Greyhawk: The Temple of Elemental Evil
Troika Games faithfully re-creates a genre classic
Nearly 30 years ago, roleplaying moved to the tabletop with the release of the first major pencil-and-paper RPG, Dungeons & Dragons. The Temple of Elemental Evil was one of a handful of early AD&D adventure super-modules that really helped establish the appeal of the genre, and PC gamers have been waiting for a capable adaptation of this legendary campaign for decades.
Troika’s Greyhawk rewards that patience with an extremely faithful rendition, updated to the current 3.5 Edition D&D rules.
Greyhawk couldn’t have better credentials. It’s developed by the team responsible for the original Fallout and Arcanum, two games renowned for diverse characters, absorbing worlds, and roleplaying depth. The developers also once worked on an aborted tabletop D&D mapping tool, so they’re clearly veteran D&D fans, and they had early access to the new rules to incorporate them into the game.
You play from a graphical perspective similar to that of Baldur’s Gate, with a convenient radial-menu interface comparable to the one in Neverwinter Nights, but using much clearer text commands rather than icons. Greyhawk adds a timely adaptation of the new D&D rules, while adopting some praised features of recent D&D PC hits. Fans have been clamoring for a BG clone that provides the extra roleplaying depth of the Fallout series, and that’s a pretty good characterization of Greyhawk.
While virtually every RPG since the original Pool of Radiance has been set in the Forgotten Realms campaign world, this one is set in the World of Greyhawk, and game locations are precise re-creations of their counterparts in the original module. The module’s NPCs all reappear, and frequently their personalities and backgrounds have been fleshed out in additional detail. If the module mentioned that a character was unable to join the town militia because of his diminutive stature, you’ll see that character grumbling about his exclusion and be given a quest to remedy the situation. Troika has done an excellent job of culling background elements from the original module’s skeletal framework and crafting them into a compelling setting.
In traditional D&D fashion, you create a party of up to five lowly 1st-level characters. The core D&D classes and an exhaustive range of skills, feats, and abilities have been included and updated to reflect the new 3.5 Edition rules. Troika has incorporated the D&D rules with incredibly fidelity, and done a good job of making non-combat skills useful. (Sense motive is particularly handy.) Dialogue choices vary depending on the skills, attributes, and reputation of the character initiating the conversation. The availability and resolution of some quests depends on your party’s alignment. About a dozen NPCs can join your party (to a maximum of eight members), and Druids and Rangers can also pick up animal companions.
You’re given a fair amount of latitude to determine whether your characters are benevolent heroes, selfish malcontents, or ye local neighborhood demon-worshippers. Ironically, faithfulness to the original source material somewhat constrains roleplaying opportunities, since the module was essentially an extensive dungeon crawl with only a few small towns and ancillary locations.
Though it’s in keeping with the original module’s goal of providing a single, epic adventure, the lack of an expansive game world might feel limiting to BG veterans. Likewise, a character-advancement limit of 10th level is pretty tight — though it does open the possibility for future modules with the same characters.
A core part of tabletop D&D is its tactical, turn-based combat, and Greyhawk reproduces that system in exacting detail. Even special combat attacks rarely incorporated in computer adaptations, such as grappling and tripping, are included. A handy interface tool plots the path of characters to avoid triggering attacks of opportunity, and an outline of a spell’s proposed area of effect facilitates precise targeting.
The downside to the turn-based system is that it takes a lot of time to resolve large battles, even though multiple monsters attack simultaneously. The action gets jerky in large battles, particularly when several spell effects are active.
Outside of combat, the game engine strongly resembles BioWare’s Infinity Engine. The world is divided into discrete, largely non-interactive maps that are gradually uncovered by carpet-sweeping your characters across an area. Infinity Engine games were notorious for poor pathfinding, and Greyhawk, amazingly, features even worse character navigation. Party members often can barely move a few inches without getting stuck or wandering off. You also can’t easily explore individual buildings without lugging around your entire entourage.
The isometric perspective frequently obscures gameplay, and interface keys intended to center on characters during combat don’t always work. While the painted backgrounds and monster animations are impressive, the engine is terribly sluggish. With the resolution cranked up and anti-aliasing enabled, the big battles can look absolutely fantastic, but you’ll need a real beefy system to play this way.
There are a number of other annoying bugs or quirks. NPC companions quickly encumber themselves with almost worthless loot. Characters move so slowly in stealth mode that it’s difficult to enjoy playing a Rogue. Some spell effects are buggy, and some scripting errors can result in dialogue being presented out of order, duplicate journal entries, and even the occasional broken quest.
It’s a shame that Greyhawk is somewhat hampered by its engine, since it’s otherwise a real treat for D&D fans. Recent D&D computer adaptations have typically had default settings that relaxed some of D&D’s more stringent rules, while Greyhawk always sticks to the printed word. It even offers an Ironman mode that lets you roll just once for your character stats, and offers just one save slot, so if a character dies, that’s it —which makes it more like a tabletop D&D.
Greyhawk is a game by D&D fans and for D&D fans, and it provides all RPG fans with the opportunity to experience one of the genre’s classic adventures.