Titan Quest + Titan Quest: Immortal Throne (PC only).
Buy them together as the Gold Edition.
Date of original release: 2006/7.
Type: Action RPG, isometric-view
Setting: Earth, classical antiquity.
Accessible for deaf players: yes.
On Amazon: about £7 inc postage for the Gold Edition.
Demo?: the free 500Mb demo is here.
Patches: official to 1.30, then add the unofficial fan patch.
This review contains no plot spoilers.
Diablo II? Never heard of it. Somehow all those old isometric RPGs just bypassed me. It wasn’t as if top-down games were being mown down by a first-person tag-team of Unreal Tournament and Quake in the year 2000. My PC was grooving to Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Civilization II, and Pro Pinball: The Web along with the rest of the planet. Diablo II just slipped on by, and somehow got lost in the bargain racks despite the rave reviews and the rabid fans. I vaguely seem to remember I might have been put off the whole isometric RPG genre by a dull demo of Dungeon Siege. Then a year or so later there was the miracle that was Morrowind, and a first-person view was king.
But ten years later I can now play Diablo II in glorious detail on a 24″ monitor. Only it’s called Titan Quest — a beautiful and allegedly very faithful Diablo clone with all the rough edges knocked off, superb 3D graphics and sound, and carefully refined gameplay. It’s a blast. And a hack, and a slash, and a conjure of a wood nymphet, and a lot more besides.
There’s a lot of Titan Quest, and it’s so far it’s all quality. The universally acclaimed expansion pack Immortal Throne, bundled with the original in the Gold Edition, adds even more. I’m about one half way into TQ (about to descend below the Great Sphinx in Egypt) and I must have put in thirty hours already. Even when the game ends, the expansion pack adds a whole new act.
Your eyes won’t get tired of an ever-changing range of jaw-dropping environments. TQ looks gorgeous at 1920 x 1200 widescreen on a 24″ monitor. Four years after release it runs like a dream on a Windows 7 desktop PC with a modest 9600 Nvidia gaming card and all options at maximum. The game has never crashed or stuttered on me. Original reviews claimed the game “chugged” and that the audio “stuttered”, but this is now ancient history. The same goes for Diablo fans whining about the inventory system, which is nicely fixed and polished when playing with the Immortal Throne expansion installed.
Titan Quest gives the player a rather linear path to follow. But linearity is really no bad thing, especially if you’ve sometimes found “open worlds” such as Oblivion a little too open once you stray off the main quests. And Titan Quest has a long path to follow. A very long path. I suspect it’ll be a 80 hour game for me, including the expansion. At around £7 ($12) used on Amazon, or even from Steam, that makes the game a stunning bargain.
The bright and beautifully lit Mediterranean setting is a refreshing change from the stolid Teutonic-style medieval worlds of Oblivion and The Witcher. Almost every environment is unique, or so it seems. But eye-candy is nothing if the gameplay throws the player into stupid game-stopping glitches (hello, Witcher), a 300-page manual, and a blizzard of keyboard commands. TQ is different. Those thinking that PC RPGs are fiendishly complex things are in for a nice surprise with TQ. It’s blissfully simple to play. As long as you can click your left mouse button you can play and get into this game instantly, and without having to even glance at a manual. And there’s no tedious tutorial to slog through. You’re straight into the start of the proper game. If you were looking for a game for a disabled kid who can do little more than direct and click a mouse, this could be it.
Titan Quest offers a wide diversity of loot and finely-crafted monsters, and these always suit their ecological niche. The resulting mix is very satisfying. But your character levels up slowly in the first half, and there are some hard choices to avoid dying repeatedly. I chose to start along the Nature Master skills tree and hoped to quickly start using ranged attacks with a bow, but it took nearly a quarter of the game to attain that. By the time you slowly shape and tweak your character to your style, you’ll feel a certain sense of ownership. You crafted that, not some generic pre-formed class system. And you can continue to shape and develop you character’s custom class as the game progresses, and this changes how you approach battles. You can even undo things at certain rare points.
The sound-design and sound-blending is uniformly excellent, and the quality and variation of the voice-acting is outstanding and convincing. Although I’ve been a little disappointed not to have found a boss that speaks.
Failings are minor…
* I would have liked the authentic mythology to have been a little more apparent, although it does glue things together nicely — avoiding the ever present problem in RPGs of having masses of meaningless fantasy names made up by Kevin the tea-boy. You do get the original ancient stories from occasional storytellers NPCs, but in an all-at-once gabble. They feel “stuck on”.
* Very occasionally there are stray textures that flicker annoyingly.
* The lower reaches of dungeons could do with a touch more menace and scary dark corners, but there are still plenty of surprises.
* The story builds rather slowly in the first half of the game.
* The most annoying feature is dying — you’ll have to run through a few minutes of familiar territory — sometimes featuring re-spawned monsters — to get back to where you died. So, don’t die. Health potions are your friend, and there are plenty available. Dying is, however, unavoidable when facing some of the boss monsters with a fledgling underpowered character and no flanking entourage yet.
* The fast-travel portable “portal system” can sometimes act as a cheat, enticing the player to hop back to town for another 50 health potions.
For those who finish the game and its expansion, there’s even more in store. Lilith is an acclaimed total conversion that’s had a huge amount of work put into it, thanks to the powerful Construction Kit that ships with the game. The 700Mb+ Lilith is said to be as long as the original Titan Quest. And Titan Quest also has cooperative multiplayer (up to six players), if you can persuade friends to get the game too.
On a technical note, make sure you patch to v.1.30, then install the unofficial fan patch, then start the game through the Immortal Throne launcher. This will put you at the start of the original Titan Quest, but with all the improvements and additions brought to the original game by its expansion pack. I say this because it is possible to play through the original launcher, and by doing so you’ll loose the extra layer of polish and content.
At June 2010 Diablo III is apparently on the release-horizon and Amazon is taking pre-orders for it. It’s going to have to be damn good to be more compelling and fun than Titan Quest.
Buy them together as the Gold Edition.