Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Titan Quest review

Format: PC
Developer: Iron Lore
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Action RPG/Hack 'n' Slash
Region: Europe
Where to buy:

Titan Quest is the latest in a long line of Action RPG's for the PC that have aspired to better the venerable Diablo 2. Ever since it was released back in the year 2000, it has remained the benchmark of the "Hack 'n' Slash" genre, and despite a very valiant effort, Titan Quest doesn't quite knock it down from it's lofty perch. The two games are on the surface very similar, but TQ is different enough to be worth a look even if you have already fought Baal and his demon hordes over half a decade ago.

This time you play the part of a lowly mortal destined to become the saviour of mankind. The Titans, powerful elder gods who were locked away by Zeus and co when they tried to wipe out humanity, have managed to break free of their prison and are now wreaking havoc all over Greece, Egypt and China. Thousands (and I do mean thousands) of beasts and monsters from legend such as satyrs, gorgons, minotaurs and the odd cyclops are laying waste to entire towns and cities and its up to you to slowly build up your level by defeating ever stronger enemies so you can take on the terrible bosses. These bosses include Medusa and her two sisters, a Minotaur Lord and several Telkine, evil sorcerers who are responsible for all of this chaos in the first place.

What sets Titan Quest apart from its peers for me is the fact that all of its locations and monsters are based upon real world Greek, Egyptian and Eastern myths, which is the sort of thing I find fascinating. There is usually a storyteller among the NPC's in each town, and by speaking to them you will learn about Theseus and the Labyrinth of Knossos and many other stories. For example did you know that the island of Icaria is so named because that's where he landed after his wax wings melted? Well now you do. There's nothing forcing you to listen to these tales, they can be totally ignored, but for me it helped enrich the experience.

Ah, satyrs. You'll be seeing quite a bit of these fellers, believe me.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Being a much more modern game, the visuals of Titan Quest are of course a good deal better than those of Diablo 2, which came out before 3D acceleration had really caught on and without the expansion pack was limited to a screen resolution of 600x480. Fittingly enough however, the visuals came sometimes be this games Achilles heel, because the specifications required to run the game with all the visual trickery turned on is quite demanding indeed, and if you attempt to run the game on a lesser machine you will probably get a jerky frame rate until you change the settings to something much more modest. If you have enough grunt in your box (ooer) then you will no doubt be impressed with the ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese landscapes, which include the Parthenon, the Valley of the Kings and the Great Wall of China, to name a few highlights.

Sound and Music: 6 out 10
The music in Titan Quest is largely atmospheric and not really memorable at all. You don't really notice it as you're hacking away any hundreds of spiders or whatever flavour beastie is in vogue at the time, but you'd probably notice if it wasn't there as well, if you know what I mean. You probably won't be humming any of the tunes while at work at any rate. There's the usual range of magic spell effects, sword clangs and monster cries that can be a bit noisy considering how much fighting you'll be doing, and then we come to the voiceovers. The NPC's that give out quests in the towns are all given speech, but to be honest it isn't that great. It's quite obvious that the "actors" reading the script (supposedly by the screen writer of Braveheart, Randall Wallace) are Americans pretending to be Greek or Egyptian, and not doing a terribly good job of it. It's rather hammy, but it's not as bad as some of the speech I've been subjected to over the years.

Egypt is home to some impressive sights.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
Titan Quest follows the Diablo blueprint down to a tee. Basically, you are given a quest, which more often than not involves going off and slaying hundreds of monsters followed by one big badass monster, and then returning to the the quest giver for your rewards. There's the main quest line which you have to follow if you want to complete the game, and many sidequests. Although they are optional it is advisable that you complete each and every quest you are given or you many find yourself under levelled and hurting bad by the time the boss comes around.

To help levels the odds between yourself and the monstrous hordes, you have several things on your side. You have hot keys for potions that refill your health and life bars, and it's advisable that you carry as many as possible, especially when going up against the bosses. You also have a portal that you can drop at any time and use to instantly go back to any of the main cities that you've already been to, which is very useful when you run out of said potions, or if you want to sell any loot you've picked up and buy some new equipment. The chances of you actually needing or wanting to buy any weapons or armour are pretty remote though because from my experience you find much better stuff out in the wild from random monster drops or inside chests. Items vary in quality from broken through to legendary. Broken stuff is of very little value and most of the time not even worth picking up, but as your level gets higher the better the chances of finding decent gear.

In addition to this, every time you level up your character you get to upgrade your stats, and spend some skill points on one of eight mastery's. The statistical upgrades include Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity, all of which govern things like which weapons and armour you can equip, how much HP and MP you have, and how hard your physical and magical strikes hurt the enemy. You will get to choose your first mastery when your character reaches level 2, and this is basically your classes. Once you reach level 8, you get to choose a second mastery which can help bolster your first. For example you could go with one support mastery and one attack, or go it broke with two attack focused mastery's, or play it safe with two defensive mastery's. In my game I chose Nature as my first mastery, which allowed me to summon a guardian wolf, and a nymph later on, and also heal my characters and inflict and cure poison. My second mastery was Earth, which allowed me to bestow my weapons with the power of fire, throw fireballs and rocks at enemies, and summon a huge Core Dweller (rock monster). All of these creatures can be summoned at the same time, you don't have to choose, so I have a party of four running around and the Core Dweller naturally has an ability that draws the attention of enemies away from you and onto it. This means it usually dies rather quickly in the tougher battles but it can give you the time you need to make the fatal blow before you are killed yourself. With 8 mastery's that gives you 36 possible combinations, although whatever you chose, your left mouse button (the attack button) will still take a bit of a beating.

Who's afraid of the big bad multi-headed snake/goat/lion thing?

Innovation & Cleverness: 6 out of 10
I'm going to take a few points away for this category because whatever way you shake it, at its heart Titan Quest is still quite obviously based on the Diablo formula. Admittedly it's quite a good blueprint to start with, and they do say if it ain't broke don't fix it, but at times this can feel a little too familiar. It doesn't even do some things as well as Diablo did - for example, all the levels layouts are fixed, unlike in Diablo where they were randomised each time you played. On the other side of the coin, Titan Quest does some things better than it's forebear. For example when you died in Diablo you had to go back to your own corpse and get your stuff back. There's none of that here, you just get sent back to the last Rebirth Fountain which are nicely spaced out so you never have to do too much backtracking.

However, the game does earn itself a few Cleverness points because of the use of real settings and myths which give it a slight layer of depth and prevent from degenerating into just another mindless clickathon.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
The game is likely to last you in the region of 30-40 hours on one playthrough, assuming you explore all the areas and finish all the side quests, which to be honest actually felt a little too long to me. Because of the rather repetitive nature of the hack 'n' slash action, you can start to tire after a while. I wouldn't recommend playing for too long and maybe you should consider playing or doing something else in between sessions or you may grow bored before you reach the end.

If you do love every minute of it however and want to play more, there are two further difficulty settings after the Normal setting which include some unique quests and bosses that aren't in the standard mode. There's also a fully featured online mode so you can form a party with friends and play through the whole game cooperatively, which increases the fun factor immensely.

Finally, although it's only been out for about a year you can already pick up Titan Quest for as little as £10 which is very good value for money. It is also available to download as part of Metaboli's Games on Demand service (more on this soon).

Overall: 7 out of 10
After the monster that is Final Fantasy XII (again, more on that soon) it was actually quite refreshing to get my hands on a shorter more action based RPG for a while. I feel the setting of the game in the ancient world elevates it above what it would have been if it was just another fantasy title for example, and at the price you can find it for now it's well worth a look. Those who prefer games that are crammed to the gills with story and cut scenes may be rather bored however.

Note: An expansion pack, Immortal Throne, is due out in March. I will post an update when I get the chance to try it.

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