It has been a long time since I played a really good dungeon crawl/action RPG game. The last time I had I was playing Diablo II and waiting to take on the big boss himself. When I got my grabby little hands on Din’s Curse and the expansion pack Demon War, I was ecstatic. There is much to say in terms of game play, but let me start with my introduction.
Servitude isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
The story to Din’s Curse is simple enough. You are in servitude to the god Din. He holds your soul in the palm of his hand and the only way to appease him is by doing deeds. Demon War takes place after a chaotic and grueling war that has shattered and fractured the ties that bind. Demons fight demons and all fight humans in a rage from the loss of the war. Now is the time when heroes take their places amongst the ranks of the legendary and vanquish evil, but this is not the case. When my character, Layla- a rogue/demonologist hybrid, starts on her epic journey she is smack dab in the center of town. Her orders are simple: help the village from certain destruction. When all is said and done and Din is satisfied with the progress in my redemption then it’s on to the next town. Or is it?
Do unto others…
Din’s Curse and Demon War take place in the very dynamic world of Aleria. While you are hacking and slashing your way through the lower levels of a crypt or cave things are still very much going on top side. Quests will pop up be it optional or quest related at any time. People starve and if they aren’t tended to they will die. This brings into play morality and reputation. If people die during quests you lose reputation; but if you are in the midst of a large swarm of pixies you aren’t going to drop everything just to run to the surface (taking damage the whole way) and feed someone or take care of their debts. Selfishness does pay off sometimes however. You get to keep your food and money for yourself for big ticket items and skills. Random events run rampant throughout the game. People can be corrupted and decide to work on behalf of the bad guys causing a surge of enemies to spawn on the surface. If you do not stop what you are doing people will die and again, that costs you reputation points. When all is said and done and Din is proud of the progress poor Layla has made the option is given to leave and head for our next destination.
If I am satisfied sure I’ll jump at going to another town. If not, then I will stay and finish what quests I have left. There are ways to fail quests as well. Not getting to places on time or people dying are the big no-nos when it comes to massive reputation loss. Proceeding to take on the quests- and there is a limit you can take on at once- will leave you poking deeper and deeper into your local bad guy hideout. Most of the missions are fetch and enemy decimating. Both good when power playing through grind cycles. This also doesn’t mean once a quest is completed, you have to immediately run to the outside world and hand over what they ask. There is a good balance between random quests that pop up and what the usual task at hand is.
Individualization has never felt so good
The best thing about role playing games is the amount of personal touches you can put into your little world and Din’s Curse has never been so sweet at it. While the avatar you play with is stock, the extra touches you can apply to the world make it all worth it. Besides the usual class generation which ranges from warrior to wizard, the ability to mix and match classes made for interesting game play. Like I stated before, my character was a rogue/ demonologist hybrid. She is good at deactivating chests and is quick as a whip, but is also strong and can cast magic to destroy her enemies. The world itself is also up for grabs when it comes to customization. The ability to use flaws- that weaken your character- adds a touch of realism to the world, because as we all know: no one is perfect. Difficulty can be changed from normal to legendary, but such changes can only be met by meeting level requirements. You can also modify enemies to your will as well. When starting a new game you are given the option to set the difficulty of creatures, whether they are stronger than you, the sheer amount of them, or in my case, I set Layla in the midst of a demon attack right out the gate.
Again more realism and why should everything be happy and relaxed when I get there. For combat instances, you can slow down reaction time of enemies. There is a price to pay, however, if you plan on changing that modifier. You will take a small hit to experience points. But the cost can be far less worrisome when learning the ropes and mechanics of the game. Changing the map size is also good if you are running in a windowed screen and if not makes finding those starved people a lot more simple. However your big map does not tell you where quest givers are. The only way to see is if you look at your overhead map. Speaking of quest givers there is a switch to set how often they scream for attention. Nice when you are just starting out.
The real intricacies that make me go wow.
As the title of this little bit of information clearly states are some of the uber happy points of the game for me. There are many ways to play the game of Din’s Curse: Demon War. If you want to be a straight up fighter, don’t worry your little head. Chests that are locked can easily be unlocked with the click of the right mouse button. Using average attack abilities will smash through doors and crush open chests, but there is also the very real possibility that you will destroy whatever was in the chest. There are plenty of hot keys available to you, but the guys at Soldak Entertainment really hit the nail on the head for me. The sheer ability to use the right mouse button for my most fave ability-which was impale, by the way- seamless. There are your standard hot key configurations that worked fine and dandy, but I found myself clicking the right mouse more than scattering my fingers across the digits at the top of the keyboard. There are also multitudes of maps to explore. Even when I did my second “average” rogue run the starting village was different and there were different problems that needed to be addressed. Not to mention that once you enter the winding paths and dungeons the maps are rich with traps of varying difficulty and problem.
Also having the ability to use the world around you to kill your foes is rather ingenious. Take for example a pillar standing in the middle of a room. Seems harmless, right? Well what if dear Layla was to hit said pillar; what would happen? The answer is simple. The ceiling will collapse and cause massive damage to not just Layla, but also to the creatures that are under the falling debris. This can also work against Layla being that the enemy AI is smart enough to use the surroundings to cause extensive damage to those around it. Enemies also seem to be fighting an endless war amongst themselves and other enemies; making it easy to sneak in and stab some unsuspecting ogre in the back, only to be taken down by a swarm of twenty pixies. Most of the time you can’t see them until it’s too late given the “fog of war”, but is also justified by burned out candles and torches.
Warps, items and intelligent weapons, oh my
Din’s Curse seems to have taken a few pages from the likes of Diablo II and Dungeons and Dragons and put its own spin on things. Items are in abundance and if you are looking to make some serious coin search for the level gates right out the gate. These gates will teleport you back to the surface without having to trudge through the muck like a pack mule. Then its just a few clicks to identify, upgrade and sell and just transport back down to your previous level. Armor can come in sets that give bonuses when completed. Some sets, however are cursed and cause significant negatives to your stats, usually the boon is a drop in required experience points for the next level and other sundry bonuses. Weapons also use a scale from standard blah to epic rare. Taking into account that armor can be classified as such with cursed items to boot; weapons can be the same way.
Swords and daggers can be tallied as “ego” weapons causing certain effects to take place. Some good others not as much, but sometimes you get lucky and find a happy weapon with nice buffs and little to no discernible negatives. Death does happen in the game and when it does there is a pretty hefty price to pay for resurrection. The price: a penalty that must be paid before you can continue on towards leveling. This can be quite the burden when you are facing hordes of enemies without the chance to heal. This is also a good lesson in maintaining arms, armor and keeping a nice stock of potions and food handy and hot keyed ready to go.
Technical Breakdowns, not bad but not good either.
Given that this is an indy game I took graphics with a grain of salt. That’s not to say that there were problems, there were some but hardly worth noting once I figured how to manipulate the camera for my own indulgence. The sound effects are also your generic clank of steel and groan of a fallen enemy. So there is nothing to get excited about, but the soundtrack I enjoyed much and have caught myself humming it from time to time in the past couple of days.
The one fly in the ointment
There was one thing that drove my dear Layla to tears when it came to combat and that was the inability at some points to attack because of the labels for items obscuring her targets. Picking up said items would forfeit me “turn” and on the off chance would stun me causing decent damage without the ability to remove the items or get around them. This didn’t take away from the game and I chalked it up to what if I was in that situation: surrounded by fifteen large items and am being attacked on all sides. Well it would be easy to stumble. Maybe the little monster is hiding under that cowl or cape just to spite me and likes to take the lunge because it’s dark and I can’t see it that well. We’ll call it a rampant imagination but made the game fun because it’s the thinking and strategy aspect of it all the more worthwhile. Then when the battle is over I have a whole boatload of stuff to squander on various other goodies that are probably more helpful than my current batch.
Professional opinion: The question you have to ask yourself is: is this worth the twenty dollars for Din’s Curse plus an additional ten bucks for Demon War? I can adamantly say yes. If you love a good dungeon crawl in a constantly evolving world where your choices will actually affect the layout of the land in the aftermath then I say go for it. It’s hours of fun and is so versatile to your play style that you can get multiple differences to the ever growing doom that is engulfing the world. If the idea of old school micromanagement, time restraints, choice and stat/skill crunching isn’t enough than take to heart Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow- “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Play the demo and try it out for yourself.