The Roots: Gates of Chaos was made by fans of Blizzard games. Just about every design element has been unapologetically "borrowed" from the makers of Diablo and Warcraft--and we mean this in the best possible way. With the item collection and gameplay structure of Diablo II, graphics inspired by Warcraft III, and character classes based on those of World of Warcraft, Roots might elicit a few chuckles from inveterate PC gamers. By borrowing so heavily from one of the best game makers in the fantasy genre, however, Roots has ensured its appeal with that same demographic.
In Roots, you choose a single character from one of several classes--paladin, warlock, warrioress, sorceress, and thief. These five are all together on a quest to vanquish one demon lord or another. All exposition is in the form of cutscenes with beautiful static art and ludicrous, barely literate writing. The storyline is meandering and nonsensical, and it recklessly combines Tolkienisms with Judeo-Christian and pagan mythos. The whole steaming mess is presented in the style of Diablo II's legendary chapter interludes.
Thankfully, you can skip these annoying and frequent montages to cut straight to what this game's really about: killing mobs and looting the corpses. As in Diablo, staying on top of the game's economy, by finding items and exchanging them for the items you want, is just as important as leveling. Furthermore, the way in which you go about acquiring said items--namely wholesale slaughter--turns out to be an unusually enjoyable clickfest.
Your character's stats and skill tree depend on his character class, which you choose at the beginning of the game. If you've played any of the Blizzard games mentioned above, you'll know pretty much what to expect from your characters. The paladin, with his typical complement of auras, is probably the most powerful character, which makes sense, because he's supposed to be the party leader. He also is Arthas from Warcraft III--right down to his flaxen mane and pronounced jawline. You get the paladin's coolest ability right away. He can summon an enormous mare and use its hooves to kick the crap out of anything that gets in his way. Summoning the knight's mare uses no mana, but it can only be done every time a little egg counter in the center of your HUD fills up with the souls of enemies that have fallen at your blade. It will take players ages to complete this epic adventure with all five character classes, as there's a huge amount of content to explore.
Although you can only play one character at a time, three Bluetooth buddies can join you for some cooperative questing. You can trade items, vanquish evil, or duke it out in the gladiatorial arenas in each of the game's five towns. If these deathmatches were playable over N-Gage Arena, Roots would have as addictive a player-versus-player game as Diablo. Players can choose teams, set up monetary bets, and even give themselves limited or unlimited mana before entering a bout. The game's numerous quests play out as normal, but you'll have a buddy or three to help you out. This is probably the best Bluetooth implementation yet in an N-Gage game.
Unlike those of most N-Gage games, Roots' controls are actually usable. Almost every key on the handset is bound to some sort of action, so the learning curve is a bit steep. However, you'll soon be glad you have hotkeys for taking potions, casting spells, and switching between your abilities on the fly. Diablo is generally a mouse-driven clickfest, but where would any Diablo be without a keyboard? The keypad serves admirably in this role.
Roots' visuals aren't that bad for software-rendered isometric 3D. Sprites are invariably better-looking on platforms lacking 3D hardware, but alas. We're all pretty convinced by now that Nokia pays its developers by the polygon. The game's graphic artists all got the Blizzard fanboy memo as well, because they've tried to emulate the style of Warcraft III as closely as possible. Most of Roots' missions look like the tutorial quests from WIII in which you're guiding Thrall along forest paths, slicing up monsters in the process. This imitation may go beyond "homage," but the engine runs fast and looks decent, so who's complaining?
The game features your typical soaring fantasy score, complete with pervasive bass-drum rhythms, liberal cymbal crashes, and creepy synth-choir vox. The soundtrack bespeaks high adventure and sinister forces lurking under every sofa cushion. While hackneyed, it's still quite good.
There's nothing that will surprise you about Roots, save how well its gameplay has made the transition from the PC to the N-Gage. This game takes some of the best elements of several Blizzard games and recombines them into an excellently designed, albeit generic, adventure. The Roots: Gates of Chaos is standing on the shoulders of giants here, and role-playing-game-starved N-Gage gamers will reap the sweet fruit of this borderline theft.