Titan Quest - Best of the Diablo Clones?
All the hype about Diablo 3 got me inspired to try Titan Quest, a top-down 'isometric' hack-and-slash action RPG developed by Iron Lore Entertainment (now defunct) and designed by Brian Sullivan, the creator of the Age of Empires franchise.
Titan Quest, which is considered by many players to be the best of the 'Diablo-clones', was published in 2006 by THQ and is very much in the style of Diablo 1 and 2. It doesn't explore a lot of new ground but takes a successful formula and refines it in a number of interesting ways. It's a solid game with great visuals, addictive (if repetitive) gameplay, and nice extra features like multiplayer and a level editor.
Titan Quest is set on Earth sometime in the 'age of myth'. You begin the game in ancient Greece and in the course of your adventure travel to Egypt, Summeria (briefly) and China. The story, written by Randall Wallace, the author of Braveheart, is pretty straightforward: the Gods have apparently abandoned mankind which now finds itself at the mercy of hordes of beast-men, wild animals, giant insects, undead and various other monsters, many of which are based on mythological creatures.
Early in the game, you are introduced to the Order of Prometheus, a fictional order of priests who are attempting to re-establish communication with the gods in an effort to stem the tide of evil. Agents of this order inform you that these creatures are being led by three beings known as Telkines who seem intent on breaking into important historical locations to acquire magical artifacts necessary for releasing their master, the titan Typhon, from his bondage. Along the way, you encounter other NPCs who share with your their own, more personal problems, resulting in additional mini-quests. All of these mini-quests are nicely integrated with the events in the main quest, so you never feel like you're abandoning your main objective while helping out the locals.
Character Creation and Development
At the start of the game, you choose your name and gender. There are no races to choose from as the basic premise of the game is that you're playing a Greek hero. Character appearance is not customizable beyond choosing the color of your tunic (which you can change later in the game by purchasing dyes from vendors) but this isn't a big deal since you won't be zooming in on your character very often, if at all. (Titan Quest has a pretty good zoom function but the game is much easier to play zoomed out).
There are five main attributes defining your character: Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Health, and Energy (for using special abilities and spells). Attributes affect various elements of gameplay like offensive and defensive capabilities and determine what kind of weapons and armor you can use by setting requirements on items.
There are no classes, but beginning on level 2, you gain the ability to choose from one of eight different masteries: Defense, Warfare, Hunting, and Rogue make up the tank to stealth-style spectrum of characters with Nature, Earth, Storm, and Spirit filling out the magic-oriented side of the equation. These masteries serve as de facto classes, and each provides a fairly robust skill tree with a wide assortment of skills and perks to choose from, both active and passive.
As you play, you accumulate experience points (xp) by defeating enemies and completing quests. When you accumulate enough xp, your character goes up a level and you are given skill points and attribute points to spend on your character. Skill points can be invested in a mastery to unlock better abilities or spent on individual abilities within a mastery to improve their effectiveness. Later in the game, you have the option of unlocking a second mastery, which basically allows you to play a multi-class. Skill points can also be respec'ed at a Mystic in any of the major cities in exchange for gold, which makes character building a consequence-free and engaging pastime.
Considering there are several different masteries to choose from, and each mastery has a fair number of skills, Titan Quest provides a fair bit of replay value from a character build perspective. I completed my first run-through at level 33 and had barely filled half the perk slots in a single mastery. Because Titan Quest allows you to repeat the narrative at higher difficulty settings with the same character and keep leveling up, that's potentially a lot of different character builds. The perks (at least in my own mastery) seemed fairly well designed and interesting, although I would have liked being forced to use some of them a little more often. Leveling up and allocating skill points was definitely one of my favorite aspects of this game.
The easiest way to describe Titan Quest is: Diablo outdoors.
Unlike Diablo, though, most of the action takes place in beautifully rendered wilderness environments, with only short forays into dungeons (which themselves are not very large or interesting). The exterior environments are fairly large but they are not particularly open so progress through the environments is fairly linear: most areas are like bowls with the occasional plateau, valley, or dungeon attached and are connected to neighboring regions by narrow bottlenecks. This is a fairly common sort of world design for these types of games, so it's not particularly a failing so much as a design convention. It keeps you on track and leads you along without being too intrusive.
Titan Quest uses portals to provide convenient fast travel services between major cities. Make sure you activate the portals when you find them (just walk up to them) or you'll end up having to back-track for an hour like I did: the one time I really needed to go back to a previous location to collect my reward for a completed quest happened to be the one time I forgot to activate a town portal. You really don't appreciate how useful these are until that happens to you.
Titan Quest has respawning points (magic fountains) conveniently located near the beginning of each major area so if you die you don't usually have far to go to get back to where you were. You can save your progress at any time manually, but Titan Quest does not remember what enemies you have killed between game sessions (though it does remember quest completion status) so if you save and shut down midway through a section you'll have to replay it from the last respawn point the next time you play. For efficient gameplay, always save beside a new respawning pool at the start of a new section.
Combat and AI
Like Diablo, Titan Quest is an unmitigated click-fest: left-click to move or attack, right-click to use a special power or ability. There are also hotkeys for assigning frequently used items and skills. Health and Energy regenerate over time, but the default regeneration rate is very slow so it doesn't eliminate the need to use potions.
There are a lot of enemies to kill in Titan Quest (I finished the first run through the main quest in 60 hours with over 15,000 kills), which means there is a lot of clicking. And while there are quite a few different types of enemies (several dozen), there isn't a lot of gameplay variety. The creatures look pretty good, and have good animations, but most monsters behave the same way -- they swarm when you get close and return to their starting locations when you run too far away, and the archers and spell-casters try to keep their distance -- so while you have a number of skills at your disposal, there is typically little reason to change your approach to combat and it's fairly easy to separate individuals from a group and shoot enemies in the back if you find yourself forced to flee out of range. I built a pure hunter class and found that I spent most of my time using the same two tactics: switching between bow and net for ranged attacks and spear and power attack for melee. I was using the same tactics on enemies in the very last level that I was using in the very first level. I did make an effort to use other strategies (like the monster decoys and Call of the Hunt), but I never really had to learn new techniques to overcome new foes. The dungeons include a number of different traps, but, like the enemies, they were easy to identify and avoid.
This kind of mindless clicking can make for fun and relaxing gameplay, but it's not terribly challenging or engaging, so I often found that I got bored and sometimes found encounters (particularly with boss monsters, which did not require significant changes in tactics) tedious. This is probably the most serious problem with the game. The challenge of the game was also mitigated by the frequency of health potions in loot drops which could be found for every few enemies you killed. I had so many, I had to sell them to merchants to make room for additional items. (A problem I never had in Diablo, where I found myself frequently purchasing potions.)
Loot, Inventory Management, Item Upgrades
My second problem with the game was the inventory management. The inventory in Titan Quest uses the familiar grid-based design common to action RPGs with additional inventory tabs that can be unlocked as you raise your level. The inventory system itself, isn't bad; it works fine. The problem is that there are thousands of objects in the game and the only way to know what the stats are is to add them to your inventory and then compare their stats with your equipped items. At the start of the game, I did a lot of this: kill an enemy, pick up the dropped loot (if I didn't recognize it) check out the stats and then drop it (99% of the time). Because your inventory is fairly small (particularly at low levels) I spent almost as much time picking things up, checking the stats and dropping them as I did killing things.
After a few levels, this behavior died out. Once I found a good item in a certain category (eg. a good bow or shield) I didn't bother checking the stats on dropped items unless it was color coded (Titan Quest uses a similar system to Diablo with different colored text representing different tiers of items and enemies). Eventually it got to the point where I would wait for several levels before checking the stats on anything unless it happened to be a unique or very rare item or unless I happened to be visiting a merchant. Because the enemies are not very smart and easy to beat, I never really felt any need to maximize my equipment stats in order to get an edge on them. It's possible to collect this junk loot and sell it to merchants, of course, but your inventory is so small and gold is so easy to acquire (I ended the game with around a million gold) that this kind of activity is not really worthwhile. When I visited the merchants, I sold the few things that I happened to have on me that I didn't need, but didn't waste any of my time trying to raise capital to buy new gear because it was completely unnecessary.
Enemies in Titan Quest do drop a number of interesting crafting materials ('relics') which you can use to enhance your weapons and armor in various ways. This was one of the more interesting aspects of item management and was fairly well done, though I found that, because you couldn't remove relics once they had been applied to an item, I tended to hoard them and save them up until I found a really good item to attach them to. This isn't bad in itself (and more an indication of my own neurotic tendencies than bad game design), but contributed to inventory overflow and was another reason why I stopped checking stats on loot drops.
NPCs and Quest Design
Titan Quest uses the common division of labor when it comes to NPCs: randomly moving, silent NPCs (non-player characters) that can't be interacted with that exist merely to make a town look populated, and stationary NPCs offering services, dispensing quests, and providing local color via 'the view of the common man'.
While the merchants and service providers have little to say, the other NPCs often have a great deal of dialogue, though much of it is repetitive. Typically, you can click on an actor repeatedly to drill down through several blocks of dialogue, though you usually only really need to hear the first chunk to figure out everything you need to know. Most towns also have a storyteller who will recount a real myth or legend from the culture he represents which is a nice touch and an easy way to pick up some mythology while you're at it. The voice acting is decent, but not spectacular and sometimes borders on campy.
The quests in Titan Quest are completely linear; there is really only one way to complete them and your character has no dialogue at all, so there are no branching dialogue options or personality development of any kind. Titan Quest, while it has all the mechanical elements of a RPG, really does not support any more 'role-playing' than Diablo. Once you've beaten the main quest, you do have the option of replaying the game with the same character on a higher difficulty level, which is nice, because it allows you to continue building your character and exploring new skills and masteries. If you don't mind replaying the same content a couple of times this could net you over 150 hours of gameplay.
Graphics and Audio
One of the first things you will probably notice about the game is that, considering its age, the graphics are pretty good.
The exterior environments are hand-crafted (not random) and have a decent amount of variety, though, as it's set on Earth, don't expect any outlandish locations or crazy vegetation. Grass sways realistically when you walk through it (and conceals dropped loot; fortunately, you can highlight useful items with the Alt button), trees bend in the wind and water laps the shores. There is also a day/night cycle which lend nice atmospheric touches to the environments, though, sadly, other than some mist in the swamps, there really isn't anything in the way of weather.
Interior environments, by contrast, are not terribly inspired, though the dynamic lighting and cast shadows looked pretty sweet on the normal and specular mapped floor tiles.
The enemies are full 3d models with proper ragdoll physics so they flop around quite naturally when you kill them, which was one of the more satisfying elements of combat.
At the time that Titan Quest was released, it was considered quite the resource hog, but my two year old computer didn't experience lagging of any sort on the highest settings. (Or any noteworthy bugs, either; the only 'bug' I found was that flying enemies would sometimes not drop to the ground when killed but freeze in mid-flight.)
The music in Titan Quest is serviceable but lackluster, and I personally didn't find it very compelling. (The creepy soundtrack in Diablo, by contrast, was very effective at giving me the jitters.) The ambient sound effects were well done, though, and added a nice bit of immersion to my exploration.
Multiplayer and Custom Maps
Titan Quest supports multiplayer with 2-6 players so you can join other players in your quest. I didn't participate in any multiplayer myself, but there were a number of active servers when I checked, so there are still people playing.
It is also possible to download map and quest editors and other modding tools to create custom adventures. I haven't tested any of these features myself, though I did discover that Titan Quest still has a small modding community. It's not very active, but if that's your sort of thing, it might be worth checking out.
If you're looking for a good, straightforward hack and slash action RPG to tide you over until Diablo 3 hits the digital shelves, then Titan Quest is probably going to scratch that itch. It's a great-looking game with solid, if derivative, bug-free gameplay, a wide variety of creatures and treasure, and a great character build system that invites multiple replays.
Final Verdict: 76/100
Diablo and His 'Clones'
Here's a short list of the best Diablo clones that I could find. I've played several of these games, but not all of them. Some of these are console games (PS2 and XBOX, for the most part) but many are PC only.
- Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (recommended)
- Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 (recommended)
- Champions of Norrath (recommended)
- Champions: Return to Arms (recommended)
- Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes (haven't beaten)
- Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (haven't beaten)
- Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
- Fate (4 vols)
- Legend: Hand of God
- Loki: Heroes of Mythology
- Depths of Peril
- Din's Curse
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