Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Din’s Curse Review

Din’s Curse, developed and published by Soldak Entertainment.
The Good: Randomized dungeon layouts, ignoring quests puts town at risk for attack, cooperative multiplayer with matchmaking, extensive character customization, varied loot
The Not So Good: Very repetitive combat and quests
What say you? Auto-generated living worlds highlight this action role-playing game: 6/8

I’m not the biggest fan of role-playing games. So what’s a review of Din’s Curse doing on Out of Eight, then? Well, I am a fan of randomly generated content, and I found one of Soldak Entertainment’s previous efforts to be quite enjoyable. And I must meet my quota of one or two RPGs per calendar year, so I might as well get them out of the way now. Plus, I put off the review for a good three months, until the pleas from the developer finally went answered. Let’s get on with it, then!

Din’s Curse looks like an indie game. The graphics are reminiscent of Scallywag (another randomly generated RPG) and Depths of Peril (obviously). The underground caverns are monotonous and generic: one cave looks just like another. This is a product of the randomized level design: sure, they have different layouts, but they don’t have the attention to detail more scripted offerings feature. There are some interesting enemy character designs and some of the animations look nice (though repetitive), but the magic effects are basic and combat is uninspired. Obviously, the graphics of Din’s Curse is not the focus of the production. As for the sound, the game doesn’t include any voice acting (not unexpected for an independent game) and simple battle effects and music. Din’s Curse won’t win any awards for presentation, but the graphics and sound are functional and don’t impede the game in any significant way.

Din’s Curse places you as a defender of various towns in a fantasy setting, adventuring into the dungeons located underground to take care of the monsters contained therein. Whoever decided to build towns on top of dungeons wasn’t a very good city planner. Each of the towns and their related dungeons are randomly generated, providing higher replay value. You can also suffer cave-ins and other dynamic or triggered effects, changing the landscape further. Starting out, you choose your class: warrior, rogue, priest, wizard, ranger, or conjurer. Each class has three upgrade trees where you can spend your hard-earned experience points. If you are feeling saucy, you can design a hybrid class by picking any two of the eighteen specialties available across the pre-set classes. Your character is preserved as you play additional villages, and you can take them online as well. Din’s Curse has a master server where you can browse for cooperative games, a nice feature for online-enabled titles. Hardcore players can make death a permanent affliction if you prefer more realistic rules. Difficulty can also be adjusted by changing the initial monster level. Finally, Din’s Curse allows for user modification of most game elements, as they are contained in simple zip files.

Your mission is to complete all of the mandatory quests offered by the big wigs in each town, then move on to another randomly generated city in peril. There are also optional quests you can complete: these item-gathering missions usually result in the construction of a defensive building in the town, which helps in protecting against the eventual incoming monster horde. You can fail in a town if the three main quest givers die, or if a NPC beats you to completing the most important tasks. While you don’t lose the game, you won’t receive the super awesome bonus loot for helping the town out. You are limited to six quests at a time, so it is important to prioritize and select ones that you can complete simultaneously. Since the monsters in Din’s Curse have their own evil agenda, taking your sweet time to complete certain quests (or ignoring them altogether) will have a negative effect on the town, possibly resulting in its destruction: monsters can create destructive machines, assassinate heroes, spread the plague, and more if given time. Unfortunately, the quests in Din’s Curse are very repetitive: go deeper into the dungeons and gather items or kill a specific monster (or monsters) or retrieve an ally. Without a central story to follow, the quests are uninteresting at best and tedious at worst, and since that’s pretty much all you’ll be doing, Din’s Curse offers nothing beyond a typical action RPG in terms of gameplay.

As with any decent role-playing game, Din’s Curse allows you to upgrade your character over time. There are five attributes that can be upgraded with experience: strength (more damage), dexterity (higher hit chance), vitality (health), intelligence (mana), and spirit (more mana and resistance to magic). There are also stats that are derived from these attributes and various items you can equip: health, mana, stamina, attack, defense, armor, resistance, perception, finding money, finding items, and light intensity, important for traversing those deep, dark caverns. Upgrading your character’s attributes is easy, and you can add new skills as well: they are not organized in a tree, where you must unlock earlier traits to get the more powerful ones, but the more advanced tricks do come at a higher experience and monetary cost. Yes, learning a new skill costs money; it’s like college! While there are no new innovations in this area of the game, Din’s Curse does provide the basic character options we’ve come to expect in the role-playing genre.

Din’s Curse has plenty of items to pick up accidently when you meant to attack an enemy, divided into categories: normal, common, rare, elite, artifacts, and legendary. You can also find items that are part of a set: catch ‘em all and you get a special bonus. Items also have a durability rating: they lose “health” over time, and will eventually need to be replaced. Trade is very straightforward, albeit tedious because of the sheer amount of things to find underground. Luckily, you can mouse over any item and press the spacebar to instantly sell it, instead of having to drag and drop everything. Most surface vendors have really crappy items, so most of the good stuff will be found in the caves or earned by clearing towns.

Your left mouse button will get a heavy workout while playing Din’s Curse, as it is used to perform most in-game actions. Clicking on a monster will attack, clicking on an object will pick it up, and clicking on the ground will move. If you hold the button down, it will continue to move or attack. While this simple system is, well, simple, you can’t differentiate between attack and pick-up and move, which can get you killed when there are lots of items and enemies on the map (very common in the lower reaches of the dungeons). I’ve been the subject of many unintended actions in the game, thanks to the simplified controls. You can inflict special hits, like crushing blows, stunning blows, critical hits, and deep wounds, in addition to the normal damage your weapons cause. The game typically uses a range of attack values to inject some randomness and uncertainty into the proceedings, as do most role-playing games. The AI is pretty mindless, obviously (being a bunch of monsters and all), but they can eventually organize attacks against the surface and provide a challenge when in numbers. Death isn’t permanent (unless you set it that way), but it does incur an XP penalty, where it grows at half of the normal rate until you meet some threshold. While I don’t usually like action role-playing games, I do feel compelled to keep adventuring in Din’s Curse despite the rampant repetition. There is an intrinsic sense of duty (heh heh, I said “ duty”), to keep going deeper underground and save the village from ultimate doom.

While Din’s Curse is a fairly standard action role-playing game, where you hack and slash your way to victory, it does have one major thing going for it: random maps. This coupled with dynamic attacks from monsters and their subsequent effects on the town makes this somewhat unique in the genre. The game features all of the usual trappings: robust character customization with both combat and magic fields of study and lots of enchanted items to collect, equip, and sell. Din’s Curse also allows you to play online cooperatively, a fun feature for any role-playing game. Din’s Curse has a disappointing selection of quests that don’t vary much at all: they almost always involve finding stuff for the townsfolk deep underground, or killing something along the way. This is where the randomization hurts the game, as a lack of a central story really limits the variety of available quests. I do like how refusing to undertake mandatory quests has a negative impact on the town you are defending, as the monsters will come out to attack on their own. Combat in Din’s Curse is predictably repetitive: hold down the left mouse button and use a spell every once in a while. The AI isn’t anything special (nor does it need to be), only becoming a substantial foe when massed or at a much higher level. Din’s Curse is a title that fans of action role-playing games should keep an eye on thanks to the randomized level design and cooperative elements.