Review: Titan Quest20 Jul 2016 9
Review: Titan Quest
Released 18 May 2016
“Nostalgia” is often poetically but incorrectly said to mean “the pain from an old wound.” Playing Titan Quest again isn’t as big a jump back in time as many of Dot Emu’s other ports, but the differences in time, place and platform is perhaps keener for it being more recent. I can’t separate Another World or The Last Express from the impact they had on my imagination when I discovered them, but Titan Quest came along after I’d had a chance to mature and become jaded.
I sunk a lot of hours into this game back in the (n)aughts, though not as many as Diablo II before it, and certainly no-where near the amount of time that some of my friends spent on the game that, along with Starcraft, gave rise to the expectation that you should be able to pay once for a Blizzard game and then play it for hundreds of hours without getting bored.
Here’s the thing about Titan Quest: yes, it’s a port of a PC game from 2006, but we’d be talking about it as a cutting edge game if it were a new release. It’s not flawless, and it does show its age in certain ways, but it is almost certainly the most ambitious and most… titanic (yes, thank you, I’ll be here all week) ARPG game on iOS, let alone Android out there. If you’re looking for something Diablo-like on your tablet, you could almost stop reading here. Almost.
When I first played Titan Quest, I thought that it was accurately described as Diablo II-like, but felt that it was unfair to call it a Diablo II clone. The basic Diablo ARPG mechanics are there, as are a number of often-emulated Diablo II flourishes, from the way the skill trees work to set items, but now more than ever, Titan Quest feels not like a clone, but like an iteration on Diablo II.
I’m sure I’ll get slammed for saying that Titan Quest is better than Diablo II, but I think it is, at least for what we can get out of it now, on mobile. I didn’t play either of these games online much back in the day, so my definitive experience wasn’t trying to score the new record time beating big red himself on Hell Difficulty, it was playing each character class through Normal once and calling it a day.
In “serious” Diablo II play, each class represented one, maybe two archetypes with a role in multiplayer. As you get to pick any two of eight expansive skill trees in Titan Quest, there are a lot more possibilities to play with. There’s also less reason to lose sleep over getting it wrong, with there being a limited ability to re-spec skill points and no obsessed roommates telling you why there’s no point to building a skeleton army. Ahem… sorry, just feeling a little pain from an old wound.
Titan Quest’s other great virtue is that it isn’t centered around bloody mediaeval Europe. The opening act of the game, set in Ancient Greece, generally nails the “myth light” feel, as you fight Satyrs, Maenads, Medusae, and Polyphemus the Cyclops. After that, you can tell that the devs didn’t know the other cultures and mythologies as well, because fighting possessed clay soldiers on the Great Wall of China is really cool but makes no sense in terms of China’s rich history and folklore, and if you’re going to set part of the game in the hanging gardens of Babylon, you really ought to have at least one monster actually based on Babylonian myth. Audrey II doesn’t count.
Still, the settings are visually varied with some appealing inclusions of world architecture, and at least there are no round-the-bend undead pygmies with blowpipes, tiki masks and shrunken heads. If you can accept that Titan Quest is a four-color version of Ancient Greece that goes on a kind of drunken holiday weaving through other mythologies, it all works well enough.
There are some problems with the port, even though the folks at Dot Emu gave it the same lavish attention that they’ve built their reputation on. First and foremost, this game is recent enough and demanding enough that you will experience stuttering and slowed framerates at times, even on high-spec devices. If you have a recent-generation iOS device, or a “gaming” tablet for Android (like my Shield K1), it will be occasional and manageable, especially if you remember the hardware stutters and internet lag of the golden age of ARPGs. There is a low graphics setting, but it seemed to make little difference in appearance or performance for me.
Another sticky issue is that Dot Emu made the decision to go with virtual controls for this one. I see the necessity, as taps are not the equivalent of mouse clicks, and even on a tablet, it would be much too easy to send your character haring off in the wrong direction, let alone the chaos that would result on a phone, but everyone hates virtual controls, and the virtual controls in Titan Quest are somehow both well-executed and detestable.
Central to the design and to the problem is the central “smart” button, which changes from your primary weapon attack to talk or pick-up as appropriate. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to move to a different spot to attack the enemy because my Avenger (Hunting and Earth skill trees) refused to fight until she’d looted every corpse she could reach. Using the item filters (blessed feature!) to hide broken and normal, non-magical items helps a little, and when I switch to my bow, I have far fewer problems, but I really wish there was a dedicated attack button (there is a hide-all-items toggle, but it’s unwieldy and your character will still stop to open chests, just not to rifle through their contents).
I strongly suspect the large, iconic transformations of the “smart” button is Dot Emu making the best of a bad situation: in the original PC version, the same left mouse-click did all these things, and accidental looting was much less of a problem. The Titan Quest codebase probably doesn’t allow for that input to be separated.
The virtual pad works well, but simply isn’t sufficiently precise for selecting between targets that are close together. Most of the time, you’ll be at the mercy of the game’s auto target-selection: aim your hero at the foe and hold down the attack button. This is particularly true of ranged attacks: I gave up entirely on trying to switch targets to hit the monster currently bull-rushing me. This makes much less difference than you’d imagine: ranged attackers depend mostly on pets to tank for them, and melee fighters really only need to switch targets when they’re being swarmed while fighting a high-hp boss.
I am genuinely disappointed at the lack of gamepad support, and hope that Dot Emu will add that in later. Some elements of the game, including inventory management and button assignment, are clearly best with touch controls, but combat, the meat of the game, would really benefit from a physical stick and buttons.
Even with these flaws, Titan Quest is still a great hack ‘n slash. In some ways it’s the same game it ever was: a solid workhorse, with well honed mechanics, something you can return to for low-stress looting when you don’t feel like subtle strategy, morally complex storytelling, or permadeath mercilessness. If you have a fast device, a gig and a half of storage to spare, and aren’t allergic to frame rate drops, Titan Quest will do right by you. It’s a hospitable game with forgivable faults, mellow like wine and water poured from separate amphorae into a common bowl.