They wouldn't have been able to stamp out game after game with the same engine and box cover unless they were good. - I've witnessed one "real" D&D game in my entire life. I think it's a lot to ask of nerds to have "friends" with which to gather around a table and do the real thing. Always did want to ask my dad if he was ever involved with the table game. But this nerd? For me the gold box games were the true D&D experience. Always took awhile to get the story going and to build up your party; but what you got was always memorable. Curse was always too short for my tastes... When I said you were still in the beginning I was correct; but you're also correct when you say you think you're 25% done already... It's just not a long game, which might make it the perfect game to get started on. But the story of the bonds and the various bosses you must face to be rid of them... the final boss... Unforgettable... It was just so good you wanted it to go on longer.
Not a fan of the "world" map in this game. Pool of Radiance had the best world map in my opinion but it was sadly never used again. Secret of the Silver Blades had the worst... Because there was none! ALLL of the Secret of the Silver Blades world was in 1st person and had to be mapped.... And it's a mighty big world.... And honestly the first couple times I played it I did use an online map for that area, but it's just so huge that I always lost my bearings until I started to hand map it. Raar... That game... Another unforgettable one, but it was too long, with too much of the same stuff.
My favorites are the two Savage Frontier games, as previously mentioned. The first one I ever played was Death Knights of Kyrnn (incredible game), but the best "series" will always have to be the original 4 Forgotten Realms "epics". It's not just characters from the book that make it in those games, characters from the first game make it in. Now, you say the Curse book was written before the game? I believe the original Pools of Radiance book had the honor of being the first D&D book to be written for a game. They took what was in the game and they fleshed it out. That books is utterly amazing!
I believe they went with a new group of people for Curse, it was just a 3 member party in the Pool book. There was no Silver Blades book as far as I'm aware... and that had quite a hell of a creepy story (the end story is the most memorable of the gold box games for me). Pools of Darkness received a book, not sure if the game or the book was written first (maybe in tandem). That book puts the original Pool of Radiance party back together. Ah, those books... They are great... Wish I would have kept more of them, my dad had a truck load of them... But I think it was just those 3 books in terms of computer game inspiration. Sad. Would have loved to see novels for the Krynn series, novels for Eye of the Beholder... But there are a large number of characters in these games that did come from one book or another, my dad was always aware of that, and it brought him deeper into the game.
They're great, but perfect they are not... I utterly hate the encumbrance system.... In no time at all your "treasure" is simply left behind battle after battle.... Random battles give you nothing of worth... The biggest flaw of them all is that other than when you first start your party, there is no need to ever shop... Money is useless in these games besides for training! It's the scripted battles that give you the good gear, money ends up slowing everyone down (just wait until you get an NPC to tag along...) and it has always hurt the immersion... But I hear, much like the terrible memorize/cast/rest cycle when it comes to healing, that it was simple "the rules"... The rules needed to be broken for the computer games, I'm sorry!
The Might and Magic series will always be my favorite RPG series of all time... They were inspired by things, mostly the D&D table games but also Bards Tale and Ultima... But they were not hindered by those terrible official rules with D&D. Resting 8 hours heals everyone.... It would take 5 months to heal everyone in the D&D games through resting only. Money was useful to the very end of the game, shops with new and better weapons, training always kept your money tight... SSI really failed in terms of role playing via the economic system.
But the combat? Best ever combat in any role playing game to this very day! Might and Magic was hack and slash, most were... The D&D games offered true strategy, your brains can mean more than your parties brawns... The random battles were a little too much sadly, but that can't take away from feeling in control of the combat. A real chess match at times. I'd give anything for a modern RPG to feature a turn based strategy combat system like that... Baulders Gate and the closest successors did it in real time, not the same.
I think by Pools of Darkness you'll see -20 AC for some - 200 HP "might" be pushing it, but don't quote me on that. That's just due to the fact that they were continuing the previous games. Was not done perfectly, but it is amazing it was done!
The skill settings can be accessed via the camp menu systems, under "alter". Then "difficulty". If it's there. I seem to believe it was first put in with this game, but maybe it was Silver Blades.
Oh, there ya go my friend... The find traps spell... Oh yeah, there always seems to be a way... People that have played the games a million times end up challenging themselves by doing a party of only one class... It's hard for me to branch out in terms of the role playing elements in regards to class, because that's the group I like. But it did take me a long time to discover that group, so it was a building process through the years.
Oh, yeah, getting your people caught in a stinking cloud (or sleep) spell and being hit is terrible. The only thing that's worse if being poisoned. Instant kill... I guess if you have a neutralize poison spell on hand you can cast it on the dead body and he'll go to the 1st person screen with 1hp... But that's not made clear given he's on the floor and bleeding. And there are several races which can't be resurrected.... I once played through an entire game with a dead elf in my party because my last save game was too far back... I made it though!
I want to see someone beat the 1st game with nothing but the party from the book... Ren, a fighter.... Tarl, a cleric... and Sasha (could be wrong on that name) the mage. 3 characters... Good luck with that game! haha!
I can't vouch for this YouTube video you spoke of on if it was done legit or not, I'd have to look at my end characters to see what their stats were. But as previously mentioned, you can get some incredible stats by the 4th game if transferring characters. Also; I think most people are less than honest when it comes to the party creation roles (as you alluded to). SSI, in one of the few deviations from the true rules, decided to let you modify all new characters at the start of the game. The dice didn't matter because you could max out everyone's attributes! Again; the game will find many chances to cheat you, so I'd count myself in the category that will max that stuff out... It just shouldn't be in the game, but if it is, you can't really blame people. All parties will face their fair share reloading the game and trying again.
Every game will give you one gauntlet of ogre strength, truly letting you pound the randoms. Overpowered would be putting it mildly if not for the scripted battles being designed for those overpowered parties... That was a common complaint for people new to the series, their characters just could not hack it.