Iron Lore CEO Brian Sullivan admits that he and his development team are big fans of Diablo. That's why Titan Quest, the newly revealed debut game from the Massachusetts-based studio, will remind you a lot of Blizzard's classic action role-playing game. On first glance, Titan Quest looks a lot like Diablo, only it's got a gorgeous 3D graphics engine and an ancient-world setting. Judging from the amazing graphical look of the game, that would be more than enough. However, there's a lot more to Titan Quest than a fancy new engine. And we've got the details.
Though it's the first game from Iron Lore, there's a considerable amount of gaming expertise going into it. Sullivan cofounded Iron Lore way back in 2001. Prior to that, he was one of the cocreators of the massively popular Age of Empires series while he was at Ensemble, which he also cofounded. By basing his new company in the Boston area, he was able to recruit veteran developers from some of the area's best studios, including Papyrus. Iron Lore spent the first year or so prototyping ideas, and then it went into full-scale production. So after three years of relative silence, the developers are happy to now show off the fruits of their labors.
In terms of gameplay, Titan Quest plays out very similarly to Diablo. You create a single character choosing from a few basic classes, and then you are dropped into the world, where you'll go around hacking and slashing monsters left and right. When you do slay monsters, they drop loot or equipment, which you can then pick up and equip or trade back at town. However, unlike other games, where you can get some rather bizarre drops (such as when a wolf drops a two-handed sword), Titan Quest will treat equipment in a logical way, meaning that if you see an enemy carrying a cool weapon or piece of armor, you'll get that item if you defeat the opponent. It also means that you won't be seeing animals or creatures dropping powerful weapons or armor. This is all part of Iron Lore's attempt to create a cohesive world, where everything fits together seamlessly.
The graphics engine will also play a big role in presenting a seamless and believable world, even though it's also one populated by mythic and supernatural creatures, such as satyrs and cyclopes. As we watched, the main character traversed a small Greek village, humming with activity. When he exited the village, he entered a lush countryside with fields of swaying grass, as well as cliffs that let you see farmers below working the fields. This is when the fun started, as tiny satyr raiders attacked the hero, who was bedecked like a Greek hero out of the movie Troy. After the hero churned his way through a couple dozen satyrs, he came upon an encampment of them. Before he could take them out, a huge cyclops bulldozed his way into the camp and roared, sending the satyrs fleeing. The hero then invoked some kind of magical power and expanded to giant size so he could battle the fierce opponent.
After that, we skipped ahead to Egypt, where the hero battled his way into some evil temples full of all sorts of cool opponents, including mummies that you can set afire. What's really cool about doing that is that lighting a mummy's cloth strips on fire causes the light to project real-time shadows of the mummy's ribs all over the room. The graphics engine takes advantage of all the high-tech graphical features that are seen in games such as Half-Life 2, but the good news is the game will scale down to run on older machines (at the price of eye candy, of course). After the hero dispatched the mummies, he triggered a boss fight with a huge statue that comes to life, at which point the demo ended.
Titan Quest should also have a fairly deep character creation system. You start by selecting from one of the basic character classes, such as a fighter. However, every time you gain a level, you earn skill points that you can distribute to over eight classes of different skills. That means it's possible to create a warrior that can cast fireballs or an assassin capable of nature magic. This also translates into more than 25 different possible character classes that you can evolve into, which should provide plenty of replay opportunities.
Not much is being said about the multiplayer gameplay at this point, but that's certainly something that will be in the game, especially considering how important multiplayer was in making Diablo so popular. What we do know so far is that there will be up to eight players in a cooperative game. There will be approximately 40 hours' worth of gameplay in the campaign, but replayability and multiplayer will certainly add to its life.
All in all, Titan Quest has emerged from out of nowhere to be a game to keep an eye on. It's been secretly in development for the past 18 months, but odds are, it'll have quite a bit of attention as it winds its way to completion. Unfortunately, we won't see it ship until early next year, but at least now the folks at Iron Lore can talk about it.