Stop the Titans from annihilating the peoples of the ancient world.
PC Release: August 31, 2016
By Ian Coppock
Mythology is an easy source of inspiration for video game developers. Rather than coming up with an entire universe themselves, they can simply borrow one from the rich religious and mythological folklore found the world over. This isn’t to say that said developers are lazy; indeed, their attempts to bring ancient mythology to life are usually roaring successes. But isn’t it interesting to wonder if the digital recreations of ancient legends are anything like what people millennia ago imagined. Titan Quest presents a collage of such legends, aptly bundled together into one adventure, for mythology and gaming nerds alike to dive into.
Titan Quest is a top-down, dungeon-crawling RPG that was originally released in June of 2006, making it a little over 10 years old. The anniversary edition used for this review includes updates for modern gaming, including the usual visual remastering but also co-op multiplayer and system optimizations. Titan Quest: Immortal Throne, a large expansion pack released in 2007, has been rolled into Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition and enmeshed into its main campaign.
Titan Quest is set in a fantastical rendition of the ancient world, where mythological creatures from Greek, Egyptian, and other old myths are very much alive. The player character, a nameless male or female hero, arrives in a small Greek village just as it’s being beset by monsters. The creatures of this world usually stick to the wilds and avoid humans at all costs, but now they’ve launched a full-scale war on mankind. With apparently nothing better to do, the hero takes up his or her weapons and helps the townsfolk beat back the beasts.
The central narrative of Titan Quest is not difficult to understand. After saving the village from the monsters and traveling north to meet up with the Spartans, the hero learns that armies of monsters have started attacking communities all over the Hellenic world. From the slopes of Greece to the deserts of Egypt, humanity seems to be imperiled by the sudden monster scourge. The hero later learns that the monsters move at the will of the Titans, the ancient beings that the Greek gods usurped and imprisoned, and that the Titans seek to reclaim their divine thrones. If the monster attacks are any indication, the Titans are also not too keen on keeping humans around.
So begins one of the most expansive dungeon-crawling adventures of the mid-2000’s. Armed only with what weapons and armaments they can carry, as well as a slate of magical powers, the hero must travel across the world to stop the titans from returning. The Immortal Throne expansion, set after the main narrative, sees the hero off to the Greek underworld of Hades to deal with yet another threat, one that’s no more merciful to the humans living in the world above.
Like most dungeon-crawler RPGs, Titan Quest is played from an isometric perspective. The hero character can be equipped with all manner of weapons and armor found out in the world, as well as magic jewelry and even spell scrolls. In the same tradition that’s endemic to virtually all dungeon-crawlers, items become more valuable and more powerful as the player progresses, leaving the hero character with a very fluid arsenal. Good items are usually pretty simple to find, but the best loot can only be found on the bodies of boss monsters. Heroes have to manage their health and mana while battling said monsters, as well as their numerous, numerous underlings.
Similarly, player characters can choose between various skill sets, referred to in-game as “masteries.” Each mastery can allow for radically different play styles, and the hero can add to his or her powers by killing monsters and leveling up. Masteries can be divided into roughly two categories: the first is weapon masteries, becoming proficient with swords, or bows, or any sort of physical attack item. The second category comprises arcane masteries, allowing players to learn fire, lighting and other elemental attacks. Players can take on up to two masteries, but sticking with a single mastery makes it easier to get high-level powers early in the game.
So, what are all of these fantastical weapons and powers used for? Why, for fighting monsters, of course! Thousands of them. Indeed, most Titan Quest players will have killed upwards of 15,000 enemy creatures by the time the game is over. The combat in Titan Quest is, again, fairly conventional for a dungeon-crawler. Players are expected to slog through stretches of terrain that are rife with enemy creatures, dispatching hordes of monsters by carefully managing their health and mana. Most masteries allow players to summon pets to aid them in battle. The invincible Storm Wisp creature is particularly helpful.
Each area the player visits has its own cadre of monsters, some of which are based on the mythology endemic to that region. Greece, for example, is chock full of satyrs, centaurs and other fantastical creatures of Greek tradition. Egypt just has giant scarabs everywhere. This enemy diversity gives Titan Quest‘s gameplay some much-needed variety. Slaying monsters is all well and good, but doing it for hours on end can be tedious. By constantly introducing new breeds of enemy creature, Titan Quest keeps players on their toes and new surprises around every corner.Unlike the original game, the anniversary edition features multiplayer capabilities, further rounding out the potential for great adventures.
For a game that’s 10 years old, Titan Quest has some impressive visuals. The updates made in Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition only serve to reinforce the game’s gorgeous environments. Every area the hero visits is minutely detailed, from the grassy mountains of Greece to the endless deserts of Egypt. The player’s journey will also take them through other locales, including Babylon (modern-day Iraq) and even ancient China. The Greek underworld region originally introduced in the Immortal Throne expansion is, while bleak, comprised of environments that have been manicured to a T.
Aside from the minute attention to item placement, like foodstuffs in a crowded market or crumbling stones in an ancient temple, Titan Quest boasts strong color to make its environments stand out. Even the relatively washed-out-looking tombs and crypts look shades brighter than in Diablo III or Torchlight. The human characters look a bit ugly up-close, but the monster animations are smooth and the attention to their details is outstanding for a game originally released in 2006. For anything that can be said about the occasional monotony of monster-slaying, Titan Quest won’t leave players with sore eyes. Each area of the game is beautiful.
Though pretty to look at, the world of Titan Quest isn’t without some eyesores in the bugs department. The game runs perfectly well on most any system, but its ragdoll physics leave a lot to be desired. Far more often than necessary, the corpses of slain monsters will contract and expand in ridiculous ways, like a dead Satyr’s arm suddenly stretching off past the boundary of the screen. Some corpses will shake and convulse uncontrollably as if they’re extras for The Exorcist. It doesn’t break the game, and it can make for some entertaining buffoonery, but it does break the immersion. Quite a bit.
That said, the rest of Titan Quest is pretty competently laid out. The anniversary edition’s menu has been upgraded with resolution and graphics options befitting a modern machine. This behind-the-scenes overhaul makes Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition a breeze to run on most computers, even more so than the original version of the game. The fact that Immortal Throne has been included in the main game means that the expansion’s improvements are retroactively applied to the main campaign, like a bonus mastery and the addition of storage carts. Sans the character bugs, the production on Titan Quest is clean as a whistle.
If Titan Quest has a flaw, it’s that it does little to advance the dungeon-crawler’s storytelling formula outside of taking fetch quests from NPCs. From the beginning all the way ’till the end, the sole means of moving the story forward is talking to a non-player character and retrieving some ancient item or stick aforementioned non-player character needs. Usually, the NPC in question is a priest or scholar who performs a ritual that the hero is too stupid to do himself or herself. The hero is a silent character, and the NPCs he or she meets don’t venture one inch outside of predetermined niches. King Leonidas is no less gruff and loud without Gerard Butler to portray him, and the Egyptian priest Imhotep (a nod to The Mummy?) is the embodiment of the convenient inventor archetype.
Outside of characters, Titan Quest‘s most redeeming story quality is its references toward ancient world lore. Most of these are encapsulated in monologues delivered by town criers, the ancient forebears of the modern hipster. The main plot being driven forward by the hero’s fetching of ancient items and slaying of ancient monsters is nothing that dungeon-crawler fans won’t have seen before. It’s not a terrible tale, but it’s not told terribly well. Still, one could do a lot worse for a mythology lesson, and Titan Quest does an admittedly good job of weaving the mythologies of many different cultures together into a single story. Of course, Titan Quest features the usual side quests of “kill 10 monsters here” and “retrieve an item from that cave there.” The rewards are okay, but the narratives are… rusty.
Titan Quest doesn’t set out to break any molds with its game design. It’s a pretty conventional embodiment of the top-down RPG, utilizing the same quest and leveling mechanics done dozens of times before it. However, the true novelty of Titan Quest lies in its ancient world setting, which artfully appropriates the lore of ancient peoples and turns it into something fun to play. Dungeon-crawler fans looking for a challenge need not shy away from Titan Quest either, as the game features plenty of long slogs through literal armies of monsters. Some of these can be a bit long, but war usually is.
Newcomers to dungeon-crawlers, or casual gamers in general, will also stand to benefit from Titan Quest‘s simple design. Much like Torchlight, the game does a great job of breaking the dungeon-crawler down to its most basic, easy-to-understand level. The leveling and power selection system is intuitive, as is just about everything else in its design. Titan Quest‘s narrative is nothing to write home about, but it’s one Hades of a ride through the ancient world. Give the anniversary edition a try alone or with friends and experience the might of the gods firsthand.
You can buy Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.