Last year's Titan Quest did a solid job of combining the hack-and-slash gameplay of action role-playing games with a cutting-edge 3D graphics engine. In the game, you traveled around the ancient, sun-drenched Mediterranean world and the Far East, battling an almost endless number of monsters, demons, and spirits in the quest to defeat the bad guy and become more powerful along the way. Now developer Iron Lore is prepping Titan Quest: Immortal Throne, an expansion due out later this summer. We had a chance to take a work-in-progress version of the expansion for a test drive of sorts, and it's safe to say that Immortal Throne won't change things up too dramatically. Instead, Iron Lore has taken an "if it's not broke, don't fix it" approach to the expansion.
Immortal Throne takes place after the events in Titan Quest, and it's being designed for high-level characters. It doesn't look like you can create a new, first-level character and jump directly into this content, not that you'd want to judging from the high-level monsters inhabiting the early parts of the expansion. Most players will most likely carry over their existing Titan Quest characters to the expansion, though hopefully Iron Lore will include some premade high-level characters so that those who haven't finished the original game yet can jump straight into the new content.
If you've read up on Immortal Throne, then you'll know that it primarily takes place in the ancient Greek idea of the underworld, the place where souls go when their bodies die. And if your knowledge of Greek mythology is a bit rusty, the conversations that you'll have with non-player characters in the game might remind you of what you learned in school. There's Charon, the boatman who ferries dead souls across the river Styx, and Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog to Hades. Another NPC retells the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus traveled to the underworld to beg for his dead wife back, and Hades was so touched that he let her go on the condition that Orpheus not look back until they reached the surface. However, Orpheus, anxious to make sure Eurydice was actually behind him, turned around and doomed his wife's soul forever. Whether you'll actually encounter these figures remains to be seen.
But before you even get to the underworld, you'll have to battle it out on the surface for a while. The expansion begins in the ruins of the city of Rhodes. The famed Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is in pieces. And before too long, your character is sent back into the wilderness to find Medea, another famous character from Greek mythology. She has set herself up as a sorceress in the Ixian Wood, so your first task is to get out there. The challenge being that the wilderness and the wood itself is infested with all sorts of creatures. There are the karkinos, or giant crabs, that inhabit the shoreline and some of the mud flats; anourans, or giant humanoid bullfrog creatures; hydradons, which look like a mix between a dragonoid and an alien; and much more.
Thankfully, given that you'll have a high-level character at this point, you should already have sets of powerful weapons and armor available to you. Of course, as you progress, you'll pick up even more high-powered loot. Each battle can easily result in thee or four pieces of loot that can be recovered, and the game helpfully color-codes things, so you can quickly identify the magical gear from the tremendous amount of regular stuff you'll uncover. And you can't help but love the random name generators in these games that come up with names for all this stuff, because the results can be creative, to say the least. For example, we encountered the "Sfyri of Carnage," the "Securis of Feasting," and the "Exalted Eraban Helm of Inertia."
One of the major new features of Immortal Throne is the new dream mastery. In Titan Quest, there are no distinct class types, such as warrior or thief, as there are in most role-playing games. Instead, there are nine masteries that you pick two of when creating a character. That way, by combining different masteries together, you can create all sorts of interesting character combinations. For example, you can create a magic-wielding fighter if you combine the warfare mastery with the storm, nature, or spirit masteries. The new dream mastery focuses on tapping into the power of the dream realm. For instance, the temporal flux ability lets you accelerate time around your character, letting your character attack more quickly while causing enemies to move more slowly. The trance of convalescence results in increased life recovery and damage absorption for your character and allies. And the distortion wave causes ripples in the fabric of reality, damaging enemies considerably. The new dream mastery is also available if you create a new character in the original game (assuming you have the expansion installed), so you can play with these new abilities from the very beginning if you'd like.
Visually, Immortal Throne doesn't look like it adds any drastic new graphical features, but considering that Titan Quest itself is less than a year old, the presentation still looks excellent--in particular the monster designs, which are colorful, distinct, and, most importantly, menacing. The lighting also remains strong, as you can't help but feel that you're exploring a sun-drenched land, though you'll be busy slaying monsters left and right to notice at times. Immortal Throne certainly looks like it'll serve up even more Titan Quest content for fans of the original game. It's due to ship next month.