Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Temple of Elemental Evil ToEE Retrospective Part I

Temple of Elemental Evil ToEE Retrospective Part I

An RPG flaunting a great combat system can be forgiven of its sins, no matter how grievous. OTOH, an RPG with a bad combat system, that does everything else right, is unforgiveable; indeed, irrelevant.

The Dream

In 2003, Troika release Temple of Elemental Evil to critical acclaim. A few mainstream news sites attempt to paint ToEE as "too difficult" or "too complex" for the public to consume, but quickly change their tune and rewrite their articles when Troika shifts a boatload of units. Polished almost to perfection, ToEE is built on the three pillars of design required for greatness in the D&D sub-genre; namely, isometric perspective, turn-based tactical combat and full party control. Along with that, Troika execute a near-perfect implementation of the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 ruleset, seamlessly integrating the SRD with hyperlinks embedded to stat panels and the combat log. Not only is ToEE mechanically supreme, but its beautifully-painted backdrops coupled with slick sprite animations cement it as the most aesthetically-pleasing isometric entry in the genre, blowing away the Infinity Engine entries and even Diablo II. Last but not least, its factional reactivity modifies the landscape within the Temple mega-dungeon itself, adding greatly to replayability.

Fans of traditional RPGs and Pen & Paper D&D flock to the social boards en masse, not to report show-stopping bugs, stability issues and broken mechanics, but rather to bestow praise upon Troika for what may well be the ushering-in of a new D&D era of computer role-playing games akin to the Goldbox of old. So many threads are entitled "Praise be to Troika" that it borders on religious worship. Everyone is looking forward to the future of cRPGs spear-headed by a dev that has proven itself; first with Arcanum, now with ToEE. Fans clamor for another adventure set in Greyhawk as Troika patch their game of the few bugs it shipped with. ToEE is refined to masterpiece-level: in its final state, it is a polished diamond. The money just keeps rolling in for Troika, who expand from 14 people to 40 as a result. Within the next couple of years, they have released several conversions of Greyhawk adventure modules along with an Aurora-like toolset (which employs 2D tilesets for easy area-creation for amateurs). Single-player veterans of the Infinity and Aurora engines drop Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights in a heartbeat; thus, RTwP and dumb companion AI are put to bed, never to be spoken of again. Moreover, over the next decade, an army of community members build dozens of award-winning amateur adventures for the full array of D&D campaign settings. In short, Troika far exceed the era of Goldbox. Then, Temple of Elemental Evil II is released employing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules. There is no end of happiness in sight.


Of course, this is certainly not what happened (LOL): it's what might have been. This is if Troika actually managed to nail their dev-cycle and the Prime Evil known as Atari then didn't come along and ruin everything, forcing the D&D subgenre into the mists of time. If you want to know why RPGs have sucked so much since the glorious Renaissance ended, this is one reason why: ToEE failed to usher in a new Goldbox era.

So Yeah, Back to Reality

This write-up is for the original, bug-plagued incarnation of ToEE, as released and patched by Troika in 2003. I post it for nostalgia, memories and future reference. It is important to record info on the original incarnations: I don't want people to forget what they were like. I love Troika games, bugs and all. Arcanum, ToEE and Vampire: Bloodlines are all eminently replayable despite their bugs, glitches and performance and stability issues. I should know: I've played them in their unmodded state, on and off, since they came out. They are flawed diamonds. A flawed diamond is superior to, and much more valuable than, well-polished RPGs built on inferior systems such as RTwP and dumb companion AI. Modders of Infinity/Aurora can polish inferior systems all they like: they will remain innately inferior because their inferiority is hard-coded. Modders just can't fight against BioWare's grievously flawed visions and puerile understanding of what core D&D is.

ToEE: Features I'm Fond of

ToEE has achieved cult status among the hardcore crowd and respect has steadily grown for it over the years; in fact, I have long regarded ToEE as THE model for D&D RPGs, combining a top-notch implementation of the ruleset with genuine tactical combat that renders the Infinity, Aurora & Electron combat systems to the comparative level of grotesque caricature. Moreover, its dialogue system is able to handle the role-playing aspect with consummate ease. That Troika failed to make meaningful use of it in their campaign is beside the point. But more on that later.

So, if we break it down into easily digestible, bite-sized chunks, what makes ToEE stand out from the crowd?

• Elegant, powerful and precise turn-based tactical combat system, beaten out only by Sir-Tech's Jagged Alliance 2 (the greatest turn-based tactics game ever). IOW, no imprecise RTwP plagued by poor pathing routines during combat. The system employs multi-shaped spell-targeting visual aids for accurate AoE placement, and the feature-packed radial menu offers tactical options other RPGs can only dream about, such as the 5-foot step/Withdraw (avoid AoO), Ready vs. spell/approach (get AoO interrupt and then trip the enemy for +4 to-hit on prones), charging (+2 to-hit) and meaningful flanking manoeuvres (+2 to-hit, but Rogues can get off non-flanking Sneak Attacks through Feint). Holding down the Alt-key will expose Attack of Opportunity instances and give exact movement paths/distances before you have committed to an action. Just a few examples of the tactical options that you won't find in BG or NWN.

Below left: Spell-targeting visual aid for Lightning Bolt. Note how you can clearly see who is going to be affected. There are other shapes, too: Fireball aid is circular and Cone of Cold is cone-shaped. With Magic Missile, you can choose who gets hit with each and every missile (fire three at that guy and two at that guy, for example).

Below right: The potential for movement is clearly shown before the player commits to the action, complete with Attacks of Opportunity.

◦ Note also the portraits at the top which represent each combatant in the battle. You can reshuffle the order of your party members in this initiative line. Say, for example, you are up against undead but your Cleric is fourth in the initiative order. You don't want the guys in order 1-3 to waste time and resources fighting the undead, so you click-hold-drag your Cleric's portrait to the forefront and have her disrupt the undead in a single action. Battle over.

• Admirable attempt at employing the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 ruleset. The entire D&D rulebook is accessible from any hypertext link. Who needs a manual, SRD or wiki? It's built into the game. And the best part is: the combat log is also hypertexted so that the player has full access to the rulebook DURING COMBAT.

• Party of five + two companions for a party of seven. Of course, this doesn't factor in +summons (some are perma) + pets + perma-dominated monsters etc. Basically, if you forego the companions (who needs 'em) then it's full party creation and full party control (party of 5 + minions). IOW, no dumb companion AI and no dumb companion builds to concern yourself with. The ToEE companion array actually isn't that bad, though: some are certainly of limited utility but others could be quite useful if you want to rely on them. There is some companion-based reactivity, too (most notably, in regards to Prince Thrommel/Fragarach and Lareth the Beautiful).

• Beautifully-painted backdrops along with slick sprite animations. These are the best to have graced the genre. ToEE is a stunning game to look at. Silky UI aside (that link covers its UI in-depth), take the starter-hub of Hommlet for example: streams are animated to give the impression they're gently flowing, trees wave in the wind and leaves fall from them, chimneys plume smoke, the waterwheel rotates gently at the mill, the blacksmith strikes hammer to anvil, and lanterns flicker by night. 

◦ The sprites are modeled on the 3.5 Monster Manual for authenticity. They look gorgeous as they move around smoothly on the silky backdrops. Sprites have different anims to accentuate crits: a twin-blade character will spin in the air like an acrobat before unleashing a flurry of piercing thrusts whereas a great-weapon wielder will bring their weapon right back over their head and send it crashing down on the victim. Monks have unique anims, too. Victims don't just "chunk" or appear on the ground without anims (like in Baldur's Gate); instead, they buckle over and collapse to the ground in a satisfying manner.

Below: A paladin decked out in full plate, wielding a bastard sword: it doesn't get any better than that.

◦ McCarthy and his team of artists deserve to be commended.

• Meaty, satisfying casting and on-hit sound effects. Fireball-launching just sounds so good. A stab sounds like a stab, a bludgeoning sounds like a bludgeoning. Just great.

• No level-scaling. With the exception of hostile overland waylays, every enemy/encounter is what it is, regardless of party level/size. The way all RPGs should be.

• Unparalleled crafting mechanics. Better even than Storm of Zehir. Want to craft +3 holy/axiomatic weapons? Well, you can. This shits on Baldur's Gate 2's Cromwell/Cespenar "crafting."

• Unique itemization. For just one example: ToEE allows you to wield exotic spiked chains. How many RPGs allow you to wield spiked chains such as the Thorned Chains of Love? It's finessable, too.

• Great encounter design. The phased encounter with Lareth is one of the best in the genre. Also, the people that complain about there being "too many bugbears" are just scrubs that don't know how to build combat units, and don't know how to compose efficient adventuring parties. Please refer to Part II for builds and party composition.

• Powerful utility spells as exemplified by Teleport. Deep in a dungeon and need to get back to town in order to rest, heal and restock? Cast teleport to bring up the overworld map! What other RPG has this, other than Troika's own Arcanum?

• Non-devaluation of clerical healing. Just like in BG1 (and not like BG2 which has a degenerate "Rest Until Healed" option), clerical healing is a valuable addition to an adventuring party. While you can certainly try to rest-spam until healed, the tedium of the on-rest ambushes will drive you mad. Thus, you need to have healing spells ready for post-battle.  

• The campaign can be beaten without fighting a single foe. It's rank blasphemy to conduct a passive run, but still: eat your heart out, Planescape: Torment.

Ok, that's enough of the sales pitch. Now, if you're just reading this to learn a bit about ToEE, I recommend skipping the technical section below and heading straight to Part II.

What is the best version of ToEE to Play?

For purists who always want to play the version of the game that reflects dev-intent (or, at least, its best unmodded state), there is only ever one correct answer to this question: patch2 (authoritative Troika version).

For non-purists, the following are also options:

• patch2 + moebius2778 temple.dll (GoG version. Yep, GoG actually patched their version of ToEE with non-official content. Dickheads!)
• patch2 + Temple+ (this is the best version of the game to play, if you're not a purist.)
• Co8 3.0.4 (lots of fixes without many unnecessary changes)
• Co8 5.0.5 + Less New Content Patch (similar to the above. LNCP is by the author of Temple+)
• Co8 8.1.0 (the modders at Co8 went crazy with this. If you must install it, I recommend only the Lite version. Here is a list of its bugfixes. Yes, you can use Co8 with Temple+.)

Temple+ is covered by me here and here.

Setting Things Up

(patch2 purist instructions only)

• Install ToEE from your optical media bought in 2003. This is for authenticity. :P Also, pat yourself on the back for being one of the people who supported this great game when it counted. In general, this game is only retroactively appreciated by people because it has since earned cult status as a result of the modding community helping people get into the game. You have the original CDs: you supported this game 15 years ago because you had good taste. Thus, you have my respect.

• Apply patch1, apply patch2, do not apply patch3. All patch3 did was introduce the notorious SecuROM copy protection and fix a looting bug (easily worked around, see below).

• Now, run the game. Oh look, it worked. From an original optical media install. No surprise. ToEE has always worked, just like all original incarnations from Troika, Black Isle and BioWare have always worked, regardless of OS/hardware specs; at least, for people with basic knowledge of PCs.

Ok, now what? 

• Go to Preferences and disable Auto-Save on map changes. This will speed the game up and eliminate some scripting bugs. Turn on Numerical HP display (handy when leveling up).

• Go to Game Options and enable Anti-aliasing to remove the graphical glitch that appears in the fog of war.

• Change Shadow Type to maps because they look better. You will have to tweak this setting back every time you load the game up (it's not saved to ini like other settings).

Known CTDs (crashes to desktop):

• Each and every time you exit the game, you will receive an application error for ntdll.dll. This is "normal" and obviously doesn't adversely affect game-play. Ignore it.

• In my many runs of ToEE, I have only received tio.dll error once (intro vignette).

• You may receive application error d3d8.dll when quickloading. That's your fault for relying on Quicksave.

• temple.dll CTDs may occur in random encounters (extremely rare), may occur when ID'ing items (be careful where you click!), and will definitely occur if description of item is too long during crafting (use abbreviations).

Known performance issues:

• Elemental node lag is notorious. The nodes are found in the temple, late-game. Scrolling viewport may lag game for up to 20 secs (scroll it slowly and don't go crazy). Saving the game may take up to 15 secs. Use these downtimes to meditate on your tactics and builds. That is wisdom. Note that the Water node seems unusually free of these issues.

• Pathing routine during exploration is unoptimized. But hey, at least it doesn't adversely affect in-combat tactics like in the inferior Infinity/Aurora RPGs.

Remember the following while playing:

• F12 = quicksave; F9 = quickload. Again, don't use these short-cuts! Instead, regularly make separate named saves, since the game may crash during the save and corrupt the data (very rare). Don't just rely on Quicksave. You will regret it.

• Hit "c"-key to re-enter combat mode in order to loot corpses.

• Hit "Tab"-key to highlight objects.

• Hit "Alt"-key in combat mode in order to display the path of your unit, and to show any AoOs (Attacks of Opportunity) threatening the unit.

Location of savegames: ..\modules\ToEE\Save

Take me to Part II: Chargen, Party Composition, Best Builds 


  1. I've owned this game at least three different ways over the years. Discs back when it was fresh, and twice via digital download. It's good to see TOEE still getting some love, and the folks at Circle of Eight were pretty amazing at making the original buggy mess into a really incredible game experience. I may need a reinstall sometime soon.

    Always enjoy reading your stuff, Lilura, even the stuff I don't necessarily see eye to eye with you about. Having spent so many thousands of hours playing many of the games you write about over the past few decades, it's nice to see them still getting a fair bit of exposure. Thanks for being a great standard bearer in that effort. Cheers.

    1. Thanks for the kind comment, Wayne's Randomness. Time-permitting, I hope to continue trying to keep the narrative of the original incarnations of Renaissance RPGs alive. For example, before I bomb out on blogging, I'd like to post in-depth coverage of some of my other faves; namely, Arcanum, Vamp Bloodlines, Deus Ex, Gothic/2, Fallout/2, Wizardry 8 and Silent Storm.

    2. Gothic/2? I will be very interested in those if they ever see the daylight! I spent uncountable hours on the island of Khorinis. Probably a lot more than i should have.

  2. I have read somewhere that "ToEE is not the best D&D game. It is the most D&D game" :)

    1. I recall that, upon the game's release, lots of people posting on the official boards were veterans of tabletop 3.x. Those were the days. :)

  3. hi,
    I cant seem to get temple+ to work. I do have co8 standard installed and i followed all the instructions for temple+ and when i run the configurator and hit "launch" all it does is throw up a windows error(running windows 8.1) and then if i try and run the shortcut, it does nothing at all. Any help in getting temple+ to work

    1. Temple+ support: https://rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/temple-support.98897/


Return to Index of lilura1 content

• Full comment stream is viewable here

• Anonymous users may not post comments. This is to cut out spam and insipid drive-by comments like "Love your blog!" and "You suck!", which I also consider spam. Register an account and Follow the blog if you would like to comment. Register on Google+ for a custom avatar!

• You can italicize, bold and underline portions of your text with simple HTML formatting elements. Likewise, you can include clickable hyperlinks with the basic HTML tag.

• Blog is moderated due to influx of spammers, trolls and bigots. I can spot a troll a mile off and hit it right between the eyes with fire and acid.

• Comments of a personal, political and religious nature are ignored. Comments with "isms" are ignored. Blatantly off-topic comments are ignored. Criticism of Renaissance RPGs based on degenerate current gen fads, trends and "sensibilities" are ignored.

• Remake-based comments on my Infinity Engine retrospectives don't get through the gate. This blog is about original-game narrative that has been in an authoritative state for 20 years. I don't care if a remake fixed this or broke that; I don't care who made the remake or who sanctioned it: there is only one authoritative version of a game, and that's the one released and patched by the original devs.

• Use zoom function of your browser to make the blog more readable. In Chrome, that's Ctrl and Shift and +. (And yes, I recommend that you view this blog with Chrome.)

Thank you for commenting, and have a lovely day!