Dungeon crawlers: The most claustrophobic RPG sub-genre you can find. You lead your party through monster-infested, narrow, dump tunnels, looking for a way out (possibly alive). Or maybe you're just treasure-hunting. You don't really need an excuse, do you?.
Eye of the beholder was my first contact with dungeon crawlers (no, I never played Dungeon Master). And it was a difficult first contact.
My spider-sense told me that I would have been hooked to this game. So it was, but it took some times to make my way through its workings, because... erm... for reasons I will not explain I did not have the game manual. And at the time, I didn't even know what Dungeons and Dragons was. A total newbie, learning the D&D RPG mechanics entirely by trial and error.
Lucky for me, Westwood studios did a wonderful job with their D&D mechanics transposition. After a few difficult initial hours, I got the hang of it and was able to proceed with ease. And, as I expected, I was totally hooked. I even got to the point of hand-drawing the maps for (almost) each level. Automapping, you ask? What's that? It was 1990. Videogames punished you if you were lazy, they didn't take you gently to the end, careful of not over-exercising your poor little neurons. I'm not criticizing modern games here, I'm just stating a fact.
Eye of the Beholder was a wonderful mix of action, exploration, RPG and puzzle solving. Not a single level or enemy I found boring or uninteresting. And in the meanwhile, discovering the D&D class system was a marvelous experience.
I even spent a whole week just grinding, killing Kenku after Kenku (basically birdmen with sticks), leveling up my party way beyond what was required to complete the game, so that the monsters on final levels were a piece of cake. Except for the final guy, of course. He required wits, not strength. But no spoilers here (because yes, you can spoil a 1990 retrogame).
I will only complain about the MsDos version game ending: a couple of paragraph of text and that's it. After all the effort, not even a bitmap picture, a small animation, nothing. I couldn't believe it. I only recently found out that the Amiga version had a final graphic sequence, but it was removed on the MsDos version for disk space issues. How disappointing is that?
So, here is the aforementioned ending. "Good work" and literally a handshake. The lords of Waterdeep are tight-ass bastards, no doubt.
Recently gog.com published a Forgotten realms collection including all three Eye of the Beholder retrogames. Needless to say, I snatched it and played the first one all through to the end. With a small addition: The all-seeing eye, a very handy automapper for the Eye of the beholder retrogames. Because I'm a masochist, but only to a point.
I have to say, the retrogame aged very well. It still plays really nice even by today standards (but only if you add the automapper).
So, no surprise here if I while ago I snatched an Amiga boxed version. It wasn't hard to find at a reasonable price (about 30 euros). The box content are more juicy than I expected. For that price I got:
The game manual. Very well written and exhaustive. It even introduces you to the background of the city of Waterdeep. And now I finally know what that f*ing *protect from evil spell does.
The game disks. Alas, they are three 3,5" floppies.
A map of the first few sewer levels. This was unexpected. The map is very nicely drawn and presented like a blueprint by the Waterdeep civil engineer who built the sewers. Sweet.
The usual pamphlet paraphernalia.
I'm considering also looking for Eye of the beholder II, as I consider it the best of the three, and the one I played more. Luckily, it shouldn't be too hard to find.