(I expanded the original article with additional info on the actual game. Before, the first version simply had a blurb above the ad posted below.)
When SSI had the license for AD&D, they created a number of titles that worked the property over with as many adventures as they could muster. The Gold Box series along with the innovative Eye of the Beholder trilogy were among these along with a little Spelljammer and Buck Rogers.
Westwood Associates, later to be known as the famous Westwood Studios (Command & Conquer, Lands of Lore), was responsible for the development of the first two EoB games.
Having access to TSR’s vast catalog of material also gave their marketing department a wide selection of awesomely fantastic art to draw from and use on everything from box covers to ads like the one here. Longtime fans may also recognize this piece from “The Magister” supplement for the Forgotten Realms.
In the The pace of less than a year, Westwood had managed to churn out a sequel whose storytelling and environmental elements were above and beyond what they had done in the first game. For one, they didn’t have to reinvent the engine that they used — EoB II, gameplay-wise, is essentially a carbon copy of the first title’s mechanics.
Instead, much like SSI’s Gold Box AD&D series, Westwood focused on building an entirely new scenario around the existing tech while taking some of that time to embellish things such as providing an actual ending that didn’t feel like a punch in the command prompt for MS-DOS players this time around.
The manual lays out the main story with plenty of fiction in the first few pages. Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun, one of the secret Lords of Waterdeep, has called upon players to aid in an investigation concerning a mysterious evil that seems to have appeared near the city in the vicinity of Darkmoon temple. There’s also the matter of a missing archaeologist who was investigating a vision of a mysterious scepter and an ancient mystery related to it. Teleporting the party to the woods outside the temple, it’s there that the players begin their quest.
Mechanically, the game is exactly like the first — grid-based, square-by-square movement, 90° turns, first-person view, and four party members with two NPC slots in a bar on the right hand side of the screen with text descriptions and compass on the bottom third. Players could freely build four characters for their party if they wanted from the AD&D stock of races, classes, and alignments with the last two slots open for NPCs found along the way. It also supports importing characters from the first game which CGW’s Scorpia recommends as they do come in with most of the hard fought for equipment liberated in EoB’s dungeons aside from quest-specific items.
The biggest improvements are related to scale. An outdoor environment is open for exploration, though not quite as big as it hints at. Darkmoon Temple, on the other hand, is where all of the fun takes place and it’s huge with three vast towers to explore linked together at a central hub. The questing is still pretty linear as a lineup of objective are required to progress through the game, but like the first, players are free to go about as far as the story lets them to explore hidden niches and rooms for valuable clues to the even larger selection of puzzles awaiting them here. Temple of Darkmoon is simply the bigger and badder sequel with an even better grasp at immersing players into its story from start to finish.
It still carries over a bit of baggage from the first game, however, such as how clunky the interface can be in real-time combat with certain functions as the fight icon is desperately clicked on for each character in turn instead of having a convenient “all at once” command or some other alternative.
Combat is also much fiercer in this iteration making that import function even more of an important option to exercise making the game slightly slanted toward veterans of the first EoB even though the sequel is a standalone title. At the same time, battles can be much more exciting and action-oriented than before as players move around for distance and carefully time their strikes to make the most of their position against particularly brutal enemies in this game which range from giant wasps to frost giants.
By the time players made it to the climactic end-battle, they would have witnessed plenty of story underscored by a stirring soundtrack, tricky puzzles, and a solid balance of dungeon crawling combat in real time to top off one of the best titles of its kind. Effort was also spent in providing a congratulations that didn’t toss the player right to the command prompt, either.
Unfortunately, EoB II would be Westwood’s last contribution to the SSI/TSR juggernaut. Disagreeing with the direction for the third game, Westwood Associates struck out on their own as Westwood Studios who were later acquired by Virgin Interactive. Freed from the AD&D license, Westwood took their artistic and storytelling chops to adventure games with the Legend of Kyrandia series, but they also didn’t forget their roots in real time dungeon crawling when they returned to the genre with Lands of Lore in 1993.
As for EoB II, it’s just like its predecessor and much of the SSI catalog — abandoned to the whims of the internet. It was also collected later in a pack in the mid-90s, but today, doesn’t exist on a digital download service such as Desura or Good Old Games. If you have DOSBox and can find a copy, it might be worth the effort to join up with ol’ Khelben for a talk by the fire right before embarking on a quest to save the Realms from an ancient terror.