Diablo 2.5. That's it. For those of you who were looking for a one-word game review there it is. You can now go back to whatever it is that you do when you're not reading game reviews, because, beyond the graphics, there is darned little to set Titan Quest apart from Diablo 2. And while I'll probably bang out a few more pages on it or I won't get paid (14 Fig Newtons and a VHS copy of Howard the Duck delivered monthly), there's going to be very little you don't already know if you're familiar with Diablo 2. In fact, for an article that is a review of Titan Quest, you're going to see the title Diablo 2 with great frequency. Diablo 2. Diablo 2. Diablo 2.
You begin Titan Quest by simply selecting the gender of your hero and slapping on a name. It makes absolutely no difference which gender you choose â€“ there's no charisma characteristic affected by it or anything. You can also pick your tunic color, which later you can buy dye and change if you like â€“ again without effect. Character creation in Titan Quest takes a grand total of about 10 seconds, and then you're off into the game. The bulk of the game screen is devoted to an isometric view of some segment of the world around you with dark sections that are blocked to your view. Interestingly, only long distance and dungeon walls seem to limit your view, while trees and houses cause no blockage at all. Your character is always centered, and the world moves around you. The upper right has a mini map of the world. The upper left has a health and mana bar. Along the bottom are some quick keys. It's a sparce, but well-organized, interface telling you everything you really need to know without cluttering up the joint. Keystrokes bring up your inventory, character stats, quest log, chat windows for multiplayer â€“ that kind of thing. Say it with me â€“ just like Diablo 2.
Left mouse click somewhere on the land and your character walks there. Left click on an enemy and you attack with your current weapon. Left click on a person to talk to them. What could be simpler? And your clicking finger is going to get quite a workout because the world is positively rife with enemies. In fact, in the twenty-ish hours that I've played, and I have no idea how far along I am in the game but judging from the world map it looks like I've covered a little more than half, I've killed close to 4000 things. And it's not like a single click kills anything really. One click gets you a sword swing, or an arrow shot, or a spell cast â€“ most beasts require half a dozen clicks. I'm probably looking at close to 20000 or 25000 mouse clicks, and just the thought of that has me checking my GO disability insurance for carpel tunnel coverage.
The single player plot consists of the old Greek gods (the Titans) breaking out of their prison where they were placed by the new Greed gods (Zeus, Athena, that crowd), and bringing even creatures with them that overrun the countryside. It somehow falls upon your shoulders, as simple farmer or some such, to set things right. The main plotline has you walking from town to town killing things, collecting loot, and gathering the items required to advance the plot. The side quests are a lot like that too â€“ find this thing, kill that creature. Even if you don't talk to the townspeople to activate the quests, you'll frequently find yourself completing them as they take place along the road from town to town. What I'm trying to say is that Titan Quest is extremely linear, the world map looking like a giant small intestine between the tiny village that you start in and where ever you ultimately end up.
Like Diablo 2, Titan Quest uses a portal system to allow you to instantly transport from anywhere on the map to any town you've discovered. The game also has the same inventory system as Diablo 2, and it's no fun at all to have to stop and shuffle oddly shaped items in your inventory to fit them into the rectangular grid of storage because the game won't do it for you to make more room â€“ couldn't the game at least have improved that? Ultimately you kind of realize that the game is so full of loot that there's little incentive to keep collecting it. All the best magic items come off of the creature you kill, not from vendors in the towns, so I have like 200,000 gold pieces and nothing worth spending it on.
The primary deviation from Diablo 2, and perhaps I should highlight this paragraph with red text or something to make it stand out, is in how you allocate skills to your character. Starting out, all characters are the same. As you gain experience you get points to allocate towards your stats, like strength, dexterity, intelligence, health â€“ that stuff â€“ and you get points to allocate towards skills. Skills come in 8 schools â€“ Warfare, Hunting, Storm, Spirit, Defense, Nature, Rogue, and Earth â€“ and at first level up you pick a school to advance in. Choose wisely, that's going to be your only school for awhile. You then allocate points to skills within that school, or allocate points to unlock more skills within that school so you can then allocate points to them. You have a very finite number of points, and the balance between skill unlocking and skill allocation is a complicated one â€“ though occasionally you come across a Seer character in the towns who will, for a price, allow you to reallocate your points to try and make up for noob mistakes. At level 8 you get to open a second school and can begin allocating points to that as well. That sort of parallels the standard character classes of other RPG games, so you can become a warrior or a mage or a cleric or a ranger, but they don't use exactly those terms and you get to choose how you balance the mix. This system works surprisingly well, but it does have the unintended side effect of really focusing your character down to just a couple of favorite skills that you advance way up at the expense of all others. I, for example, use essentially two skills only â€“ throwing an entangling net, and a piercing arrow shot. I pin down creatures at range with the net, and plink them with arrows. There's almost no creature you can't kill this way, and I'm like 90% points allocated into those two skills in the Hunting school â€“ my second school of Warfare goes almost untouched. A friend online is also a Hunting/Warfare, but he has allocated all his points to Warfare, and he wades into a group of monsters and uses a whirlwind blade attack. So, although the game has literally more than a hundred skills, we're using only a couple. You could see this as restrictive, or maybe it gives you replayability to try the game again using a different set of skills or an entirely different set of schools, depending on your viewpoint. Incidentally, while you can reallocate points using the Seers, you cannot change schools.
Multiplayer works much the same, using the single player map and upping the creature count and difficulty to keep the game balanced. Progress you make in the multiplayer is kept in your single player game, so if you want to solve it alone you need to keep your online and offline characters separate. While playing online I joined a multiplayer game far ahead of where I was in the single player game. It was tricky for me to survive but I spent a lot of time hiding behind other players, and now my quest log has a bunch of quests that I can't solve until I work my way back there in my single-player adventure. I found that a little strange and don't recall that issue in Diablo.
Titan Quest is set in ancient Greece mythology. It's a good choice and gives them access to Medusa, and Cyclops, and centaurs â€“ a couple of dozen interesting monster types that bite and claw and throw stuff and cast spells. The spells look great. The monsters have intricate little animations. Standing in the fields even the grasses blow and sway around you. I really liked this game graphically. That apparently comes at a high hardware requirement cost â€“ it was very rare to see a slowdown on my uber-computer, but lesser machines apparently lag all over the place, I've been told by people online.
I honestly would have thought that this game would have become boring long before now. I mean, I have a combat technique that I used on 99% of the monsters that I come across, and all I'm really doing is walking around left clicking on everything ad infinitum. And yet the monster variation, the pretty scenery, the plethora of items, the character skills, the hope of finding better loot are all keeping it going for me. Coming off of a complicated, stat-heavy game like Oblivion, Titan Quest seems almost arcade-like in comparison â€“ not a bad thing. And for those of us who wish that Blizzard would climb down off of the mountain of money that they've made from World of Warcraft and make Diablo 3, which they're not likely to do any time soon if only because all of their Sherpas are booked up hauling buckets of money upwards, Titan Quest is a pretty good substitute, even if it fails to break any significantly new ground.