I spent some time with the demo version of
Diablo III…err that is Titan Quest over this past weekend. Since I haven’t finished the game, and haven’t even explored the multiplayer aspects or the map making tools available in the full game, I don’t want to give a definitive review but I thought I’d throw my first impressions out there for anyone that’s interested.
As I hinted at, this game could easily be called Diablo III. The game play is typical Diablo style action-RPG, everything from the movement, to combat to the random loot drops and upgradeable items could have been lifted right from Blizzard’s design doc. This isn’t really a bad thing, if you’ve played Diablo II you’re familiar with the gameplay and if you haven’t the mechanics are simple enough that you can pick them up quickly. Much like Diablo they tried to keep the mechanics and the interface simple enough that they wouldn’t get in the way of the fun.
They did make a few changes. The first one was one I’m not sure I like but it’s not huge. Instead of the big red and blue health and mana balls at the bottom sides of your UI they’ve got a little animated thumbnail of your character with a red and blue bar in the top left corner of the screen. For those of us that play MMO’s, and I guess those that play console RPG’s as well, this is an easy enough change to deal with but if, like me, you have a good sized, wide screen monitor it means having to move your eyes from the fight in the center of the screen to look at your health/mana. For an MMO game this isn’t a big deal since the combat tends to be click on enemy hit auto-attack and start cycling through your special attacks either by clicking the buttons or by pressing the number keys, the battles tend to take longer so a quick glance to the upper right corner and you probably haven’t missed anything important. For an action RPG though, part of the draw is the fast paced combat so even a quick glance away from the combat could result in you missing that the monster you were fighting is now dead and you need to change targets. In a frentic battle, with lots of enemies, this can cause the difference between a close victory and a defeat since you’re letting the monsters get a few free whacks in. As I said it’s not a huge deal but it’s annoying that I can’t at least move the icon and bars down to the bottom of my screen to be more in my view during combat.
The second change was more welcome. Like Diablo you attack by left clicking on your target, since left clicking on a spot also acts to move you to that spot it can be annoying to be a ranged attacker, clicking away like mad and as soon as the first target dies you go running right up next to the others, or worse yet run up to find yourself drawing aggro from a new batch of monsters. As a way to avoid this you can just left click and hold to attack the same target continuously so that when it dies you just stop firing and don’t go running off willy-nilly. Once you re-train yourself out of the Diablo clicking frenzy mode this works really well and has the added advantage of reducing your risk of a repetitive stress injury.
In another nod to standardization, NPC’s with a quest have an exclamation point over their head – yellow of course – while NPC’s with a yellow diamond over their head have information for you, either tutorial type information or just extra story line. I don’t know if it was because I was playing the demo or not but one slight annoyance was that these information NPC’s get reset every time you load the game so the first time you go back to town after starting play again you’ll see all of the tutorial NPC’s saying they want to talk to you even though they have nothing new to say. Another annoyance is that once you’ve completed a quest instead of the exclaimation point going away it just gets grayed out. If you go back and talk to the NPC they just give you the same old text they used when you completed the quest. For example, an early side quest has you clear out a bunch of monsters from the road leading through a mountain pass for a farmer who’s trying to get his cows to the next town, which is short on food and needs them desperatly. You kill the monsters and come back and he responds with basically “Oh good, now I can take my cows to town…” if you come back, even several days later he’s still standing there and he stills responds with the “now I can take my cows to town” line. I won’t call it immersion breaking because, be honest, how immersed into the story do you get in a game like this but I do see it as a flaw. How hard would it be to just make the man and his cows disappear or, better yet, just have them walk off up the path? Having them just poof and maybe be in the next town when you finally get there would be much more entertaining than just having them stuck standing there for all eternity and I know it’s not that complicated to do these days.
One final complaint, and this isn’t really leveled at Titan Quest specifically but the genre as a whole. I hate, and I mean I really hate, all the inventory management in these games. Having a limited number of “squares” of inventory and trying to maximize how you store the loot you pick up might be slightly realistic but it can get downright annoying. Especially if you have a knife that takes up 2 squares but you can’t even turn it sideways to fit in the 2 empty squares underneat the breastplate you picked up earlier. If you’re going to make me play the inventory puzzle game at least let me rotate the pieces. While you’re at it either give me more room or give me a way to expand the room I’ve got. Having to run back to town to unload your loot at least once on every map or at the end of every dungeon gets annoying and you end up doing that if you only pick up the better quality stuff. If you try and pick up every thing you’ll find yourself porting back and fort to town every 5 minutes.
Graphically speaking this game is definatly next generation, great lighting effects, realistic shadows, grass waving in the breeze. That is if you have a decent video card or if not can crank down the resolution, it’s no F.E.A.R or even Half-Life 2 but for an action RPG it’s damn good. They even had support for my wide screen LCD’s native resolution of 1680×1050.
I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of the Diablo series of games, I found the single player to be mostly boring and repetitive and never really got into the multiplayer because of all of the rampant cheating and dealing with the l33t 16 year olds in the Battle Net lobby. I did enjoy Dungeon Siege, I think mostly because they were fairly short single player games so they didn’t get repetitive. So far I’m finding the story in Titan Quest entertaining, though if you check out the trailers you might expect more from the writer of Braveheart, and the fact that the dungeons and outdoor levels seem to be more hand crafted than randomly generated a la Diablo makes them much less repetitive.
In general, I’d say that if you’re a fan of Diablo games you’re going to find a lot to like here and if, like me, you’ve never been a huge fan of that series you still might want to check it out. Nit-picking aside I found the game a fun and entertaining experience and isn’t that what gaming is all about?