At the time of writing, Iron Lore, makers of Titan Quest, have just gone bust. A THQ Creative Director put the blame pretty firmly at the feet of software piracy.
While it’s easy to sympathise - there’s nothing funny in hundreds of thousands of people playing a game for free while its makers run into financial difficulties - you can’t help but think if Iron Lore had actually displayed even a fraction of the imagination this indie action-RPG does, they’d still be here today. With Depths of Peril, the only element in the game that doesn’t display vision and quiet confidence is its somewhat underwhelming name.
Depths of Peril does exactly what you want from a Diablo clone, and then does a whole lot more as well. The basics will be familiar to any of the compulsive magic-sword collectors in the audience: choosing one of four character types, with a village as a base, you head forth into the randomly generated wilderness to fight monsters and take their stuff. All the genre basics are as solidly implemented as any of the more mainstream clones. Uniques, special monsters, special sets, inter-species warfare, henchpeople adventuring with you - it lacks flair here, but remains absolutely rock solid.
And then, when it has already given you a perfectly acceptable indie-RPG-slasher, Depths goes and makes it a proverbial living world. In the game you’re the head of an adventuring group called a Covenant. There are up to five more in town, each of whom is active in the game world. When you’re off turning orcs into experience-point puree, you can see their adventurers off doing their thing too. They’ll even try to complete the quests given out by the NPCs in the town before you. All the Covenants are in competition to see who can become the ruling power in the village, and the prestige that comes from completing these quests is useful capital with which to do so. Failing that, you can just storm the opposing headquarters for full-on war.
Oh, and those quests? They’re generated by the world too, and the Covenants’ successes and failures feed back into them. A monstrous hero arises in the wasteland. There’s a quest to kill him. If no one does, he may gather a band of monsters to him. And then he leads to an uprising, leading to more baddies in the area. If left untouched for long enough, they’re going to storm the village. NPCs can be captured and kidnapped - generating more quests and... well, it’s Diablo meets STALKER - and that’s a STALKER that’s far more alive than GSC’s world ended up being. If you win, you can generate a whole new world for your tougher party to have a crack at.
Depths has three main problems. Firstly, some odd difficulty spikes, presumably coming from how unpredictable the world is. Secondly, being an action-RPG gold-collector, it’s a trifle repetitive. And finally, it would have been nice to have multiplayer. All these are eminently forgivable - especially the last, when the game manages more life than most humans can manage. If Hellgate left you with deep wounds of despair, this is the healing potion for you.
May 5, 2008