Perhaps I should call myself Jakub the Merciful. I have in front of me one of the most anticipated games of the summer, Titan Quest, a masterful tribute to the Diablo series in all ways but one: quality control. Today I was going to have the review ready, but given that a patch is anticipated this week, we'll hold off and give a first impressions. Then again, it's rather difficult to review a game when a dozen hours of work gets you the equivalent of three hours progress.
There are several bugs, or perhaps one bug with multiple symptoms. Some users report CTDs, others stutters, but our system seemed to show something in-between. At intervals ranging from several minutes to as little as 15 seconds, the game freezes for about five to ten seconds at a time. Audio sometimes works, sometimes it cuts out during the pause. Sometimes action continues, other times not. Then things resume play normally. Lowering resolution and turning details down helped reduce the frequency of the issue, and installing new video drivers for our GeForce 6800 Ultra provided some relief, but now the bug seems to be back in force. Oddly enough, performance was excellent even at the highest settings, other than the freezing.
Regardless, on to the game!
Make no bones about it - Titan Quest is as close to Diablo as you can get without infringing on Blizzard IP rights, and that ain't bad. Iron Lore has captured the essence of the kill-loot-level gameplay almost perfectly, they've taken chances where they need to - for example, maps are not randomly generated but hand-crafted and exquisitely detailed. This has its advantages and disadvantages, but we're giving Iron Lore a pass on it without criticism or praise for now.
The developers have done some neat things with the character system as well. Rather than choosing a class, you choose a mastery. This opens up a skill and mastery tree, where you can spend skillpoints on increasing the mastery (which gives the character bonuses to his key attributes and unlocks new skills every few levels), or on the skills themselves. At level 8, another mastery is chosen to flesh out your character. Overall the 8 different masteries produce 36 combinations. Players can focus on melee, magic, ranged - or hybrid combat. Much of the game's presumed replay value would be from trying out new class combinations.
The graphics are spectacular, with a particularly impressive animation system. The ragdoll physics give a real kick especially if a satyr is launched high off his feet by a critical hit, or a skeleton is violently shattered by a particularly crushing blow. The game has a day and night cycle, which, other than by limiting visibility somewhat, has no other functional effects - but it looks cool. NPCs will still be where you last left them, but otherwise the visual effect was pretty cool and refreshing. However, it seems to tie into some performance problems for users, as do the underground areas.
Overall, bugs aside, our first impressions of Titan Quest were quite positive. Despite clearly drawing on the Diablo franchise for gameplay cues, it was fun - when we could bring ourselves to play it. We'll get a full review up soon - sooner if the patch arrives early.