|a game by||Iron Lore Entertainment|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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From Aesop's fables to that brilliant one your mate told you in the pub the other night involving your mate's dad's brother's cousin twice-removed, the llama and the marmalade, we all enjoy a good story - and stories don't come much older or grander than those of Greek mythology. Why they haven't been the subject of more games we're not quite sure, but sitting in the conference room of our Athens hotel, we're hoping that a combination of Brian Sullivan's insight - Iron Lore's head honcho - and a stab at playing their historical/ mythology-based RPG for ourselves will show us what we've been missing out on.
The first thing that's noticeable is the lack of start-up choices. Normally, RPGs overflow with options when you kick-off, but there's no time wasted here on deciding which class or hairstyle to pick, or what skill to put that last point into, as the only choices you're given at this stage are gender and the colour of your robe. It still takes me an agonising five minutes to decide (hey, I'm a woman!), but I finally plump to deck out my fierce Greek warrior woman in a fetching baby blue. In the same way Krispy Kreme doughnuts are a feast for the stomach.
Titan Quest is most definitely a feast for the eyes. Far away from the smog and the insane Athens drivers buzzing around swearing at each other, the on-screen action shows a very different Greece to what I've experienced so far. Cypress branches rise into the air, grass parts at my feet as I walk, stone walls mark off fields, shadows dance along the ground and trees wave gently in the breeze.
Here To Help
As I make my way along the paved road, a stranger approaches and asks for my help in rescuing his horse. Since we're about 2,000 years away from the RSPCA helping out I eagerly dive into the nearby field and polish off the two animal-abusing satyrs (half-goat, half-men) with my bare fists.
Picking up a dropped weapon, I continue along the road and soon come upon a small Greek village where the inhabitants are nervously going about their day-to-day business and local guards stand alert at the village borders. Grabbing hold of a talkative local, I'm informed that their farming land has been over-run by pillaging monsters and they're in need of help.
Unable to shake off my responsibilities as a former Brownie, I hack my way through the despoilers and eventually dispatch the satyr mage who's been leading the band. Returning as the village hero, I chat to a village elder who points me in the direction of Sparta and the main quest begins.
Leaving the relative safety of the village and heading off into the Greek countryside, it soon becomes clear that although the route to the next main area is quite clearly marked, there's plenty to be found off the beaten track. Enemy encampments, treasure chests, spectacular hillsides offering views over lower-lying bits of landscape (enabling you to see tiny little enemies in the distance), as well as underground caves that demand exploration litter the landscape and invite plentiful footage.
But of course, such wanders will also bring you into contact with many of the locals, and there aren't that many who you'd class as 'friendly'. "We've got 85 types of creature in game: skeletons, centaurs, cyclops, hydras, gorgons, harpys. Pretty much all the stuff you see in a Harryhausen movie, you'll see in our game," explains Brian Sullivan, before laying out the 'monster proxy' system that does the hard work of deciding which enemies you should face.
"It looks at your level, how many people are in your party, what their levels are and then decides which type of monsters to spawn, how many to spawn and what level they should be."
With Iron Lore having worked hard at a 'tactile' feel, combat is fast-paced and action-packed with multiple enemies, dazzling particle effect spells and opponents you've dealt with catapulting off in comical ragdoll fashion. If you've played Diablo, it'll all be familiar stuff (albeit liberally sprinkled with a 21st century dose of graphical splendour), as you click on enemies and watch your character hack them to pieces.
For once, there's also a link between what you see and what you get, so if one of your enemies is wearing a tasty helmet or using a hefty sword, they'll drop it for looting once they've bitten the dust Every once in a while you may also stumble upon a Relic as well; a small fragment of a legendary item such as Achilles' spear, which you can use to enhance your weapons or armour with power from that hero.
Game Of Skill
Soon after starting, you're faced with your first of two choices in skill mastery. Choosing from eight options (Defensive, Earth, Hunting, Nature, Rogue, Spirit, Storm and Warfare), your choices define what type of hero you become, enabling pure-bred battle-hardened warriors to co-exist alongside buff-heavy rangers or healer rogues.
Once you've chosen, you can spend your hard-earned skill points on either general mastery which unlocks more of the 20 abilities, or pumping up your lower level skills, expanding and increasing their effects. Gone is the idea that these lower level skills will become useless some way into the game; Iron Lore have concentrated on making sure that all abilities unlocked early on are made useful throughout the entire game. This will also be clearly represented on-screen.
"Our special effects are scalable, so at the beginning of the game when you only have one point in 'fireball', it's going to be quite a small fireball," explains Sullivan, waving his arms as if he's handling his very own imaginary flaming sphere. "When you add more points to the fireball, the special effects will get bigger at different levels. With high-level skills, there are sometimes huge pyrotechnic effects that dominate a third of the screen."
Then, without much further ado, we're transported to Ancient Egypt - a level more than a little different, especially with its breathtaking start-up harbour environment Gigantic ships line the jetty, gorgeously rendered water laps the shores, towering Egyptian statues guard the entrance to main buildings and local wildlife flitters, lopes and strolls alongside the waterfront Journey further through the sun-baked mud huts of this level and you find yourself battling jackal warriors, giant scorpions and malignant spirits in some spectacular Egyptian libraries and tombs. All this and no-one tries to sell you souvenirs once.
It doesn't stop here either, with other levels plucked from Titan Quest's pack of 24 featuring legends like the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon, with its regimentally organised sections of flora amid trickling streams, peaceful waterfalls, mosaic wall scenes and winged Persian sphinxes. The China level is also a bit of a looker with its ornate oriental palaces, cherry trees in blossom and even the first game setting to be visible from space - the Great Wall.
As is the fashion with such hack-and-slash beasts, Titan Quest is set to ship with an advanced level editor which will give the njod community their chance to create any tall tales they feel have been missed out Sullivan is quick to sing its virtues: "It's the most powerful and easy-to-use editor that's been released yet so we're hoping that people do create a lot of content" He also divulges that: "We've already had people actually talking about re-creating every single mythical story in ancient Greece using the editor." We're keeping our fingers crossed for a Clash Of The Titans mod...
The only piece of the jigsaw left is the storyline, about which Iron Lore are keeping decidedly tight-lipped. We did manage to gather that the Titans (gods before gods) will feature, as they have escaped from their eternal prison to wreak merry havoc upon the world and its inhabitants.
Sullivan also confirms that, "you'll be kicking some Titan butt by the end of the game", so it looks like the story will (again) depend upon your hero going all out to save mankind and the Earth. Luckily, Iron Lore have brought in some writing talent in the form of Randall Wallace (screenwriter for Braveheart and Pearl Harbour), so at least the story that ties everything together should be an epic yam.
Titan Quest's beautiful looks, easy-to-use combat and lack of gore are bound to attract players of all ages and abilities to the game. However, we have our reservations about how much the mechanics of a ten year-old game will still appeal, but Sullivan is adamant that the tried-and-tested formula will work just as well with today's gamers.
"The play mechanics are similar to Diablo because it's been established that it works. You don't break something just to be different - and if you look at the skills, the bosses and the places you go to, you can see that Titan Quest is a different experience." Only time will tell whether Iron Lore's belief in the undiminished appeal of Diablo-play will prove correct, but whatever the case, our large, unblinking Cyclops eye will remain focused on the project Unless Titan Quest stabs out that eye while we're sleeping and escapes from our cave pretending to be a sheep.