Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Titan Quest Review

Titan Quest, developed by Iron Lore and published by THQ.
The Good: Continuous action, appropriately difficult, exceptional graphics, numerous skill paths, logical loot system, multiplayer, map editor
The Not So Good: Completed quest enemies regenerate, smallish inventory size, fairly linear, no real tutorial, finding multiplayer allies is difficult to impossible
What say you? An outstanding action-RPG for anyone who like to role play action style: 7/8

When you think of action role-playing games, you think of Diablo (and its sequel, GoDai: Elemental Force). Running around with your sword, hacking and slashing at everything in your path, and collecting piles and piles of precious loot is the name of the game. There have been numerous imitators since the original game was released 10 years ago. Titan Quest (you know, the game I’m reviewing right now) has removed the orcs and demons from fantasy games and replaces them with mythical creatures from primarily Greek legends. Joy!

Titan Quest features some top-notch graphics, including very detailed environments and night and day cycles. The areas you’ll be exploring are filled with realistic details such as wheat swaying out of your way and butterflies flying around. All of the characters in the game look really good as well. The animations of the player unit are a little over the top, however: no matter what the situation is, your character will always be in a readied attack stance, even if they are just talking to a merchant. Titan Quest also comes with a good physics system: dropped objects will bounce off rocks and chests, and all of your enemies exhibit rag doll behavior as they plummet towards the ground. In all, Titan Quest creates a beautiful and convincing game environment through its graphics. The sound is not bad, either. All of the NPC dialogue is voiced (somewhat standard for higher-level RPGs), although the battle effects get a little repetitive after a while. Overall, though, the sound is enjoyable.

Unlike some other role-playing games (like this one), you don’t decide your starting class when creating a character. Instead, you can decide one once you’ve played the game a little and have seen what kind of character you’d like to create. Titan Quest doesn’t offer suggestions based on your choices like Oblivion, but it’s still nice to get your feet wet before locking yourself in. The game assumes you’ve played an action RPG before, as the in-game “tutorial” is limited to text boxes popping up in the corner. Titan Quest can be played by yourself or on a multiplayer server, where you can undergo the same quests as in single player but with other players. This sounds great in theory, but the other players must be at the same exact point in the game in order for you to join them. Otherwise, it’s just like the single player game but with more lag. It would have been nice to feature some sort of automated matchmaking to choose allies that are the same level and at the same quest to make multiplayer more fun. There is also a maximum of six players on a server, so you might not ever run into any friendly people because you can be on a completely different quest or part of the game. The real strength of the multiplayer mode will probably come out when people start creating their own levels using the editor. You can take levels that you’ve produced online and challenge other people to beat your creation. Assuming that the community latches onto this, Titan Quest could prove to be a popular multiplayer RPG.

Action RPGs are all about action (it’s in the name, you know), and most of the actions in the game can be done with the left mouse button. Attack? Left click. Move? Left click. Talk? Left click. Trade? Left click. The only time this simplistic method becomes a problem is when you intend to attack an enemy but accidentally click on adjacent ground, issuing a move command. If you click and hold the button down, you’ll continue to attack and enemy until they are dead; this is extremely useful and makes multiple clicking obsolete (I wish I would have read the manual sooner). The weapons in Titan Quest are historically accurate (except of course for the magic weapons) items such as staffs, bows, daggers, and clubs: things that you’d expect people in ancient times to be using. Titan Quest also includes shields and many items to grant bonuses in the form of rings, leggings, and helmets. All of this is pretty standard RPG stuff. Titan Quest does allow you to have two weapon sets that can be quickly switched during battle. Like most RPG games, enemies that you defeat drop loot and other items for you to collect. However, enemies will only drop items they were using or carrying. I’ve never liked when enemies dropped really good items after they’ve died; if they were so good, why weren’t they using them? Titan Quest makes defeating powerful enemies that much sweeter, because now you take their stuff. It also means that defeating lots of lower-level enemies will result in getting lower-level items, which balances out the game and removes some of the random nature of loot drops seen in other titles. The capacity of your inventory is pretty small: you’ll almost never have enough room to keep all of the good items dropped in a quest before you return to a merchant. This means you’ll have to pick and choose which items to bring with you and which to leave behind. I guess this slows down the exponential gold increase seen in other games, but I’d still like to keep all of the stuff I rightfully won. Trading with merchants is very easy, and merchants will buy anything even if they don’t sell that type of item, eliminating the need to search around for a bookseller to sell books to.

You’ll probably die at some point in Titan Quest. Dying only costs a small amount of experience points and you respawn at the nearest rebirth fountain (usually located right before difficult areas). Your health will regenerate slowly over time, and you can also use a health potion to recover quickly; health potions are readily available in many treasure chests in enemy camps. Defeating enemies and completing quests earn experience points. When you level up, you get points you can use to upgrade maximum heatlh and energy, and increase your strength, intelligence, and dexterity skills. As most weapons have a strength, intelligence, or dexterity minimum, you’ll want to tailor your upgrades to your arsenal (at least I do). You will also get points you can use for skills in one of the game’s eight masteries, which cover pretty much any type of player you’ll want to become. You’ll eventually learn two masteries at level eight, and the combination of your two masteries will determine your specific class (there are 36 total). For example, the mixture of warfare and storm creates a melee-caster hybrid called a thane (duh!). The flexibility and number of options available in the mastery system goes beyond the simple classes found in other games: you could truly play Titan Quest multiple times and create a completely different character each time. Putting one point in a skill will activate it, and adding more points will make it more effective. You can also increase your overall mastery level that will give attribute bonuses and unlock higher-level skills. Skills can either be passive or active: active skills must be manually used by the player and they can be assigned to a numbered hotkey, while passive skills give you benefits that automatically activate. There are also some skills that can give a better chance of a more deadly attack with certain weapons and give magical spells to the player. In other RPG games, I’ve felt pigeonholed into a specific class, especially by choosing one at the beginning of the game before I’ve even started playing. Titan Quest gives you the freedom to create the specific type of character you want with the skills you’ll enjoy the most. Looking forward to the next level to see what cool powers you can unlock is part of the joy of Titan Quest.

The main quest of Titan Quest is pretty linear, but there are some other easy-to-find side quests along the way that give experience and a bonus item. There’s certainly enough content in Titan Quest to keep you busy, but the game lacks the freeform feel of other games like Oblivion. Titan Quest certainly tries to coax you along the main path down the game, and the side quests are nothing you can spend all your time on or even access without advancing on the main quest. If you finish a quest, the monsters from that quest can respawn if you go back to the same location later. This is very odd, and it makes the player feel that they have no greater impact on the game’s world. Once you find other villages, you can quickly travel between them using portals, although going back to previous locations isn’t needed much. If you do happen to beat the game, a more difficult version of the game becomes available. You get to keep your hero and do the same quests, but with tougher monsters. Titan Quest keeps you interested in the game because of its difficulty. In a lot of RPGs, I get bored with them after a while because they become either too easy or too hard. Titan Quest is appropriately difficult: the quests are hard, but not too hard where you can’t beat them. Tackling a quest using a different approach is usually the best way to completing that tricky mission, which is almost a strategy-like approach to the game.

I’m not a huge fan of role-playing games, but I do like Titan Quest. The game combines an exceptional mastery/skill system, proper difficulty, awesome graphics, and multiplayer into a fun package. There are a couple of odd things about the game, but nothing that ruins the gameplay. The flexibility of the game, including the 36 classes and the map editor, should result in Titan Quest having more staying power than your typical action RPG. The setting of the game is also pretty unique, and although you tend to forget you’re in ancient Greece at times, the overall presentation of Titan Quest is first-class. A little bit more freedom in the main campaign would be appreciated, especially for subsequent characters you’ve created, but it’s still an enjoyable game. The role-playing game has been seeing a sort of renaissance lately, and Titan Quest continues this rebirth with an engaging experience.