|Genre:||Hack n' Slash RPG|
|Release Date:||24th August, 2007 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (sinna01)|
I'm well aware that there are a large number of people online that like to read and re-read my articles in the archive section, dipping into them like treasured literature on cold evenings to recapture some of the magic from that first breathtaking time. These wise aficionados will know that more than once I've said; when it comes to making games, it's better to do something well than to do something new. Imagine their surprise when I actually question that wisdom in this installment! The comment board will be positively aflame with disbelief, I can see it now. The title that has made me question this perceived wisdom is the enjoyable but flawed Hack n' Slash RPG Loki.
From the screen shots, it's easy to see that Loki is based well and firmly on the mold of Diablo. For giggles I recently covered the deeply awful Silverfall without mentioning the father of the genre's name at all, but it would be just too hard this time. In keeping with the advances in technology these days, the view is fully zoomable and roatatable, but with the exception of the POV, we're unquestionably in the big D's territory. The lead artist on Loki recently gave a disarmingly honest interview and said that the games inspiration came in a big way from a lack of Diablo III - so they decided to make one themselves. This is fine and dandy - if you're going to 'borrow', do it from the best - but has French based studio Cyanide pulled it off?
The character design, story, and game structure are nicely integrated in an efficient little plot device. The dark lord Seth is causing all sorts of mischief across four different mythological continuums of the Norse, the Greeks, Egyptians and Aztecs. This in turn gives license to have four different classes of hero; the Norse barbarian, the Greek warrior (re: elf), the Egyptian sorcerer, and the Aztec shaman (the essential difference between the last two classes being direct offensive spell casting on the one hand, and the ability to summons creatures to do the fighting for you on the other). This conceit also gives the handy option to have four distinct worlds populated with the relevant hordes of beasts and goons that the hero can slaughter their way through in turn.
Overall the plot takes a backseat to the action, but despite that it's competently crafted and keeps the action moving along, stopping all the killing from seeming too completely arbitrary. The only area that the designers really seem to have started to wander out of their depth is with the Aztec levels. The rest of the worlds are populated with Snow Giants, Mummies, Thor, Zeus and other mythological big-wigs and stories we all have a passing, if Xena Warrior Princess influenced, understanding of. In the Aztec world, however, along with flying snake gods and zombies we have real historical figures such as Cortez amongst its list of characters - at best jarring, at worst a slightly uncomfortable treatment of the impeding genocide of an indigenous people.
The game play itself is instantly familiar to anyone who's forayed into the genre before. Left click to move or smack a monster, right click to cast a spell or perform selected ability. One bar for health: top up with red potions if the beasts start smacking back. One bar for manna: top up with blue potions if you start losing your mojo. Monsters will then drop loot once in a while, which can either be equipped or sold back at the settlement for a shiny and better bit of kit. Given that this is all a tried and tested formula, the key is in the balance and any novel features. Silverfall, for instance, was not significantly different from this title or Diablo, but was utterly horrible.
The easiest way for the particular features and balances of Loki to be explained is this - it's on the wrong platform. Loki is a fine game, but would nearly certainly be far more at home on your home console. Cyanide went to great lengths to put the Hack and the Slash back into this RPG genre, and have succeeded by the bucket 'o blood full. The beasts come in wave after wave, and on any stage you can expect to slaughter your way through hundreds. Your character does have a weight limit to the loot their can haul, but compared to any other RPG its huge. When do get full, your Scroll of Town Portal analogue is infinite and will pop you to and from the potion and poleaxe shop with utmost convenience. The inventory system is quick and convenient, with equipment easily toggled on an off and potions automatically assigned quickslots.
It's the streamlining of the inventory and controls, compared with the extremely high slaughter rate that makes me think this would all be more at home on a console than a PC. Loki reminds me far more of the excellent Baldur's Gate titles on the Playstation than they do of Diablo - which is by no means a negative criticism, just a suggestion that it might be a little lost on PC. Certainly the attack system that requires you to click on each specifically targeted monster you want to kill (area effect special attacks notwithstanding) when there are hundreds and hundreds on each level quickly becomes monotonous, and would likely have been more fun and less intrusive if you only had to bash the 'X' button.
The sound and graphics of Loki certainly would not be out of place on any of the next-gen consoles, and the engine is one of the best I've seen lately. Even on a laptop of very modest specifications, the game ran smoothly with impressive character animations. The visual style utterly forsakes the trend of realism and restraint in the fantasy genre that's coming along with the likes of The Witcher or Hellgate, and takes us right back to the fantasy genre we saw on album covers of the 80's. Boobs and biceps are bigger than anyone's head, chain mail is once again an acceptable material to make lingerie out of, the valkerie selection process is obviously overseen by Hugh Heffner, and the weapons weigh as much as a Volvo.
A couple of features to look out for on Loki that are pleasingly novel is the weapon forging system, and the skill tree analogue. Nearly all of the weapons you find along the way can be taken back to the settlement and broken down into parts - to be mixed and matched to tweak your chosen pointy stick in exactly the way you choose. These changes will make a visual difference as well, which makes for a very high degree of individuality between two characters of ostensibly the same level. Items of the same class and level will also have slightly differing properties, which will reward the slightly more stat conscious gamer who likes getting the edge in the numbers. Harking back to the console analogy, however, it turns out that there's not a huge advantage to be gained in this system. The action is indeed fast and furious, and should you simply hack hard enough, you'll find that most implements and clobber of the right level will do the trick. The harder difficulty modes reward the player with better kit, so even increasing the difficulty of killing the monsters gets you better blades, proportionately reducing the need to spend much time tinkering with your blacksmith kit.
The other individual approach Loki adopts is regarding its skill tree. By generally leveling up and completing relevant side quests, you can please one of three specific gods specific to your character. These will in turn bestow powers upon you. These three gods basically boil down to bestowing Buffs, Special Attacks, and Abilities and bear more than a passing resemblance in nature and use to those knocking about in World of Warcraft. Despite their slightly generic nature, they are nicely integrated into the character development and the plot of the quests themselves.
The online elements are all there, with co-op mode of up to 6 players with scaling difficulty, as well as arenas for PvP battles and customizable maps. I must admit I didn't foray into the online world much - so if anyone else gets to grips with this feature in the coming weeks or so, maybe they might like to share with the rest of the class.
There are only a couple of major faults with Loki, but they can become fairly glaring after prolonged play. First of all is the variety of enemy - which despite the game having a fairly extensive bestiary overall, can be extremely monochrome over areas of 4 or 5 individual stages. Given the enormous volume of monsters in each level, killing three or four hundred identical monsters that need to be individually targeted can be highly dull, and lends to the idea of this being a better console button basher than a PC RPG. The other major criticism is in whatever code the game uses to generate its random landscapes. The landscape generator can't be completely random, of course, but follows a certain set of criteria for each level. In Loki it feels that these criteria have been set a little more loosely than usual, and the random landscapes can sometimes seem a little more haphazard and surreal than you would expect.
All of the above criticism for Loki might suggest that it's not a good game, but in reality is a perfectly decent title. The trouble with considering Loki is that - as it is so self consciously indebted to Diablo - you can only really point out those places that it has negatively strayed from the mold, as you are all more than familiar with why the original title was so good. This hack n slash RPG is big, brash and shiny, if slightly vacuous and repetitive - which is what would make it such fine console fodder. Recommended for inveterate fans of the genre, but newcomers would be better steered towards the old masters first.
- Well presented and smooth good ol' Swords, Sorcery & Boobs graphics
- Streamlines the Grind - no hiking for miles to and from monsters.
- Intuitive inventory and characters system.
- Like Diablo
Not so good stuff
- Sometimes haphazard levels layout
- Severe lack of monster variety
- Mouse interface does not lend to button bashing
- Not enough like Diablo.