Review by Matt S.
Let’s talk about Diablo clones. It’s rare for a game to be so influential that it becomes a genre title in itself, but that’s certainly the case for Diablo. That original masterpiece, released far back in 1996, has joined the ranks of the likes of Rogue in being just that important. Unlike Rogue, however, Diablo’s even rarer; it’s a game that’s created a genre, and, aside from other games in its own franchise, never really been bettered. Some games get close, but not many.
Titan Quest has some closer than almost anything else. Released in 2006, Titan Quest is a superb action RPG and Diablo clone. It was still excellent on the Apple iPad when it landed two years ago in 2016, and that’s a platform that isn’t comfortable with pacey action. Now, Titan Quest is on the PlayStation 4, in the full comfort and glory of a console with a big screen and buttons, and yep, it’s still brilliant, to the point that some would even argue it’s better than its inspiration.
Where the Diablo games are based in gothic horror nightmares, Titan Quest veers towards another favourite among video game developers and consumers alike; Greek mythology. Harpies and Centaurs, Spartans and Zeus. Titan Quest positions itself as a swords-and-sandals epic, with barely a chance to breathe between battles with beasts that those of us in the west grew up hearing ad nauseam, and yet somehow it never gets old.
— Hatsune Miku is God (@DigitallyDownld) March 30, 2018
Titan Quest does a good job in representing the setting, too. Narrative is thin – this is a Diablo clone, after all – but the eye for detail to ensure that no line of dialogue lacks for authenticity and potency, and no exotic environment that you’d expect to see in this kind of game is left unexplored. The game gets away with aging thanks to that top-down isometric perspective; you’ll rarely be zooming in close enough to see the minimal detail in characters and environments. Indeed, aside from the cheap-looking FMV, there’s nothing about this game that doesn’t appear modern enough to get away with being a “new game,” and that’s more testament to the developer’s understanding of Greek mythology than technical prowess.
In other areas the game is creaking. Developers of Diablo clones have discovered better ways to do inventory management and made the loot grind more satisfying. In Titan Quest, you’ll constantly be grappling with a too-small inventory, and the grind really is a grind. A painful, endless grind. I enjoyed the combat and exploration (even though I’ve already played this game through multiple times) much more than I enjoyed the dress-ups and shinies that lacked the inspiration of more modern examples of the genre.
Controlling your hero also takes some getting used to. Titan Quest was originally designed for PC and a mouse-and-keyboard input, and the shift to controller has left the player’s hero feeling a little sticky and unresponsive at times. Thankfully, that’s less of an issue when you consider the game’s generous auto-aim and very low default difficulty. To play the game on its sharper difficulty settings, you need to complete it first, and by the time you’re moving on to those greater challenges, you’ll have learned to master the somewhat combative controls.
Those slight issues don’t change the fact that Titan Quest is a compulsively replayable game, and that’s a real X-factor, as opposed to anything that can be readily defined. If nothing else, I’m a busy person that has no end of new games to play, and yet I leaped at this when it popped onto the PlayStation 4. The loot grind and gameplay loops can make it a lengthy game, and I willingly jumped right back into it. Part of the reason that it is so replayable is that it’s easy to tackle a different combat style and level-up path (they’re different enough that you’ll get a different experience in playing them). Part of the reason is that it’s just a joy to wade into a horde of satyrs and get with the slaying, even when you’ve got the precise moment they’ll attack burned into muscle memory.
In theory, the new holder of the Titan Quest license, THQ Nordic, could look to make a new one, and indeed, this release on modern consoles is surely an attempt to gauge commercial interest in the game. I hope it happens. I really do. Aside from Diablo itself, the clones of the genre have largely slid right back into mediocrity, and I have to hope that a new Titan Quest could be the shot in the arm that can revitalise the interest that genre fans have in it, outside of Diablo.
– Matt S.
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