Words that aptly describe the grand quest you embark upon in the Brian Sullivan game, Titan Quest, developed by Iron Lore Entertainment and published by THQ. In Titan Quest, you are the Hero, the Savior of Greece, and you begin your great quest by helping the locals before moving on to more deadly and grand battles. Your goal: to defeat the Titans, terrible monsters locked away ages ago by the Pantheon of gods (Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Minerva, Poseidon, and so forth), and return them to their prisons or destroy them once and for all.
This setting, Ancient Greece, is one of the most interesting aspects of Titan Quest. Few games have really explored Ancient Greece during the "classical era" in a game outside of the RTS genre. Ancient Greece is rich with mythology, historical texts, and even prose/fiction. In other words, there is a treasure trove of resources and ideas to pull from and a lot of areas to be explored by the game designers. In Titan Quest, they have really taken the setting and blended the historical, the fantastical, and the mythological. You are in Greece, and you will find familiar names of people, cities, and creatures, but you will fight all manner of monsters from skeletons to satyr to harpies or even mundane beasts such as wild boars. And then there is magic, in all its elemental varieties.
Magic and the classes are an area of Titan Quest done very well. There are eight classes to choose from and the interesting part is that you don't have to choose before entering the game. You choose once you gain your first level and you can always drop your points and switch classes if you want. The way they work is also interesting. Similar to Diablo 2's skill tree, you spend points to gain levels in the class but you can also put individual points into specific abilities and skills, boosting their power and strength. But that isn't all! You are able to choose a second mastery, creating classes that are a combination of the two areas of emphasis. This system requires a bit of planning and thought and you can fairly easily "hose" your character by spending too many points on leveling the classes or an individual ability and not enough points learning new ones. The eight areas of emphasis are storm, earth, warfare, spirit, defense, nature, hunting, and rogue.
Some of these areas of emphasis are not entirely what they seem. For example, Earth is not just the manipulation of the ground, but also the manipulation of fire. In fact, if you place your emphasis solely on Earth then your class will display as Pyromancer. I had a great time with this class as it is extremely powerful. You can still fight with weapons as a caster, so I was imbuing my spear with flame damage, walking around with a fiery damage shield, and tossing fireballs at my opponents whenever I got a chance. The offset to choosing a caster is that you gain fewer points to health, strength, and you are able to wear less armor as a result. But who needs armor when you have fire!
Loot and treasure in Titan Quest are randomly generated and have a lot of variety. From monsters and especially treasure chests found throughout the game, you can get a variety of looted items, from equipment you can wear to gold to components that you can use to enhance your weapons (charms and the like) to jewelry. Equipment comes in a variety of types, from poor quality to magical and they are color-coded to assist you in determining how good or rare they are. Charms can be added to items to enhance their properties. But they can also be combined with charms of identical type to enhance their properties further before socketing. The best treasure comes from boss mobs and treasure chests. These are what you hunt for, and go back to repeatedly. Most creatures do carry equipment, but it is rarely anything to consider picking up.
I mentioned Diablo 2 before and so you were probably wondering why I brought it up. Well, the game was designed to feel and play much like Diablo 2. So if you were a Diablo 2 fan and you enjoy collecting treasures and hunting for rare and powerful items, then this game is definitely one you would like. The RPG part of the game is not emphasized so much as the character building and equipment hunting, something that Diablo 2 also did very well and is recognized as pioneering.
But Titan Quest has more going for it than the gameplay alone. The graphics of Titan Quest are simply astounding. It is a beautiful game with extremely detailed environments; the world feels alive as you move, the grass swaying, the wind blowing the trees, and the shadows are done very well. One very neat feature is the transition between exterior and interior (caves, dungeons, tombs) regions. This is seamless and truly feels as if you are walking into an underground space. Unlike games where you have to zone or load, there is no break in the graphics or gameplay (or action for that matter!).
Helping the graphics of Titan Quest is another of the better aspects of the game, the music. It is truly fantastic! The sound effects are good as well, but the music is what really stands out. I found myself sitting at the main screen or at different parts of the game just listening to a particular track over and over. The main theme is soothing and great to listen to in the background. But the other music is also good and the game gains a definite plus in my book for this.
You knew I had to bring it up, but Titan Quest does have a few downsides. One of those is that the game, in my opinion, is very linear. The maps remain the same each time you play them, you really can't get lost as eventually the terrain itself leads you back to where you began or to the road which you follow throughout the game. You follow the road (no, it doesn't have yellow bricks) all the way to your destination. All towns, locations and quest givers are along this road so it really is hard to not progress through the game.
And while on the subject of quests, that is another area that the game is lacking. Quests are a central part of Titan Quest, but they are nothing to write home about. They are your standard "Kill 10 of these" and "Collect 5 of these" or "Kill the Big Boss". Much of the dialog has voice-overs so that is nice as it gives a better sense of immersion, but the quests do not really have a lot of depth that draw you into the story. To continue the comparison with Diablo 2, you were drawn into the story by cut-scenes and by the story itself slowly building up (and a greater sense of accomplishment at each stage), but to date in Titan Quest I feel that it lacks this aspect and the game itself suffers because of it.
And finally I tried the multiplayer experience and it is very similar to the single player experience. You are in the same game world, you do the same quests, you can group or not if you wish. There is a trade facility and if you are grouped all quests are shared between you. Monster difficulty is supposedly ramped up based on the number of people online. However, Titan Quest does not have a Battle.Net style online play so it might be best to stick with Direct IP connections and hosting if you want to play a game with your friends.
Overall I enjoyed Titan Quest and recommend it to those people who liked the character building and item hunting of Diablo 2 and other games of that style. It is a beautiful game with great looking environments, effects, and has a fantastic music and sound effects. The class progression and character building is indeed one of the strongest aspects of the game and one that could definitely help the longevity of the game in some people's libraries. But if you are thinking of playing the game looking for a great RPG or an excellent multiplayer experience, then I am afraid you will find the game lacking as these are not among its strongest assets. Finally, one area I did not get a chance to test out was the ability to mod the game. I know it exists and in fact there are guides released by THQ on the subject. Several editors ship with the game and are in the game folder, such as ArtManager, ModelCompiler, MapCompiler, QuestEditor and so forth so the game does appear to be highly moddable, which may also help increase its longevity among fans.