Eye of the Beholder review

It’s a whole new year and I made a New Year’s resolution: I decided to try finishing any past games I left unfinished before trying any new game and that includes today’s subject, Eye of the Beholder!

Eye of the Beholder is a dungeon-crawling RPG developed by Westwood Studios and published by SSI. It was originally released in 1991 for the Amiga and DOS. It was ported in 1992 for the PC-98 and in 1994 for the SNES/Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega-CD. An Atari Lynx port was also being developed by NuFX but it was never released.

But as always, let’s first look at the covers:

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OH YEAH!

This cover art made by Jeff Easley is considered one of the most iconic covers of all times and it’s just gorgeous and action-packed. It simply features a skeleton warrior busting through a door but the level of detail in it is simply stunning. You can almost hear the door break just by looking at it.

Most of the covers are either like this one or variations thereof, but the American SNES cover is a bit different:

15226-eye-of-the-beholder-snes-front-coverWhile this cover isn’t as detailed as the original cover, it’s still not a bad one. As one can see, it depicts a warrior and a sorceress fighting a beholder (yes, that floating ball full of eyestalks is a beholder, one of the toughest monsters in D&D lore, which spoils the game’s story a bit).

But alas, it’s time to boot this dungeon hacker:

The game starts with some good music score for the time and then it shows a quite impressive cinematic intro. The intro features a secret council of robed individuals that decide to hire a group of adventurers to go to the sewers below the city of Waterdeep and investigate whatever is going down there, but they’re being spied on by an unseen being through a crystal ball. Then we see our group of adventurers arriving at Waterdeep and entering the sewers, which then collapses, blocking the exit.

Then we go to the character creation screen where we have to create up to four characters. We do this by choosing their race, class (or classes, if you’re multiclassing), alignment, then we reroll or modify their stats to our liking and finally we choose our characters’ appearance by a series of portraits. Although there isn’t a lot of variety of portraits to choose from, the ones that there are, aren’t bad. If you’re not familiarized with this process, then I recommend reading the manual beforehand or even the cluebook to get an idea how to form a good party. I also recommend rolling a cleric, because you’ll definitely need one.

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Fighting kobolds in the first level.

And while you start the game up to four characters, you have the option to add two more NPCs to your party. You’ll find them throughout your adventure (or what’s left of some of them). You have to remember that your party is formed by two columns and who’s ever in the front of the party are the ones that’ll fight the enemies in close quarters combat and the ones behind can only attack using projectiles or magic (but be careful because if you’re attacked from behind or the sides, then the enemies can target your back characters).

The main screen during gameplay is composed of the main view on the left featuring a first-person perspective; the characters on the right (where you can use any items or click their individual portraits to access their inventory, equipment and stats); the directional buttons for movement and a compass, both just below the main view; a message screen on the bottom and a Camp button on the right-bottom corner. By clicking the Camp button, you have access to an in-game menu, where your party can rest and recover health; any clerics and mages can memorise spells (which should be the first thing you do when starting a new game); scribe any scrolls for your mage to access new spells and other game options (like save and load, although the game only has one savestate).

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Character creation.

The dungeon is divided in 12 levels and each level is increasingly harder than the former with one or two monster types per level along with traps and puzzles. Throughout your adventure, you’ll find all types of new items, like new weapons, armor, scrolls, keys, etc. Apart from weapons, armor and food; most of the items are usually used to solve puzzles. The game encourages exploration because you’ll never know what you’ll find behind illusionary walls, traps or locked doors. Just be mindful of any cursed item (luckily there aren’t many of).

The combat is in real-time (like in every dungeon crawler RPG) and you simply click on your weapon to attack (right-click if you’re using a mouse), although to throw spells you need to first click the spellbook or a cleric’s holy symbol, then go through the pages and finally click the desired spell, which can take a while and therefore not ideal when facing a tough opponent on the heat of the battle.

The plot also gets increasingly more complex (although in general, it’s a simple plot) as your adventure progresses and don’t be surprised if you need to backtrack levels for any reason (luckily there are ways which will ease the backtracking, if you know where to look). The game also has lots of secrets to find and even some easter eggs here and there, which might encourage future replays (and also trying out different parties).

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Casting a spell.

Now for the technical aspects: like I mentioned before, the game features some good music during the intro, but throughout the gameplay there isn’t any music whatsoever, which would make a good addition. But even without music, the game provides a terrifying atmosphere in how it uses its simple sound effects; while exploring the dungeon, you can hear the monsters’ footsteps (or other sounds) which will get louder and louder as your party gets closer to the monsters (and then softer after killing said monsters).

Graphically wise, the game has a good color palette and all the monsters have a great design but the animation is very limited due to the fact that all the characters only have a few frames of animation. The control scheme is also pretty good and I highly recommend the use of a mouse because the gameplay was definitely built around it.

But it’s time to refer to the elephant in the room. And by that, I mean Eye of the Beholder‘s biggest controversy (only for the DOS version though). But for that I need to issue this:

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If you’re played all the way to the end (or watched my playthrough video above), you’ll see that the end is a bit on the small side (just a text message, really). Anyone that was expecting a cinematic ending in the same vein of the intro, was extremely disappointed. But the truth is, that during development, a proper ending was actually planned but because it would take another floppy disk to fit the ending, SSI decided to just cut the ending to a text message in order to save space (and money). Luckily this was only for the DOS version. All the other versions have a proper cinematic ending (which is why I recommend either playing those versions or look it up on YouTube).

OK, spoilers over!

In conclusion, it’s easy to see why Eye of the Beholder is one of the titles that popularised the first-person dungeon-crawler subgenre (which begun with Dungeon Master) and had a great success among players and critics. With a great intro, monster design, easy character creation, good control scheme (although the spell casting could be better), solid gameplay (with some hiccups here and there) and a great atmosphere, Eye of the Beholder is a true RPG classic and although it might be a bit hard for beginners (especially the final boss), it’s still an essential title to play. Needless to say that I recommend it.

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“But hey, no pressure.”

If you’re interested on trying it out, you can buy it here at GOG.com along with its two sequels. And I also recommend download the All-Seeing Eye, an automap app, which I used for my playthrough (along with the official cluebook).

As far as other versions go, the Amiga version looks and plays just like the DOS version. The SNES/Super Nintendo is also very similar but since the game was designed for a mouse control scheme, it feels weird playing with a gamepad. But the Sega Mega-CD version might just be the ultimate version with new cutscenes, voice-over, an automap feature and a new soundtrack composed by Yuzo Koshiro (also responsible for the soundtracks of the Streets of Rage and Shenmue series).

In 2002, Pronto Games and Infogrames released a remake called Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder for the Game Boy Advance. It changed the gameplay significantly by reducing the number of classes to four (but adding an extra race) and although the game still has a first-person exploration, the combat was changed to third-person perspective, similar to the D&D Gold Box series. Personally I haven’t played this title, but it wasn’t well received by players and critics alike.

But this didn’t stop for fan remakes to be made:

Whew! Talking about starting the new year with a bang! I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and I promise that 2019 will be full of great reviews like this one. Until then, keep on hacking and playing!

Dungeon Hack review

Confession time: I never really got into tabletop RPG. I’m not saying it’s bad or something. I’m simply stating that I’ve never had the patience for it. However, I do love RPG videogames, whether they’re western computer style or eastern console style.

And my introduction to computer RPGs was also my introduction to dungeon crawlers and to the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. I’m talking about Dungeon Hack.

Dungeon Hack was developed by DreamForge Intertainment and published by Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI). It was originally released in 1993 for DOS and re-released in 1995 for the PC-98.

Dungeon Hack is a Roguelike dungeon crawler made using the Eye of the Beholder 3 game engine, based in the Forgotten Realms campaign. This means that it creates random generated levels with each new gameplay with the option of a “real death” (in which if your character dies, all save files are automatically erased).

But let’s look at the cover:

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“The dark fire will not avail, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

This cover was made in the style of a D&D gamebook cover, with gorgeous artwork. It depicts a large beast in front of a typical fantasy adventurer. It looks like something made by the likes of Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo or Boris Vallejo.

But let’s take a look at the intro, shall we?

As you can see, you play as an anonymous adventurer hired by a mysterious sorceress to find an orb in a dangerous dungeon. The intro is small but it serves its purpose as a backstory.

Then you go to the menu screen, where you can choose between several pre-made characters or create your own. Before you go into the character creation screen, I recommend reading the manual first because the character creation uses the Advanced D&D 2nd Edition rules and if you’re not familiar with those, then you need to read the manual to understand all the races, classes and spells available in the game.

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What? I can’t roleplay as a half-human, half-hobbit chimney cleaner? That’s racist!

After you choose your race, class (or classes), gender, alignment and properly reroll your stats, you can choose your character’s portrait from several options. Although the game doesn’t have a lot of character portraits (more male than female ones), it still has a basic range of portraits for simple characters.

And then you go to the dungeon customization screen and this is where the game really shines! Like I’ve said before, the game creates random generated levels, but you can customize your dungeon by choosing between several variables, like monsters’ difficulty level, how big you want the dungeon to be, magic traps, etc. The number of possible combinations is very large and quite impressive!

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So, I can create a dungeon based on Disney World.

Each level has more or less the some basic layout (apart from some exceptions): usually with two different monster types with a third type acting as an end-level boss (which can be a normal monster type in the next level). The monsters are all varied and based on the Forgotten Realms campaign. There’s even a bestiary in the manual, however it’s incomplete…

During the gameplay, you have access to an auto-map, which is probably the most useful tool in your possession. It not only marks your already explored path but it’s also useful for backtracking and locating monsters out of sight.

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OUCH! Asshole, that hurt!

You also have a limited inventory space, so you need to manage carefully your inventory during later levels. You also need to eat during your adventure and collect better weapons, armor, potions and scrolls. Careful though! You can end up with cursed items (although there’s a way for lifting said curses or identify unknown items).

Luckily, you can rest (when not surrounded by monsters) and recover health. But it does however reduce your food bar.

Although apart from the title theme, there’s no other music in the game, but there’s a wide array of ambient sound effects ranging from the monsters’ noises to every time you open a door. It creates a proper atmosphere when you hear monsters all around you, but can’t detect any at first glance.

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When camping used to be good.

The graphics are all quite good for the time but the view screen is somewhat small. The designers could perfectly re-arrange the size of the other screens (character items, movement arrows, portrait, etc) in order to make the view screen bigger.

Depending on your choices, the smallest dungeon is still 10 levels deep, which can create properly long adventures. And the wide array of variables during dungeon customization, creates very good replay value.

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The main menu screen.

So, not only I recommend this game as an introduction to dungeon crawlers in general or to the D&D franchise, but I also recommend it as test drive of sorts for possible characters you can imagine.

And you can buy it here at GOG.com bundled together with another D&D RPG, Menzoberranzan.

So, what do you think of Dungeon Hack? Like and leave your comments below.

Next time, let’s look at the world’s most popular sport. Till then, keep on hacking away.

Quest For Glory I/Hero’s Quest review

To end our Sierra retrospective, I decided to do something different. Instead of reviewing another typical graphic adventure, I decided to review the first of one of my favorite series: Quest for Glory (originally known as Hero’s Quest).

Corey and Lori Ann Cole were two designers at Sierra who are avid D&D fans and one day, they pitched the idea of creating a RPG game using the SCI0 engine. But as development went on, they ended up creating a hybrid graphic adventure/RPG game.

Hero’s Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero was originally released in 1989 for DOS, a year later for Atari ST and Amiga and in 1991 for the PC-98.

But a year after the original release, Sierra was forced to change its name to Quest for Glory to avoid confusion with the board game Hero Quest by Milton Bradley (which was adapted into a different computer game).

Quest for Glory I was supposed to have more RPG elements, like a deeper character creation with multiple races and also the ability to play as a female, but due to time constrictions and difficulties with the engine, these and other options were cut from the original concept.

But let’s look at the cover, shall we?

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Talk about a diet rich in iron!

The cover shows our hero-to-be fighting a Saurus Rex, one of the hardest monsters in the game. It’s a good cover with decent artwork and conveys exactly the tone of the game.

But let’s boot this sucker, shall we?

Despite the intro showing a dragon, unfortunately you won’t find any (living) dragons in the game. You’d have to wait further along down the series for that.

The game doesn’t have a lot of backstory; you’re just a recent graduate from the Famous Adventurer’s Correspondence School, recently arrived to the valley and town of Spielburg, who are in dire need of a hero.

The game starts with you creating your protagonist, first by choosing a class (Fighter, Magic User or Thief) and then relocating your points to your preferred stats and finally naming it. The character’s appearance however is always the same.

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The original title screen

The Fighter is an expert in combat and the most direct in his approach towards the puzzles and quests. The Magic User cast spells which you’ll have to look for, learn and use to solve the puzzles and the Thief has to use his abilities to solve said puzzles. Take a locked door for example: the Fighter would simply smash the door open while the Magic User would cast a spell to open the door and the Thief would simply pick the door’s lock. Because of the latter, the Thief class is my personal favorite due to its gameplay being closer to a traditional graphic adventure.

While it is possible to create hybrid characters by allocating points in different stats (like giving the Fighter the ability to cast spells), the game will always treat you as the class you’ve chosen. For example, you can still use a spell to open a locked door but you won’t get the points the Fighter would usually get for smashing said door.

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“Welcome to Spielburg. Don’t mind the goon with the yo-yo”

And those aren’t the only RPG elements in the game. Your character won’t level up like in most RPGs; instead you raise your stats by repeating the same action several times over. Fighting with your weapon raises your Strength and Weapon Use stats, throwing a dagger raises your Throwing and Weapon Use stats or casting a spell raises your Intelligence, Magic and that specific Spell proficiency stats and so on and so forth. You can raise your stats to a maximum of 100 points each (except for the Experience stat which always increases along with any other stat).

You also have Health and Stamina points that when depleted, it’s game over! These are linked to your Strength, Vitality and Agility stats and when these stats are increased, so are your Health and Stamina. Magic Users also have Mana points linked to your Intelligence and Magic stats, although if depleted, you’ll just lose the ability to cast spells.

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No, you can’t turn enemies into frogs, unfortunately

To avoid your Health and Stamina (and Mana) to drop drastically, you need to eat and sleep, so you’re always need a steady supply of food and potions. While there is a specific place in the game where you can get free food and rest, potions aren’t free and you need money to buy them, therefore you need to solve quests and kill monsters in order to make money (although the Thief has another alternative).

Also you can’t just sleep anywhere. There are a few safe spots to do it, like the inn or the castle stable for beginners, although there are also a few safe spots in the surrounding forest for you to find.

The game also has a day/night cycle in which some places (like the town and castle grounds) are close and inactive during the night, while other places become active.

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Where’s Thor when you need him?

Another RPG element is the ability to export your character to the next game of the series, maintaining all the stats, money and items you’ve collected.

You begin your game in the town of Spielburg, but shortly after, you need to explore the entire valley. The map is somewhat reminiscent of the one found in King’s Quest I (with the exception that it doesn’t revolve around itself) and you are free to travel anywhere inside said valley. This gives the game a non-linear aspect also reminiscent of King’s Quest I.

All the monster encounters (except in specific screens and locations) are random, and during the day, you’ll find the easiest ones to fight. The hardest ones come out at night, so be careful if you find yourself at night in the middle of the forest. Also the majority of the night monsters start to appear during the day after achieving 1000 points of experience.

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Not as easy as it looks and it doesn’t look easy!

All the fights are shown in an over-the-shoulder POV and are fought using the keypad arrows. The controls are tight and easy to master. You can even run away from a battle (except the main ones)!

But my favorite part of the game is the NPCs, which are all well written and fleshed out. It’s impossible to hate them. Almost all the characters and by extend, the fantasy elements themselves, are based in Germanic folklore.

While the game isn’t a parody, it still has a lot of comedy sprinkled out through it with lots of easter eggs. But the story isn’t afraid to get serious and somewhat dark when needed.

The game’s EGA graphics are very well detailed and colorful, with great animation throughout. The soundtrack is quite appropriate with certain main NPCs getting their own theme. The main title theme would later become the series’ main theme, with some differences in each entry.

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Does anyone wants to play Ghosts and Goblins?

But unfortunately, the game also presents some flaws. Because of the nature in raising stats, some grinding is inevitable, forcing you to develop a daily routine for your characters at the beginning before their stats are high enough to tackle the harder quests.

And while the Thief might be the hardest character to play in a graphic adventure perspective, the Magic User is the one that, for me, has the most grinding, due to the fact that you not only have to grind all the necessary stats linked to spell casting, but also have to repeatedly cast all the spells in order to increase the proficiency of each individual spell.

But spite these little flaws, the game not only has great replay value, but also due to the grinding, a considerable gameplay length.

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Then in 1992, to coincide with the rest of the VGA remakes Sierra was making, the Coles decided to remake Quest for Glory I using the SCI 1.1 engine, with VGA 256-color graphics and a point-and-click mouse interface.

Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero VGA was released in 1992 for DOS and in 1994 for Macintosh.

And with it, also a new cover:

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“Yummm! Hero fricassé”

While I like the stained glass type artwork, I don’t like the image’s content, which shows the Hero facing a dragon and scared after said dragon broke his sword. We’ve already established that there aren’t any dragons in the game. So why depict a dragon instead of any other monster that’s actually in the game? Because of this, I prefer the original cover.

Anyway, let’s boot this sucker:

The intro’s a bit better, using clay models and stop motion animation, which was also used in the rest of the monsters and characters.

But unfortunately, using said techniques made the animations look a little jerky sometimes, especially during the fights.

The remake not only has better graphics and resolution but the night/day cycle has been improved because this time, you can actually see getting darker at sunset and brighter at sunrise. However the remake uses a brownish palette, so even though it has 256 colors on screen, it looks less colorful than the original. There are even 1 or 2 locations that don’t look as detailed as in the original.

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Work, work, work

Because of the mouse interface, the dialogues now have a tree scheme, with topics to choose from a menu. This make the dialogues somewhat shorter, but more to the point.

The fights are now in a sort of isometric perspective, with icons in the corner for fighting, which makes the battles also easier.

The stats now rise faster, reducing the grinding and therefore the game’s length.

But story wise, the game remains the same. All the characters maintain their characterization and with the new graphics, they also sport new character portraits during dialogues (except for the Hero).

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These flowers don’t swallow

Both versions had a tremendous success, with the original version selling over 250,000 copies shortly after its release.

So, which version do I recommend? Both, actually! It depends on your personal preferences: if you prefer a more colorful game and don’t mind the text parser, then go for the original. However, if you prefer an easier experience, the mouse interface and a better resolution, then go for the remake.

Whichever version you play, I recommend this game as an entry point for the RPG genre, due to its intuitive and easy gameplay. And I also highly recommend the rest of series.

Quest For Glory I’s (and consequently, the rest of the series) influence was extremely important and it’s still observed nowadays because not only it popularized the crossing over of genres in future video games, but it also encouraged the use of RPG elements in other types of games and the use of adventure/action elements in RPGs.

You can buy both versions (along with the entire series) here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

And so it ends our Sierra retrospective. Did you like it? If so, leave your comments below and tell me which are your favorite Sierra games and moments. And while you’re at it, tell me if you’d like to see more Sierra games reviews or other retrospectives.

Join us again in March, where we’ll take a respite from graphic adventures and go back to our regular reviews.

Till then, keep on playing.