All this talk of Eye of the Beholder lately gave me the itch for some dungeon crawling! This is a game that I always wanted to like, but never had the patience for due to the complete lack of any kind of map system. Drawing detailed maps of very complex dungeons from room to room can seem like a daunting task, and it is. In fact, it was even more difficult than I thought it would be to make accurate maps for many of the levels here.
The first problem I ran into was that with no map, there’s no frame of reference for where you should even be placing your first room. Too far to any side and you’ll end up running out of room mid-map. Eventually I came to realize that the stairways between each floor aligned with each other so you could work it out from there, though that still proved to be troublesome since I had no way to know what the actual size of the grids for these maps were. After ruining and restarting several maps I just ended up looking up the official ones online just so I could have the starting points to work outwards from.
This still didn’t always help though. As you get deeper into the dungeon you run into some troublesome bits like teleporters, which can drop you in a location outside of your mapped area with no way to know where you now are on the grid, or one level that just decided to have a hallway that went down off the bottom of the map and continued back up at the top in this impossible loop that no other level ever made use of.
Even worse were floors 7 through 9, which formed a tangled 3d maze that had you constantly switching between each floor, making it extra difficult to keep your bearings. As a result, I can’t say that I enjoyed this aspect of the game much at all. The levels themselves are well designed and all, but it was just such a tedious distraction having to manually map them in such a way.
It actually seemed like the developers kind of enjoyed making everything as obtuse and taunting as possible. Sometimes there were fake puzzles/traps that would claim to be hiding a treasure, but would turn out to be nothing but time wasting red herrings. Almost none of the various equipment you find during the game has any information attached to it. You have no way of knowing what stats or effects anything you find has, I mean unless you figure out how to use the single special oracle of wisdom room which identifies all your items, but can’t actually be activated without an item you only find in the last level (so what’s the point anymore?).
At this point it probably doesn’t sound like I liked this game at all, but surprisingly, that’s not true. While it is frustratingly archaic and cryptic in many ways, it does still provide a pretty enjoyable dungeon crawling experience. There are twelve deadly floors to deal with, most of which have their own special sets of hazards for you to deal with.
The first three floors are the sewer levels and are the most straightforward, serving as almost a training area for the real challenges to come. After that the traps, puzzles, and mazes get a lot more complicated with the sadistically creative use of pits, illusionary walls, teleporters, pressure plates, riddles, and more.
A lot of enemies will start hitting you with nasty status effects like poison and paralyze too, so you’ll have to start being more careful and doing a lot of strategic retreating. You might also be forced to do some quick party re-arranging mid-battle too if one of your front row melee fighters gets incapacitated. In this case you’ll want to quickly pull someone up from the back to prevent someone from dying and keep your damage output going. All of this juggling of characters, attacks, and spell menus can get pretty tense, especially in the later levels, but I like that sort of thing for some reason.
Something else worth mentioning here is that this game was a joint venture between classic PC game devs SSI and Westwood, and apparently the team that created this and Eye of the Beholder 2 are the same people that would end up breaking off from SSI and starting the Lands of Lore series for Westwood. There are a lot of interesting similarities to Lands of Lore to see here. Many of the mechanics used here would find their way to Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, though in a much more refined form.
Supposedly Eye of the Beholder 2 is the best of the series and the one that most closely resembles Lands of Lore, and I’m looking forward to seeing for myself, though I’m going to need a break before I jump into a whole other harrowing dungeon adventure like this again.
Now all that remains is for me to go load my save back up and do some inventory rearranging and cleaning because you apparently can only import 4/6 characters and their items into the next game, and I need to make sure I have all my good shit ready! Also going to have to leave one of my created characters, Vilkatrina, behind because making a Thief/Mage split class was a huge mistake (also…I really should have named my Cleric Papa Bless!). Oh wellllll!