E3 2006: The RPGs

24 Aug 2006

Titan Quest

It seems very strange to me that over the course of a decade we’ve only seen a handful of big budget action RPGs on the PC, especially considering the massive success of Blizzard’s Diablo series. The demand for another well-designed franchise is definitely there, which is exactly why Age of Empires co-creator Brian Sullivan decided to open a new studio called Iron Lore Entertainment and go to work developing his own action RPG. That game is Titan Quest, and after five years of development, the studio is finally gearing up to release it unto the masses.

Titan Quest might seem very similar to Diablo at first glance, but once you start playing it, you realize just how unique and more advanced it is. The game sheds the typical fantasy setting we’ve grown accustomed to and places your character in mythical versions of Greece, Egypt, and Asia. Instead of going up against orcs and goblins, your character will be doing battle with satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs, and cyclopes. Beyond the setting, the game features the most advanced graphics offered in an action RPG to date, multiplayer support for up to six players, a massive assortment of collectable equipment, twenty-eight character class combinations, and several other welcome refinements such as the ability to compare newly found equipment against what you’re wearing simply by hovering the mouse over the new item.

When we reached THQ’s booth at E3, we were surprised to find that Brian Sullivan himself would be narrating our Titan Quest demonstration while another developer ran the controls. Before starting our adventure, Brian explained that one of the team’s primary goals for the game was to make it easy to jump into. Character generation only involves picking your name and then choosing your gender and tunic color. All of the skill mastery customizations you’ll need to make don’t appear until your character starts to make their way through the game and begins to advance in level. Each time the character gains a level, they receive attribute and skill points that can be assigned to a multitude of options in the character and skill interfaces.

There are eight skill masteries in the game – Defense, Earth, Hunting, Nature, Rogue, Spirit, Storm, and Warfare. Only one mastery can be chosen at the beginning of the game, but a second mastery will become available as your character grows in power. Skill points can be assigned within each mastery to further enhance your character, though Brian is quick to point out that the entire mastery system is completely optional. You don’t ever have to pick a skill mastery if you don’t want to, though you’ll probably never make it through the game without at least one. Your character’s class is ultimately determined by which masteries you choose. For example, a character specializing in just Earth would be a Pyromancer, but a character that decides to specialize in both Earth and Storm would be an Elementalist.

The inventory system will be familiar to anyone who has played the Diablo or Dungeon Siege games. Much of the loot you find is randomly generated, though the team has gone through and created over 1000 hand-crafted unique and legendary items, each of which feature their own artwork and statistics. With over 500 pieces of artwork being used for the randomly generated equipment as well, Titan Quest looks to offer one of the most impressive arrays of collectable equipment we’ve ever seen in an action RPG. To hold on to their equipment, a character receives a standard backpack at the beginning of the game and has the ability to add up to three additional packs later in the game. All of the equipment stored in these add-on packs is accessed through tabs on the character’s inventory screen, so you won’t have to return to town and rummage through your “stash” in order to bring along an item you’ve kept stored for awhile.

One thing different about gaining loot from the creatures in Titan Quest is that you will receive exactly what the creature had equipped. If a satyr is firing an oak bow at you, then that’s what you can expect to find after it’s slain. There may also be times when you see a monster wielding a powerful weapon or an enchanted piece of armor, and the same concept holds true. The creature might be more difficult to kill with a magic item at their disposal, but the battle will typically be worth the extra effort because the spoils will always contain the item being used against you.

According to Brian, there are over 85 types of creatures in the game, with multiple variations available for each creature type. Of course, there are “boss” creatures as well, and the team has worked to give each “boss” their own specific AI. This should help ensure that each major battle will be unique and potentially more dangerous than anything the player has faced previously. To make the game even more challenging (and to reap more frequent and powerful rewards), players can choose to progress through the game in its Epic and Legendary difficult settings. Brian tells us that the game currently has a level 65 level cap and that most characters will typically top out when they reach the middle of the highest difficulty setting.

Titan Quest was the closest to release of any game we saw at E3, and it showed. The demonstration ran flawlessly and everything from skill animations to the lush, detailed landscapes appeared to be ready for the public’s eye. In fact, the team even released a downloadable demo the same day we saw it at the show, which can only mean they’re getting close to a gold candidate. If you like action RPGs whatsoever, pick this one up as soon as it’s released. You’ll be glad you did.