Eye of the Beholder
for Amiga (OCS/ECS)

beholder_box.jpg
Mr Creosote:Popular Vote:
5/6
Company: Westwood / SSI
Year: 1991
Genre: RPG
Theme: Based on Other Media / Sword & Sorcery
Language: English, Deutsch
Licence: Commercial
Views: 26036
Review by Mr Creosote (2022-08-27)
Avatar

The irony of calling your company Faster Than Light (FTL) when in fact, all your products were notoriously late is obvious. It cannot be denied that their Dungeon Master was a true work of art. The main thing not even being the large 3D window into the game world or everything taking place in real time, but rather the flawless design of managing every imaginable player interaction in this same view, following a highly intuitive interface. No separate character creation, no separate battle screen etc. Everything just fit together.

Though then, FTL left themselves wide open commercially when they not only failed to properly follow up on their huge success, but even failed to see the emergence of a new major force on the computer games market: the IBM PC. In 1991, a whole four years after Dungeon Master's original release, they still didn't have their game out on the new market leading platform. Which left ample opportunity for the competition to take over.

beholder13.png
Turn, dammit!

Cynically speaking, it could be suspected that SSI's communication to developer Westwood must have been: make us a game exactly like that one, and make it look really, really great. Westwood, the talented craftsmen they were, delivered exactly that. A really good looking Dungeon Master clone.

There is no attempt to tell any story, to develop characters. Evil just happens to be lurking below the city of Waterdeep, so a group of heroes dives into the sewers under which more dungeon levels wait than expected by the city elders. Until they eventually meet a boss monster, which just happens to be there on the last level. Killing which ended the game in the least spectacular way imaginable in the original version. A good sign of the game having been rushed out. The Amiga port at least added a proper ending sequence.

beholder29.png
A rare non-hostile encounter (AGA)

Player skills gained from playing Dungeon Master remain fully usable, especially when it comes to the real-time combat. The enemies are defined to a level where they quickly become unbeatable when just engaging in direct combat. Hitting, then moving away to evade, is a necessity, and the balancing is just right. On top, many monsters sport special abilities. Slaying a giant spider works well enough, but doing so before getting poisoned is another question. Unfortunately, this part just being a game of luck.

Fighting aside, the main challenge lies in decyphering the mazes. No automap available for help, the levels are chock full of fake walls, invisible teleporters, spinners… all those dungeon features which you either love or hate. The only explicit help being the compass rose at the bottom of the screen to indicate something unforeseen has just happened. On top, features like regular (visible) teleporters, lifts and small puzzles to open doors in different ways spice things up. It takes a very dedicated player to not get lost.

beholder34.png
There's just no way out (AGA)

From today's point of view, the graphics could use some additional animation frames. That aside, the game still looks quite good. The pixel sprites have aged well and the dungeon backgrounds change every three levels as well. A fan-made reverse engineered version re-imports the original VGA graphics to the Amiga and even adds automapping. For sure, a much more convenient way of playing these days.

Nevertheless, it is not so clear who would want to play through the game today anyway. Based on what came after, the name Eye of the Beholder now carries a huge legacy which at least this first game cannot really deliver on. It is an alright game, but apart from looking good, there is really nothing special about it. It was there in the right place at the right time which ensured its commercial success.

The case of it being the better Dungeon Master in terms of gameplay can be made, especially as far as balancing is concerned. Though in terms of pure design, it actually did a couple of things in much more clunky ways (such as taking the player out of the game world for character generation, spell memorization, camping…). One way or another, Dungeon Master is an important game in history. Eye of the Beholder is not. It is a (good) “me too” imitation which brought nothing new to the table.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2009-10-10)
Avatar

There's something fishy going on in the city of Waterdeep. The Lords of the city have traced the source of the problems to the underground catacombs and a party of four heroes is commissioned to investigate. Immediately, they are trapped with the ceiling collapsing at the entrance. So now, the four are on their own with no outside help or supplies available. The only direction to go in is down...

beholder13.png
Fighting a zombie

Eye of the Beholder is a roleplaying game in the style of Dungeon Master. Your party is moving in distinct steps and turns of 90°, weapons and items are controlled with simple mouse clicks. Fights are done in real time, with each character only being able to use his or her weapon once every few seconds.

Apart from the obvious AD&D based character generation and progression, there are only few classic roleplaying elements in the game. You can find new weapons, but there aren't any cities or merchants or most of the other NPCs you're likely to come across in an RPG.

beholder12.png
Tiny, the Dwarven Thief/Fighter has just saved the party the hunt for yet another key

Instead, the main point is finding one's way through the underground maze which includes avoiding traps and opening doors a lot. The corridors look pretty much alike everywhere, there are secret passages all over and there is no automapping - not an ideal combination. A printed map of the first three levels comes with the game, but since such a map doesn't indicate your party's current position, this isn't an appropriate replacement. Also, the numerous teleporters aren't marked on that map anyway. So there is really no alternative to picking up a pen and a piece of paper to map everything yourself.

On the other hand, Eye of the Beholder is a very accessible game due to its intuitive controls. The lack of depth, which might be criticized, means that casual players can easily get into it without need for lots of commitment. You can easily start playing the game, then let it be for a few days and immediately get into it again - and that's a quality which shouldn't be underestimated.

Comments (7) [Post comment]

Mr Creosote:
Good points. I think, in the end, it comes down to what players expect and what you call 'RPG elements'. I used it in the review meaning things like an evolving storyline, real characters to interact with and so on. Of course, if you define 'RPG' as a pure dungeon crawl, Eye of the Beholder is full of RPG elements.
Wandrell:

Only that pen and paper is trying to imitate videogames. Thing like trying to be like the Final Fantasy games, with a weird mix of fantasy, advanced science-fiction and other things that look weird and absurd to adding mechanics to creating your own weapon mixing materials and magic (like for example what you can do on Vagrant Story on the PSX, which in that game ends being tedious).

They take mechanics and ideas, getting closer to what people think is a RPG due to videogames, which are fairly more popular. There is even a World of Warcraft RPG, but that is more due to the custom of making your biggest franchises work on the street.

They aren't getting bland, just getting geared to other kind of people. D&D came from wargames, others came from books like Call of Cthulhu and now some start coming from videogames. Each generation has their own kind, I suppose.

Just in this case it jumped from pen and paper to computer and then back.

Mr Creosote:
Apparantely, I misunderstood your initial point. I thought you were blaming the influence of computer games for P&P getting bland. Could you explain what you were getting at?
Wandrell:

The version of D&D I was talking is the new 4th edition. They did a weird mix-max with the forgotten realms, supposedly the world collided with an alternate reality, and along the story world change they did game changes.

While the SSI games where 2nd edition. Some of the newer are 3rd edition, but I just know the barebones of what each edition is supposed to be like, I never got into D&D.

So there is a distance in rules between the SSI games and the new edition, with several games in the middle that sold well. It's normal they thought of the futures games when designing.

Also, I don't think pen and paper is getting less deep. Ironically the games that are more game influenced I saw are also more rules heavy, and add too many complexities to my taste. They are the kind of game that makes me think this all was better in a videogame, because I'm not a computer and can't recall even half of this.

Mr Creosote:

Of course, there is a reciprocal effect between P&P and the computer world. It makes sense, because the target audiences have got a significant overlap and perceptions and expectations change.

I think you're making it a little easy on yourself if you blame computer games on P&P getting less depth. Sure, on the one hand, there is the whole sub-genre of Hack clones which certainly aren't very deep. On the other hand, in the late 80s and early 90s, the Forgotten Realms games by SSI were, I think, perfect examples of very complex RPGs.

Wandrell:

You comment it lacks some RPG elements, but it's because the game is more close to pen & paper RPGs, or at least to AD&D dungeon crawls (I've always preffered other games, so much combat is just throwing handfuls of dices).

D&D adapted to videogames. These videogames get popular (like this one). They more or less keep faithful to the original.

To where does this go? To the new D&D being designed with videogames in mind. Ok, I've barely looked at the new manuals, but that's I've heard, and what I've seen with other RPGs.

I'm ranting, I know. But this classical computer RPG made me remind how there are no more RPG videogames and some pen and paper RPGs are trying to get close to videogames.

[Reply]

Quiz