In honor of the release of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, it is Dungeons & Dragons week here at Diehard GameFAN. As part of this week, we will be opening up the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame to five nominees – all video games based on Dungeons & Dragons in some way. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.
Game: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder
Developer: Westwood Associates/Studios
Publisher: Strategic Simulations, Inc.
Release Date: 1990
Systems Release On: PC DOS (CGA/EGA/VGA)
Genre: First Person RPG
Eye of the Beholder was the first real success for the Dungeons & Dragons license on the PC. It was the game that many tabletop gamers felt finally emulated what it would be like to be in a dungeon crawl and it was the first D&D game that you could play and enjoy even if you didn’t know anything about Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in particular. For many video gamers it was their first trip to the Realms Forgotten, their first encounter with the city of Waterdeep, their first FPRPG (First Person RPG), their first encounter with a little Aberration known as a Beholder. Eye of the Beholder managed to capture the hearts and minds of gamers across the board and managed to receive critical praise not just for the original DOS version that could be played on a PC, but for the later ports to the Amiga, Sega-CD and SNES. Other incredibly successful PC RPGs like The Bard’s Tale, Wizardry and Ultima had all been ported to consoles, but they never reached the same level of success there as Eye of the Beholder.
For me personally, the Sega-CD version was my favorite as it not only came with a brand new (and vastly improved) soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, but if you put the disc into a CD player, you could access every last bit of audio content in the game, including the major story bits, character introductions and the ending. This was wonderful if you didn’t want to replay the game and just wanted to reminisce on certain parts. It didn’t play as well as the PC version, but it did look and sound better.
The game would spawn two sequels, although the third would not be done by Westwood Studios. While SSI did a decent enough job producing the third game in-house, Westwood would go on to makes the Lands of Lore series the awesome Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun for the Sega Genesis (which no one but myself seems to have played) and several less than stellar game until it was shuttered by Electronic Arts in 2003. The original Eye of the Beholder remains the most memorable of the three. It was remade into a very underrated GBA game (one of my first pieces on this site was actually a semi FAQ for the game) that had more in common with SRPGs of the Pool of Radiance titles than the original. There are even some adventures made with the Aurora Engine for the 2002 Neverwinter Nights game by BioWare. It’s one of those games that managed to capture the imagination of gamers since it originally was released and for PC gamers in the early 90s, it was the beginning of the SSI Golden Age.
Now I decided to bring Eye of the Beholder to the table for nomination because it is one of my favorites and I felt it was the SSI game most of my staff would be familiar with, if any. So how did the votes go down? Let’s take a look.
All in Favor:
Ashe Collins: One of the better rated SSI games that spawned two sequels, several ports, and a small remake years later using the new rule set, Eye of the Beholder is one of those classic D&D titles that any fan who has a computer needs to try. The graphics are dated, but it’s the story-telling that seals the deal. Definitely a must have for any D&D fan with a PC, Sega CD, SNES, or even an Amiga.
B.J. Brown: It is hard for me NOT to vote for a number of the RPGs that came out around this time frame. Most of them were structured the same way (facial pics of characters with the full color dungeon crawl First person view on the left). Wizardry’s Bane of the Cosmic Forge looked the same way and I’m sure many other generic RPGs back then took the same format.
Anyways, I never beat any of these games but I enjoyed romping and exploring with the simple hopes of just advancing my character. I never really got into the story much, but it was a continued attempt to bring the table top scene to the virtual world. With the simplistic structure, more and more content could be dumped into these games so that playtime was typically astronomical. I guess that was the whole appeal. You could create an entire party of characters and then do your best to destroy all in their path.
Will Nobilis: This particular game is one I played at my best friend’s house after school due to both of us being D&D nuts, but our parents did not want us doing table-top roleplaying. This was my first real experience with D&D and I loved every moment of it (boring backgrounds aside, but I did not get bored with that until a few hours in). Back then I was one of those people that was crazy about going through and mapping things in games, looking at stats, exploring every nook and cranny of dungeons and this satisfied my need for all of that and more. However, the Upper Level Dwarven Ruins? They gave me nightmares about spiders in hallways for weeks.
Alexander Lucard: It’s so odd to think how good the storytelling was in this game when you can play the game without getting any real story at all. You can get the intro where you learn that the Lords of Waterdeep hire you to go kill things. Cue a landslide trapping you in, and from there you can play without encountering any real story bits except for killing old Xanathar at the end. However if you take the time to explore, you can encounter new characters, revive desiccated skeletons to life and hear their back story in the process, learn about the Dwarven and Drow communities within the game, and even back story in Xanathar itself. It all depends on how you play the game. I really liked that. The game could be as hack and slash as you wanted it to be.
As well, I really liked the realism. The fact the game was in something akin to a realistic progression of time and with a first person perspective really made the game come alive for me, especially as a child. I wasn’t able to start a battle, go to the bathroom or have dinner and then come back to pick my move from a pull down list. It was right then and there. You had to be fleet of finger as well as of mind to get through Eye of the Beholder which wasn’t something you had ever had to worry about with a RPG up to that point. Most importantly was the fact your characters had to eat and drink or start losing hit points. This is something that has always stayed with me from this game and I’ve always wondered why very few games try to go to this level. Of course, there were times where my characters did indeed starve to death because I ran out of both and then got lost in a maze or two. At least that wasn’t as bad as the time I figured out the quickest possible route to Xanathar (Yay graph paper!) and then promptly died because my characters weren’t of a high enough level to face it.
It was also interesting to see just how customizable your characters could be stats-wise. Although I’ve heard many a tale of characters with all 18s, I never understood the point of that. Still it was at least neat that you could do things like this. In all respects, Eye of the Beholder was far ahead of its time. Even though it hasn’t held up visually, for the past two decades, the gameplay is still pretty kick ass and it’s hard to be find anything to be negative about . While I wasn’t very impressed with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as a tabletop game compared to things like Shadowrun or Marvel Super Heroes (also by TSR), this video game made me wonder if I had been missing something. It caused me to look back through the first and second edition books I received as hand me downs and a coupled with the Ravenloft campaign setting I’d encounter a few years later, I was pretty much hooked. For starting me on my lifelong love of RPGs, Eye of Beholder gets my vote.
All Opposed: None. This actually gave me pause when I saw it and I looked to see if I missed any “Nays” somehow. I did not.
Results: 4 in Favor, 0 Opposed: 100% = ACCEPTED
I have to admit, I was not expected a unanimous vote. That’s only ever happened once before and that game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for a game I thought I was nominated as a lark and some pretty impressive company to be keeping to boot.
We’ll leave you with the original review of the game from Dragon Magazine #171. You’ll have to click on the pic to magnify it. It’s a pretty long review for a magazine back then.
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