Forged in the sword-swinging spirit of Diablo, Dungeon Siege, and other action-oriented role-playing games, Titan Quest has players trekking across ancient Greece, Egypt, and China to slay the legendary deities of mythology. Players will roam 3D landscapes, visit bustling towns, and invade enemy camps, caves, lairs, and other sinister settings to complete both primary and optional side quests. Mythical creatures such as harpies, centaurs, and cyclopes dot the landscape and will attack heroes on sight, allowing players to gradually build up their character's attributes and equipment through real-time, point-and-click combat.
Rather than choose from a rigid list of character types, Titan Quest is notable for letting players carefully shape their hero by exploring two of eight diverse skill trees. The game also features three difficulty levels, each offering different rewards and distinct encounters through more than 30 hours of estimated play. Once the single-player campaign is complete, up to six intrepid adventures can continue the hack-and-slash action online with a choice of in-game maps or custom levels designed using the included world editor. Brian Sullivan, co-creator of Microsoft's Age of Empires real-time strategy series, supervised Titan Quest's two-year development at Iron Lore Entertainment.
Just when you thought that the world had seen the last Diablo clone, along comes what might be one of the best yet. Iron Lore's Titan Quest is about as close as we're going to get to revisiting the maniacally paced click 'n slash gameplay popularized by Blizzard's iconic series in the near future, and as such, it's a good thing that it manages to replicate all of its addictive qualities so well.
As the title would imply, the game takes place in the ancient world, and before you're through, you'll have traveled through many centers of civilization, including Greece, Egypt, China, and Babylon. The impetus for the story suits the game's core competency (i.e. killing hordes of monsters) just fine: the Titans have gone crazy, and thus have driven most of the world's non-human inhabitants insane. In the role of "hero," it's your job, of course, to destroy them.
Your beginnings in Titan Quest are humble enough. You don't even have a class when you start out -- you simply choose a name, gender, and tunic color, and off you go, club in hand. It isn't until you reach level two that you can choose a "Mastery," which is Titan Quest's answer to classes. There are eight in all: Warfare, Defense, Rogue, Hunting, Nature, Spirit, Earth, and Storm. The first four mentioned focus on direct, physical combat (or bow use, in the case of Hunting), while the last four are more magical in nature (Nature being focused towards healing and support, Spirit conferring necromancer-style powers, and Earth and Storm dealing with direct damage of the elemental variety).
Each Mastery is essentially a skill tree that you use to develop your character's capabilities in battle, and each one has enough skills in it to allow you to experiment with different applications of the same base concept. You get a few points to plug into them every time you level, and scattered around the world are "seer" NPCs that allow you to undo your choices for increasingly steep fees. You can also choose a second Mastery once you reach level eight, which allows you to further specialize your character. Similarly, every level you gain grants you a few points to allocate to your character's base attributes. Overall, Iron Lore has done a fine job of balancing player choice with concrete, defined roles. All of the combinations I've tinkered with are very engaging in their own right, and they all have suitably unique feels.
Well, "unique" for the purposes of a click 'n slash RPG in any case. There's no way around it: Titan Quest, like its source material, is all about clicking on monsters until they die and seeing what flies out of their bodies afterwards. To its credit, Titan Quest does a very good job of putting you in situations in which you can do just this. Indeed, there's very little to get in your way if you're determined to do nothing but this. The game is very linear. You always have a main, big-picture quest to refer to in your logbook, but even if you ignore all NPC dialog and just click on the guys with the golden exclamation marks hovering over their heads, you'll get where you need to go just through your regular rambles. Each area has a couple of side-quests that you can embark on if you feel like getting a bit more experience or a couple more items, but even for those, you seldom have to go out of your way. If your playstyle is anything like mine, you'll simply wander into areas not revealed by the mini-map, and conquer all of the game's challenges thusly.
Titan Quest really encourages a straightforward playstyle, and this is far from a bad thing. These sorts of action RPGs are all about reflex and instinct, despite however they may be dressed. This kind of sucks for Titan Quest in particular, though, since the ancient mythology theme is genuinely cool; you'll probably get a little too concerned with clearing inventory space to really notice it.
The only thing that keeps Titan Quest from being the consummate Diablo clone is the fact that it's missing the sort of robust multiplayer implementation that Blizzard realized with Battle.net. But it makes up for this in its own way. Primarily, the game comes packaged with a set of exhaustive world editors that, in theory, would allow intrepid users to create content that rivals what Iron Lore has built for the single-player campaign. The suite of tools, frankly, is very daunting; if the community truly embraces it, then Titan Quest players can look forward to experiencing lots of interesting content. Iron Lore certainly seems to have done its part with the toolset provided.
The cooperative multiplayer implementation is rather basic. You can take your single-player characters into games of up to six players, which you find by means of an in-game browser. You can then progress through the single-player game exactly as if you were playing solo -- in fact, unless you contrive to meet them, you may not even encounter the other players in your game. Interestingly, there is a "hidden" PvP mode that you can enable by tweaking your Titan Quest executable's command line. Doing so will make it so that only other PvP-enabled games appear in the co-op browser. In this mode, the game is essentially the same as it is normally, except that you can attack players who aren't in your party at will. (In other words, it's just for fun.)
Dogged as the game is in delivering its relentless brand of gameplay, there is undoubtedly a whole lot here to experience, even outside of what the community may or may not muster in the months and years to come. You could conceivably spend 30 hours hacking your way through the single-player campaign, and even more if you choose to experience each and every side quest available. Two unlockable difficulty modes in which the challenges and rewards are suitably scaled add to this, especially when you consider the multiplayer scene.
One wart in Titan Quest is its performance -- specifically, the game tends to chug when the lighting and particle effects are full-blast. It never became unplayable, but during the worst moments, it was definitely annoying enough for me to hope that some imminent patches will be released to address the problem.
Is the world ready for the second wave of Diablo clones? Probably not. But as for occasional romps that make heavy reference to PC gaming's old habits (has it really been that long?), well, they're more than welcome if they're as well-conceived as Titan Quest. The game is long, its systems are well done, and it's quite nice to look at. And most importantly, it has legs.
People who downloaded Titan Quest have also downloaded:
SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords, Warlords: Battlecry III, SpellForce: The Order of Dawn, Throne of Darkness, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos
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