Longtime fans of Dungeons & Dragons recall that The Temple of Elemental Evil, before it was a computer role-playing game, was a popular module for pen-and-paper D&D. In fact, the original version of The Temple of Elemental Evil is the quintessential D&D campaign. It puts a small party of adventurers, skilled in armed and magical combat, deep in a dangerous fortress filled with hundreds of sinister monsters and untold secrets and riches. The adventurers start off relatively weak, but through their trials and tribulations, they can become powerful enough to thwart the evil lurking in the temple’s heart. To capture the spirit both of the original campaign and of modern-day pen-and-paper D&D, the developers implemented a turn-based combat system featuring the new 3.5 Edition D&D rules, which gives you a fine level of control over your party–as well as plenty of leisure time to admire the game’s great-looking creatures. However, an occasionally cumbersome and obtuse interface and occasionally buggy gameplay do limit this game’s appeal mostly to those who don’t need an invitation or introduction to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. But these players should be readily willing to overlook the game’s problems for the sake of its challenging, strategic battles.
The Temple of Elemental Evil is a single-player-only adventure with a straightforward premise that’s mostly an excuse to put you through a lengthy, diverse dungeon crawl. This isn’t an epic-scale adventure–most of the game takes place in the titular temple (though, at the beginning, you explore the countryside until you find it), though the temple is a sufficiently huge, multistory affair. Initially, you create a party of up to five characters (or you may choose from pregenerated characters), who begin as neophyte first-level adventurers and can eventually grow to 10th level, which isn’t as high up there as some other recent D&D games have allowed you to get. Make no mistake, this is no flaw–Dungeons & Dragons is probably most well balanced, tense, and exciting at the earlier levels, so this game’s focus on relatively low-level adventuring leads to many nail-biting battles in which you must take great care to keep your party out of harm’s way as best you can. Indeed, starting out, your party is vulnerable even to common thugs, though later on, you’ll start to feel quite powerful as your fighters gain multiple attacks per round, your healers become much more useful, and your mages learn to cast damaging area-of-effect spells.