Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

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Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby BlueSalamander » Tue Jun 17, 2008 8:23 pm

The last few days I've had the chance to play the demo for Keep on the Borderlands, a TOEE (Temple of Elemental Evil) module/replacement created by the Circle of Eight. You can download the game there. Here is a review. Contains spoilers. Click on a picture to enlarge it.

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Right, the beginning is the standard character creation. We are advised to take someone who can search for secret doors, so I make a rogue, a fighter, a cleric (Heironeous - War and Good) and a generalist wizard. All Lawful Good.

The game starts right at the entrance to the castle. After talking to some guards wearing neat blue capes, we are admited inside. The castle's court is rather big and contains lots of buildings and NPCs. The keep's guards always ask the party to sheathe their weapons and Gurndal, the half-orc, is starting to get annoyed.

Soon it becomes clear that three places are important: the inn to the right of the marketplace, where the party can rest safely, the provisioner's building just below the inn, where we can find new missions and create new characters, and the tavern to the north of the marketplace, where we can meet lots of people and... access the keep's underground.

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Yes, the tavern's basement has a passage to the sewers. Here comes my first criticism: when visiting the basement it is clear that there is a passage downwards, there's some green light coming out. However, the game treats that passage as a secret door (even though there's nothing secret about it), so until you let the rogue "Search" you won't find the passage. I note that my rogue did not automatically discover the passage even though she's an elf. Additionally, the new "Concentrated Search" function would not work in the demo, only the original "Search" will work to make that passage appear.

As for the sewers themselves, they are just amazing. The atmosphere is great. You kill some rats, they respawn (argh! can't kill them all!).
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On to the missions now. You get them by left clicking on the paperboard in the provisioner's building. One mission sends you to kill spiders in a forest and another sends you to a swamp, on the track of missing adventurers. The spider mission is very good, much better than the spider mission you get in plain TOEE. There's a whole forest to visit. And then you meet the spider queen.

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She's huge. My party tries to kill her - I get total player kill (TPK) four times in a row. After that I get the hint - no good for level-1 characters :)
Okay I found out much later that you can actually talk to that spider queen. It doesn't do much good though since the castle people want her dead.

There's also the swamp quest, but I think the best quest for starting characters is that given by the castle's Druid. That strange druid (we can see him only at night) tells the party to go kill some harpies to the north of the castle. That's another good quest, great design and not too hard. Oh, on the way to the harpies I meet a wandering madman. While chatting with him we get attacked by bandits, the bandits knock the madman out, I finish them off then I can pick the madman's magic dagger, nice! My first magic weapon! Which brings me to one of the good points of Keep on the borderlands: masterwork and magic weapons are very rare! That which is rare is precious, and it's a great joy to finally get a magic weapon even if it's just a dagger.

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On to the swamp quest. This map is great, music great, nice atmosphere. Some snakes attack, they're rather annoying because they move so slowly and we can't even see them underwater. Later on a group of lizardmen attacks the party. They are on a hill so we can't melee with them directly. They shoot at the party, cast spells, etc. Great to see some new tactics.

Behind the lizardman group I discover a cave. The cave is full of lizardmen. They speak in their strange language - I don't care and just attack.

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It's a butchery. I discover a chest full of stuff... can't remember what. Ok, now comes the worst part of the demo in my opinion - the great pixel hunt ! By left cliking on the drawings on the cave's wall we can learn of the next location to go to. Why not putting a map on the body of the lizardman's chief instead? Left-clicking is supposed to move the party, not examine stuff.

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I continue exploring the swamps and the party discovers a strange place full of Hextor worshippers. That place is very well done graphically and the music is the best of the entire module, in my opinion. Great "Hextor" atmosphere. Right, the party pretends to be their friends and the local warlord sends them on a quest to kill a black dragon.

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On we go to kill the dragon! And it's quite well done too! It blasts us with a cone of cold. The dragon's AI seems weird, though. It keeps blasting its cone of cold even when no-one is there to receive it.

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Back to the Hextor followers, I get to visit the temple and the high cleric immediately spots that we are actually followers of Heironeous. Battle ensues.

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Back to the keep, the bailiff sends the party to disarm a berserk elf ranger on the keep's battlements. Or was it destroy? Too late. Gurndal transforms the elf into a mangled heap. Nevermind, it's still nice to see that non-lethal damage is given a use for once.

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Right, at this point I had just one thing left, to visit the tower which we learn about by clicking on the lizardman drawings. A riddle is handed to the wizard and he answers correctly. Then a huge FEDEX quest is given the party. Wow. And I thought there were no such quests in KOTB. Well, that would require me to start a new game since I've already sold all the silly stuff, such as a tiger toy, to various merchants.

To conclude, the KOTB-demo has a great atmosphere and offers nice tactical challenges. It needs more work on quests and on the Search function. The main shortcomings are those of the original TOEE engine, in particular Troika's truly horrid pathfinding (TM).
'Say there is a chunk of meat. Pirates will have a banquet and eat it! But heroes will share it with other people. I want all the meat!!' - Luffy in One Piece
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Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby MytGroo » Sat Aug 29, 2009 9:30 pm

I would like to get this. I think it was taken down so it can't be distributed anymore. I tried the link.
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby getter77 » Sun Aug 30, 2009 3:27 am

http://www.co8.org/forum/forumdisplay.p ... d185e&f=45

I'd guess it should still be in there somewhere as I'm sure they've continued tweaking and working on it.
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby erkper » Thu Sep 03, 2009 1:32 am

BlueSalamander wrote:Additionally, the new "Concentrated Search" function would not work in the demo, only the original "Search" will work to make that passage appear.


Actually, the Concentrated Search does work in the Demo - but only in places that are scripted for it. ToEE has a killer secret door bug that even Co8 has not been able to squash, so as a workaround they came up with the Concentrated Search tool to make sure no plot-critical secret doors get mulched by the bug. There are two places where the CS tool must be used, and the rest of the secret doors in the game (like in the tavern basement) are normal and use the regular search from the radial menu.
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby Tiavals » Tue Sep 22, 2009 4:29 pm

I must say, you have a most curious concept of lawful good. Seems more like chaotic neutral to me. :D
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby BlueSalamander » Tue Sep 22, 2009 5:05 pm

Tiavals wrote: you have a most curious concept of lawful good. Seems more like chaotic neutral to me.
You must be talking about the elf ranger. When I played through I totally forgot about non-lethal damage (it's never used anywhere else).
'Say there is a chunk of meat. Pirates will have a banquet and eat it! But heroes will share it with other people. I want all the meat!!' - Luffy in One Piece
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby Tiavals » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:44 pm

BlueSalamander wrote:
Tiavals wrote: you have a most curious concept of lawful good. Seems more like chaotic neutral to me.
You must be talking about the elf ranger. When I played through I totally forgot about non-lethal damage (it's never used anywhere else).


As well as massacring those lizardmen. What makes it potent is the exclamation of:
"Behind the lizardman group I discover a cave. The cave is full of lizardmen. They speak in their strange language - I don't care and just attack."

I don't think it's very nice to invade their home, and then attack them with extreme prejudice without even pausing to reconsider it. I can understand the group on the hill who attacked you, but those guys in the cave are quite another matter.
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby BlueSalamander » Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:43 pm

In my mind they were automatically guilty for masterminding (or at least being associated with) the attack on the party outside the cave.
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby Tiavals » Wed Sep 23, 2009 8:56 pm

BlueSalamander wrote:In my mind they were automatically guilty for masterminding (or at least being associated with) the attack on the party outside the cave.

Well, that's where I think it's not Good as such. A good person would give the benefit of a doubt to the ones inside the cave. You don't really know at all the function of the cave itself. Say a group of bandits shoots at you from a hill, and atop the hill is an inn. You charge inside and kill everyone. But the bandits weren't affiliated with the inn at all, they just happened to spend time outside and the inn-folk didn't know they were bandits. Lizardmen are just as varied in alignment as humans, so there wouldn't even be the excuse of them being mostly evil inherently.
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Re: Review of TOEE-Keep on the Borderlands demo

Postby BlueSalamander » Fri Sep 25, 2009 7:47 pm

I see what you mean but in the circumstances my lawful good characters decided to act first and think later. You have to admit that the cirmumstances are totally different from an inn on top a hill. The inn-keepers wouldn't have any armor or weapons and they would be terrified, while the thugs would be armed to the teeth. On the other hand, lizardmen belong to a tribe. My chars get assaulted by half the tribe and you expect them to do peace talks (in LIZARD language) with the leaders?
Neverwinter Nights 2 also had lizardmen and I didn't butcher them, since their actions were good.
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