Under The Wire: Titan Quest
By Neil Kewn (Murxidon) - OnRPG Journalist
In a new column, Neil Kewn trawls the archives for the obscure, underrated and forgotten role-playing games from yesteryear.
Hate is a strong word, but one I end up using quite liberally these days. There are a lot of things to hate in the world, and whilst I love many things about gaming, there are just as many that I loathe. One of which is a video game deeply positioned in the annals of history, one that is widely regarded to be one of the best games of all time. Blizzard's Diablo series is the cornerstone of dungeon crawling RPGs, but I hated it. I hated Diablo II, and I hated the games that try to emulate the endless repetition of monster killing and loot scrounging. I found it so boring.
I should be more specific, as what I just described applies to roughly 100% of role-playing games. I never did finish Blizzard's isometric dungeon crawler, I didn't sink an endless number of hours gathering virtual items, nor did I bother playing all of the classes. Was there another, different game ten hours in? Is it possible that I didn't play enough to form a reasonable opinion? I don't know - I just didn't like it. I won't use the hardware limitations of the time as an excuse, I don't always need flashy cinematics to be drawn into a game, but I do expect some degree of variety. Several hours in I had some pretty impressive spells and largely decent gear, but I was bored out of my skull. Is this all I'm going to do in this game?
Getting With The Times
I first played Diablo in early 2009 - That might go some way in explaining my animosity towards it. These days I'm used to playing the biggest and boldest video games. I enjoy the grandeur of a 3D fantasy world and I appreciate the sense of freedom I get with them. Nevertheless, I can appreciate good video games and I realise that these come in many forms. There was just a feeling of tedium that I couldn't shake whenever I launched the executable. Diablo does something, and it does it very well, it just isn't something I particularly liked.
You can imagine my hesitation when I picked up Titan Quest. Bored out of my skull and looking for new co-operative games to play, Titan Quest was one of the names that popped up when I entered an overly specific Google search. Glancing quickly at YouTube videos, I realised what this game was and why I wasn't keen on feeding it to my CD drive. I was willing to give Diablo, and the repetition that came with it, a second chance - This time I would have a friend to come along for the ride.
Titan Quest is what some consider a spiritual successor to Diablo, a Diablo 2.5 if you will. It was developed by Iron Lore Entertainment, a company formed by the man behind the hugely successful Age of Empires series. Instead of building cities and commanding armies, you design and create your own hero and set out on a mythological adventure in ancient lands.
Improving A Tried And Tested Formula
There are no immediate classes to choose from when creating your hero in Titan Quest. You are not "locked" into a specific playing style, but can choose from a range of "Masteries" which will in turn assign you a class. For example, if you choose the Earth mastery you become the Pyromancer. You have the option of adding a second Mastery to that. So Earth plus the Nature Masteries makes you a Summoner. There are a multitude of element-altering spells and abilities at your disposal depending on which talent trees you take, and making powerful combinations from the most unlikely skill sets is one of the most entertaining things about Titan Quest.
There's something inherently more structured about the game than Diablo. I often found myself wandering aimlessly in Blizzard's world, and the linearity of Iron Lore's first (and last) game added some fluidity to the mix. It all depends on taste. The basic core elements of dungeon running are here, and anyone familiar with Diablo would feel right at home in Titan Quest. Your action bar lists your spells and abilities, and you set about town hitting and burning anything that moves until it drops items that said beings would never carry. Loot is what these games are all about, and those who enjoy slaving away for the rare and powerful weapons, armour and consumables will enjoy what Titan Quest has to offer.
One of the first things you will notice about the game is how attractive it is. Great spell effects and ragdoll physics add weight to the combat, whilst the beautifully detailed locations make travelling from one area to the next a visual delight. The ancient architecture of the time is well represented here, and the monsters are varied enough to keep the core game of enemy bashing relatively fresh. The sound is also a highlight, with meaty sound effects and an excellent musical score to boot.
With A Little Help From My Friends
Adding more players into your game is seamless, and makes the trudge of mass murder a joint affair. Forming your own party and working co-operatively is an extremely fun experience, and remains challenging thanks to the difficulty scaling depending on how many players have gotten in on the action. Watching the screen fill with flashy spells and powerful abilities as you and your friends slaughter a path for yourself never really gets old.
Before Iron Lore Entertainment folded in 2008, Immortal Throne hit shelves as an expansion pack to Titan Quest. So what made it so much better than Diablo? The improved graphics, the solid voice acting, the great music and open class system all contribute towards making a great game, and one that Diablo fans should definitely check out. I went back to it after my time with Titan Quest, but I didn't enjoy Blizzard's acclaimed title as much as I did Iron Lore's lesser-known game. Diablo might be regarded as the best dungeon runner ever made, but Titan Quest is a sadly overlooked spiritual successor that convinced even the most cynical video game player that clubbing monsters for hours doesn't have to be boring.