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Intro
Eye of the Beholder

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Eye of the Beholder II
Eye of the Beholder III
Eye of the Beholder (GBA)

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by Dingo - November 20, 2011

In 1987, a company by the name of Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) acquired the license for computer adaptions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from TSR, Inc. SSI went on to successfully publish over 30 games using the AD&D license; among those were the Eye of the Beholder games, which were developed along with Westwood Studios.

Taking a hint from the 1987/88 surprise hit Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder is a pure dungeon crawling experience that handles exploration and combat seamlessly through a first-person perspective, much unlike other SSI AD&D games from the famous Goldbox series, such as Pool of Radiance or Hillsfar. While first-person dungeon crawlers weren't anything new at the time, Eye of the Beholder does a great job streamlining the game mechanics found in the genre and offers a more real-time experience rather than turn-based.

Combat benefits the most from this approach, and is handled fairly well. Fights are triggered as you approach enemies without the need to ever enter a battle sequence. As long as you can see the enemy, you can immediately begin combat with long range attacks as you approach; the same goes for your adversaries. The characters in the front row take most of the damage, and can attack with standard melee weapons, while those in the rear can throw weapons or cast spells without being in harm's way unless, of course, the enemy attacks you from behind. This does add some strategy to how you can approach battles, but ultimately running up to most enemies and simply attacking with your melee characters is all you need to do for most encounters.

Each game usually begins the same way. You can take time to create a party of four adventurers, or choose to import characters from the previous games; a feature that was incorporated into various other SSI games. The story is then introduced through a short cutscene, and your band of explorers are then thrown into some dungeon. Though some characters are reoccurring throughout the series, the narrative seems to have taken a back seat and serves no true purpose rather than to give you reason to hack through monsters.

While Eye of the Beholder doesn't revolutionize the genre in any way, it still remains one of SSI's more well-known and successful series. Its streamlined approach to the genre made it more accessible, as did the ports of the first game for the SNES and Sega CD. The general success of the series led to the release of the Eye of the Beholder Trilogy for the PC in 1995, and the games were also included in the collection Gamefest: Forgotten Realms Classics which was released in 2001 by Interplay.

Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)


Eye of the Beholder - IBM PC, Amiga, PC-98, SNES, Sega CD (1991)

IBM PC Cover

SNES Cover

Eye of the Beholder opens with a group of adventurers who have been summoned to the city of Waterdeep. It seems as though some evil is brewing below the city and the group immediately sets off into the sewers. Not far into the underground labyrinth, part of the tunnel collapses and the adventurers are sealed off with no other option than to explore and fight their way through hordes of monsters. As they progress through the dungeon, they learn that a Beholder by the name of Xanathar is behind all of this evil and is planning to take over Waterdeep. You'll adventure through Dwarven ruins and Drow communities, until ultimately coming upon the lair of Xanathar himself for the final showdown.

The heroes receive their mission (Amiga)

Upon starting the game you take some time to create your team of four heroes; choosing their race, class, and approving their stats before beginning the quest. At first you'll simply start in the sewers of Waterdeep, fighting ordinary kobolds as you go along. The game eventually ramps up the enemy difficulty and floor complexity as you proceed, which makes for a balanced experience. However, the dungeon layout does prove a bit frustrating in later levels, as there is no in-game map and many tiles of the dungeon will teleport or rotate your party without it ever being obvious, just like in the ancient Wiardry games. There are also tons of hidden doors and switches that you must find in order to progress, which just results in more of a headache rather than a deep roleplaying experience.

The magic system is also handled in a more traditional AD&D sense similar to other games from the genre. Instead of being able to cast a spell as long as they have the magic points or mana, instead mages or clerics choose from a list of spells to memorize when they rest. Upon resting the number of uses for spells is restored and decreases as you use them, being refilled yet again only during the next rest.

As mentioned, the combat in Eye of the Beholder is straightforward and fast paced. The game definitely benefits from this as battles never seem to last for too long, and you're left to focus more on exploring. However, the drawback to this approach is a feeling of little to no depth. While you can view your character's statistics, and weapons and armor all come with different stat modifiers, it really feels as though it doesn't make that much of a difference in the end. Battles usually involve nothing more than hacking away at enemies until they're defeated, with no concern for strategy or tactics.

The eponymous Beholder (IBM PC)

While Eye of the Beholder doesn't break new ground with its level design or combat, the game was impressive graphically. The different dungeon locations all have distinctive wall textures, and the enemies have nice animations for their attacks. It has a very clean look to it, and enemy sprites are spot on to their table top counterparts that you would find illustrated in various Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manuals.

The game's success led to ports for the Amiga, PC-98, SNES, and Sega CD. A port for the Atari Lynx was also planned, but ultimately canceled late in its development cycle. Only recently the all but finished prototype resurfaced and saw an unauthorized indie-release. Though all of these ports stayed true to the original in terms of level design and game mechanics, there were some minor changes. The PC-98 version is currently not runable in emulators, but if the sequel is any indication the only difference should be the Japanese text. The amiga version is the next most similar, although the graphics don't transwer very well to the lower color palette. The most apparent is the inclusion of music in the SNES and Sega CD versions; the latter received it's soundtrack from Yuzo Koshiro (popular for his work on games such as Ys I and II, Beyond Oasis, and the Etrian Odyssey series just to name a few), who delivers some highly genre-atypical drum&bass / industrial tunes. The Sega CD version also received cut scenes and voice acting for the NPCs you encounter, although the voice acting is laughably bad. Both console ports also received an animated ending, which was a great improvement over the few screens of text you got for completing the PC version. However, the console ports did suffer from their gamepad controls. It becomes obvious rather quickly that the game was designed to be played with a mouse, and the transition to console controllers didn't go over very well.

Screens from the long lost Lynx version

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Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)

Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)

Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)

Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)

Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)

Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)

Eye of the Beholder (IBM PC)



Comparison Screenshots


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Page 1:
Intro
Eye of the Beholder

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Eye of the Beholder II
Eye of the Beholder III
Eye of the Beholder (GBA)

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