IGN Review of Titan Quest
If it's difficult to talk about Titan Quest without talking about Diablo, it's for a good reason. The games industry is arguably the most iterative of the modern entertainment mediums, second only to popular music. And when you're starting out fresh like Iron Lore is, it's not a bad idea to go back to the well with a fresh take. Doing something risky like Guitar Hero or Katamari is probably better left to those who've already established other revenue, or a library of games. So although Titan Quest never quite escapes the long shadow of what came before, it does manage to please with a very long single-player campaign, 6-player co-op via LAN or Internet, and unlockable difficulty levels.
Rather than rehashing another Medieval escapade, TQ takes us to the ancient world, and you'll have adventured across Greece, Egypt and China before you've finally become the hero (or heroine) of the day. It might take you as many as 40 hours to quest your way through to the final encounter, but there isn't as much variety as in its action-RPG counterparts, nor did I find loot distribution as satisfying. With each of the three areas divided into three equal parts, you'll be in Greece for 12-15 hours of play. While it's spiced up with dungeons both large and small, the landscape is largely wilderness surrounded by impassable mountains and bodies of water. Although each bowl-shaped area allows some exploration, you'll rarely encounter anything that branches off in a different direction. There will almost always be a chokepoint leading you to the next location, and this funneling is sometimes frustrating. Couple that with the fact that the save-anywhere system records your stats and inventory but not your physical placement, and returning to a previously saved session can mean re-treading through the same content, although it's usually no more than ten minutes of familiarity.
Like most other RPGs, your character starts out simply. In fact, he doesn't have a class until you've achieved level 2, at which point a slew of class type options open up, although their advantages and disadvantages are not explained in the manual and only briefly explained in-game. This invites replayability and individual exploration of the game's style, which is rarely a bad thing, but there's no randomization of creatures or terrain to reward multiple adventures, unlike the Diablo games. While custom-crafted maps can allow for more eye-pleasing environments, the gameplay too often boils down to engaging with one clump of enemies after another who are skulking around a treasure chest or just skulking in general.
What makes something like Diablo so pleasing is a very clear progression in both tactical difficulty and scale. I still fondly remember reaching the cathedral in Diablo II, only to delve deeper and deeper and deeper into its bowels, ever hunting for clues to the location of the nefarious beast that was responsible for the evils plaguing the land. Titan Quest has a few dungeons with multiple tiers, but the sense of increasing danger isn't as pronounced. The TQ dungeons, on the whole, don't feel like lairs so much as loot supermarkets.
With this higher emphasis on loot, the nature of the loot system will come under increased scrutiny, and TQ doesn't follow the familiar path. Even when you're halfway through the game and beating down level 30-ish monsters, they may still drop the same undesirables as you saw on the first monster you killed way back in Greece. Hitting the Alt key will only reveal the decent-or-better equipment, but you'll still run into "Required Level: 3" when it could hardly be of any use to you. The distribution system appears to draw from mostly the same pool of items, no matter where you are in the game. I can get something right at the beginning that could last me the whole way through -- one of those blue items that's part of a set, the combination of which creates set bonuses
Well, you've heard that rap before. And if it's purple, the highest quality, you can forget about ever being able to justify replacing it with something else. At the same time, it may take the entire 40 hours or so to complete the whole set, which may lead an initiate to wander around for several hours wondering where the rest of that hot set is before an appreciation of the loot system sets in.
And as these blue (and green) items are far more common in the wild than they are from a vendor, there's little incentive to save up and actually buy something. You'll have a constant stream of earned gear to consider, and upgrade components to collect, making the vendors more of a place to clear room in your inventory than anything else. I never bought a single potion. This is partly because I chose to be a spellcaster over a melee fighter, but still, even mana potions were found in steady supply, and a spellcaster can boost his magic regeneration enough to make drinking potions largely unnecessary. I found health regeneration to be pretty slow, but health potions practically grow on trees in Titan Quest. As a caster, I had more than I knew what to do with.
But although TQ does a few things in ways I find disagreeable, it's still a propulsive experience and very easy on the eyes, with short load/transition times, to boot. There's very little to pull you out of the moment-to-moment action, and the voice acting is quite well done, if occasionally exhaustive. I would recommend keeping anti-aliasing off though, even on high-end systems. In dark environments, TQ's impressive real-time lighting and shadows take precedence, and this doesn't seem to play well with smoothing out those jagged edges. With AA off, it runs just fine, with only an occasional hitch when it's streaming new stuff to the player. And at 1280x960 or higher, the jaggies aren't really that noticeable.
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