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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: Din's Curse and expansion, Demon War (PC)

Din’s Curse and its expansion, Demon War, is an indie project with no small amount of ambition and soul. Lofty goals alone almost elevate this game above its roots, but all those ideas rest on a very rickety coding foundation, prone to breaking down and becoming very frustrating.

Deep, dark dungeons - couldn't think of a better weekend buster

Essentially, this is a dungeon hack/ loot-em-up with some very deep dungeons, and a very dark tone. The setting is as lo-fi as they come – the village bases of operations are filled with miserable, starving individuals. And, by sitting on top of a deathtrap dungeon they can and do fall prey to the nasties that lie beneath.

Beyond the goal of saving the peasants and your soul, there’s not much more to the plot, and even then you’re largely free to do as you see fit. Helping the villagers will earn both experience and reputation points, levelling up both will lead to rewards. Heading into the dungeons will give you swarm of enemies to slaughter – a quick way to earn experience, but if you don’t then heed the regular need to head back into town to feed and save the villagers, your reputation will plummet.

This is probably the biggest strength and greatest weakness of Din’s Curse. Where inferior games, like Dungeon Hunter Alliance are largely static environments, and beyond statistic management of your personal avatar, very linear. Encounters in those games is little more than a series of triggers that go off the deeper you head into the pits. Din’s Curse on the other hand is an environment that’s alive. People come and go from the village dynamically. In the dungeon, enemies will fight one another as well as yourself, and it’s quite interesting to wander into the middle of a firefight between two powerful factions. It’s even more fun to walk in at the end of a faction battle, clear off the wounded survivors, then grabbing the mass of loot.

These villagers are pure pain

The weakness here is that random element can lead to some funny logic bugs. Quests can be completed before they’re accepted. Villagers will need help moments after you enter a dungeon, requiring some very irritating backtracking. AI gets lost between attacking you, and attacking other AI drones. There is always a risk involved in building games on random systems that things go a little heywire, and Din’s Curse’s random elements create some very grating ‘bugs’.

On a more positive note, the loot system is superb, with plenty of cool things to pick up and sell or trade. There’s shared treasure chests to make juggling multiple characters fun, and there’s some cool social features involved with the ability to export your character as a HTML file or Vbulletin board set of stats to share around. If you’re able to forgive the occasional random quirk, you are going to be able to get a lot of track out of this game.

There’s also a staggering variety in the way you can develop your characters. Between the base game and the expansion, there is no fewer than eight base classes, and each of those classes has multiple specialisation options. If you can’t find a character that suits your adventuring spirit with this game, then you never will, and in this regard, Din’s Curse manages to beat just about every other dungeon hack out there.

Blood red floor - spooky

There’s a huge scale to the game generally speaking. There’s many ways to tweak difficulty, so just about every type of gamer should find a set up that suits them. There’s not a huge range of enemies, but with palette swaps, there’s also plenty of statistical variety within that range.

And visually the game is good looking – certainly on par with the other dungeon hacks out there. Everything is taken straight out of the Diablo school of art, and though it lacks the same dripping atmosphere Diablo enjoyed, it’s still easy on the eyes. Animation is smooth and frame rate tends to stay high, even when the enemies start to pile up.

If it wasn’t for a few programming bugs, and occasional difficulties with targeting and executing attacks (the delay between tapping the hotkey, and the attack being executed, means you’ll sometimes wonder if the key was tapped at all), Din’s Curse and its expansion would be far easier to recommend. As it is, I did have my game crash on me, and the constant need to tend to villagers that are more helpless than a sheep hanging around a wolf pack, hurt the overall experience.

It’s still a game that can be recommended to dungeon hack fans, but go in prepared for an indie game. If you have a PS3 as well, I’m still going to suggest you get yourself a copy of Sacred 2 instead. PC gamers might want to hang out for Diablo 3.

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Review: Din's Curse and expansion, Demon War (PC)
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