Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Titan Quest and Titan Quest Immortal Throne

Titan Quest and its expansion pack (Immortal Throne) owe so many things to Diablo II, it is almost pointless to list them. A point and click attack interface, little to no environmental interactivity, silly plot, gradations of magical items, potions of the blue and red variety, and fast paced action RPG gameplay all hearken back to when Diablo II first hit the gaming scene. Yet to be honest, I enjoyed this game much more that Blizzard’s very popular game. Titan Quest streamlines things Diablo didn’t, and in general creates a gaming experience that I really enjoyed. It adds a unique “Classical Greek” flavor I found oddly attractive, and is pretty to look at, an aspect that makes more of a difference than you would think. It also is free of the slavering Diablo II communities, who re-build characters at every ladder reset, and are generally so hardcore they make me want to stop playing. Despite this praise, in its original format, Titan Quest was practically unplayable for me. Why? One inane design decision was all it took.

The story is barely there to notice, but here it is: you are a Greek warrior, and Titans have escaped their prison and are wreaking havoc throughout Greece. You will chase the Titans from Greece to Egypt to Asia to the Underworld. You are tasked with stopping them, and along the way you will help or kill various denizens of the aforementioned areas. Still, the settings are adequately presented, and even if they don’t inspire, they do give you a sense of being wherever you are supposed to be. Plus, it allows for some cool and disparate character models. I especially liked the Raptors in Asia (because, obviously, there were lots of Raptors hanging around the Great Wall back then).

Let’s get the bad out of the way, so I can get back to telling you to go get this game. Originally, in Titan Quest, you would auto-pick up items, regardless of their worth or magical nature. This wouldn’t be a problem, but your character has a tiny inventory and organizing it is a pain, while there can literally be hundreds of items on the ground in any area: cue hours spent rearranging crummy items you didn’t mean to pick up in the first place.

What does Immortal Throne do to alleviate this problem? It allows you to choose what you pick up, it gives you more item space, and it allows you to use buttons to filter items on the ground, a godsend in the areas where 10s of monsters drop a batch of items each.

Now, to what Titan Quest and its expansion did right from the start. This is a classic action RPG, where combat consists of clicking on (re: killing) offending skeletons, satyrs, tiger-men and cat-women. There are 7 classes, counting the expansion pack Dreamer class, and every character can be duel-classed at a point. This results in a multitude of combinations, from Necro-Druid to Ranger-Elementalist. Needless to say, it would take a long time to explore all of the options. All of the classes are fun to play, with some focusing on melee and some on long range attacks. In a nice touch, the higher-level unique items come tailored to specific classes. It feels really cool to find items not just tailored to the Warrior half of your character, but to the mighty Warrior/Defender combo you have created. Luckily, using these skills is easy enough: most of the time a right click or a numeric key will either set off a power or prepare that power for use. Still, having to press "6" to ready lightning, and then use the mouse to unleash the spell can get you killed in the more hectic encounters.

Speaking of items, there are quite a lot of them and every item changes the appearance of your character. Another small thing about TQ that makes more of a difference than you would think is the inclusion of a DPS (damage per second) readout. This is a godsend; it lets you instantly discern which weapon to pick as opposed to using an item for 10 levels that secretly disappoints. Items change their appearance appreciably as one traverses the 4 (counting Immortal Throne) acts, and it’s always nice to change out of that boring Greek circlet to an exciting new Egyptian headdress.

The spells and abilities on display all pack differing amounts of punch, and a few of them are quite impressive, but Titan Quest is more about the item collecting, gameplay and cohesive art presentation than it is about one-upping Oblivion or the like in the graphics department. Most people will probably find the graphics pleasing, if not spellbinding. Unfortunately, the voice-acting is pretty poor, and the accents border on the ludicrous. I practically turned the sound off in Asia and parts of Greece, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to play the game. Another problem appears in the form of an often confusing dialogue/quest system. Honestly, after I get a quest to find some ridiculously named Greek, it really annoys me that the game refuses to tell me which town he is in. There are a lot of towns in each act, and this problem worsens when you are ordered to return some bauble to a guy in the middle of nowhere.

This might not sound like a game that can topple Diablo II, but I haven’t mentioned what has sucked away hours of my life: multiplayer. Titan Quest isn’t as fully-featured as Diablo, but as a result it’s much calmer, more sedate community. It changes how you game, and while boss runs are still prevalent, this game never made me feel rushed or hounded like Diablo did. Blazing through Greece on a 6 hour gaming run with 3 friends is truly an experience to be savored, and its one that can be repeated, with different characters, and still retain its fun factor.

In the end, Titan Quest is just a whole lot of fun. I could say that if you like Diablo or Dungeon Siege, you will like this, and I would be right for the most part. To be honest, even if you didn’t like those games, give Titan Quest a try. It’s fun, really fun, and its overwrought atmosphere makes it fresh in a way you wouldn't expect. Plus playing it with friends really makes the experience one to remember. So, give it a try, and buy the expansion, for your own sanity’s sake.

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