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SummaryLook me in the eye while I turn you into stone
The GoodI haven't played this game's predecessor, so I can't compare between the two. This one was recommended to me as the best of the series, so I decided to skip the other two - especially since it took me quite a while to finish this very unforgiving game, even with the occasional (alright, frequent!) help of a cluebook.
I surely can't say that this was the most intense role-playing experience I've ever had; but I'm certain that every fan of the genre should give it a spin. Eye of the Beholder II is unlike other old dungeon crawlers not because it does something new, but because it does everything better. Repetitive randomness is something I personally can't stand in that type of games, and I was glad to discover that Eye of the Beholder II was anything but random. Every area in the game is hand-made, in the sense that it was designed rather than procedurally generated.
In essence, Eye of the Beholder II is almost like a hybrid between role-playing and adventure. There are so many puzzles and they are so prominent, that at times the entire game begins to feel like one gigantic puzzle. There are monsters to beat, sure, but battles against them are not the meat and potatoes of the game; it's the exploration itself, the careful mapping of the complex, intricately designed dungeons, the tackling of the tricky puzzles, which makes the game so addictive and exciting.
Dealing with pressure plates that need to be weighted in a specific fashion; frantically running through narrow corridors while avoiding deadly fireball traps; poking at every wall to discover an illusion wall that leads to the coveted key; trying to figure out how to navigate a series of confusing teleporters; breaking your head over that one item that is needed to pass a mystical barrier - these are the things you'll be busy doing, while the enemies in the game almost become a diversion, a way to release the stress.
That is not to say that those enemies can't kill you - quite on the contrary. The seemingly endless hordes of skeletal warriors in the very first dungeon; the first appearance of the powerful titular monster; the frustration of being petrified by a pesky basilisk when you are so near the goal - all those challenges exist as well; and, for the final battle, you'll need to master the sidestep technique to have any chance (it's actually much easier than it seems). That said, the battles in this game certainly don't rank among the hardest; and the ability to rest anywhere, anytime after battle (with a few exceptions) greatly facilitates things.
What really works well in Eye of the Beholder II is the element of novelty within the frames of a solid, continuous gameplay concept. Even though the entire game is spent crawling through unremarkable-looking mazes, there are always gameplay elements that take you by surprise. You never know which traps and challenges await you in the next tower. You are afraid to make one step for fear of being thrown into a pit with medusas who will hug you to death, or something like that. That creates a scary, foreboding atmosphere, which is a must in games of this type. Eye of the Beholder II is good at making you feel lost, disoriented, struggling, confused, and frightened - which is exactly what a good dungeon crawler should do, otherwise what's the point of playing it?
The BadOnce you strip Eye of the Beholder II of its exploration-related challenges, you are left with a rather unsophisticated D&D dungeon crawler. The game, at its core, is simple: traverse the towers and beat the bad guy. There is no NPC interaction, meaningful choices, or anything of the kind; it's just "figure out what to do with that damn pressure plate" or "run away from those mind flayers before they make you flay your keyboard in frustration". The game's progression is linear (you have to tackle the towers in a specific order), and you'll spend all your time wandering through depressive, claustrophobic mazes. It's engaging and addictive, but it's not necessarily what you'd call deep role-playing.
I also felt that there were hardly enough different weapons and armor to try out, and the difference between them seems to be minuscule. Things improved when I figured that an all-out attack approach would work best, having my two front fighters wield two weapons each; but even the mighty Talon, the game's ultimate monster slayer, causes hardly more damage than a +1 short sword.
Speaking of frustration: do yourself a favor and download some maps online, or even get a cluebook. At the very least, drawing your own maps is a must (I tried doing that for the first dungeon and it worked well, but the temptation was too strong and I just used online maps further on). The layout of some of the levels here can get devilishly tricky, what with tiles that turn you around or teleport you without any warning. I recalled again why I loved PC games so much more than console ones - the ability to save anywhere makes countless falls into treacherous pits and sudden deaths from elaborate traps that much less infuriating.