Diablo 2, despite being a sequel, is the title that most clearly defined the action RPG genre as we know it today. The inventory system, the way the loot worked, the monster archetypes, boss runs – you name it, chances are good that Diablo 2 either invented it or perfected it. Seven years ago.
So, jumping forward to 2007, where computers have multiple cores and chances are your video card has more memory than the entire computer you envied back then, the word terabyte is in common parlance and everyone has a blog, it would be reasonable to expect that a game “in similar vein” would improve the experience. Wouldn’t it?
Loki, developed by Cyanide Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive, is purportedly such a game. It’s a top-down (you can zoom in but the game is unplayable up close, so don’t) hack’n’slash game where the goal is to level up and mow down countless bad guys with gay abandon. You get the idea...it’s not groundbreaking. You’ve done it before. But that’s okay – we don’t want every game to be a genre breaker; it’s nice to know what you’re going to get sometimes.
There are a number of different characters to choose from, all of which are going to seem pretty familiar. Based in four different cultures (Greek, Aztec, Norse and Egyptian), your basic ranged and melee classes are covered here. Each character has three skill trees (just the same as Diablo 2 or even more so, World of Warcraft) in which you can spend regularly earned points to gain new abilities. Unlike World of Warcraft or Diablo, each of these trees requires unique points. For example, the Norse warrior can earn (and spend) Odin or Thor points – but if he wants a Thor skill, he’ll need to spend a Thor point to get it.
Each of the character races has a unique starting land – on completing the quests in that land, the character can choose which of the remaining three lands to visit (and conquer) next. Once the game has been completed, you will unlock the next difficulty level – there are three in total. Each increase in level comes with the requisite increase in monster difficulty and, of course, loot quality. Basically this game almost exactly resembles Diablo 2 – at a high level. Where it doesn’t resemble the seminal classic is what we’re going to talk about next.
Graphically, Loki is pretty decidedly average. There are nice bits (the characters, while generic in design, are well implemented and look smooth), but on the whole, it looks pretty ordinary. If you’re looking for a pretty Diablo clone, this isn’t it (something like Titan Quest would be a far better option). Not only is it average looking, that’s where it peaks – you’ll likely have to fiddle with the graphics options and have a pretty impressive rig to get that high at all. On the review machine, it was hard to even get the text to be legible, let alone readable without really noticing it (the goal for game text). You’ll likely need to dial down the options to get it to skip along at anything approaching a half-decent framerate – despite it not actually looking even remotely impressive with things dialled all the way up.
The interface for Loki is a mixed bag. Many of the familiar keys (such as “I” for “Inventory”) are present, however a large number of usability problems (ranging from the annoying to the downright horrible) are present, such as an unpredictable loot interface, horrible camera controls, an archaic inventory system, a bizarre inability to talk to NPCs from time to time, massive load lag (despite installing a whopping 7GB onto your hard disk) and many other issues abound.
The animation in Loki is another area where things are oddly inadequate. The character’s running animations, for example, without exception don’t “loop” very well. What this means is that, as you run around the game world, your character appears to limp or for some other reason jerk between iterations of its run cycle. Additionally, the camera is tightly bound to this animation cycle, which results in it jerking as it scrolls around the game world. Even worse, NPCs, monsters, townfolk, etc all appear to jerk around the screen with extremely limited frames of animation – almost as though they are made up of 2D frames of animation (as Diablo and Diablo 2 were), despite actually being 3D animations! The characters don’t even move around smoothly, appearing to only have around 8 different angles they can face – much as you’d expect from an old game like Diablo, not what we’ve come to expect from a modern 3D game.
The gameplay itself is, in a word, dull dull dull. I know that’s technically three words but they’re all the same so I figure that’s close enough. There’s nothing interesting happening, you don’t care about the robotic, jerking townsfolk that the monsters are threatening and the super boring, no-AI-whatsoever enemies are quite possibly the single most boring (they’re all the same, they just look different) enemies ever imagined. Ever. EVER. They don’t even look very good – from the default camera view, you often have no idea what it is you’re fighting. Indistinct, boring, no-AI, bland enemies do not a compelling experience make.
So, should you buy it? Absolutely not. Sure, it’s only a $60 game but that doesn’t actually make any difference. Should you rent it? Only if you like watching slow installation programs that install archaic copy protection systems and visual studio libraries (that’s seriously amateur stuff, for the record) as that’s probably the most compelling thing this title has going for it. If someone offers you this game for free, I suggest you refuse.