Titan Quest Updated Hands-On - The Masteries of Titan Quest

We take one last look at Titan Quest before it goes gold to fill you in on all of the masteries in the game, which determine your character's abilities.

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THQ recently was kind enough to drop off the latest preview version of Titan Quest, Iron Lore Entertainment's upcoming action role-playing game. If you've played the single-player demo , then you know that Titan Quest is a fast-paced game in the Diablo vein, complete with plenty of enemies to kill and loot to be picked up. In our previous coverage, we've discussed the gameplay, the settings, and a bit about the story, but this was our first chance to look at all of the class options in the game.

The unique thing about Titan Quest is that instead of forcing you to play one specific class, it lets you select two "masteries" to create a unique class, such as a magic-casting fighter, or a rogue that can tap into storm magic. These masteries revolve around a particular type of warfare or magic, and each is powerful on its own, but when every player is able to combine any two masteries together, it's a good bet that most characters in the game are going to wind up being fundamentally different from one another. Add to this the fact that each mastery has 20 different skills to explore, and you wind up with a considerable amount of customization options and replayability.

No matter what masteries you choose, you'd better be ready to deal with some tough enemies in Titan Quest.
No matter what masteries you choose, you'd better be ready to deal with some tough enemies in Titan Quest.

You're able to choose your first mastery when you upgrade your character to level 2 in the game, and at each level-up, you gain three skill points to invest in skills. When you reach level 8, you're asked to select a second mastery, and from there, you're able to combine skills from both masteries as you like; if you want to take a balanced approach and invest in both masteries, then you're free to do so. Or, if you want to create a specialized character, you can focus solely on one mastery to the exclusion of the other. The drawback is that you still only get three skill points per level-up, even after you've picked your second mastery, so you'll have to choose where to place them carefully. The system is set up so that it's similar to Guild Wars, with that game's many unique combinations of classes.

Luckily for those of us that enjoy trying out different character builds, you won't have to completely start over if you accidentally build up a skill that you later wind up disliking. In a few of the cities in the game, you'll run across characters called mystics. Mystics will allow you to pay money to withdraw skill points from your masteries, so that you can allocate them elsewhere. Although this isn't cheap (at 250 gold per skill point) it still allows you to reset some of your character choices without forcing you to make a completely new character.

Thanks to skills like war wind and war horn, warfare specialists excel at fighting their way out of a crowd of enemies.
Thanks to skills like war wind and war horn, warfare specialists excel at fighting their way out of a crowd of enemies.

Titan Quest went gold this week, which meant that development is finished, and the game is scheduled to ship later this month. And without further ado, here are the eight masteries you'll be mixing and matching in Titan Quest:

Warfare
Anyone who played a barbarian in Diablo II will be instantly at home with the warfare mastery in Titan Quest, as it features skills that closely mirror those of the barbarian, with war cries, passive abilities that add to your damage and armor, as well as the formidable whirlwind skill, which strikes multiple nearby opponents in one swift blow. The warfare mastery seems to be the only one that allows you to use dual wielding, as well.

Rogue
Another familiar archetype is the rogue, which concentrates on dealing lots of damage to a single target, but has a more difficult time dealing with multiple foes. This mastery is likely going to be more appropriate for online cooperative play than it will be for single-player games, although you can of course supplement it with a mastery that enables you to better survive in crowds, such as defender, or simply take a more aggressive tack and attempt to build up warfare until you obtain something like war wind, which allows you to hit multiple opponents.

Rogues specialize in poison or bleeding attacks.
Rogues specialize in poison or bleeding attacks.

Regardless, the rogue is the master of poison and bleeding attacks. Many of the special attacks revolve around either adding poison or bleed damage to your attacks, which go along well with the passive abilities that add to the percentage of bleeding or poison damage that you deal. You can choose to focus on one or the other, or both, although few attacks outside of an upgraded poison gas bomb wind up doing both bleeding and poison damage. Regardless, if you're a fan of damage over time, then the rogue mastery will be right up your alley.

Hunting
Like the Amazon in Diablo II, the hunting mastery revolves around the bow and the spear, ancient weapons both. Many of the attacks here revolve around adding a piercing attribute to your attacks, which helps them ignore the armor ratings of your opponents.

Most of the special skills here revolve around bow attacks, although there are a few skills that emphasize your ability to attack with the spear as well, making this an excellent secondary mastery for warfare masters who wish to handle their spears more effectively. Besides that, though, you can choose to pick up puncture-shot arrows, which allow your bolts to pass through enemies that they hit, monster lures to lure enemies away from weaker members of your party, passive abilities like gouge and volley, which causes you to attack three times in quick succession, or other hunting-themed skills, like study prey and exploit weakness, both of which increase your general efficacy in combat.

Master the Masteries

Defender
The epitome of a "tank" class, becoming a defender isn't going to let you plow through enemies with the greatest of ease. Instead, it's all about increasing your defensive abilities (obviously enough). Many of the skills here revolve around increasing the effective use of your shield, allowing it to block more damage, block more often, or slap an enemy to reduce its armor temporarily or stun it to prevent it from attacking you.

Nature mages are capable of summoning creatures such as wolves as soon as they acquire the mastery.
Nature mages are capable of summoning creatures such as wolves as soon as they acquire the mastery.

Besides the shield abilities, defenders are also going to be able to help out their teammates with skills that temporarily add extra armor and life regeneration to anyone standing nearby. At the highest levels of the skill tree, dedicated defenders eventually get their stalwart resolve rewarded with the colossus form skill, which greatly increases their size and damage for a short period of time.

Nature
The nature specialist is a kind of druidic healer character. Although they won't be able to deal supreme amounts of damage to groups of enemies, nature mages are still going to be warmly welcomed in a group of players, since they are capable of healing targets with their regrowth power, or aiding all nearby party members with their heart of oak ability, which adds to movement speed and maximum life.

Like the spirit mastery, though, nature mages are capable of summoning multiple helpers into battle. Call of the wild will summon wolves that attack enemies at close range and which can also issue forth a wild howl to buff all nearby teammates. Sylvan nymphs are a more advanced type of summon, one which calls forth a female nature elemental that attacks with her bow and arrow from a distance.

Earth
Earth holds power over the elements of both earth and fire, and uses them to create its own version of hellfire and brimstone. The main damage-dealing spell here is flame surge, which sends out three or more fireballs in front of your character, to either impact nearby enemies or spread out to hit multiple distant targets. You can add on to this offensive ability by selecting spells like volcanic orb or the formidable earthquake, for massive damage.

All of your enemies have access to the same skills that you do, so be careful.
All of your enemies have access to the same skills that you do, so be careful.

Characters interested in dealing melee damage will be better off with spells like earth enchantment, which adds fire damage to all of your weapon strikes, or ring of flame, which surrounds your character with fire and allows you to passively burn enemies when they get too close.

If you're the type that just likes to sit back and let someone else do the work, though, you'll also eventually be able to summon a core dweller if you advance far enough up the skill tree. This plodding, burning elemental will whack your opponents but good if you point it in the right direction.

Storm
The storm mastery is one of the two offensively-oriented magical masteries, along with earth. Storm holds domain over the elements of lightning and ice and uses both to deal damage as well as slow and stun enemies.

The primary attack power here is ice shard, which sends a single bolt of ice out at a target for massive cold damage. As you increase your effectiveness with ice shard, you can unlock powers that enable you to increase the speed of the ice, boost the chance that it'll pass through your enemies and impact multiple targets, or increase the number of shards that you throw each time you cast the spell. If you're looking for other forms of direct damage, you can throw a thunderball, which damages and stuns all enemies near the area of impact, or call down a lightning bolt onto the heads of your foes.

With frost and lightning damage at their beck and call, storm magicians can slow or stun groups of enemies with ease.
With frost and lightning damage at their beck and call, storm magicians can slow or stun groups of enemies with ease.

If you're using storm as a secondary mastery, though, you may find it more useful to skill up in some of the combat-oriented skills. One of these is storm nimbus, which adds a chance for each of your weapon attacks to deal extra frost or lightning damage. Alternately, you can cast squall on your foes to make it more difficult for archers to attack you.

Spirit
Although it sounds ethereal and high-minded, the spirit mastery is going to be familiar to anyone that's played as a necromancer in any role-playing game. Instead of encouraging your enemies to seek salvation, you're going to be blasting them with life-stealing plagues, lower their resistance to damage with skills like necrosis, and force them to flee for their lives with visions of death. In addition, your powers over the undead will allow you to spread the joy to your teammates, allowing everyone near you to increase the damage they deal to undead enemies and reduce the damage that they take in return.

One of the archetypal powers of a necromancer is the ability to summon the undead to fight on his or her side, and indeed, spirit masters gain the ability to summon lich kings fairly early on. The lich king is a powerful ally, capable of blasting enemies from a distance, but later on, you'll be able to supplement his presence with that of a powerful outsider, which is one of the most advanced skills in the mastery.

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