and offensive actions that make any battle seem so much more extensive than a simple (cast/hit and kill/die) of the past. Attacks of Opportunity, charges, feints, trigger actions, the Coup de Grace, and aiding another party member (which involves giving them a +2 to their attack rolls) are just some of the examples of what TOEE has to offer. I can't emphasize this point enough, particularly given the heavy emphasis on hack-and-slash in TOEE.. For some players, it may just make the difference, and be sufficient to gain their commitment to the title whatever other reservations exist.

Troika at one point considered implementing prestige classes, but that was dropped before the game appeared. However, you can select from a host of gods for your clerics to worship, providing them with domain as well as generic clerical spells. (Other NPCs you create can select gods, too, but in my play time I noticed no advantage to doing this.) Spells in some cases require ingredients: each cast of Identify requires 100 gp, while a paladin's Bless Water uses five pounds of powdered silver (worth 25 gp). Fortunately, the game world offers plenty of opportunities to make money, and your party starts out life with a goodly sum. Unfortunately, the game doesn't inform you when a spell uses something you have on hand. In my first few sessions, I conveniently forgot about the new Identify cost, merrily sleeping and casting on various unknown inventory items until a dark red message flashed too briefly to be read and my spell fizzled. After trying it half-a-dozen more times, I finally realized I'd just spent 400 gp, the entire contents of my party's purse. My fault, no doubt about it; but still, couldn't TOEE have managed the simple task of letting me know when an item money, in this case was vanishing from my party, through my own actions?

This brings up the matter of that which hinders or aids your interacting with TOEE's world: the interface. With its radial menus that shoot out spokes and sub-spokes for party member activities, I can't claim it's particularly pretty; and it's certainly more clunky than BG2's efficiently grouped rows of spell and activity icons. I'm not quite sure why those colorful, well chosen icons were ignored in favor of text, or why you weren't given the opportunity to chose between text and icons, or perhaps both. (Options in TOEE are extremely limited.) Our brains, such as they are, recognize images far more swiftly than we interpret language. As a result, it's much quicker to note and click on spell icons for your mage to learn, than it is to read through a list of spell names for the ones you want. It's also more pleasing to the eye.

But it has to be said that the text-based radial menus are both thorough, and effective unless you forget that you can right-click to bring up a radial menu for any PC in the middle of the screen, and call one up at the edge near a character. Then, the spokes shoot out of view. Why this wasn't automatically compensated for before release must remain a mystery.

TOEE's quests are uninspiring, to put it mildly. The succession of quests you receive in Hommlet and Nulb may be extensive, but they're simple and mindless, involving no more decision-making than asking B to do something for A. Far worse, still, is the fact that in Hommlet's case they're almost all linked together in a daisy-chain. Not only are you asking B to do something for A, but B requires something from C, who in turn needs something first from D, who can't do it until she receives an object from E, etc. More than a half-a-dozen quests are joined in this fashion. It might almost rank as parody, if it wasn't done so half-heartedly. There's no personality to the various individuals you encounter as you slog over the pretty terrain and no running or waypoints you can set in TOEE to make travel that much quicker.

Difficulty-wise, Troika's quests are ever-protective of our low intelligence. One character says he can't perform a quest-based action, for example, despite having a scroll in the very same room where he remains that can do what is required. You find it, use it; boom: instead success! Quest completed: what a genius! Another character promises to religiously convert (a quest goal, as if you didn't know) when he sees a (miracle,) and does so after you heal a relative of his with a scroll as though he'd lived all his life in a town that lacked mages, clerics, monsters, potions, wands, etc. While these are some of the worst examples, they are not atypical of quest plotting in TOEE. They represent an imaginative void, a complete absence of ideas, and suggests that Troika put all their development time and resources elsewhere. The results are a game whose visuals and combat system draw me into their illusory world, and whose writing then kicks me out with complete disbelief.

Linearity is another issue, at least, for some of us. Of course, all RPGs, whether pen-and-paper or computerized, are ultimately linear, but some games (and some DMs) do a great job at disguising that fact. Wizardry 8, Morrowind, and Troika's own Arcanum offer enormous lands to explore, revealing key, plot-advancing quests only when you employ specific triggers. Others titles, like BG2, cleverly hit you with a large variety of carefully gradated quests as soon as you leave the relatively linear trainer dungeon, all of them beautifully justified in context. However, TOEE is based on an extremely linear module, and Troika did next to nothing to hide that fact. In this respect, it's like the Icewind Dale series, though some of the Icewind Dale characters leap out at you from the game, as potent in their flavor as the endless, well-structured battles.