Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon. (computer adventure game) (Column) (Evaluation)
by Alfred C. Giovetti
You and the other heroes of the battle for the sewers have settled in for your night's repast before the warm hearth of the most inviting inn in Waterdeep when there comes a call for assistance. Soon, you find yourself slogging through the torrential rain with your friends, wincing at the peals of thunder as you approach a dark doorway. A rough-looking, large servant greets you and quickly ushers you into the presence of Khelben, one of the ruling lords of Waterdeep. After being briefed on recent disappearances of important agents and some other strange happenings in the area, you're teleported into the center of an adventure--far from the meal and bed of the inn.
And you're launched into perhaps the best of all first-person adventure games, full of seat-of-the-pants suspense and hair-pulling mystery. Strategic Simulations' Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon will capture your imagination and hold you prisoner in front of your computer for days--nay, weeks--of entertainment.
Darkmoon is true to the rules, classes, artifacts, and locations contained within the Forgotten Realms Fantasy World, a favorite world in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. In many ways, one of the most exciting things about this excellent adventure is its faithful portrayal of this popular fantasy world.
Darkmoon has its share of gratuitous violence, from the slaying of the suspiciously friendly clerics to the gruesome and dangerous final battle with the red dragon. Many of the monsters from the first Eye of the Beholder are back to plague the party of four adventurers and as many as two nonplayer characters. There are new, more lethal monsters. Frost giants pummel your entire group with one blow from a massive six-foot fist. Medusas positively rivet those unable to escape their irresistible charms. You're never really sure what will be lurking around the next corner or what will come looking for you out of the distant shadows.
Exploration and mapping are needed to get through the maze, so get out the pencils, rulers, and graph paper, as this game lacks an automapping feature. Some of the puzzles are the find-the-minuscule-button type; others involve knowing the pattern of levers to pull or the floor switches to weight with stones. Solutions range from the obvious to the obscure. Some require the tedious process of kicking all walls to see if they hide a secret wall; others require a basic knowledge of statistical combinations and permutations.
Characters can be rolled up by the computer, transferred from the original Eye of the Beholder, selected from a pre-rolled quick-start party, or modified to fit the statistics of your favorite character from any computer or paper-and-pencil role-playing game. They're constructed from two genders, six basic attributes, nine types of two-dimensional moral alignment, and six basic professions as provided in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons second edition. You can--and should--take your favorite characters and weapons into the game.
Darkmoon's interface is little changed from its award-winning predecessor. The first-person perspective uses the upper left portion of the screen. The remainder of the screen is filled by the character display, compass, mouse-activated cursor icons, and message area. The compass is replaced by a Spell menu when a holy symbol or spell book is clicked on. Clicking on a character portrait changes the character display to an equipment or attribute list. Equipment is displayed in paper-doll fashion, so that you actually put "clothes" on the character graphics or place weapons in their hands.
The first-person display changes little in combat, save for the approach of the antagonist. Played through a Sound Blaster sound card, digitized sounds of metal on metal and grunts of characters punctuate the battle realistically. Combat is carried out in real-time and involves clicking on weapons to strike opponents in a melee, to launch missiles, or to open the Spell menu to select an appropriate combat spell. Arrows, daggers, rocks, and spells can be seen flying through the air toward their intended targets.
If the battle grows too intense, you can back away or turn and run to find a safe place on another level or beyond a stout door that you hope will hold the monsters back. Objects and characters shown in the 3-D-perspective window are represented with a depth and substance that suspend disbelief, giving you a feeling of truly being there.
Click on switches to operate them, on beds to search them, on items in the scene for more precise descriptions of how they feel, or on Dwarven, Elven, or other script for an instant translation from party members who know the language. Exploration is very much like walking down a hallway and picking up objects to examine them. And when you place an object on the floor, it stays there until you return to retrieve it.
Darkmoon's engrossing plot is revealed in a series of character-interaction scenes. In each of these scenes, the dungeon display is replaced by a screenwide graphic of the nonplayer character who's talking or a prominent game feature, such as the temple of Darkmoon.
Characters are awarded experience for completing quests, finding significant items, solving puzzles, and making the correct choice when given an option. Adventuring players' characters speak right up when they have the skill to notice something important about the immediate surroundings of the party, giving you the feeling that you're part of a group of real people. Characters also speak up if the party is asked to commit an act contrary to their moral alignment with respect to good, evil, chaos, and order, adding more personality to the characters.
Strategic Simulations responded to some of the criticism of the first Eye of the Beholder by adding several new features to Darkmoon. For instance, Darkmoon has six user-definable save-games, which will be needed, since there are several dead-end situations you can encounter in the game. Also, there's a higher level of player interaction and story development that engages you in the conflict.
Player interaction is, however, still somewhat limited. Darkmoon allows for the recruitment of only six nonplayer characters, but they're very interesting and unpredictable, giving character recruitment some bite. And there's only manual combat.
Darkmoon does have a few bugs. Make sure that the party has three glowing orbs prior to passing through the unintentionally one-way crimson ring portal in the crimson tower. Cleric-fighter-mage multi-class characters cause the game to lock up when area-affect spells are thrown at the party. The keyboard control of movement occasionally is unresponsive during a battle, which caused my party to be killed off several times in the final climactic battle with Dran Draggore. Still, these problems were only a little annoying when compared to the enjoyable gameplay that snuck up and stole 40 hours of time from my life.
This is one of the best real-time, first-person-perspective games ever produced. The graphics are much sharper and more attractive than those of previous games; when combined with the coordinated digitized sound effects, they pull you into the realtime action. Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon has a rich story line, improved graphics, spectacular animation, and a satisfying finale. Also, it's a lot of fun to play.