Titan Quest Review

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Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Iron Lore Entertainment
Release Date:2006-06-26
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric,Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Somewhere, Blizzard must be laughing. For all that their Diablo games have generated numerous discussions about whether they should be considered role-playing games at all, Diablo and Diablo II started the action role-playing game genre, and they are still the undisputed kings. Every so often a game looks like it might unseat them, but the Dungeon Siege games couldn't do it, Sacred couldn't do it, and now Titan Quest has failed as well.

What's odd about this is that the Diablo games don't look like they're doing anything complicated. They look beatable. But possibly because Blizzard beta tests their games more than anybody else, the Diablo games have just the right balance of giving you things to do and giving you things to look forward to, that other games just haven't been able to match. Dungeon Siege gave you too little to do; Sacred inundated you with too many monsters to kill.

And then there's Titan Quest, which either does things very well or very badly. There isn't any middle ground. Consider the graphics. Titan Quest takes place in the lands of myth and legend. You start out in Greece (where you learn about the game's main conflict between the Greek gods and the titans), then you move on to Egypt, and finally you reach the Orient. Each of the main areas has a distinct look and feel, gives you different sets of creatures to attack, and allows you to explore fun areas, like Knossos labyrinth in Greece, the Tomb of Ramses in Egypt, and the Hanging Gardens in the Orient.

Moreover, while I suspect that Titan Quest was generated with some sort of world editor, it doesn't suffer from the Neverwinter Nights disease, where all areas start to look alike. Developer Iron Lore Entertainment has a great eye for detail, and so, for example, when you visit the Parthenon in Athens and see a bunch of marble statues, it's not just the same statue plopped down several times. Each statue is unique. Or when you kill a creature, you don't just see one animation where it slumps to the ground and dies. Titan Quest uses some form of ragdoll physics, and enemies can end up flying through the air or rolling down hills, and no death looks the same. Or how about something that most developers wouldn't have bothered with? When you run through the underbrush, the grass parts and sways to match your movements, and it looks downright real. In other words, Titan Quest looks about as good as a game using an isomorphic view can look.

The character development system also has a lot of potential. When you create your character, you only get to choose a gender and a color for your tunic (neither of which makes any difference in the game), but then when you start leveling up, you get to select and develop skill masteries. There are eight skill masteries in the game, such as the Warfare mastery, which involves melee skills, and the Storm mastery, which gives you cold and lightning spells, and you get to choose one mastery at level 2 and a second mastery at level 8.

Each time you level up you receive points to put into the masteries. You can use the points to improve the skills in the masteries or to increase your rank in the masteries themselves (you might need to put points into the mastery to unlock skills in the mastery), and so you need to make a lot of decisions about how to spend your points. Do you put points into a lot of skills, or try to maximize only a couple? Do you spread your points between two masteries, or make one dominant? Do you put points into low level skills, or spend points on the masteries to unlock the high level ones?

What's nice about the system is that Titan Quest doesn't allow you to maximize everything, so you actually have to make choices. Better yet, even after playing for a long time, the points you spend still help your character (unlike, say, in Dungeon Siege II, where the diminishing returns mean that high level points barely do anything useful). I played a Warfare and Defense character, and I never even got a look at skills like Battle Standard and Colossus Form, and so that gives me an incentive to continue playing the character, to keep unlocking new skills. The different combinations of skill masteries also give players a reason to try out new characters, just to see what works and what doesn't.

It's great that Titan Quest gives players a reason to keep playing the campaign, either with a new character starting over, or continuing on in the Epic and Legendary difficulty settings with an existing character. The problem the game has is that it's barely fun enough to play even once, and it's difficult to imagine that people would want to play through it multiple times, with new characters, old characters, or any character. You might find it strange that after praising Titan Quest for four paragraphs, I'm now turning around and saying it's not fun to play, but like I said, developer Iron Lore Entertainment either did things very well or very poorly, and we're now into the (poorly) part of the review.

The problem is very basic. Titan Quest's campaign is terrible. You'd think that Iron Lore would have had some fun with the premise, like Reflexive did with Lionheart and Ensemble did with Age of Mythology, but you never get to interact with any of the gods or heroes. Every so often you meet a storyteller who briefly describes one of the myths or legends, but that's as close as you get. You don't pal around with Hercules, or accept a quest from Isis, or have a drinking competition with Bacchus. The game looks like you're in ancient Greece and Egypt and so forth, but as for what you actually do, you could be anywhere.

Worse, what you actually do isn't all that exciting. Obviously, since Titan Quest is an action role-playing game, most of the game involves clicking on and killing hundreds of enemies. That's a given. Where Iron Lore missteps is that's all you do. The quests aren't all that different from the regular killing of enemies, and the bosses are a joke. There is rarely anything tricky or exciting about them. They just have more hit points and hit harder than regular enemies, and you have to quaff more healing potions than usual when you're fighting them. Ho hum.

Even the storyline lacks imagination. Early on you learn about creatures called Telkines who helped the titans in their war with the Greek gods. Well, in Act One you have to track down and defeat a Telkine, and then in Act Two you have to track down and defeat a Telkine, and then in Act Three you have to -- do you sense the trend yet? -- track down and defeat yet another Telkine. It's difficult to imagine a developer taking an intriguing premise and then doing so little with it, but that's the case with Iron Lore and Titan Quest. There aren't any interesting characters, there isn't any memorable dialogue, and you're not given any choices for what to do. Basically, there isn't any incentive given to continue playing the game (there aren't even any cut scenes after the opening cinematic sequence), other than to see what monsters will come next. If you want more from your role-playing games than just combat, then Titan Quest isn't the game for you.

Finally, I've heard from a lot of people having problems with Titan Quest, to the point where the plethora of bugs has prevented them from playing the game at all. However, Titan Quest worked flawlessly for me. I think it crashed maybe five times in the 75+ hours that I spent with it, and nothing else went wrong. I've also heard from people who played Titan Quest and thought it was a lot of fun, but it just put me to sleep. I hated every forest that was just there to pad the playing time, and every cave that didn't have anything interesting in it (which is almost all of them). If you want to play an action role-playing game with a long but somewhat boring campaign, then I'd recommend Space Hack over Titan Quest, just because its purchase price is less than half as much. Wait for Titan Quest to hit the bargain bin first, or at least wait for another patch or two to come out.