Gamers who like their medieval combat chock full of creativity will want to check out Nox. With its 3/4-isometric view, fantasy elements, and epic single-player quest, it's not unfair to say the game recalls Diablo--but Nox offers much more freedom and flexibility. Clever players can create nasty traps and spell/weapon combos that, for example, stun your opponent, and then crush them with a huge stone Fist of Vengeance from the sky. If youVe looking for a fun, funny alternative to shooters this fall, Nox could be it.
"Nox is fast paced action, set in a land filled with discovery and deceit." At least, that’s how Westwood’s marketing team puts it. The graphics are lush, the story is decent, and barring a few performance issues, the game action is fast. I don’t know if you’re a fan of Denis Leary, but the minute I found out my character was from a trailer in Florida I couldn’t help but sing:
"I’m just a regular Joe, with a regular job. I’m you’re average white suburbanite slob... My wife, and my job, my kids and my car, My feet on my table, and a Cuban cigar... But sometimes that just ain’t enough To keep a man like me interested. No, I’ve gotta go out and have fun At someone else’s expense..."
Welcome to Nox. You’re a grade-A trailer-dweller from the southern swamplands and you’ve been chosen. Pick your path, be it warrior, conjurer, or wizard, then go forth and destroy the evil Hecubah before she overruns Nox with an army of Necromancers and legions of undead.
Not surprisingly, many people are calling this game a Diablo clone. Please don’t add my name to that list. I can accurately be quoted as saying that it is a perfect game for those people who feel they will die if Diablo II doesn’t ship soon, but it is important to note that there is no multiplayer feature for cooperative questing, the very feature that made Diablo the online game du jour a few years back.
True, the similarities are amazing. There are three classes to choose from, only one of which can use bows. It’s an isometric Action/RPG title. The goal of the game is simple and it’s not that hard to beat if you’re careful. (Okay, the mage tower is close to impossible if you’re a warrior...) But the similarities are just that. Similarities.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Hats off to Westwood. The game’s control is virtually flawless. Everything but the most infrequently used keys are easily reached by the left hand and the most frequently used keys (bound to your skills/spells) are on home row. To top it off, everything in the game is customizable and it has a built-in console (ala Quake) with custom key-binding commands and a multitude of other features
Just about everything in the game is moveable including tables, chairs, assorted furniture, etc. and every locale in the game is exquisitely detailed. Homes look homey and unique, not like pre-fabricated project houses. In addition to being able to shove your way through and around most things, you can also break most everything in the game. The rule of thumb is: "if it isn’t nailed down, it’s fair game." Kill it, steal it, take it, break it... no consequences.
Of course, this level of "freedom" tends to inspire some rather sociopathic tendencies in the players. NPCs don’t get upset that you’re re-arranging the furniture in their houses or stealing their stuff. Because of their lack of attention, I found myself wanting to crack some skulls just to see if these people can feel (or express) pain at all... alas, Westwood must have anticipated this, as there is no way to lethally damage a friendly, non-player entity in the game.
This leads into the only real complaint I have with control or interface issues. The ‘Action’ command (bound to the left mouse button) equivocates, based on context, to Pick up, Use, Talk, or Attack. Because the game decides what you mean when you click on something, you are at its mercy much of the time.
Granted, it rarely misinterprets input... but I’d like to be a bit more explicit at times. I guess what I’m looking for is separation of Attack from the rest of the Actions... I’ve thrown my chackra bounding off down a long corridor one too many times when trying to pick up something just a few pixels too far away from my feet.
In general, though, the control and interface is very, very well executed. It leaves little to be desired.
I should say a few words about my online experience. Multiplayer games are available via TCP/IP LAN or Internet (assuming there are no firewalls in between you and them) or through Westwood’s "definitive internet battleground, Westwood Online."
Once online you can play a variety of fun and entertaining games, ranging from standard deathmatch with re-spawn (dubbed Arena, go fig.) to the innovative Noxball -- it’s like soccer, except you can kill members of the other team. ;)
The most intriguing thing is how everyone starts a multiplayer game at level 10 with random stats and a competent spell/skill assortment to pick from based on class. You never really advance... you just kill each other. The only character data seemingly saved from online conquests (because of the high mortality rate) is your name, class, and appearance data.
All in all, the multiplayer aspect of the game is very good... though considerably more choppy than the single-player component. The utter insanity of it all comes at a price, I suppose. It’s definitely worth checking out!
The graphics are very pretty. I installed the game with all the hi-res singe-my-eyebrows-off-please options that I could find enabled. I am happy to say that this game looks much better (especially at 800x600) than Diablo ever did. If I had to express this game in terms of others, I would place the feel of it somewhere between and beyond Diablo and Fallout 2.
Everyone (among the near-human Nox inhabitants) has near-proper flesh tone (something that Diablo sorely lacked!) and come in a believable assortment of sizes and shapes. Costuming is well done and overall the game blends very well with itself. Sprites mesh very well with the local color schemes, creating a believable integration.
Special effects are done with MMX (sorry, no 3D acceleration here), the once lauded yet rarely used technology that has seemingly gone adrift in the sea of 3D chipsets. Aside from performance issues (blame my Celeron 400), I couldn’t really tell that it wasn’t directly using my Voodoo3 card’s library of flashy features... they look that good.
The last thing (also the coolest thing) to mention is the TrueSight™ system. They incorporated, via shadow casting, a true line-of-sight system. If you’re character can’t see it, you can’t either. Everything in the world is pitch black unless you can draw a line from the center of your characters head to it on the screen in 360°. One of the coolest things is that you can into an adjacent room through windows or a cracked door, but unless people get real close to said hole, they can’t see you at all -- Yes, you can even fire through and strike through these holes ;). It’s very dynamic and very accurate. Hats off to Westwood.
The sound effects are convincing, if not remarkable. The combat sounds get repetitive after a while, but the environmental effects and special sounds are very well programmed. You can hear what’s going on proximally to you, even through walls, though muted (just like real life). The effects for the warriors' skills are very entertaining, especially the war cry. That really shakes everything up... I do it as a pick-me-up whenever the game starts to get the better of my nerves.
The music is the true gem. During the day (I’m talking about real life here), the music seems to mesh very well with the surroundings. There is no discernable "combat music" (I almost deleted Fallout 2 for its music)... just music tied to the area you’re currently walking through.
But when the sun goes down and the lights are turned down low... the music starts to get to you a little. It gets kind of freaky... even scary. The tomb gets colder and scarier. The game seems to grow silent, save the oddly chilling music that ebbs and swells in the background and the plodding of your own feet. And that’s why I like it. It fills in where the game lacks. It ties the visual components of the game to the emotions through aural stimulation and does it convincingly.
To tip the scales of reality vs. fantasy a bit, every line of dialog in the game (except your own words) has been recorded as audio and is played back when people talk. The only noticeable hitch here is some odd volume changes in the middle of long sections of speech... like they re-recorded and spliced some pieces as the script was changed from time to time. This could have been quality controlled a bit better. I wouldn’t have made a fuss a few years ago, when voice-overs were a luxury, but now they’re practically required if anybody says anything in your game. In fact, most games have an option to enable text captioning for dialogue these days, so quality is of paramount concern.
To sum up, the audio is good, sometimes incredible, often disconcerting... which I believe is the effect they were going for.
Minimum: Pentium II or P-200 MMX or faster, 32 MB RAM or more, 300 MB free hard drive space or more, Windows 95/98 w/ DirectX 7.0 or Windows NT 4 with SP4 or newer or Windows 2000, 2 MB video RAM or more, 8X CD-ROM drive or faster, DirectSound compliant sound card, and a Two-button mouse.
For Internet play: 33.3 K Internet connection or faster (their phrasing, not mine) and an Internet service.
For game hosting: Pentium II 266, 64 MB RAM
Recommended: Pentium II 266 or faster, 64 MB RAM or more, 300 MB free hard drive space or more, Windows 95/98 w/ DirectX 7.0 or Windows NT 4 with SP4 or newer or Windows 2000, 4 MB video RAM or more, 8X CD-ROM drive or faster, DirectSound compliant sound card, and a Two-button mouse.
Reviewed on: Intel® Celeron™ 400 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 120 MB free on game partition (after install), Hard drive: LVD Ultra3 SCSI Seagate 18gig Cheetah @ 10,000 RPM, Windows 98 SE w/ DirectX 7.0a, Voodoo3 3000 AGP w/ 16 MB RAM, and a 2/20 DVD-ROM drive.
Performance Results: At 800x600 the game has an acceptable framerate for a single player Action/RPG, though it only gets worse when you hop online for some deathmatch play. If I had to guess, I’d say I was getting about 20 fps just running around (going to 640x480 didn’t seem to help much... there’s just so much other stuff going on that it’s not a video processing issue at all). Beyond 800x600, though, the game takes a massive framerate hit on my system, probably dropping below 10 fps on a consistent basis, even when I’m the only living thing on the screen.
I have to mention this. The game comes with a very cool full-color tri-panel quick-reference card. This comes in extremely handy and I think that everyone should start doing this. (By "tri-panel," I mean a piece of paperboard that folds in two places and joins together to form a three-sided quick reference card.)
Unless you have a problem with magic, violence, or freaky medieval settings, this game shouldn’t irk you at all. The action is a bit intense and scary for younger players. The "Teen" rating is deserved and apropos.
Nox is an exciting game with a storyline that may seem shallow at first, but grabs your attention and holds it until the end. Along the way, in standard Westwood fare, there are several priceless moments of sidesplitting humor you’ll have to see to believe. The ending is also surprising, almost what you’d expect from a good independent film. Alas, the single player campaign does feel a bit hurried. I managed to hack through the game for the first time in less than 10 hours. When it was all over, I found myself wishing there was more.