We recently had a chance to take an updated look at Titan Quest, the action role-playing game from developer Iron Lore Studios and publisher THQ. The game remains focused on hacking and slashing with a lone character in the "Old World," most notably Greece and Egypt. Even though much of what we saw was similar to what was shown at E3, the game continues to look sharp and seems to play quickly and easily, letting players hack through Cyclopes, skeletal warriors, and walking statues before picking up their loot afterward with minimal fuss, and about as much muss.
Not content to simply watch an encore presentation of the E3 demo, we had a chance to sit down with THQ creative manager Michael Fitch, who discussed many gameplay details, including the game's skill system, its monsters, its editing tools, and its multiplayer. For starters, as we've mentioned previously, Titan Quest will primarily be a game that you'll play with a lone character in the single-player game, and at the beginning, you'll choose only what your character looks like; you won't choose any kind of profession or any ability scores (no strength or dexterity to start with here). Instead, you'll be able to customize your character over time with various weapons and items you pick up, as well as with skills (into which you can invest skill points that you receive by gaining experience levels) that will eventually lead to your character belonging to two different professions. And some 28 different combinations will be possible.
Even though the game will feature branching "trees" of skills, similar to the skill systems of Diablo II or Dungeon Siege II, the idea behind the skill system is to let players customize their characters by focusing on their favorite skills rather than constantly outdating old skills by picking more-powerful versions. The low-level "fireball" spell you learn at the very beginning will continue to be useful to the end of the game, at which point you could have invested many more points into the same skill to empower the spell with more range, more damage, and other powerful additions. The game will actually let you reinvest some skill points as you go so you won't end up accidentally putting points into skills you change your mind about and decide that you don't like.
Interestingly, many of the game's monsters will also have access to the same skill trees you will, so you may see your own abilities brought to bear against you. In the toughest parts of the game, Fitch suggests that you may end up sparring with monsters that have contrasting skill sets that can be parried with the appropriate counterskills, assuming you have them. However, for the most part, while monsters will make use of their skills and they may use some tactics, like calling for help (or summoning it with magic spells), the monsters you face won't use highly complex AI, since the game is focused on action-packed hacking and slashing and not the annoying task of chasing down that one last individual monster who keeps evading your every move. To keep things interesting, even though the game's levels will not be randomly generated (they're all being hand-built to look and feel their best), the placement of monsters will be. As a result, your enemies will never appear in the same spot twice.
When asked about multiplayer, Fitch replied that Iron Lore has settled on offering only cooperative play in Titan Quest. Currently (and this is a very tentative number that might change), the team has successfully run multiplayer sessions with as many as six players, but that could change as the developer continues to optimize the game's network code. Apparently, the developer wants to make sure Titan Quest is a game that players can share so that friends and family can play together online. This is also why, despite the game's sharp-looking graphics, it will be highly scalable--so players with older computers can play along with their friends that have top-of-the-line rigs.
And apparently, even though it has been Iron Lore's intention all along to ship the game with editing tools to let players create their own levels and content, the developer has decided to ship the tools with the game rather than before it. Iron Lore wishes to make sure the editing tools are as functional and user-friendly as possible, since the studio hopes that players will use the tools to make lots and lots of custom adventures. Fitch describes the world-building tools as being powerful utilities that can produce "terraformed" land (so that hills and valleys can be created along with flatlands), as well as make different climates and terrains with the stroke of a brush. The editing tools will apparently make drawing environments a matter of just using a texture brush tool that can be used to "paint" different levels with dungeon, grassland, or desert textures. Meanwhile, the engine will support multiple texture passes to let players create convincing transitions and highly detailed levels.
Titan Quest continues to look promising, and, with any luck, the game should have a combination of cutting-edge graphics, gameplay that's easy to pick up but offers a ton of depth, and plenty of fast-paced hacking and slashing. Look for the game next year.