Titan Quest

2_1Greek Diablo offers much loot, few headaches.

This unabashed Diablo knock-off from Iron Lore Entertainment is a respectable shot at giving the hacky-slashy crowd something different. Innovative character development and the unique venues of ancient Greece, Egypt, and China give the click-and-loot genre more life than it’s had in years, although at times you’re given too much of a good thing. Most of the game’s mojo is provided by the offbeat story and setting.

Instead of the expected Elf land, the backdrop here is the real ancient Greece. You begin as a Greek hero checking out the local tourist hotspots listed in the 500 BC edition of Frommer’s, then set sail for Egypt, and finally wind things up in China. Everything looks terrific, although there is a bit of slowdown at night and in some indoor scenes with lots of light sources. Maps are decked out with gorgeous ruined temples, cyclopean palaces, and sphinxes. It’s like an interactive History Channel special where you kill things.

Of course, this isn’t a documentary. This version of the ancient world comes complete with mythological beasts and gods, a la Age of Mythology. Greece is overrun by escapees from Homer and Hesiod, including satyrs, maenads, minotaurs, and cyclops. Egypt is packed with jackalmen and scorpions, and China is full of tigermen and dragons. Most of the story hinges on the Greek pantheon, though, as you fight evil titans who have unleashed monsters on the world and cut mankind off from Zeus and pals.

Sound good? For the most part, it is. Packs of baddies attack you at a Serious Sam pace every time you turn a corner. The speed and challenge of combat are set at such a pitch that you can’t help being hypnotized by the relentless, rhythmic clicking. You need to fight with one hand on the mouse and the other on the hotkeys, ready to rip off a spell or quaff a potion at a second’s notice.

But Titan Quest still drags. Many levels have been stretched to the “When the hell is this going to end?†point. You get a campaign that clocks in at an impressive 40 hours, but there are way too many unnecessary satyr villages, undead cemeteries, and tigerman tribes. Too many crypts and caverns turn into incredibly long and wearying mazes. And save points—there is no save-on-demand feature, so you’re resurrected at magic fountains—are often spaced widely for no apparent reason except to stretch the game out by making you hike back to the spot where you were killed. Much of the time, you don’t even get a save point right before a boss battle, which is nothing short of sadistic in levels like the massive maze at Knossos. At least you can zip between the countryside and the cities with your handy portal stone.

7_1All of this padding mildly unbalances the game, too. Take a conscientious approach to clearing maps and cracking open every chest and coffer, and you soon become a Croesus with hundreds of thousands of gold pieces. Before the midway point of the game, you’ve collected enough coin to stock a virtually unlimited supply of health potions. Enemies are so numerous that you can’t quaff the elixir quickly enough to survive many onslaughts, although you can typically run away, suck one back, and then return to the fray. Exercise the better part of valor smartly, and you won’t die much, even in the boss battles.

Iron Lore doesn’t take the mythological angle as far as it should. Titan Quest’s monster menagerie is bolstered by too many refugees from D&D and Tolkien. Skeletons, zombies, and wraiths pack the tombs of the Peloponese just as they do the tombs of the Forgotten Realms. There are so many giant spiders in the woods around Delphi that you might as well be wandering through Mirkwood with Bilbo. And most weapons and magical artifacts are stock fantasy swords, shields, rings, and the like, so the loot is pretty generic. (You have to keep a close eye on your dull stash, though, because the cramped inventory forces you to cull your stock all the time.) The only ode to actual ancient goodies is embodied by shards representing pieces of artifacts like the Golden Fleece and Prometheus’ Flame.

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Character development also borrows more from traditional fantasy role-playing than from the Greek mythology that supposedly inspires hero creation. While there are some great ideas here, chiefly the decision to drop formal classes for choosing skill masteries at levels two and eight, the toga-party premise isn’t played up. Aside from the odd tip of the trident to the Elysian Fields, Amun-Re, or another household name from ancient mythology, the abilities and spells are interchangeable with those of any other action RPG.

19_1That isn’t to say that the skill system doesn’t work. On the contrary, it’s fantastic. Along with the usual strength, dexterity, etc stats, there are eight skill masteries in total, representing all of the stereotypical class types. So pick Warfare if you want a fighter, Spirit if you want a necromancer, Nature if you want a druid, Earth or Storm if you want a mage, and so on. You can take completely opposite masteries and create hybrid classes like the Battlemage, for instance. Pick Warfare at level two and Earth at level eight and you’ll soon have the option of putting satyrs to the sword or frying them with fiery spells.

A lot of customization is possible within masteries, too, as each is packed with over a dozen individual skills that vary quite a bit. Someone with the Rogue mastery, for example, can go the assassin route and concentrate on buffing deadly skills like Mortal Wound and Envenom Weapon, or they can play the thief with tricky talents such as Lay Trap and Flash Powder. Characters with the Hunting mastery can do the Aragorn thing with Trail Blazing and Wood Lore, or they can follow in the footsteps of Legolas thanks to bow-centric skills like Marksmanship and Puncture Shot. Best of all, if you regret any skill choices later, you can visit a mystic and rearrange things to your liking for a small fee.

As in most action-oriented RPGs, you can eliminate a lot of the workmanlike atmosphere and balance the niggles by buddying up and tackling the campaign in the multiplayer mode. Up to six players can venture online to face the evils of the ancient world together. The game also includes a map editor and mod tools for creating custom multiplayer levels. So even if Titan Quest doesn’t let you hang out and chill with Homer, it’s still more than your average Diablo clone can deliver.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 5 GB HDD, 128 MB Video, WinXP

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