Titan Quest (PC) review
"Titan Quest is an exciting bash across ancient lands. Very little about this game is innovative. Rather than experimenting with new concepts, Iron Lore took familiar ones and refined them. They knew what kind of game they were making. They didn't overload it with pretentious storytelling or bits of narrative that demean the action."
Humans and monsters lived peacefully, separate from one another. The long peace was the work of the gods, who warred with the titans and their demonic minions for control of the land. But that peace was really just an armistice and eventually it came to an end. One after another, cities fell and lives ended. The satyrs and centaurs of Greece banded together, demolishing gorgeous temples and setting fire to villages. Across the sea in Egypt, jackal-men and anthropomorphic crocodiles raided sacred crypts and spread fear across the land. Even Asia was not safe, as gargoyle-like Pengs and dragon-like creatures sacked the land and even besieged the Great Wall of China.
The people cried out to their gods, but their prayers fell on deaf ears. No righteous indignation would come to the land, and that is what spurs you to action. Grabbing the nearest deadly weapon, you put the blade to a band of satyrs. You figure it's time you picked up the gods' slack. Though you begin your quest as an average Greek citizen, you will end it a hardened hero.
Titan Quest isn't a masterwork of storytelling. It's a mindless, yet addictive action-RPG. You construct a character in a manner that suits you, click on hordes of terrible mythological beasts as you engage them in combat, and you watch the bodies pile up. You become stronger, you fine tune your character's build, you find loot to either sell or to use as a replacement for your current equipment, and you grunt with satisfaction. It's an uncomplicated title, and not especially challenging, but it’s definitely rewarding in its own right. As you advance, you watch your character eradicate larger groups of monsters with such efficiency (assuming you stuck to a proper build) that you begin to feel like a god. Suffice to say, the game is all about indulgence and customization.
You run along a fairly tight rail from beginning to end. Not all areas consist of straightforward paths, as many have wide open spaces and side caves to explore, with hidden chests and elite monsters as your reward. However, it's bloody apparent where you must go at all times. There is very little branching, and that's comforting. At no point will you feel lost or torn between various different paths.
The main quest itself isn't complex. You gather information, then head to your next goal to give a vicious boss beast the beating of its life. Along the way, you can flex your philanthropic muscle by completing various side quests. Like the game itself, all of these quests are simple and to the point. Many times over will you reunite frightened citizens with their families, recover stolen valuables, or discover lost treasure troves, and each time the rewards are well worth the task.
Decked out in new, more powerful equipment, you carve bloody paths from one destination to the next. It isn't combat alone that makes Titan Quest an exciting title, but the creatures you must face. As you kill across Greece, you'll stumble into swarms of spider-people, eventually battling their matriarch deep in a burning forest. After a few bouts with the eight-legged nasties, gorgons slither out of dark caves with bow strings taut. Other horrors wait in line for a chance to tear you apart, from giant insects to stock undead beings to humanoid tigers. The game features an impressive bestiary, seldom relying on the old "recolor" trick used in most RPGs.
It isn't just the wild array of enemies you encounter that makes Titan Quest entertaining, but their placement. Enemies tend to appear in waves that last a mile or two. For instance, after stomping a few miles of satyrs, you'll chop up a wave of harpies. Following them might be a mix of boars and evil birds, then another wave of satyrs. Thanks to this wise structuring, you seldom become burned out from fighting the same enemies. Just when you grow tired of pulverizing giant scorpions and beetles, liches and skeletons will appear. Sometimes you'll stumble on a combination of terrifying forces, like rat-men teamed up with demons. It was an incredibly smart move, because let's face it: games like this inherently lack variety in terms of gameplay. You pretty much chop till you drop without any change in gameplay style. This is developer Iron Lore's way of implementing variety, and when paired with the awesome array of enemies, it works great.
As you advance and grow, you'll find the enemies less and less intimidating. You'll think this game is a cakewalk until an enormous cyclops storms from a cave and swats the life out of you. That's when the swearing starts. Your scuffle with Polyphemus may take you a few tries, but it's a perfect introduction to the titanic bosses you must fight later. You'll battle a mighty Neanderthal chieftain on the edge of an icy cliff. Let your defense down and you'll be crushed by his meteor-summoning roar. Raiding a certain Egyptian tomb can prove a trifle difficult when four stone guardians, each tough as nails, rain crushing blows on you. These creatures aren't just challenging, but awesome to behold, reinforcing the "epic" feel of the game.
Your best defense against such beings is a well-tailored character. Not only does equipment play a huge factor in building your character, but skills do as well. When you reach a certain level, you gain access to one of eight skill sets. Each set has three or four trees, each allowing you to create specific class types. As you gain levels and complete side quests, you can allocate newly earned points to various skills that grant you additional attacks or passive abilities. To sweeten the deal, Iron Lore allows you to choose a second skill set a little later on. You can pick "warfare" as your first skill and have a straightforward fighter, or also select the "rogue" skill set to craft an assassin. Personally, I chose "warfare" and "spirit," creating a dual-wielding warrior with life-sapping capabilities and a debuffing aura. You aren't limited to creating "just a tank" or "just a rogue." You can create different types of tanks or rogues, or even a strange fusion. Want a spell-tank or a mage-rogue? It can happen.
I know I've been gushing about this game, but I'm not going to say it's perfect. All of the above works well when the game runs properly. One problem with Titan Quest is actually a technical issue, though, since the game is a huge resource hog. Trying to play this game on a slightly older system is a nightmare. I previously tried running it on a $1000 computer that I had only bought a couple years before, and the lag was unbearable. The only way to get it to run decently was to turn down the graphical effects and strip the game of its eye candy. I missed out on gorgeous environments full of fluidly swaying grace, glistening ice fields, and murky marshes. I also saw the game's smooth animation give way to choppy framerates. Your only other option is to have a computer with the power to handle this game, which I do nowadays.
Other issues are mere nitpicks. You start off with an incredibly small inventory screen, but you eventually gain extra slots to hold more items. You can also warp to any waypoint you've visited at any time for free, and sell the junk as needed. It only costs you a few minutes of your time. I was mainly peeved any time I died. When you die, you automatically respawn at a fountain, less a small portion of your experience. From there you can walk back to where you died unabated, as enemies do not respawn when you die. A few times I died right before I could get to the next fountain, which meant having to walk a long way through a fully explored field of dead bodies, usually for minutes at a time. Since there is no running in the game, I was forced to slowly inch my way back to where I left off.
Put aside those minor qualms, though. Titan Quest is an exciting bash across ancient lands. Very little about this game is innovative. Rather than experimenting with new concepts, Iron Lore took familiar ones and refined them. They knew what kind of game they were making. They didn't overload it with pretentious storytelling or bits of narrative that demean the action. Nor did they jack up the challenge to jaw-crushing levels. It's a familiar romp that's mostly on the easy side; one that does exactly what it should, and does it very well.
Freelance review by Joseph Shaffer (June 20, 2012)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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