TyphonMuch has been said about TitanQuest being a Diablo 2 clone. There is some truth in that. Iron Lore obviously used Diablo 2 as their working model. One could almost say that if Blizzard had done a third game, it would have been something like this. Yet Iron Lore has added touches to make the game their own.

Typically, you are out to save the world. Instead of facing a great demon at the end, however, you are up against a great Titan.

This refreshing change of pace is a hallmark of TitanQuest. The game is set in the mythology of our own world, rather than the usual quasi-medieval made-up milieu. In that respect, the game is a pleasure.

It is also a long haul, starting in Greece and continuing on through Egypt and the Orient, mainly China. Epic is definitely the word to use here.

The journey begins with character choice, either male or female. Both come with the same stats. Oddly, unlike other games, TitanQuest starts you off without a profession, which here is called a Mastery. Only when you gain second level do you decide on your Mastery.

Fighting scarabs in EgyptYou choose one of eight: Storm (cold and lightning spells), Earth (fire spells), Spirit (necromancy), Nature (healing and summoning), Warfare (combat), Defense (shields), Hunting (bow or spear), or Rogue (fighter with dirty tricks).

On reaching character level eight, you can choose a second one, or you can stay with your original. The choice doesn’t go away. Any time after eighth you can decide to take a second Mastery, so you aren’t forced into choosing something right away.

Each Mastery has skill sets and a skill “tree”. The tree runs from level 1 to level 32, with new skills available at 1, 4, 10, 16, 24 and 32.

Unlike “that other game”, character level doesn’t have to coincide with Mastery level. Reaching a new character level gives you three skill points. These can be put into the Mastery or any open skills. You could, if you wanted to, put all the points into the Mastery, thus climbing the tree faster for earlier access to more powerful skills.

Adding points to a Mastery also gives a boost to stats, hit points, and energy points (used to power must skills). This varies by class. For example, adding to Earth increases Intelligence, Health, and Energy, where adding to Hunting increases Strength, Dexterity, and Health.

In addition, you receive two points to place in attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Health, and Energy. This is your choice, and there are no restrictions on how to allocate them.

The Hanging Gardens Of BabylonOne great feature is the ability to take back skill points at a cost in gold. Certain towns have Mystics, who allow you to buy back points. If you decide a skill isn’t working for you, you can cough up the gold, get those points back, and put them in other skills. Unfortunately, you can’t repurchase points in the Mastery itself. A good reason to be careful when choosing a second Mastery.

Combat is what the game is all about, and it’s simple. You can have multiple attacks ready, with your two primary attacks set to the left and right mouse buttons. Target an enemy and click the mouse. Often several times in most cases; many opponents don’t go down on the first hit.

Further, along the bottom left of the screen are eight empty slots for other skills. This is especially handy for spellcasting classes, though they are useful for all. Just hitting the relevant number (1-8) activates that skill, but without affecting those tied to the mouse. Next to these are slots 9 and 0, reserved for healing and energy potions, respectively.

This is compact and you can see everything at a glance. Since the slots are numbered, you have no worries about memorizing which key does what function. It’s very streamlined and very convenient.

Death is an inevitable part of fantasy shooters. Iron Lore has made it as (ahem) painless as possible. All towns, and many locations in the wilderness and dungeons, have a rebirth fountain.

If – or rather, when – your character dies, it reappears, whole and hearty, at the most-recently activated fountain, all gear intact. There is no need to go looking for your body. Some experience is lost for this, but never enough to drop a level.

Giant ScorpionTravel is on foot, but there is a portal system to ease things a bit. As usual, a portal must be found and activated before it can be used. In addition, you have a portal stone that opens a personal portal to any active town portal. The stone has infinite uses, making this much better than having to buy portal scrolls.

Buying and selling is not the hassle it is in many games. Mouse over, say, a sword for sale. You see the description, and next to it, the description of your equipped weapon. So you can compare like items side by side and see immediately which is better.

Ever bought or sold something by mistake? Here you can sell or buy back that mistake for the same price paid or given. However, this only works if you haven’t closed the merchant screen. Still, it was thoughtful of the designers to include this feature.

One of the more amazing things in TitanQuest is the attention given to the people in the towns and villages. Aside from the usual quest-givers, there are others to “talk” to (it’s all one-sided, as your character has no lines) who are variously sad, worried, depressed, bewildered, cynical or frightened because of the monster incursions. There is even a storyteller, who relates some relevant myth or piece of folklore.

What is startling is that these are all done in voice-overs as well as text, and some are quite lengthy. This gives the game an unusual feeling of reality, a distinct personal touch, something one doesn’t expect to find in a shooter.

Graphically, the game is good and very well-developed. Woods, fields, hills, mountains, beaches, and more are all there in loving detail. The animations are excellent. Dungeons, though, tend toward sameness, being either caves or tombs without much variation.

Dragonian archerMarvelous to relate, TitanQuest did not crash once on my system. It ran fine most of the time, though once in awhile, there was a short-term slowdown. This typically cleared up after a few seconds, and had no in-game effect, such as being slain by unfriendlies.

However, I did have a problem with smears, especially shadows, as you can see from the screenshots. What caused this, I don’t know. New drivers for my video card might have fixed that, but a 40-meg download on dialup is a bit much for me. On the other hand, it was just annoying more than anything else.

The first real problem with this game is a serious bug that, as of v1.11, has not been fixed. In some instances, such as the Athenian Catacombs, teleporting out before finishing can abort up the quest. This happened to me, because I did port out to sell treasures before completing the area. Then I wasn’t able to talk to the ship captain who was supposed to take me to Crete.

The only “repair” for that was to delete all the files relating to the quest, and do it all over again. Fortunately, map data is kept separately from quest information, so a second jaunt through wasn’t too bad. But it ought not to have been necessary at all. By now, that should have been taken care of by the programmers.

Saving, sorry to say, is much like in Diablo 2. While you can save any time, the only restore is when you bring the game up next time. Then you appear at whatever is the most recently-activated rebirth fountain. And yes, all the monsters, including the specials, regenerate. This can make choosing a stopping point tricky.

If you’ve just reached a new town, you’re okay. If you’re out in the boonies, you could be in trouble. Go back to town, and you have to fight all the monsters again to reach where you were before. Otherwise, you have to find a fountain out there so as not to redo the combats. There should have been a better way for the solo player.

Another weak point is that treasure is over-generous, especially in tombs. At the start, this isn’t a problem. You begin with little gold and everything is expensive, so having stuff to sell is a good thing.

Arielle the HuntressIn time, though, you’re staggering under a load of goodies, maybe three bags full, most of which will be sold. There’s not much to buy because you’ve already found as good or better than what’s for sale. A little less “Monty Haul” would have helped in this regard.

The ending leaves much to be desired. After defeating Typhon, you get a little congratulatory message from Zeus. Just a voiceover, not even a personal appearance. Then it’s “game over, man, game over” and you’re back to the main screen. All that effort, and this is the finale. Typhon didn’t even drop anything decent. Maybe the developers should have read my “The End” essay.

However, the major flaw of TitanQuest is this: it is simply too long for a solo-play shooter. As a multiplayer game, it can be great, just because it is a long game with much to do. For those who go it alone, the game simply becomes tedious.

However much one enjoys combat, exploration, and treasure-grabbing, there comes a point when fun disappears and playing turns into work. In their efforts to create an epic, Iron Lore went overboard and created something that seems endless.

Greece, by itself, would have been plenty. Then Egypt and the Orient could have been released later as sequels, with related plotlines. That setup would have been perfect for the solo gamer.

As it is, TitanQuest is aimed for for multiplay rather single. Given its scope, it is unlikely that many would want to give it a second or third try with other characters, never mind going on to the two higher difficulty levels.

So if you were looking for something like Diablo 2, this one isn’t for you. TitanQuest can worth one playthrough if you take your time with it. As noted, the game does have many good features. Otherwise, leave this one for the multiplayers. That’s where most of the fun will happen.miniscorp