It could have been something; it could have been a contender...
Anyway, it's an understatement to say that I was excited for this game. I've yet to find a hack n' slash -- all these years later -- that truly compares to Diablo II. Still, Champions, its sequel (Return to Arms) and the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance titles, held me in good stead for my console fix.
I came to this game, though, with midline expectations. It is, after all, an XBLA game. While many XBLA games reach a plateau FAR exceeding what they should be capable of, it seems like games with the backing of a license all-too-often shoot precisely for the middle.
With all of that said, first things first:
If you MUST have this game, you absolutely should wait. There are INNUMERABLE glitches in this game.
A short list:
1. Locked character movement -- totally at random, your character will simply lose the ability to move. You can sometimes wake the character from this state by randomly mashing buttons (no it's not a spell of any sort) -- it's some issue with the dead zone of the control stick simply ceasing to function. And, no, it's not my controller (works fine on every other game I own).
2. Clipping and screen tear on the XBOX are gratuitous AND ubiquitous throughout the game.
3. Loss of skill points (gamebreaker). I managed to finish my first playthrough with an old school fighter and just had two full skills wiped clean for no reason after two reloads. I simply loaded the character back in and the skill points had disappeared from those skill. The skill WILL remain active in the hot key menu, and you can activate the animation, but since the game can't register that points are ACTIVE in those skills, they simply cease to be.
4. Hit detection is ATROCIOUS -- possibly worse than any hack n' slash in the history of the genre. It is not at all uncommon to be standing directly in front of an enemy and have a multi-hit skill totally miss -- MULTIPLE times.
5.NPCS can spawn in ON you and trap you in certain areas.
6. Enemies often freeze in place after you kill them and CAN block your way.
7. Gold and items can "pop" on top of objects and be out of reach.
8. YOUR CHARACTERS ITEMS CAN SIMPLY DISAPPEAR FROM INVENTORY (gamebreaker).
Those are just a small selection...
Okay, now that that is out of the way, let's discuss the game.
It's a dungeon crawl...
That's about all you can say. You kill stuff and collect loot.
The narrative is, essentially, totally nonexistent. You spend 2/3 of the game running errands and doing fetch quests for some dwarves who are trying to help you enter the TOWER OF THE VOID.
This would be fine if it were a prelude to bigger and better things, but once you're out of the mines area, the game kicks into hyperdrive -- introducing three entirely new factions and wrapping up in roughly 20% of the time you spent trudging through stuff for the dwarves. As to character development -- it does NOT exist. And that's the saddest part of this game for me (and I think it will be for many fans as well). The backstory has a rich trove of fiction to pull from -- the history of the Dalelands (and the Zhentarim) is very well documented.
Really, though, there is no story.
Another huge issue with the game is the color palette. For enemies and environments, well, it's pretty much brown, mottled grey/green, or red -- that's about it.
Rezlus, Nezra, the dwarves, and the tieflings look fabulous with high textures, nice coloring, and unique character designs. But outside of that it's a crapshoot. And since there are only roughly 10-12 enemy types in the game, monotony is SURE to follow.
The sound design is also HORRIFIC. Aside from the fact that the music is utterly forgettable there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the sound design. Swordstrikes sound more like paper tearing than anything else. There is no serious ambient noise to speak of -- it's just very blah.
When you add all of this to a loot mechanic and interface that are clunky at best, the game just oozes mediocrity. While some of the loot is interesting, it's essentially genuinely impossible to understand how it interacts with either your character, the enemies, or other pieces without a pretty thorough understanding of D&D 4th Edition. And on top of that, it's gaudy -- just gaudy. The weapon designs are thoroughly vanilla; the lightning and glow effects are second grade, and the character animations are LAUGHABLE at best.
That's not to mention the weird difficulty spikes you find in this game. It's especially bothersome that by FAR the most dangerous enemy in the game is the Zhentarim War Mage (a caster who can hit you with multiple magic missiles, has a constant area-of-effect attack aura that can be cast, is quite fast, and takes an inordinate amount of damage) should tell you something.
To the end, the game is a crapshoot. By the time you reach the final boss battle, you'll be begging for the game to end. And just when you think it's mercifully over, the game throws a "twist" at you without ANY concern whatsoever for continuity. Throughout the game, your ONLY goal has been to ascend the tower to stop Rezlus, but, as it turns out -- he was the LEAST of your worries.
Add to it all the most anti-climactic and poorly animated final QTE event in history (which, btw, made me want to chuck the controller in rage not due to difficulty but due to the fact that your character doesn't even have the decency to use his/her OWN weapon to finish the beast). In fact, after all of this, that was the single most annoying instance in the game -- after 12 hours of rage induced fury, I would have at the very least liked to maintain some shred of dignity by offing the final boss with my OWN blade. Instead, my fighter pulls out two belt daggers (?!?!?!?!? where the hell were THOSE the entire game) and proceeds to make stabbity-mcstabbity time all over the final boss's head.
Also, apparently, stabbing giant mythical beasts in their EYE counts as a death blow.
Man, I have to stop writing this review now. I could go on and on, but I didn't realize how terrible this game truly is until I sat down to write the review. I almost wish I had this game on disc so I could at least make it part of a nice marshmallow roast or something. As it stands, though, it's sitting on the hdd of the ole' XBOX, and all I can do is thank the powers-that-be that in just a few days _Hunted: The Demon's Forge_ is on its way and should at least occupy me with elf boobies long enough to make me forget the tragedy that IS this game.