Reviewed: August 2, 2006
Released: June 26, 2006
For many gamers there are only two action-RPG games out there Ė Diablo and everything else. Personally, Iíd have to include the Dungeon Siege games into that mix somewhere, but for the most part Diablo did set the standard that many game developers aspire and few actually achieve.
Iron Lore was founded in 2000 by Brian Chieffo, co-creator of the legendary Age of Empires franchise, so I was understandably intrigued when I learned they were making Titan Quest, an exciting new action-RPG promising to live up to Diablo standard, but nothing could prepare me for the gorgeous demo I viewed at E3 this year, and once I got my hands on the final copy of this game I was totally lost in this epic adventure for nearly three weeks.
For not taking a lot of chances, Titan Quest manages to improve several aspects of the established genre while offering a substantial and challenge gameplay experience. Youíll get to explore mythical (yet familiar) worlds of ancient Greece, Asia, and Egypt, all created with stunning next-gen graphics that border on photo-realistic. Itís like stepping into a storybook or even better, your own action movie.
No matter how you redress it, Titan Quest inevitably succumbs to its RPG roots, even slipping into some painful and repetitive level grinding before itís all over. But there are numerous bright spots along the way starting with a flexible class system that gives you unprecedented freedom in creating and developing your character during the game.
There are plenty of exciting locations, unique monsters, tons of loot, customizable skills and a rich story to carry you through the 40+ hour adventure, either alone or with up to five others in cooperative multiplayer. The quest takes place across three unique locales, each representing about a third of the entire game. Outdoor areas appear to be massive, but you are often restricted (or funneled by landscape) to go where the designers and the script ultimately need you to go.
Indoor areas range from small to large and vary in complexity, population and difficulty. The game offers a relatively smooth progression of difficulty but there seems to be some issues with treasure distribution, especially near the end of the game when you are knocking off level 20+ monsters and still looting the same crap you were getting when you were level 4. Even worse, you can get powerful items you probably shouldnít be getting until near the end of the game quite early. You might not be able to use it right away, but once you can you have little incentive to search for anything better.
Titan Quest has a heavy emphasis on treasure, so you end up spending a lot of time navigating your inventory and sorting through countless items, some good, some crap. The ALT key allows you to filter out items that are better than what you already have; a nice touch. And since most all items can be found ďin the fieldĒ, usually much easier than they can be found in shops, gold has little value in this game since youíll seldom need to purchase anything. At least the shopkeepers buy your extra junk, at severely reduced rates of course, allowing you to clear up some inventory space for more junk down the road.
The abundance of items, especially critical stuff like health and mana potions take away much of the difficulty in Titan Quest. You are seldom in threat of dying during casual combat. Only the bosses prove any true challenge or threat. There is also no perceived advantages between choosing melee over spellcasting during character creation, and neither profession really seems to complement the other, thus eliminating any potential cooperative benefits in multiplayer.
While some areas of the game really stood out in their design, many of the indoor areas didnít seem to be customized or adapted to the creatures or boss fights within. Typically when a boss moves in and sets up a lair things tend to adapt to that creature. Here, you just get random architecture with random monsters and no real personality to the design.
I did like the save-anywhere system, as I hate to replay any part of any game, but for some reason Titan Quest doesnít save your position within the world, so even though your stats and inventory are saved you might start someplace that requires several minutes of backtracking. Itís not a huge issue but it does get annoying, especially if you like taking chances and die a lot.
The action is exciting and the RPG elements are deep. You start off by creating your character and going through a short in-game tutorial. Once you reach level 2 you can decide on a class for your character and the choices are nearly overwhelming. Sadly, these 28 classes are not very well documented, in the game or the 70-page manual, so it might take some experimentation to figure out what suits your playing style. At best, it gives you a reason to replay the game at a later date.
Titan Quest is visually breathtaking from the opening splash screen and cinematic to the first time you and your character begin to explore the meticulously crafted world, starting in your home village. Textures pop off the screen and this game has some of the best water Iíve seen on a PC. Special effects dazzle with vibrant spell effects and moody lighting, especially in the darker dungeons where torchlight casts deep, real-time shadows on you and the enemy.
There are some spectacular vistas in Titan Quest as you travel to the Great Pyramids, or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Great Wall, the Parthenon, and many more. Each new area is populated with exotic and often mythical creatures of the period, each carefully designed and textured, then animated for exciting combat.
Iíve heard some reports of slowdown if you turn on FSAA, but frankly, the game runs super-smooth at 1280x1960 at high detail and at that resolution you donít need FSAA. If you have a high-end PC with a 7800 or the new 7950 card you can easily max the resolution for some truly stunning visuals.
The menus, character stats, and equipment screens are all nicely laid out and easy to read. The HUD during gameplay is also quite nice, minimal, and kept to the edges, but still totally functional. You have instant access to key items in your inventory as well as a handy mini-map and health and mana status.
I loved the music in Titan Quest, very epic, just like the quest and overall theme of the game. There are all sorts of period pieces that blend with the region of the game you are playing in, making use of specific instruments. The music can also get a bit creepy and suspenseful when you head indoors to start those dungeon crawls.
There is plenty of ambient and environmental sounds to bring the rich landscapes to life, but these are often overshadowed by the more forceful sounds of melee combat and the supernatural zaps of spellcasting. All of these sounds match the visuals creating a powerful and immersive experience.
I would be remiss if I didnít compliment the outstanding voice acting. While you will still read a lot of text bubbles, there is plenty of speech in Titan Quest and every sentence was voiced by very authentic and professional sounding voice actors.
For a game that gives you so many reasons to replay it, Titan Quest fails on one important element Ė unpredictability. There is no randomization of monster encounters or map details within the game so each successive replay unfolds just like the last. The only difference is the way your new character class allows you to approach the combat.
The online cooperative gameplay is a cool addition that allows for up to six adventures to take on the main quest. This can be fun if you can get enough people invested in the game for the time it takes to complete it. It certainly offers much more potential than merely replaying the solo game over by yourself.
If you are feeling creative you can use the world builder to create your own maps and invite others to explore them. Itís not the best level builder Iíve ever seen but it works and you can extend the life of the game a bit if you put some time and effort into learning how to use these design tools.
Perhaps Diablo has ruined me for life. Dungeon Siege barely lives up to Blizzardís benchmark title, and while Titan Quest definitely scores points for presentation, stunning visuals, and powerful sound and music, there is just too many gameplay oddities lurking below the surface to make this a solid recommendation.
Still, if you can overlook the unbalanced treasure distribution and the perceived randomness of level design and monster population you can settle in for a deep and challenging quest that will take you the better part of a month to complete. Itís a great first effort from Iron Lore and I look forward to a possible sequel or expansion. They might even be able to patch this game up in a future update.