Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eye of the Beholder II: Summary and Rating

           
Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon
United States
Westwood associates (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released in 1991 for DOS, 1992 for Amiga, 1993 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 2 January 2018
Date Ended: 6 February 2018
Total hours: 43
Difficulty: 3.5/5 (moderate-hard)
Final Rating: 40
Ranking at Time of Posting: 231/282 (82%)
      
Eye of the Beholder II is a generally-pleasant but sometimes-uncomfortable fusion of Dungeon Master-style real-time gameplay and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules. It isn't significantly better, worse, or even very different than the first Eye of the Beholder, but of course both games were released in the same year and there wasn't a lot of time to change things. Because of that, as I wrote this entry, I found myself wanting to simply cut and paste entire paragraphs from my Eye of the Beholder summary. Here are two that still work nearly unchanged:
       
I'll say right away that Eye of the Beholder is not a better game than Dungeon Master, and if it rates higher than Dungeon Master on my GIMLET, we'll know that the GIMLET is broken or I rated the previous game too low. What Beholder gains through NPCs and better quests, it loses in fundamentally worse character development, combat, magic, and puzzles. I'm sure it's possible to blend Dungeons & Dragons rules with an action dungeon-crawler, and Beholder is an important step in that direction, but it's not the destination.
          
But let's not start with too many negatives: Beholder is still on the "recommended" side of the divide. From the opening animation . . . it promises and delivers a solid dungeon crawl that lasts just about the right amount of time for its content. The puzzles tend towards too easy . . . which is regrettable, but better in my book than games where the puzzles tend towards impossible. I enjoyed the process of mapping, carefully annotating certain squares for later return and investigation, and methodically uncovering the mysteries of each level.
          
But I note that in my Eye of the Beholder summary, I took a look at a speedrun and found someone who finished it legitimately in 8 minutes. That wouldn't be possible with the sequel. The developers quite literally tightened the maps, making it impossible to avoid many of the monsters that you could simply dart around in the original. Moreover, many of these unavoidable foes are quite hard and require at least most of a living party to defeat. The record for #2 seems to be nearly 2 hours, which is practically an eternity compared to the original. The player cheated by maxing some character statistics and all hit points, too.
      
No matter how much you plan, there's no way around this guy.
      
After I finished, I consulted the game's official cluebook to see what I had missed. Some highlights:

  • I missed a few items, mostly trivial, because I didn't deliberately fall down every pit.
  • There was a secret corridor in one of the dungeon levels that I didn't map, but it doesn't seem to have had anything it. It was just an alternate way to get around.
        
Almost this entire level is made up of pit destinations that I didn't map.
         
  • The cluebook is quite blatant about supporting the combat waltz. On dealing with mind flayers, for instance: "Engage it in melee, swing once or twice, dodge, and then prepare to swing again." Similarly, with beholders: "Always try to attack a beholder's flank." Finally, at the end: "Remember, it is better to nickel and dime a powerful opponent to death rather than try to fight him face-to-face."
  • There were two locations with resurrection ankhs off the main level. I don't know how I missed that. Each is capable of 3 resurrections, so I could have had 6 instead of just 3.
  • I missed a Ring of Feather Falling in some niche.
  • I could have gotten unlimited Spheres of Fire from a niche near the end.
  • The cluebook places Insal the thief on the penultimate level. You're supposed to encounter him "if the party freed him from his prison on catacomb level 1." I didn't find him despite freeing him, but he wouldn't have had the stolen items anyway. I can't believe I just blithely let that long sword +5 go without reloading.
  • Fighting my way through all of those mind flayers would have rewarded me with a crystal ball and "visions of the party's past and/or future." There aren't even any cool items in the mind flayers' chambers!
           
I loaded an earlier save and ran past the creatures to check it out. This wasn't really worth it.
            
  • The Amulet of Life would have resurrected a character. The Amulet of Death, if used, would have killed a character.
  • The Starfire Scepter would have indeed protected me from Dran's attacks. I'm skeptical whether it would have protected enough to truly be useful.
       
I'm a little annoyed it didn't clear up some of the item mysteries, such as why I found a stone cross so close to the endgame.

Finally, as an anonymous commenter noted, if you try to close a door in the dragon's path, he actually plows through it, breaking it. It doesn't slow him for a second.
           
Oh, yeah!
          
Without reference to the first game, let's see how close the GIMLET gets. I think it will fall somewhere between I and Dungeon Master.

1. Game world. Darkmoon tells a decent but not spectacular story. It's a little goofy that the big bad's name is an anagram for "dragon danger," and its attempts to tie to the first game are forced. However, I like that you encounter Dran at multiple points along the way--that he seems like a growing menace rather than just an endgame afterthought like Xanathar in the first one. Then again, the first game had a slightly more interesting world with the Drow and dwarves occupying the dungeon. I'd say it's a wash. Score: 4.
       
Frequent encounters like this kept a sense of tension throughout the game.
       
2. Character creation and development. AD&D2 allows for satisfying but not amazing character development. You get some hit points, maybe an extra attack, maybe a new spell level. This is all good, but games with skills and perks do it better. You don't gain many levels during this outing--not unless you grind a lot--and it feels like the game could be beaten by the starting characters. Getting a new spell level is always fun, but it just doesn't seem crucial here the way it does in other games.

There are no plot reasons to change up your selection of races, sexes, classes, or alignments, but it would be fun to periodically try the game again with a challenging party combination, like all mages or all clerics or something. Score: 4.

3. NPC interaction. I always like games that let you find new joinable NPCs while the game is in progress, but I was a bit disappointed that they didn't have more to their stories or more to say. At the beginning, it seemed like some of them would have plot-related dialogues or their own personal quests to complete, but this idea fell apart fast. You don't even get speeches from newly-resurrected NPCs the way you did in the first game. Score: 3.

4. Encounters and foes. This is a category that improved from the first game, I thought. The enemies are more interesting here, with a variety of strengths and weaknesses that factor into combat tactics. Non-combat encounters were more plentiful and offered some basic role-playing options. I also thought the puzzles were more challenging and more interesting, rising to Dungeon Master quality in a few locations. Score: 6.
        
Role-playing options like this were a welcome addition to the game.
        
5. Magic and combat. Also slightly improved. The higher-level spells offered more advanced options in combat and spells in general seemed far more necessary here than in the first game. As much as I defended the "waltz," I like that it failed in so many places, since you face a lot of enemies in narrow corridors and the developers slightly adjusted the enemy AI. The final level and the absolute necessity of bobbing and weaving around the enemies was a little disappointing, and I'm mystified at the lack of certain AD&D spells--"Resist Cold," "Resist Fire," "Enlarge," "Fire Shield," "Globe of Invulnerability"--that might have made a face-to-face fight possible. Nonetheless, the overall improvements to the magic and combat systems were steps in the right direction. Score: 5.

6. Equipment. The "Improved Identify" spell did wonders for this category, although I was disappointed at the relative weakness of items found in Darkmoon in comparison to the first game, and I don't feel like I ended much more powerful that I started. I also wish the game had been clearer as to the distinction between quest items and non-quest items, and while it's nice to know the names and pluses of items, we still lack any true statistics or descriptions of the inventory pieces. I also think the developers missed an opportunity to enhance replayability by randomizing some of the item locations. Score: 4.
        
We're sure bringing a lot of junk into the third title.
         
7. Economy. Still none. I know that some of you will say that the game doesn't need it, and that the absence of an economy isn't the same thing as a "bad" economy, and so forth, but I maintain that my experience would have been enhanced by a little stall in the forest area where I could sell excess goods and buy rations, potions, and scrolls, and perhaps save up for a few high-value magic items. Score: 0.

8. Quests. There's a clear main quest, but Darkmoon lacks the side quests of the first game as well as the special level quests. It only has a few side areas. Score: 3.

9. Graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are superb for the era, even more detailed than the first game, and both sound effects and ambient sounds were top-notch. On the other hand, I had more problems with the controls than the first game. When you're frantically clicking around in combat, the proximity of the weapon icons to the character's name, which moves his position in the party, is more than mildly annoying. I also didn't appreciate the frequent freezes in the middle of combat while I was trying to swap equipment or open spellbooks. I can't remember if these were present in the first game, but if so, they didn't bother me as much. Overall, there was a little too much dependent on the mouse and too little on the keyboard. Score: 6.

10. Gameplay. When I started playing, the game felt very nonlinear, but what seemed like multiple choices for staircases, doors, and portals soon collapsed into a fairly linear experience, far more so than the first game. I also wouldn't call it very replayable, except (again) to try challenging party combinations. On the positive side, the level of difficulty and length of play were both perfect, although keep in mind that I say that having imported my characters and their equipment. Score: 5.

That gives us a final score of 40--one point lower than Eye of the Beholder! That was a surprise. But looking over my review of the first game, it makes sense. While I appreciated the encounters and combat more here, Darkmoon gave up some elements--including better NPC interaction, a couple of side quests, and a less-linear approach--that led to an accumulation of 1-point losses.

Even with my usual caveats--40 points is reasonably good on my scale, less than 20% of games have achieved it, etc.--this rating is bound to be controversial if you love this style of game. Before you comment angrily, please reflect that a near-perfect dungeon crawler in the Dungeon Master style is not the same thing as an excellent computer role-playing game generically. My GIMLET is naturally designed to produce high scores in the kinds of games I prefer, which include a full set of RPG features (including an economy), meaningful character development, tactical combat rather than action combat, and lots of role-playing choices, side quests, and nonlinear gameplay. I do agree that Eye of the Beholder II is a good exemplar of its particular approach.
            
Were separately-sold Day 1 cluebooks as controversial in 1991 as Day 1 DLC is today?
           
Scorpia reviewed Darkmoon in the April 1992 Computer Gaming World. (I note with some amusement that the same issue has a review of Bloodwych, which I played nearly 6 years and over 200 games ago. That highlights how little progress I'm making.) It's not one of her better reviews, full of spoilers and going into unnecessary meticulous detail about a handful of enemies. But she agrees with me on the interface issues, quoting a friend in saying, "It's only real-time for the monsters." She bemoans the freezing that accompanies spellcasting and swapping equipment. She also complains about something that I didn't think to complain about but was a problem nonetheless: the need to use the mouse in combat and the keypad to move forces you into an awkward position in which your left hand is on the right side of the keyboard, meaning that your arm is either at a weird angle or you're off-center from the computer monitor. Overall, it's clear that like me she prefers games that eschew manual dexterity for more cerebral combat tactics.

She talks about the improved ending, contrasting it with the "drop to DOS" ending of Eye of the Beholder, which I've read repeatedly and absolutely isn't true. Yes, there's more of a cinematic here, but I didn't think it was so much better than the first game to deserve extra points. In the end, though, I find it hard to disagree with most her final paragraph:
         
Overall, Eye of the Beholder II: Legend of Darkmoon is a more substantial game than its predecessor. There is more to do, a bigger variety of critters to fight, and a larger area to explore. Graphics are a bit finer than in EOB I. Sound effects are about the same. Some of the problems with the earlier game (poor ending, lack of save positions) have been fixed, although the combat interface remains a sore point. If you enjoyed the first game, you will definitely like this one.
         
Dragon gave the game 5/5 stars despite having some complaints about the lack of an automap and support for all sound cards. Again, I have to note that a magazine dedicated to tabletop role-playing seems to praise everything but tabletop-style mechanics in its reviews of computer games. Nonetheless, the review by Patricia Hartley and Kirk Lesser does a good job evoking some of the more visceral elements of Darkmoon, which I experienced but perhaps didn't blog enough about. There is a wonderful sense of anxiety as you creep down a corridor, not knowing what to expect around the bend, wondering where those mysterious sounds are coming from, hoping that something hasn't respawned in the corridor behind you, literally jumping out of your seat when something attacks you from the rear. As much as I love the Gold Box titles and prefer them to Dungeon Master-style gameplay, I do admit that they generally lack this delightful trepidation.

If you want to get angry at a review while still agreeing with its score, check out the July 1992 Amiga Computing. This is easily the worst-written review I've ever seen in a gaming magazine. With only six precious columns, the reviewer wastes 3 of them blabbing about everything but the game, and not even making sense in his extraneous dithering. He expresses contempt for the entire RPG genre, bemoans that there are too may RPGs out there, describes Eye of the Beholder II as more of the same old thing, and then inexplicably says, in the final paragraph, "On balance, Eye of the Beholder 2 is the best RPG around." Where did that come from? He bases his opinions, judging by the five screenshots, on the first 10 minutes of the game. Every time I think I've gotten used to the lack of journalistic quality in 1990s Amiga magazines, someone manages to lower the bar even further.

Darkmoon is so well known, of course, that there are plenty of modern takes on the game, too. Corey "Dingo" Brock offered a retrospective in 2011 on Hardcore Gaming 101. He makes a good point on the relative ease of navigation in the sequel, with fewer teleporters and redundant stairways and more hints about secret door locations. My particular approach to playing and mapping doesn't really favor those changes, but I can see why some players would prefer them. He also notes the increase in encounters with role-playing options. In contrast, I can find nothing to agree with in GameSpy's brief description of the game in a 2004 history of RPGs. There were times that the game was difficult, but it did not feature an "insane level of difficulty." And I guess I'm just jaded from modern games, but most reviewers seem to be far more in love with animated introductions and conclusions than I am. I mean, I suppose I prefer a cinematic to plain text, but only barely. I'm more interested in the quality of the story than the way it's presented, and while watching the mages cast lightning bolts at Darkmoon until it vanished was cute, it made about as much sense as Khelben's ignorance to the danger posed by Dran Draggore. 
      
Did they send it back in time!?
          
Unfortunately, I read ahead in Brock's review and noted some of the problems with Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor (1993), but that's on the other side of a lot of fantastic 1992 games. It's somewhat ironic to see the failure of the third game blamed on Westwood Studios' absence from game development. The company started out shaky ground with titles like Mars Sage (AKA Mines of Titan, 1988), BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception (1988), and Hillsfar (1989), all of which produced more than one moment of baffled rage in my reviews. But I have to admit they improved their game for the Eye of the Beholder titles, and I look forward to seeing if the upward trend continues in the Lands of Lore series (1993-1999).

And with that, believe it or not, we are at last done with 1991. It only took 2 years and 9 months. We'll have the retrospective coming up next, but I can tell you the "Game of the Year" nominees right now: Disciples of Steel, Pools of Darkness, Might and Magic III, Fate: Gates of Dawn, and I'll make a case for Eye of the Beholder, but don't get your hopes up.


115 comments:

  1. German magazine Powerplay spoiled the ending with screenshots of the ending sequence in their review. They got a lot of hate mails for his.

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    1. Yes, but you can hardly see it :P

      http://www.kultboy.com/index.php?site=t&id=3472&s=1

      Also interesting: Difficulty is supposed to be "easy".

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    2. Thanks for sharing that site, I was searching for a site where old magazines would be stored and readable. I already knew a french one ( http://www.abandonware-magazines.org/ ), now what I'm missing is an english or american one

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  2. I don't think you really thought they were, but to answer your question: No, day 1 hintbooks were never the slightest bit controversial.

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    1. They would have been controversial with me. You'd think the process would go: a) design a tough game; b) hear that a lot of gamers are having trouble with it; c) write a hint book to help. Releasing one immediately suggests that they deliberately made it hard just to make money off a hint book.

      Of course, in this case it's eminently playable without one, but I'm sure some games' difficulties were deliberately planned to sell hint books.

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    2. There have always been persistent rumors that some of the Sierra adventure games sold more cluebooks than the games they were cluing. If Corey Cole reads this, I wonder if he can confirm/deny?

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    3. Well, I'm no Corey Cole, and I have no knowledge about Sierra's sales, but it certainly is imaginable that more cluebooks were sold. After all, in the early 1990s, copying a game was actually significantly easier than copying a book. So, some folks would have pirated the game, but bought the cluebook.

      Damn, now you've got me thinking. I wonder if this was ever a consideration regarding difficulty: this idea that hey, even if people pirate our game, if it's challenging enough we'll still be able to recoup some of the costs through hintbook sales.

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    4. To echo what the others have said, cluebooks were a big business. I do not have the link immediately to hand, but your colleague over at the Digital Antiquarian had a post where they pointed out that if Infocom cluebooks were priced higher than paperbacks ($10 in the 1980s?) and would have made the New York Times bestseller lists had such things been allowed.

      I am fairly sure that I recall reading Corey say that hint books outsold the games as well. I can't find that text today, either.

      I do not know what hint books for cRPGs looked like, but I know that by the early 1990s, adventure game hint books (especially Sierra ones), were frequently quite nice. The Space Quest IV hint book, for example, not only had the clues but also a bit of history of the game, pre-production art, and an interview with the developers. I just got my hands on the Infocom clue book for "Hitchhiker's Guide" (1984) and I was disappointed by just how utilitarian it was.

      Another sign that clue books were big business: there were 3rd party ones. I have a hint book for several Infocom games, as well as two more for Space Quest games that were not officially promoted by the developers.

      This is something I'd like to research more on the history of, but buying a lot of these old books is quite expensive. Surprisingly few survived to be picked up on Amazon or eBay for the type of money I'm willing to pay for them.

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    5. There was quite a bit of controversy regarding hint books, as I recall. On the bulletin boards I read anyway. The gripes were twofold: the was always the suspicion that the gane might include an unfair puzzle or two to sell the hint books. The second, bigger, gripe was that the encounters were deliberately too hard in some games without tricks revealed in hint books. There was also a lot of resentment that in-game mechanics, including what items actually did, were only revealed in hint books.


      Teens and children seemed to like hint books more than adults. I recall seeing teens automatically purchase them together, which always seemed odd to me. I did buy a few, but not often. There was no internet then, so if I coyldn’t Get a hint from a friend or in a BB I might buy one.

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    6. In '93 I bought a boxed set containing PoR, CoK and GttSF, with cluebooks for each. The cluebooks were fun.

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    7. @Joe Pranevich
      GOG bundles the cluebook in with just about every game they have that had one published. Ultima IV, Savage Empire and Martian Dreams are all free so there's nothing stopping you from getting some free and legit books.

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    8. In Germany, playing a lot of RPGs in the early 90s, I was not even aware there were such things as official hintbooks. I remember seeking out hint sections in gaming magazines, once even buying a certain special edition with full Goldbox walkthroughs, and buying poorly printed walkthroughs from (in retrospect shady) third-party mailorder services though.

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  3. Regarding character development and equipment, I find this game better with a fresh party than a transferred one. The issue is that EOB1's items are much too strong. If you do not start with those, the equipment curve for EOB2 is pretty good. I don't think the sequel should be judged on the fact that the original has a friggin' +5 sword lying out in the open :)

    What I like about the game world in the first couple levels is that it feels very consistent and tied together. What I dislike about the later levels, particularly the final tower, is that the encounters are completely nonsensical. For instance a small giant is turned into a tree, gives you a coin, then disintegrates - why on earth is ANY of that happening? I'd like to think that if the game had more of the former and less of the latter, then it would have scored better.

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    1. I get what you're saying, but does a +4 weapon really make THAT much difference above a +2 weapon? At most, doesn't that maybe translate to one extra swing in combat?

      I do agree with you on some of the final encounters. Perhaps I should have made that a factor.

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    2. It does. With a d20 throw on the THAC0, +4 will land 10% more hits than +2, on average. There is a natural 1 for guaranteed miss and a natural 20 for guaranteed hit, so math is a more complicated, but extra +2 to hit still does a lot. 2 extra points of damage on every blow is very welcome too.

      Although, that is much more tangible in games with actual tactical combat, i.e. GoldBox and Infinity Engine games.

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    3. It's actually even more tangible. Say you normally hit about 50% of the time. Adding 10 percentage points on top of that by going from +2 enchantment to +4 enchantment? You just got a 20% upgrade on your hit rate, AND your damage increased.

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    4. Does a +4 weapon really make THAT much difference above a +2 weapon? That's subjective, but I suggest that if you find it a sufficient increase for other games based on D&D rules, then it should also be a sufficient increase here.

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    5. Α +4 weapon is significantly stronger than a +2 one in that it confers a bonus both to the to-hit roll and to damage.

      As a dungeon master back in the day, the way I used to understand the relative value of a good weapon for a player character is that (simplifying, here) for a warrior a +1 weapon is even better than getting a full level up because that's when they would get a +1 in their to-hit chance, but they also get a +1 in damage that they wouldn't naturally get.

      A fully decked out party with +5 weapons or whatever is basically operating at a threat level 5 levels above what they would with standard armament, when it comes to melee.

      To further complicate, in ad&d second ed. on which this game is based, non-martial classes gain hit bonuses at a slower rate to fighters. It's not +1 at every level up. So for a priest tanking in the first row with full plate mail, if they're equipped with a holy blessed mace +2 or something they're basically as good as a fighter in the front row with a normal longsword of many levels below them, because they get the near equivalent chance to hit, more free damage AND they also cast spells.

      On top of that, a lot of the loot in dungeons and dragons isn't just a + weapon, they also have additional magical qualities, like the vorpal blades and the like.

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    6. Just to satisfy myself, I ran through the calculations assuming a fighter with an unmodified THAC0 of 10, and an enemy with 60 hit points and AC of 0.

      -Non-magic longsword kills in an average of 27 hits.

      -long sword +2 kills in an average of 15 hits

      -long sword +4 kills in an average of 10 hits

      -long sword +5 kills in an average of 8 hits

      So you are correct. I was underestimating the combined effects of higher damage and a higher chance to hit.

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  4. I think the pinnacle of 1st person, grid based, dungeon crawlers is achieved with Dungeon Master 2, I can't think of anything as good/original done after it

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    1. Even Legend of Grimrock 2?

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    2. There's nothing original (or good) about LoG2, tbh. I got it recently, still relies on the square dance and on a very archaic interface. Played a couple hours, gave up on the first boss.

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    3. That's good to hear. I had this idea that DM2 had a bad reputation for some reason.

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    4. DM2 was a disappointment to DM enthusiasts because it came very late (1993). When it was finally released, the graphics weren't up to the standards at that time. Also the game was a bit shorter and easier (remember we had 4 years with CSB by then) than expected and had some annoying enemies. It just wasn't the expected quantum leap. It missed the simplicity, but doesn't add enough other stuff to make that worth it.
      But it still plays the strenghts of DM like fast-paced gameplay, interesting riddles and good design and has some very memorable and good fights.

      I remember getting DM2 on the day of its release (going like 45 mins one way by bike at 14 yrs), paying 100,- DM, being stuck at a single riddle (because I still thought in DM logic, but there was a rule change) and still completing it in a few days.

      DM2 is enjoyable and you can surely look forward to it - but it's no potential GOTY in 93, and I spent far more time with DM and CSB.
      Also it has to compare to Lands of Lore from the same year, which has worse gameplay, but is the first dungeon crawler which actually tells a story.

      There's also the point that DM/CSB used its limited engine to the fullest and those limitations created a kind of special logic, which applied to every single puzzle. It's so well done that there's not only no need to add additional gameplay elements, but it even feels wrong.
      The dungeon crawler genre started with DM and ended with CSB, everything afterwards is just a homage. You will get as many DM comparisons as you will play dungeon crawlers. ;-)

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    5. DM2 isn't a bad game on its own. It's just part of an unfortunate trend not only in video gaming, but any medium really, where sequels to wildly successful titles are judged much more harshly, sometimes even unfairly, than standalones.

      I think it'll score fairly high here, if only because it's one of the rare dungeon crawlers that don't get 0 for economy.

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    6. Í really enjoyed DM2 although I never finished it. My guess is that it mostly got a bad rep for lack of innovation. But it does have shops!

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    7. The DOS version of DM2 actually was released in 1995, not 1993. Eight years after DM!

      Quote from Mobygames:

      "Release history
      Even though developed by an American company, Dungeon Master II was first released in Japan, on the PC-9801 system, in 1993. Other Japanese systems it was released for include the PC-9821, the FM Towns and the Sega CD. The first English-language release was for the Sega CD in 1994. After many delays, versions for Western computers (PC, Amiga and Mac) followed in 1995."

      Two major criticisms of DM2 were the high difficulty (compared to DM and other RPGs; CSB is the outlier) and the "outdated" technology because it still had the tile-based fake 3D graphics. Ultima Underworld was released in 1992 and Doom in 1993, so that view is understandable.

      On the other hand, personally I hate how games with old technology were often downrated. For example, on Mobygames there are reviews of the 1992 DOS version of DM1 by German "PC Joker" magazine with 71% and by German "PC Games" magazine with only 49%!

      Ironically I think that from today's perspective, DM is both easier on the eyes and easier to control than UW, because UW is so dark and has jittery textures, and because the tap-tap-tap movement of DM is simpler than UW's finicky continuous movement without mouse look for turning. But this is not meant to disparage UW's revolutionary advancements.

      Regarding DM2, I liked it and it has some cool highlights, but I think that DM1 has a more well-rounded dungeon design.

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    8. @PedroQ:

      Huh, I'm not surprised you didn't think LoG2 was original, but I am surprised you didn't think it was good(it was one of my favorite games that year)

      I played EOB1 but never any of the DMs.

      I just checked GOG for DM2 and sadly none of them are there for me to try - although of course there seem to be lots of requests for it.

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    9. Regarding Grimrock 2, it has some serious environmental complexity compared to previous DM clones that makes it more interesting to explore. This includes multiple height levels on the same floor/map and underwater environments. It also has enemy AI that can counteract the sidestep dance.

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    10. I'd have to replay DM2... memories are a bit hazy, but I remember I was relatively disappointed. And Chaos Strikes Back had kind of already been "Dungeon Master 2/on steroids". I think DM2 suffered from coming too late, and with comparisons with CSB.

      For Grimrock, my feelings are a bit ambivalent. I was one of the most active members of its community, and lead the dev team for the ORRR2, probably the biggest mod for LOG1. I was waiting for LoG2 with great impatience, and played it with a lot of fun, but somehow I feel that it was a case of less is more. While the 1st one had less exteriors, elevations, monsters and what not, it had a much better "spirit", "atmosphere" maybe? It has a magical balance of puzzle and level design, the same as the original DM. I have replayed LoG1 many times as I have replayed DM, but LoG2 I played once and was not attracted to retry it.

      I understand they were compelled to add "more", but it somehow weakend the charm. Same with DM2 vs DM1.

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    11. Fwiw, just pulled the DM2 box out of my shelf, it boasts a 1994 Copyright date.

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    12. In any event, whatever version I play, I play during the game's original release year, not during the release year of that specific port.

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  5. "It's only real-time for the monsters."

    Ha ha, brilliant!
    That, and "the lack of certain AD&D spells--"Resist Cold," "Resist Fire," "Enlarge," "Fire Shield," "Globe of Invulnerability"" sums up why the EoB games feel so wrong as AD&D games, and explains partly why they are so inferior to DM.

    Also, the more I read of those cringeworthy Amiga magazine reviews the prouder I am that I never was one of those sad Amiga Fanbois. I loved my Amiga, but had no qualms whatsoever with ditching her when Ultima Underworld was announced to be PC only.

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  6. When you enter the Ankh Room and go North you get to the second Ankh room but that one is already depleted so .. no 6 Ressurections for you!

    For the Stone Cross I think they wanted to implement a Teleporter in the last level but scratched that idea. If you Hexedit the Stone Cross in your Inventory while you still have access to the teleporters you get teleported to the Salamander level in a 2x3 Room.

    About the Item Power level I think it´s more of a negative Part of EoB 1 for Throwing such Highlevel Items around I´m not a DnD Expert but no idea if Level 7-8 Characters should have access to +4 - +5 Items like it´s Candy. Like mentioned above if you don´t import a Party the Power Gain is pretty noticeable but not too "crass". But yeah you have to rate the game on the way you played AND you had the option to do it so yah :D

    Still agree with your points and the Economy thing .. well it´s important for you and it´s your blog so noone can complain about that and most Dungeon Crawler will rate pretty low in that regard so meh :D

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    1. Thanks for clearing up that stone cross mystery. That makes sense.

      As I said above, I have trouble believing that an extra couple of +s to weapons makes THAT much of a difference. It's not like some RPGs where they go up in increments of 5. D&D has always been conservative about weapon bonuses, and the results are really only palpable in more tactical combat. In the action-oriented combat of EotB2, I would think the difference between a long sword +2 and a long sword +5 would translate to a couple extra attacks, which is hardly noticeable when you're relying mostly on spells and footwork in the first place.

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    2. D&D has always used a 20-sided die for attacks, so each + equates to a 5% bonus.

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    3. If it's an 18/00 fighter chopping something with a sword, each 'plus' corresponds to about a 15% damage increase (higher as the the thing gets harder to hit).

      But as Chet points out, it's not going to feel as relevant in EotB as it would in CotAB.

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    4. Early D&D was too tight on other weapon bonuses, even though they were available as ideas. Baldur's Gate introduced some magical weapons with elemental damage and creature bane (bonus against a special monster type), but they were very rare and usually unique items.

      Dungeons & Dragons Online (a MMORPG) had a generator with lots of pre- and suffixes like elemental damage, alignment damage, reducing attributes, applying curses and other debuffs, reducing AC and the awesome stuff like paralizing or vorpal. I usually had between 20 and 40 weapons on a single character, the right one for every kind of enemy on the game.
      That's probably a bit much, but far more interesting than only upgrades from +1 to +5 (the plusses were also in the game ofc).

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    5. Second the "don't import a party" notion!

      Also, I think additional "plus"es on a weapon do make a large difference. A couple fewer attacks needed to defeat a monster means that monster has less time to damage you, as well. With stuff like the Thri-Kreen, which are sooo fast, that really makes a lot of difference. Similarly with Frost Giants, or anything that can dish out a lot of hurt in melee really.

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  7. Khelben: "Zeal Team One, you're to penetrate the tower, avoid the deadly traps, slay innumerable powerful monsters, then get out. Once you're clear, Zeal Team Two will use their 10th-level spells to zap that castle to oblivion."

    Zeal Team One: "Uhh, that sounds like a great plan, except for the first part, how about Team Two blasts the tower and we'll help clean up any mess afterwards?"

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    1. I watched the entire Tim Cook panel discussion video someone posted earlier.
      Turns out Gygax really hated wizards and magic users in general. He was much more of a Conan fan and felt that wizards wield too much power to make D&D any real fun. If a couple wizards can just use magic to disintegrate the evil tower, why even send in a team to clear it out, much like your hypothetical situation?
      Whenever I played pen and paper D&D I tended to keep the powerful magic in the hands of NPCs. That always allowed me to use magic as a story telling tool rather than a quick end-around for the players.

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    2. Well Khelben can´t just randomly go around and Zap Random Structures. I mean just because he says something evil stirs there doesn´t mean it does.

      Maybe he had an all you can eat Burrito party the previous day and that causes some stirring evil or so and Darkmoon is actually a meeting place for old Grannys to make stitchings for Orphans :O That would be awkward if he Zaps that away.

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    3. I think the temple is simply un-magickable until ol' Dran bought the farm. Take out the boss who holds everything together, after that it's just a job for the magical construction company to clear the real estate.

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  8. If the "Enlarge" spell was in the game, it would have been interesting to use it on those giants...

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    1. I was thinking it would be interesting to use on the party. They'd become as big as the giants! Would be a cool idea to make an enlarged party member the only one in front and able to melee until the spell wears off.

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    2. I was just thinking if there is any game in which, when you cast enlarge you actually see your character grow bigger. Can't remember any

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    3. Neverwinter Nights 2 visually represents enlarge. Some of your first antagonists use it on themselves, it's quite funny.

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    4. If I recall correctly, both Baldur's Gate and Temple of Elemental Evil depict Enlarge properly.

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  9. It's a weird year to pick a GotY from. PoD and M&M3 didn't seem to take enough forwards steps over their predecessors (and indeed they took some backwards ones), Fate took quite a fresh and interesting framework but applied a comical amount of bloat, and Disciples of Steel, despite being your top-scoring game for the year (and by a margin) seems to have disappeared into the mists of time with barely a ripple.

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    1. My vote would go to Disciples of Steel.
      A game that I disliked first time I tried it (poor shop UI and rather empty cities), but then I saw Mr. Addict raving about, gave it a new try, and was hooked.
      Possibly the best tactical combat of the DOS era, good character systen, and an open world to explore.

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    2. I've always counted M&M3 as one of the best games of all time, so that would be my clear pick. It's just so _playable_, and addictive.

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    3. Although I don't think he'll pick it, my vote also goes to MM3, it might miss the mark in a few key RPG areas, but as Vitoly said it's just so addictive. Plus I'm fairly sure it's the only chance you'll get to award it to the franchise!

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    4. If you'd extend that into 2 more paragraphs, Tristan, you would swear that I cribbed my "1990/1991" opening from you.

      I think I've made my choice, but man it's tough.

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    5. I'm looking forward to your decision.

      And happy Mardi Gras.

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    6. Also Quest for Glory 3 on the upcoming list, I can already tell 1992 will be a much better year! Even if it's not the best QFG, it will still be an enjoyable play for you and read for us.

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    7. I'm kinda hoping that Fate snags GotY. It has its many, many flaws, but in terms of the blog it's one of the games I enjoyed reading about the most.

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    8. I may have to bump up QfG3. I agreed to do a cross-blog thing with the Adventure Gamer, but I told them I'd be ready in early March.

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  10. "Oh no! The beard! It's a PC owner!"

    Quality publication there. When did Amiga owners stop taking computing so personally? I'm guessing never.

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    1. That's actually the one joke I might have found funny, if everything else on the page wasn't so desperate. The reviewer must have been 15, I think.

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    2. I thought the beard stereotype was with regard to Unix people?

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  11. Wow. What a rubbish pick for GotY. "Disciples of Steel" and "Fate: Gates of Dawn" are flawed games that scored well, but the former was a buggy mess and the latter was a game you can only recommend the beginning of. Might and Magic III was not well-liked although I think they did a fantastic job redesigning the game for a slightly more modern palate. And would you really give GotY to another Gold Box game?

    I expect it will have to go to "Disciples of Steel". I'd personally go with MM3, but I enjoyed that game a ton more than you did.

    I cannot wait for the year-end post!

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    1. Joe, your first paragraph is a near-transcript of the mental process through which I cycled about 50 times.

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  12. Looking forward to your transition post. Just a curious note though, can you flack beholders in these games, because I'm thinking from my tabletop knowledge you aren't suppose to be able to flank beholders, and they could attack in any direction with there eyestalks.

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    1. Interesting. You can definitely flank them in the computer game. Enemies can only attack forward here.

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    2. Gygax loved traps and beholders kinda had a built-in trap - the more surrounded they are, the more eyes they can use. If 'waltzing' worked in D&D, you'd be able to dodge the main eye but not the eyestalks.

      Did they even implement the central eye? Can you cast a spell at a beholder that's facing you in this game?

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    3. You can definitely flank beholders in the traditional sense, and this keeps them from using their central eye on you (which would keep you from spellcasting).

      In 3rd edition, "flanking" means having an ally on the opposite side of the enemy so you can attack from two sides simultaneously. This gives a bonus to your attack rolls and THIS doesn't work on beholders. Clearly this doesn't work in a blobber anyway, nor was it a rule in 2nd edition.

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    4. @Pieter Simoons
      Pedantry ahoy! The concept of flanking did exist in 2nd edition, but not 'till deep in its cycle. The 1994 book 'Combat & Tactics' introduced a lot of staples still used today, like flanking, attacks of opportunity, and the overall use of a grid & miniatures for combat.

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    5. "Combat & Tactics" makes so many sweeping changes that it's often considered a separate edition, or the 2.5th.

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  13. +1 for MM3. The Addict was right with his criticism of the game but...who's perfect and hell it is still such a damn fine game (think I have to give a sixth/ or even seventh run...

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  14. Addict, I have wondered for a while why you insist on importing parties from previous titles, then complain about difficulty curves that are off, or too little character development!

    Many first games in a series are still finding their feet where balance is concerned, or are not in their totality designed to fit into a series. This game is a prime example: In normal D&D you're simply not meant to swing +5 weapons around at level 8. That's a level 18 thing. At 8, you're supposed to still lug nonmagical stuff around alongside maybe a +2 sword and a +1 plate mail.

    Try playing this game with a fresh party, and not only will you see exactly that on your starting characters (so found equipment is an actual upgrade most of the time). You will also start at a slightly lower level than you did here, meaning character development during the game is much more noticable.

    I know how importing previous characters may enhance immersion, or at least may feel good for the power boost. But few CRPGs are balanced with imported parties in mind. In fact, I'd say that most of the time, the opposite is true.

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    1. Paul, but at the end of the day, importing parties is not a fan-made hack, it's a built-in function that's highlighted as a really nifty feature in the manual and (IIRC) even on the back of the box. Given how central character progression is to RPGs, surely it's more natural to assess the gameplay experience with an imported party, than with a fresh party?

      There is much reason to believe that this is the way the game was meant to be played. Heck, I happened to get my hands on EOB2 long before EOB1... and the reason I then started hunting for EOB1 was not so much to experience the original game, but to play through it so that I could start EOB2 with an imported party.

      I'll agree the game plays better with a fresh party - but what reason would players have to go down that route? The lack of balancing vis-a-vis imported parties is actually a noteworthy problem, deserving of being observed and described rather than circumvented by not using the feature.

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    2. That latter point is certainly well put! Overall, I feel like many many games that have an import feature (and blabber about it in marketing) are not really well-designed to SUPPORT it as well. It often feels like the feature is just there so the publisher can advertise it, not because it makes much sense. Even story-wise, it's not really needed in EotB2. It's just there to make sure people buy all games in the series instead of just one (which, with games in the same engine, would probably suffice to get a taste of the gameplay experience).

      One very strange example that is still on the upcoming list is the Arkania series (Das Schwarze Auge): the first game introduced many items that are quite unbalanced, while the second game is very conservative in the magic item department.
      However, the second game is clearly balanced for parties of higher than first level. Hell, if you start it w/o an imported party, you start out with 1st level characters, but immediately run into an encounter that nets you two whole experience levels. The NPC in that encounter even basically says "the gods think you need to be a little tougher to make it through this game".
      Whyever they decided to do it this way instead of just starting everybody out at 3rd level is a mystery to me. Probably due to the "OMG we have to implement every character option from the pen&paper version even if it makes no sense in a CRPG" syndrome.

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    3. I don't think the feature was there to encourage people to buy the previous game, to be honest. It may have served this purpose to some degree, but I think ultimately it was in there because it just seems like a cool and sensible idea in the RPG context: you want players to get attached to their characters, and then you want to allow them the satisfaction of taking them through into the next game.

      The big problem is that you also want players to be able to play the new game without playing the previous one. And because you need to be open to new players to generate good sales, the "fresh start" option inevitably ends up being the one you calibrate the difficulty for. This is kind of good, in some ways, because it means veteran players derive genuine satisfaction from finding that initially, the game is actually too easy for them - it means they've developed their characters well. The problems begin as they discover that the special items they're finding are really not that special compared to what they already have.

      Incidentally, EOB3 managed to make this problem worse, and in a really inexplicable way. For some reason, the game did not bring across all of the item icons from EOB2. Why this was, remains baffling - it certainly wasn't a space concern, because these were tiny. Whatever the cause, the result was that all the Drow armour you had collected, which was the most visually distinct of all special items in EOB1/2, suddenly lost its special appearance. There was something ironic about the fact that instead of satisfying the player, the party import feature in EOB3 actually made you angry at the game right at the very start.

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    4. Hi, Paul. I'm curious where you think you heard me "complain" about the difficulty. Was it when I said it was "perfect"? I admit that was quite a slam.

      Aside from that, the idea that a player wouldn't import a party when he has a party to import is so foreign to me that it's like we live in different worlds. If such an import gives an OVERWHELMING advantage rather than a slight one, I don't feel I'd be wrong in blaming the developers rather than the player.

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    5. Arkania 2 even robbed you of all your magic items, just to make sure the import of characters is basically pointless. Doesn't really conserve the feeling of attachment.

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    6. That can't be right, I've imported characters into Star Trail several times and you only lose a few select items (pretty much only quest items). I think Blade of Destiny (RoA 1) has the most magic items, but they're not that powerful. Of the most powerful one, you find another one in both RoA 2 and 3.

      If you do everything there is to do in RoA 1, though, your level will be too high for RoA 2.

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    7. Drow gear disintegrates or loses its magical properties when exposed to sunlight. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to remove it completely.

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    8. I see no reason the occasional high level item can't be hidden somewhere, you don't need to be level 18. In fact, if you are already high level, a magic weapon doesn't matter as much. But you get a rush when you are level 8, find a +5 weapon hidden behind some wall after killing a tough monster, and are able to kick some major butt for a while! Makes the game much more fun.

      Also, regardless of your imported part being under or over powered compared to a fresh party, it helps with the immersion and role playing aspect of the game. Especially in D&D where, when you play the tabletop version, your character(s) go from one adventure to another too.

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    9. The point is that the +5 weapons in EOB1 are not in fact "hidden behind some wall after killing a tough monster". Several of them are lying out in the open for no apparent reason (Severious, Flicka), one is found after an easy puzzle (puvrsgnva unyoreq ol chggvat rttf va gur ebbz ynoryrq arfg), and there's a handful of others. By contast, EOB2 contains only a single +4 weapon (Talon) and zero +5 weapons; EOB3 contains only a single +5 weapon near the endgame.

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    10. Hey, now that you mention it, yeah... EOB1 gave you such high-level weapons, that you actually wind up *still* using the same weapons two games later, in EOB3.

      I wonder now why this was the case. It would be easy to pin this on bad design: EOB1 being Westwood's first real RPG (no offense to Dragonstrike), they simply lacked experience with item balancing. This is likely to be a part of the reason, but I think there's another issue at stake: low-level characters simply need more powerful items than high-level ones do.

      If you have a low-level character, you can give them a +5 weapon (or armour) as a sort of crutch, and that allows you to employ more powerful monsters than you would otherwise. Some of the opponents you get at the end of EOB1 are indeed higher-level than appropriate for the characters you have at that point. But because AD&D has more variety in monsters for mid-high-level characters, once you get to EOB2 and 3, you no longer need to stuff the player full of magic items to give him a fighting chance against excessively high-level monsters.

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    11. Addict, I was talking about difficulty curves, not difficulty per se. I was referring to this statement: "You don't gain many levels during this outing--not unless you grind a lot--and it feels like the game could be beaten by the starting characters."

      Non-imported starting characters have a harder time than yours. And yes, it's not the player's fault for using the function that's there. It's the developers fault for not balancing the game accordingly. BUT if you would actually LIKE to have a more well-balanced game, why not skip the importing (seeing how developers often don't do a good job of implementing it)? That's all I'm saying.

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    12. The Realms of Arkadia games are trying even harder to be as close to the p&p experience than EoB.
      Going so far as to allow to "invest skill points" in spells and skills that are only used in p&p and not in any of the games. Just to make sure they feel like the p&p original.
      As a p&p player I love importing characters into the next instance of a game line.
      But I also don't complain if a game is to easy ...

      In the case of EoB I'd say you need the equipment from EoB1 to survive EoB3 - I stopped playing EoB3 after an hour or so as that game is even with an imported party MUCH to hard for me.
      And (sadly) much uglier than EoB 1&2

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    13. I meant that statement to apply to characters created for this game, too. New characters start at 69,000 experience points. I gained 400,000 experience points during the course of the game. I didn't "grind," but I took my time.

      So even a brand-new paladin or ranger starts at Level 6 and manages to make it to Level 9. A cleric goes from 7 to 10. A fighter has it worst, rising only from 7 to 9; a thief does best going from 7 to 12. With the exception of the thief, I don't really consider this a lot of leveling.

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    14. On another note, I never got how the D&D rulebooks actually convinced players that 5 weapon upgrades (from +0 to +5) is enough for a whole campaign to level 20 and everyhing above is "monty haul". I heard that so often and still can't believe it.

      I don't think you can call out the devs for bad balancing by introducing +5 weapons in EoB, only for planning badly ahead. Early D&D simply had a terrible item variety (and Arkania is even worse).

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    15. The thing that I like about old-school D&D items is that it's easy to see what is a better weapon. A +1 weapon is better than a regular weapon, and a +2 weapon is better than a +1 weapon. No need to agonize over a stack of new items. Now, games feel like they have to tack on four or five bonuses onto the most mundane crap from trash mobs, and you have little clue as to what is the better choice since the math behind the game is opaque. Is the 15% fire resistance from this weapon a worthwhile exchange for +10% accuracy? Repeat that for five magical attributes and no one knows. Sometimes I just look at the gold piece value as a shorthand for whether or not it's a better weapon (but that method has its faults, too).

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    16. Sucinum, if you're saying that you think that +1 to +5 is too few scales of weapon upgrade, I'm afraid I disagree. Part of the problem with earlier editions of D&D, though third more so than second, is that magic items became basically a necessity at higher levels. (The way the D&D rules work, a +5 really was a huge deal, and a high-level character without a +5 weapon (and armor!) was at a severe disadvantage.) I didn't particularly like that characters were pretty much forced by the rules to be deeply reliant on their equipment.

      In fifth edition, partly as a response to this, weapon bonus is capped at +3. And that's a change of which I'm all in favor. Fifth edition in general has much decreased the lamentable tendency of characters being walking magic item display cases.

      Now, if you really want more levels of "upgrade", I guess they could have had finer increments, rather than having them go up higher, but the way the D&D rules work there really isn't an easy way to have something, say, in between +1 and +2. Have it give a +1 or =2 bonus on alternating rounds?

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    17. Good point, +5 is actually a lot between a D20 and maybe 15-20 base to hit. But it's not about the power, more about the amount of upgrades. It's just tiny and forces a DM to be very stingy.
      I think more variety would have been better, like elemental or bane weapons and other enhancements. A nice idea from roguelikes (Moria?) was to split to-hit and damage bonuses, so you had a (+3/+1) weapon for example. That alone would have increased variety a lot.

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    18. Well, there are elemental and bane weapons in D&D... there weren't as many in second edition (though they did exist), but in third edition they went all out and really piled on the different kinds of weapon abilities and bonuses. Seriously, if you want variety in magic items, you'd love third-edition D&D.

      I guess it comes down to a difference of play style and preferences, but personally, I don't want a lot of upgrades; I kind of prefer the DM to be stingy—and that's speaking as a player, not just as a DM. I don't want to feel like I have to carry around tons of magic items and constantly upgrade them to stay competitive. I want to feel like my character's accomplishments are because of his own abilities and strengths, not because of the dozen assorted enchanted whatnots he accumulated.

      I'm not saying you're wrong for wanting more magic items; I'm just saying not everyone has that preference. For those who do, in the pencil-and-paper world, there's Pathfinder, which is heavily based on the D&D third edition rules and has a similar variety in and reliance on magic items. But personally, I prefer the approach fifth-edition D&D is taking, putting less emphasis on magic items and more on the character.

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  15. Hmm. I think last time I commented on this blog was late last year, when I was about to enter the final "death march" of my PhD. I've since submitted the whole thing, and then spent four weeks doing precious little at all. My four years of studying Skyrim (ahem, and a bunch of other things) are over. The next thing, naturally, will be to eventually expand the TES parts of the thesis into a book on the series. Eventually.

    It's kinda funny that as I finally revisit this blog, you're just wrapping up on one of the RPGs I loved tremendously... but as I read your summary, I plead no contest to the charges. A slightly lower score than the original game is something I would have strenuously disagreed on at the time, but today feels exactly right. Yes - it's more linear. It's tighter, both in the sense of being more polished and streamlined, and in the sense of feeling smaller. In EOB1 you discovered a little mini-world under the city, with two societies that both had their histories and conflicts, and with a variety of creatures some of whom were purely there due to the evil plot, but others seemed to be a natural part of their environment. They were in their habitat, and just happened to be in your path. Well, EOB2 trades that sense of a mini-world for a single large temple complex. Apart from the wolves in the forest, nothing here is in its place. There's no society as such (other than the clerics). There's no natural habitats - everything has been imported. After completing EOB1, you walked away with a few shreds - not much, but a few shreds nonetheless - of the history of the world underneath Waterdeep. After EOB2, you walk away with no sense whatsoever of the history of Darkmoon. "Like... there's this temple, man, and its high priest is actually like a dragon out to, like, do evil stuff, man."

    However, I will disagree on the lack of value added by the ending sequence. No, absolutely, getting an animated sequence was great. It may not seem like much today, but I think you kind of have to cast your mind back to 1991, and imagine what it felt like at the time. It wasn't just that 256 colour graphics were new at the time - though they were. It wasn't just that Sound Blaster was new at the time - though it was. Rather, it was the *artistry* that was new. Already the game's introduction was amazing in terms of artistry - the technology used is the same as EOB1, but look at the beautiful backdrops, the atmosphere of the street, the little details like the fire reflecting in Khelben's eyes - these were things we looked at and commented incessantly. The endgame sequence was similarly rewarding, because it was more of the same: a lousy plot, nothing of interest in the narrative, a bunch of mages firing lightning bolts - but it all looked so beautiful. It really did feel like a big reward.

    (conversely, the first "uh-oh" moment when you begin EOB3, is when the intro starts with the exact same street scene EOB2 had - even though the rest of the intro and the game hardly recycles anything from EOB2, somehow this one recycled scene sets the stage for a game that always feels like one sequel too far)

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    1. Another thought: looking back now, I feel like EOB2 is also the point where the series starts feeling very constrained by AD&D mechanics, and especially by the series' internal convention of allowing players to import a party from the past - which is funny, because it's hardly even a convention at this point, it's the first sequel in the series, so also the first time you import your party. Still, what it meant was that the whole game had to be primed for higher-level starting characters. So you return to the series at exactly the point where AD&D character progression gets incredibly boring: the point where you have to slaughter fifty million bajillion creatures to advance one level, only to find that the payoff is one extra spell slot, or three hitpoints. AD&D is at its most fun for low-level characters, where progression happens quickly, and every level gained feels tremendous, because the character improvements are bigger as a percentage of the character's statistics. That is, gaining an extra 4 hitpoints when you have 40 hitpoints feels bigger than gaining an extra 4 hitpoints when you have 80 already. The same thing applies to the enemies you encounter: high-level AD&D opponents are either a grind, or they're instant death. It's bad enough if they're a grind, but it's much worse if they're instant death, because it makes you feel like all your progress hasn't been worth much, and inclines you to use video game-based exploits (like the waltz) to circumvent the opponents' instant-death-dealing abilities. Consequently, and ironically, a bunch of kobolds at the start of EOB1 subjectively felt more dangerous than a bunch of beholders in EOB2: because you knew that the trick is to simply never allow them to use their abilities at all. Be on the lookout for this problem when you get around to EOB3 - I think you'll agree that when you start out with high-level characters, and face opponents appropriate for such characters, the end result is not more engrossing, but actually less interesting. Progress just keeps getting slower and less rewarding. I don't know what happened between Westwood and SSI after EOB2, but I like to imagine that one reason they ended up doing Lands of Lore instead of EOB3 is precisely because they couldn't see a way of improving the series while constrained by the uninteresting high-level gameplay. And certainly, the many things that made Lands of Lore such a glorious send-off for tile-based first-person dungeon crawlers was that it was in so many ways Westwood's post-EOB2 psychotherapy session, where just about everything was purposely done the opposite way to EOB2.

      (however, in defense of the EOB2 grind, I must add that as a teenager, having more time and fewer games, I was more than happy to actually grind through the part of EOB2 where enemies - bullettes, I think they were - endlessly respawned, until I maxed out the level progression for the game; maybe the grind is something that's just harder to appreciate as you have less time for it?)

      And now, I suppose, I should retrace my way back through older posts until I reach the point where I stopped reading last year. Hmm. But not today...

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    2. Jakub, thank you for your extra comments and insights. I agree with almost everything you say here. A few notes:

      "Which is funny, because it's hardly even a convention at this point, it's the first sequel in the series." It may not be convention in this series, but it's definitely a convention. Almost every sequel through this era allowed you to import the party from a previous game--sometimes even other games! Players expected it and held on dearly to their save game files. The idea that you wouldn't use them is absurd, ESPECIALLY when you've bought the game new and have no foresight as to what to expect.

      "I was more than happy to actually grind through the part of EOB2 where enemies - bullettes, I think they were - endlessly respawned, until I maxed out the level progression for the game." I thought about that here until I looked at the actual numbers. Because of the way that experience points double between levels, grinding is almost always impossible in a D&D game. The nature of the gameplay in the EotB series makes it worse. The mass of skeletons early in the game SEEMS like a lot, but you routinely face that many enemies in Gold Box combat. In the GB games, you could wander around until you found a party of 15 driders, drop a couple of "Delayed Blast Fireballs," and walk away with 50,000 experience points in 5 minutes. Here, you'd have to wait for individual bulettes to spawn.

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    3. Given hard drives weren't always a thing yet for the 1980s, hanging on to your saved games (for sequels which may or may not occur) was *really* tough.

      I have never found a game where the import was balanced, either. If you think about it, because of RPG freedom, the previous game usually might have a 3-4 level gap in terms of when things end, and certainly a gap in item power based on if the party scrounged for artifacts. Either the designer tries to accommodate the lowest possible entrants (making the upper level overpowered) or completely hoses any player who didn't "optimally play" the previous game, which might have happened years in the past.

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    4. The grind is what keeps me from returning and playing CRPGs after I pretty much gave them up around 1996 when I headed off to med school. There is simply no time to fit them in! And it doesn't get better when Real Life - TM - hits.

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    5. Say what you will about Westwood's game design, they always had amazing art direction. And—once they let Frank Klepacki do his thing—excellent music direction as well.

      Compare it to what MM3 did with the same 256 colors in the same year...

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    6. Yes, their art direction was excellent. Westwood was one of those companies where the later transition into 3D and live-action felt genuinely regrettable, because something very special was disappearing.

      Chet, regarding the example of grinding with bullettes I mentioned - to be clear, this isn't something I was merely happy to do, it was something I actually did :). So, no matter what the maths tells us about the effort involved, it's definitely not impossible. But yes, it was time-consuming (no idea how long it took me - at least a few hours, but perhaps I spent days on it?), boring, and slow. Why did I do it? Interestingly, the point wasn't simply the satisfaction of maxing out my characters. This would have been on my second play-through of the game, which came after I had EOB1; I maxed out my party in EOB1 before taking them into EOB2, and then I maxed out my party in EOB2 specifically with the expectation of eventually continuing with them in EOB3 (which I think already existed at the time, though I didn't yet have it). That's another interesting thing about these experiences: when you are able to transfer a party into the game, you play with the assumption that eventually you'll be able to transfer that same party out of the game, into a sequel. It changes the way you play, because you don't treat character progression as a means to gain the ability to kill the final opponent, but rather as something you do for the sake of the characters' longevity across multiple games.

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    7. No, I never doubted it was possible, just that it would take a hell of a lot longer than in games where you can engage more than one enemy at once and kill them in a fraction of the time. I wouldn't bother to do it unless the extra levels really made a difference.

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    8. Agreed. Which is why grinding is not something I do these days, because the payoff is almost never worth the time investment.

      Oh, incidentally - as I'm backtracking through your previous entries, I find that I was mistaken. It wasn't the bullettes I grinded on, but rather the yugoleth guardians. And they did respawn a few at a time, rather than one at a time, which I guess would have made the process more bearable. Still very silly, though.

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    9. "...absolutely, getting an animated sequence was great"
      11 year old me with a shiny new VGA card, would load this game just to watch that intro

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    10. "...and in the sense of feeling smaller. In EOB1 you discovered a little mini-world under the city, with two societies that both had their histories and conflicts, and with a variety of creatures..."
      Then you're up for a treat with Ultima Underworld, that BTW, I'm currently playing and The Addict have already catch up on.
      I think I'm around the last third part of the game and will try to push for the ending to not get it spoiled reading about it here :D

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    11. I just played the first level of UU to get a feel for it but it didn't seem like I'd derive much from continuing with it given I've yet to play more than a couple hours of Skyrim. I don't have the patience for UU's map, UI, or jumping puzzles.

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    12. Tristan, Ultima Underworld was such an immersive experience back in the day. Not sure how it'll hold up now, I guess we'll find out. For me, the spell of UU was a broken when I realized that its rpg qualities are very light, it doesn't really matter how smartly I build my character and his skills. It's actually more of an immersive simulation of being in this huge dungeon with its ecosystem and competing clans of beings and monsters. I never finished it but I'm pretty certain a speedrun of it would not depend on killing even a single enemy that is not plot-necessary. This is similar to Ultima 6 or 7 which I hadn't played at the time, I was coming in from a Dungeon Master / EOB / Gold Box perspective where stats matter.

      I'm very curious how the CRPGAddict will feel about it.

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    13. Interesting note about leveling in D&D: It was apperently designed to have everyone start at level one, even when joining a new group, and then flatten out about level 8, so everyone could play together.

      So a new player joins. They stays at level 1, and stay at the centre of the party. After a couple weeks they are at level 6-8 (There is an old timer on RPG.net that takes about going into a dungeon solo in Gygax's have as a level one Wizard and coming out level 3 that same night by getting lucky with his Charm Person.)

      By the time the new player is level 8, the rest of the party is say 9 or 10, but that isn't a huge amount of power over the new player, since the account of stuff you get after name level of limited. So the new person can pull their weight.

      Now, this caused some issues in 3e, as they flattened the XP curve a lot and really built the game around everyone everyone being almost exactly the same level, without examining some of the other assumptions that were built into the system, which caused the game to really work best between levels 6 to 12. The rumor I've heard is they surveyed players to find out what levels were people were playing at but didn't take the XP curves into account, so soso they really play tested and focused and made the game work at the levels people are playing out with her take into account with the shame stick speakers those wouldn't be the same levels anymore.

      what is perhaps less their fault is a large part of this is gygax was assuming everyone was following his gold for XP rules, when quite a number of players have revealed that their DM's didn't follow those rules without realizing that was with a vast majority of your XP was coming from. So it could be they did the math and worked out that players should be passing goes into the exponential area at the XD curb and weren't assumed that was because that's where players preferred to play, when it's actually their dams weren't handing out enough to keep progressing past the exponential point.

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  16. That blue dragon is a mission screen from Dragon Strike btw. which is was first likely lifted from game boxes or RPG cover art by Larry Elmore.

    Speaking of which DS had a quite a bunch of classic Elmore art as story screens such as "the flying citadel" from Chanpions of Krynn (iirc) box cover art.

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    1. But is it the past? Or the future? That's what's going to haunt me.

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    2. That sounds like it may have been intended as cross-product advertising - you know, like the "ask me about Loom" guy in Monkey Island. But if that's what it was... gosh, it was so subtle, that probably only people who already had Dragon Strike would have understood it.

      Alternatively, maybe it was supposed to be a vision of Dran in dragon form - and they just forgot to recolour their recycled art?

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  17. Thanks for this review. I always wondered about EOB but I didn´t have the money to buy it at the time. Wonderful to relive the memories of staring at the store box of this (a few times).

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  18. One point lower than EOB 1 sounds about right, if only because mid-tier levels in AD&D just aren't quite as satisfying to progress through as levels 1 to 8.

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  19. Agreed on the comment about the ending. Back then I even started EOB2 every day because I loved the graphics and replayed some parts because I loved the cutscenes.

    (Sad childhood, maybe)

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  20. Hi guys,
    Long time lurker, first time commenter. Coincidentally I just read about the EoB at the blog and watched Conan the Barbarian at the same time. So I became curious if there is a possible inspiration here from the evil cult with a leader which turns to be a giant snake in a human form? (I know it is not clear if he is really a human or a snake) Do you know any other possible inspiration for the evil cult/Dran story? Maybe it is just a popular or even generic trope in the D&D setting but I am not really familiar with it.

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    1. Dragons in D&D could take human form as early as the original D&D boxed set ("[Golden dragons] will often appear as human or in some other guise"), which predated the Conan the Barbarian movie by eight years. Granted, by the books it was mostly the good (metallic) dragons that had this power, but evil (chromatic) dragons, though they didn't have the innate power to change shape, could learn spells and could presumably change shape that way.

      On the other hand, while the original D&D boxed set predated the movie, it didn't predate the Conan the Barbarian stories, and in fact in the appendix to the first-edition Dungeon Master's Guide Gary Gygax singles out Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan) as one of the "most immediate influences upon AD&D". So I'm not familiar enough with Howard's stories to know if they had any dragons taking human form, but if they did, it's entirely possible that was the inspiration for that tendency in D&D.

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    2. Wait, Conan had dragons in the original stories? That is much more fantastic then most of the ones I read. USally they were humans and the occasional Denon as the opponents.

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  21. It's a little goofy that the big bad's name is an anagram for "dragon danger,"

    Well, not quite... "Dran Draggore" has one too many Rs and one too few Ns for that. You can get "dragon" out of it, of course, and you can rearrange the leftover letters to spell something, but nothing that makes a whole lot of sense in context... "Grader", "Regard", "Gerard"...

    Maybe the best that can be done is "Red Dragon! Arg!"

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