I am stuck in single player rpg groove at the moment. Having completed Space Siege and spent a weekend in the King's Bounty demo I finally got around to installing a copy of Titan Quest that has sat on my shelf for over two years.
I guess I was expecting something like Dungeon Siege with better graphics, a kind of RPG lite with simple levelling and an emphasis on linear dungeon crawling with fast and furious combat. After spending about two hours in game and having reached the heady heights of level 5 I can confirm that the game is a simple linear dungeon crawl with lovely graphics and combat that is even faster and furiouser than I remember from Dungeon Siege. Sadly Titan quest does not seem to have impemented party based combat in single player mode (you cannot recruit henchmen). To my mind this makes the single player gameplay a lot less interesting than in Dungeon siege. Sure Dungeons Siege's henchmen weren't very bright but allocating roles and trying to direct a party in combat was more interesting than the click to kill model of Titan Quest.
The games developers were very honest about what they set out to achieve. The manual sums it up as (I am quoting from memory here but the gist is right):
"Kill monsters, gain experience to level up, pick up loot to get better equipment and then go on to kill harder monsters to get more experience and more loot .... This is the circle of fun"
That is a pretty good description of the game. The trouble is you don't have to use much imagination to see that after a fairly short time this begins to feel like the circle of boredom rather than the circle of fun. After only two hours this game is beginning to feel like Progress Quest with graphics.
"But..." I hear you say "Isn't that the standard formula for every rpg game".Well yes it is but seeing it implemented in such a pure form makes it starkly clear that something extra is needed to keep this player's interest. That got me thinking about what exactly that "something extra" was in rpg games that I liked. Games like Morrowind, Kotor and Oblivion had a rich lore which helped. Most of the games I liked had a good combat system that required a bit of strategy rather than just click click click (King's Bounty the legend was an excellent recent example of this). A combination of levelling and loot systems that give me a real choice of how to progress and play my character is also important to me. I generally prefer open ended gameplay to being stuck on rails but I don't like a game to be so open ended that you lose all sense of making progress.
In Titan Quest's favour I must admit that the world is beatiful to look at and there is plenty of hack and slash combat. Titan Quest does a lot to make life easy for a player. For example you get a free portal that can bring you any town you have visited and then straight back to the action. You really need this because of the vast quantity of loot that drops in this game. I would say I fill my character's bag at least once every five minutes nessecitating frequent portal trips back to a vendor. I have actually stopped picking up most loot - the developer's obviously anticipated this because they have included a button (the Alt-key by default) which highlights only good undamaged loot.
Perhaps the game get more complex later. There is a skill tree which I haven't properly explored yet. I got to specialise in "Defense" at level 2 and I believe that I will get to specialise again at level 8. If the combat remains as mindlessly repetitive however I can't see myself sticking with this to the end. On the other hand it does strike me as the sort of game I could keep on the back boiler to play for a half hour or so every so often.