One of the first good dungeon crawling RPGs of the early DOS times
The first thing that drew my attention into playing this game was the wonderfully designed graphics. It's not only the intro sequence, but also how the walls, the monsters and especially the items dropped into the floor look like that still fascinate me regardless the old classic low VGA resolution of the graphics. Even though the animation is missing, the graphics design pay off for that.
Another major thing is the atmosphere both this title and the sequel offered. While there is a lack of an ingame music (even an ambient one to fit well), total silence except from the creepy sounds coming from monsters around the corner, dark empty dungeons creating a claustrophobic feeling, pits or teleport leading in even lower levels under the ground is all that makes you feel you are deep down in a creepy old dungeon left all alone to discover it's secrets not seen by many for a long time.
One interesting characteristic of the game that is missing from the rest of the series is it's non linearity. At many places in the game there are a lot of teleport portals that may allow you to skip a lot of levels. The same levels might be connected with different stairs from different places and there are a lot of different paths one can follow. In one occasion you can skip one level by falling into a pit that leads you directly in the spider level. There are many places to move around, special quests you can solve (for some of them you have to travel back to earlier levels), so many interesting places you might have missed even if you are at the final level meeting the boss and two different ways to kill the beholder. Especially the non linearity feature because of the portals is exploited in speed runs of the game finished in just ten minutes, something that could be impossible in EOB 2 or 3
The controls and gameplay are also very well done and if someone can get used moving around with the arrow keys and acting with the mouse, one can become an expert in the game and cleverly pursue fights with even the hardest monsters by using the common side stepping trick that works in all EOBs.
The finale of the game is maybe the most empty and unfinished I have ever seen. After you give the final blow to the beholder (or lead him to the trap by using a wand you acquire) a little window with text appears saying that you killed the evil and finished the game and then it returns you back to DOS.
The special quests even if they are fun to find, no clues are given about them and they aren't even connected to the main story. Generally, there is a lack of true story throughout the game (one mistake that changed in EOB2 and it's sequel) which doesn't destroy much the atmosphere though.
There is only one save game. A mistake also corrected in the later series.
The Bottom Line
A very good early dungeon crawling RPG, truly recommended for starters in the genre (at least for those who would still play old DOS games). Not as great as it's sequel in terms of a story but still above average. It's also a nice idea to play and finish this one first before playing the much harder sequel and transfer the party to EOB2 with all possible +3/5 weapons acquired.