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Default All The Little Things: The Temple Of Elemental Evil

March 9th, 2020, 03:54
Have you ever wondered why The Temple of Elemental Evil caused/causes so much controversy? Why it is both very playable and at the same time so very unplayable? So familiar and yet so alien to its Infinity Engine predecessors?

Well, it's all the little things.

This game came out in 2003, but I didn't give it a play until 2011, though I didn't use any community mods, just the out-the-box version.

I didn't particularly enjoy it, though I did have enough interest to stick around until the end-boss battle, such is the unique appeal of D&D. I never completed that final battle and I think the reason for that was that I'd missed 50% of the temple and somehow just stumbled on the end-boss to early. Whatever, it felt like an end and I haven't played it since.

So this year's run through is kind-of like playing a new game. This time I'm going to try and be meticulous. But I'm still going to avoid the community mods and just go with the version GoG is selling, at least for the first run.

With 10 years added RPG experience I should be able to appreciate it more for what it is than what it wasn't.

So I'm about 12 hours in now… and I'm only just finishing up the first introduction village and a couple of very small combat zones Though, to be fair, about 4 hours of that was the tutorial and character creation, which this game does excellently.

But then the game starts:

And oh bejezuz, that fucking village of Hommlet, it's sooo fuckiiiing teeediosoooo.

It's essentially an extremely large map of just NPCs. The only addition to a large map of purely NPCs is the fact that the developers decided to give every single one of them their own house. Well, to be fair, some houses have 2 or 3 NPCs in them.

There's the elders, the bosses, the woodcutter, the spinster, the milliners, the wainwrights, the brewers, the blacksmiths, the weavers, the tailors, numerous farmers, the carpenter, the priest, the hires, the innkeeper, the druid, the labourers, the teamster (oh yes, D&D pseudo-medieval fantasy land has… teamsters? That is so modern American so oddly out of place), traders, spies, randoms.

And they still found room on the map to put not only empty buildings, but buildings that have zero game function that you can't even go in. And you have to walk round all of it. Just hour after hour of walking in and out of houses talking to people. Once every half an hour a convo offers a skill-check dialogue option, just to make you feel like you're actually playing an RPG.

Only after you've carefully investigated the entire kitchen sink of every NPCs can you finally start working through the dozen quests they've given you… All of which revolve around going back to various NPCs houses and talking to everyone AGAIN. And AGAIN. OMG, my will to go on living is quickly ebbing away!

And this is made even more tedious by the fact that there is literally nothing else to do in this village. Of all these properties I counted a grand total of 2 interactable chests and one lootable bookcase. Nothing else. Nada. Zip. Not even lore titbits. No cellars with rats. No secret passages or rooms. Press TAB to highlight interactable items the hints said, TAB nothing, TAB nothing, TAB nothing, TAB nothing, the entire fucking village. Tell a lie, there's one goblin you kill at one point. Well, that's… something different?

And the real tell that something went drastically wrong in the development of this game comes when one uses the map-flags to try and keep some kind of track of all these gazillion houses and NPCs. I only used one flag for each house and I'd run out of flags before I'd even started exploring the last third of the settlement. Christ, even the game itself is sweating under the pressure of so much filler dialogue.

To make matters even worse, the satisfaction of completing these dozen 'chatty' quests is a whopping… 850 XP… not even enough XP to get a small team of five characters their first level-up of a measly 1000 XP. So much for getting a level before going monster hunting. I had to go monster hunting to get a level. And when I did go monster hunting I one-shot four skeletons with Turn Undead in about 10 seconds for 230 XP. I mean, FFS, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!

The myriad dialogues are made even more unsettling by the fact that they seem to adhere to no set rules on what dialogue options stick around and which ones vanish into the either when you decide which reply to give. Some NPC's options just vanish as soon as you've said hi and made your first reply, others you can constantly cycle the same options. The joy of sweat beads in trying to decide what is the most important dialogue option to pick first… just in case.

Worse still, the quests that don't involve you being a chatty busybody and actually require you to go adventuring all have this dialogue option that states [go there immediately]. "Can you go kill these spiders for me", "sure", "cool, I'll give you 10 XP, no gold and no items soon then [go there immediately]". Holy crap, imagine the many poor unsuspecting sods that chose that option the first time they played it! Have you ever seen that in a game before? Who would choose that option? Why would anyone choose that option? Why is it an option?

On top of this, Goddamn but the game's dark. I'm literally squinting at the screen. I turn the brightness up to maximum and it's just about bearable. Ohhhh, the game has day and night cycles. Because a game where you're going to be spending most of it in a big dungeon really needs that day and night cycle to be authentic and interesting, right? I mean, there must be a whole 300 XPs worth of quests that utilise the fact that people might be in different places at night time. Totally worth the hours of headache inducing squinting.

To make matters worse, the fog of war clears at a size disproportional to my screen. Even after I changed the resolution from 800 to 1200 the FoW was still clearing off-screen. It's always so great clearing FoW that you can't see, really helps you keep track of the areas you haven't seen yet. But wait, I can always pan the camera around, because it's so fun moving 10 inches, stopping, panning round 360, stopping, moving 10 inches, panning round 360, moving 10 inches, stopping, panning around 360.

And I'm sure I didn't notice it, but there doesn't seem to be a 'fix-camera-on-party' option, you know, that always keeps the party in the centre of the screen. Nope, you have to constantly walk your guy to the edge of the screen, pan across, walk, pan, walk, pan, walk, pan, walk, pan. Which also makes combat area wandering a tactical nightmare, especially combined with the over-extended FoW clearing as anything between 1 and 6 enemies are heard triggering somewhere off-screen.

Now imagine doing all these hours and hours of boring NPC busywork and technical frustration to the tune of:

loading…


Which is some amazingly great ambient music. But chronically sleep inducing. In fact, the music is something no-one really talks about and something that not even the many fixes and mods change. ToEE just has the wrong music for the genre. It sounds very much like the modern Shadowrun games. It's ambient, electronic, industrial sounds. It no doubt works for some people, probably people that love sci-fi and post-apoc stylistics. But for fantasy D&D? Whoops. It sounds wrong. Again, don't get me wrong, it's superb music, it's just in the wrong place.

The above sound is one you'd use for that weird quirky place where you're not sure if everyone's alright and you later discover the town's had a twilight zone alteration or is under the influence of a secret cult. It's not the sound of a bustling central hub of gazillions of hard working NPCs, trader, adventurers and etc etc etc. It's like they thought "how can we make it EVEN MORE boring, I know, let's make the music dull as dishwater as well, it'll match the turd-brown aesthetic perfectly". And oh boy, is the village all just soooo… brown. Even when there's no brown!



And finally just about just the village, all the traders you meet? Most of them have a gazillion items of clothing that has zero value, either financially or statistically. Aside from the spell-seller, there's literally nothing to inspire you to go out and find some gold. I'm just talking about at this stage of the game here, I'm aware that most good loot comes from adventuring, at least in this game, but most games usually have at least a few teaser items in the shops to wet your appetite!

And on the topic of itemisation, are they for real that the leather boots have exactly the same stats as the chain boots? That can't be real. The descriptions for both say AC: 0. Nope, this has to be a glitch. The descriptions for all the items are piss poor. Assuming you can even find the item descriptions. Right clicking on an item doesn't provide an item description. Hovering over an item doesn't provide an item description. Using the help button provides an encyclopaedia that tells you about loads of stuff, but even that doesn't want to tell me about boots.

So in order to get the full details of a spell you have to click into the help page, click the link to spells, scroll for the spell you want to know about, click the spell. Instead of just, you know, clicking on the spell.

To make itemisation even worse they went with the 100gp to identify items route. And I mean just casting the identify spell, not even the shop-identify route. Sure, thems the rules of p&p 3.5ed but then the computer game versions don't tend to include every rule. They went with keeping this one sadly, which is not a problem later but at the start of the game is painfully tedious. Especially when you realise you have to cast identify just to know what a purple potion is, let alone a nice quest reward set of magic boots. "Thanks for doing my quest, here's your reward: -100gp and a mediocre magical item".

Luckily things start to improve once the combat starts. Well, for five minutes at least. Even the second combat area seems to have been made in a surreal twilight zone development office. Maybe it was in the original module and I'm blaming the wrong people? But, whoa, that escalated quickly. on a small grass map that has zero interesting features beyond small grey rocks, the player is presented with a couple of small groups of skeletons, then, 10 inches further on, zombies and skeletal gnolls, then, 10 inches on, a freaking bear and a hill giant.

In the space of one small starter map you go from easy pickings to really quite challenging to freakin impossible OMG there must be a way to cheese this. And I nearly did get the bear, but then the game's reputation for crap rolls came into action. The bear, while it hits like a truck, is very weak at defence with just a paltry 14 AC. I have a Halfling using a sling who's to-hit is already +6 at level 2, so the dude just needs to roll a 8 or above for a hit… going for the bear he rolls a 3 and a 6 and a 4 in the three turns before I give up and reload again. And I can't actually remember a single time so far in the entire game when a bullet has caused damage, and yet the rogue's bullet stock has dwindled from 40 to 12 somehow.

A few more reloads later and… sod it, I'll come back for the bear and the giant later. And all the combat so far has been of the awkwardly disappointing kind. Nothing I can really get my teeth into if you know what I mean. 1 Goblin, pointlessly easy, batches of skeletons, pointlessly easy due to turn undead, then almost too hard with the zombies and gnolls where it was more a matter of attrition, like 20 rounds with everyone waiting for a 15+ roll and then hoping that the landed hit actually did some damage, really tedious and unsatisfying semi-cheese type stuff, and then the impossible reloading.

None of these combats have made me really feel like I'm making full use of my characters. Perhaps this will change when I get back on the main questline.

As an additional note that really shows the age of the game: in this game the money is divided up between copper, silver, gold and platinum coins. 10 gold is worth one platinum. Which is funny because currently gold is worth twice as much as platinum. Now there's a hold-over from 70s d&d that no-one bothered to update

And it all makes me wonder, did I not like it back in 2011 because I was unfairly comparing it to better games? Or am I still going to end-up with the exact same experience I had last time: disliking everything except the core beauty of some fantasy d&d.
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March 9th, 2020, 08:54
Thanks for the post. It brings back some fond memories. I too played it awhile after it's release.

The coin system is standard D&D, been that way since 1st edition as far as I can recall. I remember that from the Gold Box games. I think boots are standard AC 0 in the earlier editions as well. I can't remember exactly how crafting works in the game but I think you pay money to enchant items and that is the main cash sink in the game.
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March 9th, 2020, 12:11
Great write up, thanks as it was on my list of games to finish.

I remember getting only so far into the game back upon release and then just stopping. I have no recollection of all that tediousness at the start but may well have subconsciously blocked it from my memory.
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March 9th, 2020, 12:49
Originally Posted by lackblogger View Post
Which is some amazingly great ambient music. But chronically sleep inducing. In fact, the music is something no-one really talks about and something that not even the many fixes and mods change. ToEE just has the wrong music for the genre.
Yeah, the music is what always puts me off this game - that Homlet music makes you sleepy and combined with boring runs between npcs, I found it hard to continue. Though once I made deep into the Temple before lost my will to play.

On another hand I think D&D TB combat is made excellent here, especially if you know what you are doing!
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March 9th, 2020, 16:08
Originally Posted by lackblogger View Post
Have you ever wondered why The Temple of Elemental Evil caused/causes so much controversy? Why it is both very playable and at the same time so very unplayable?
What controversy. It's playable allright, the question is - was it fun?
It made an awsome d&d ruleset adaptation on PC while at the same time the story (read: dungeon master) was barebones.
Now imagine playing it a few years after BG and PST. It felt like a tech demo.

I'd never recommend it to a random person.
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March 9th, 2020, 19:16
My guess is that the story is so relatively weak because it really is an early game within the (A)D&D universe. There, skill checks mattered, not story. War games just aren't about story.

With TOEE I combine 3 memories :

- NPC Party members taking often the very best stuff for themselves.
- A German conversion called GULP - yes, that's the name of that mod. It was meant to fix all that what was never fixed for anyone outside the English-speaking market.
- Atari, former Infogrames, refusing to get out patches for translated version of the game. They just didn't finance any.

DDO has a TOEE module as well, and I heard that the Neverwinter MMO has one, too.
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March 9th, 2020, 19:47
I think there was an issue with the publisher not wanting to pay for all the localization so they kept the dialogue down.

Also, I recall Village of Hommlet came out years before Temple of Elemental Evil due to some internal issue. The sequel was made or played but it took forever to see it in print. As result "Village of Hommlet" was considered poor but it was one of the few modules for low level out there. There seemed to be an equation of quality and level for some dumb reason. It was also one of the few "town" games.
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March 9th, 2020, 20:17
I've played this game through twice but never got into the additional content available, and I'm not likely to ever play it again but I did have a good time when I did play it. Good memories and a solid interpretation of the rules by the developers.
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March 9th, 2020, 23:09
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
My guess is that the story is so relatively weak because it really is an early game within the (A)D&D universe. There, skill checks mattered, not story. War games just aren't about story.
That makes no sense considering that several D&D based games that had a lot more story had already been released by 2003. (The SSI games, BG1 and BG2, Neverwinter Nights, etc)
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March 10th, 2020, 02:30
It has a weak story because it’s based on the D&D module with the same name that has a weak story.

Some of the best cRPG D&D combat to date though. IMO.
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March 10th, 2020, 09:40
Originally Posted by bjon045 View Post
I think boots are standard AC 0 in the earlier editions as well. I can't remember exactly how crafting works in the game but I think you pay money to enchant items and that is the main cash sink in the game.
The boots thing I find especially irksome because the game starts all your character out wearing leather boots and gloves. Suggesting that these are important things to wear for some gameplay reason. As if if one immediately sold them at the first opportunity then the game would punish you in some way.

And then you see in the shops all this massive variety of leather/cloth/chain boots and gloves, all with seemingly zero use or adventuring value, and it makes one think, yes, there must be some gameplay reason for this, I shan't sell them all just yet. And the lack of any mention of them in the in-game encyclopaedia doesn't help in the slightest.

I mean, was it the developer's intention to unnecessarily over-encumber characters out the gate? Were they assuming that players would be outraged if their character didn't start out dressed in a certain way. In most other games the character starts out naked according to their inventory, but they're not, they're just assumed to be wearing all that pointless junk and they aren't given a weight punishment for that.

The crafting aspect is one I've heard about but not seen mentioned in-game yet. I'll both keep an eye out for it and specifically look for it next time I have a session. Apparently crafting wands of Identify is a godsend, though why that wouldn't still cost 100gp per cast is beyond me.
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March 10th, 2020, 09:47
Originally Posted by joxer View Post
story
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
story
Originally Posted by JFarrell71 View Post
story
Originally Posted by sakichop View Post
story
Super off-topic derail there @joxer

If you want to start an extremely retarded discussion about how much story is enough story then please start a new thread
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March 10th, 2020, 11:20
I think the game’s graphics always appealed to me and made me want to play this game. It is still on my list and the settings is rpetty captivating and unique as well being during the spanish conquests I believe of latin america. or inquisition or something.
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March 10th, 2020, 12:02
Originally Posted by sakichop View Post
It has a weak story because it’s based on the D&D module with the same name that has a weak story.

Some of the best cRPG D&D combat to date though. IMO.
That's what I originally meant : It was probably focused much more on combat and on skill checks, not on story.
And you kind of proved my theory to be right.

Originally Posted by lackblogger View Post
If you want to start an extremely retarded discussion about how much story is enough story then please start a new thread
Thank you for proving my theory as well.




Another memory of the game : I absolutely loved its help system then.
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March 10th, 2020, 16:20
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
That's what I originally meant : It was probably focused much more on combat and on skill checks, not on story.
And you kind of proved my theory to be right.

Thank you for proving my theory as well.
It's quite tiresome having to keep repeating oneself, particularly to the same people, so it's always so saddening to see so many people bite onto one of @joxer's deliberate attempts to derail via something he knows will garner another repeated discussion.

A quest = A story

A story /= A quest

D&D is about questing in an epic fashion.

Epic = mythology

Epic /= 500 hours mega saga

Epic /= story

The classic example of an old Greek story, AKA, an 'epic adventure', and many of those old tales, is one where the 'hero' is tasked to find something - that is it, that is the story. What happens in between starting looking and the eventual finding is usually just a collection of individual 'adventures' often described as 'trials' that have no bearing on the story other than to interrupt it's completion and provide a sense of 'adventure'.

Whatever @joxer's interpretation of what a story is is anyone's guess and as per usual with him it's going to be a case of unexplained catchphrases that most sensible people would ignore anyway.

It's a shame @Eye has gone, as it would be great if someone with her expertise could hive off all this 'common-sense' stuff into its own thread, perhaps titled "So why doesn't Joxer understand the concept of stories in RPGs".
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March 10th, 2020, 16:31
What attempts.
The keywords in my post aren't the story, but:
- what controversy
- playable allright
- fun?
- tech demo
- random person

What I do or don't understand is pretty much a rethoric question that needs no separate thread as it's almost always on deliberate basis.
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March 10th, 2020, 16:33
Nope, well over 50% of your post quite clearly references story, either intentionally or by misinterpretation brought on by incredibly lazy terminology. Hence, you know, why the responses to your post was all that 'story' crap.
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March 10th, 2020, 16:41
Sorry, I didn't bother to read replies afterwards.
If still unclear to some, to me ToEE felt like AC1. A tech demo not for everyone that has potential for an awsome sequel. While it happened with AC2, ToEE died (most probably because license decisions by WotC).
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March 10th, 2020, 17:16
Originally Posted by joxer View Post
Sorry, I didn't bother to read replies afterwards.
If still unclear to some, to me ToEE felt like AC1. A tech demo not for everyone that has potential for an awsome sequel. While it happened with AC2, ToEE died (most probably because license decisions by WotC).
I have no doubt that reads like complete off-topic gibberish to anyone who is not familiar with your particular syntax.
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March 11th, 2020, 12:28
I'm sure you feel you have a reason for the personal attacks, but as it does not matter, I want you to stop it.
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