Depths of Peril
Action/RPG fans - hear this! Before you even read this review, click on the demo link at the top of the page and start downloading the 66 Mb file right now. Also clear your calendar for the next couple of days and stock up on Doritos and pizza. I've been trying hard to get into the visually attractive yet somehow unsatisfying and bug-ridden Hellgate: London for a couple of weeks now, but I just keep coming back to Depths of Peril. Apart from not looking quite as pretty as its recently released commercial cousin, it's a better game in nearly all other respects. Now, I'm in a quandary as to how I'm going to describe everything that I love about this game in just a few paragraphs, but here goes.
Depths of Peril is a delicious fusion of a few styles of games and has hit a brilliant balance between tactical decision making, strategic gameplay and plain old button mashing mayhem. The player controls an avatar chosen from 4 diverse classes of hero, living in the barbarian town of Jorvik. The player assumes the role of a covenant leader. A covenant is a guild set up within the town to protect against the encroachment of ravaging hordes of baddies in the wilderness surrounding Jorvik. I guess that in a perfect world there would be one large covenant where all members got along amicably and the ale would flow each night over stories of victory of the Light over the Darkness - but Jorvik is a town in a world that is far from perfect.
In fact, there are up to six rival covenants in Jorvik competing for the admiration of the townsfolk, which is measured in "influence". Influence can be gained via many means such as solving quests for people in town, trading with other covenants, and adventuring and exploring the wilderness. Depending on the amount of influence accrued the covenant also gains taxes from the townsfolk in the form of crystals. These crystals are a type of currency used uniquely by covenants. The town at large use gold, silver and copper pieces for trade, and the player will aquire vast amounts of these as well. A game is won when the players covenant is dominant by either destroying all other covenants in the game, or by forming an alliance with all other remaining covenants. All covenant members lives are bound to the lifestone housed at the heart of each covenant house. Destroy a covenants lifestone, and you'll destroy the covenant. Each time a covenant member dies, a portion of the lifestone's health is used to resurrect them. Lifestone health will very slowly replenish over time, but it needs to be protected from attack above all else in the game; a core game mechanic that is both cleverly implemented and vital to success.
The game runs in real time. This is a key feature. As your party is exploring a dungeon; perhaps searching for a few magical shards for the town apothecary, a rival covenant well may well be far away trying to kill a monster that has been terrorising the town, and yet another two may be at war with one another, with raiding parties assaulting their rivals guild halls. There is opportunity to trade, enter into diplomatic agreements with and raid or declare outright war on other covenants. By inviting another covenant to adventure with yours you'll gain a good diplomatic bonus and form a formidable force together, although the experience points will be shared as well as the glory.
Roguelike fans rejoice! Nearly everything in each game is randomly (yet intelligently) generated, and no two games will be the same. There are some story quests that are persistent between games, and the player is free to solve a few story quests, win (or lose) the game and then start a new game, and continue the story quests from where they left off in the last game. Furthermore, your covenant carries over into an unlimited number of games retaining all items and members. There are a staggering amount of items to horde including artifacts, uniques and set items similar to those in games like Diablo. Relics and tomes can be collected and displayed in the covenant house to add bonus stats and other benefits to your guild.
Recruits can be found in the wilderness or occasionally in town but will often require that you perform a quest for them to prove your valour before they will join your covenant. They have skills drawn quasi-randomly from the skill set applicable to their class, and so two recruits from even the same class at the same level will augment your covenant in different ways. Recruits can also equip certain types of equipment depending on their attributes and so prove to be a good use of some of the better loot that you aquire. There is a good deal of strategy involved in building a powerful team.
I really hope that people aren't going to take a quick look at the screenshots and write off Depths of Peril as just another Diablo clone. Background graphics are fairly basic, and animations can look a little unnatural at times. On a more positive note, there is a day/night cycle and lots of good looking spell effects and the monsters especially look great. Some of the randomly generated dungeons are a little cramped and occasionally difficult to navigate. There are a great variety of tilesets, such that you'll never feel like that you're just grinding through the game - there's a good feeling of progression through the levels (take note, Hellgate!).
In a similar fashion, sound effects and music do not strike as brilliant, but maybe I'm just having so much fun playing the game that I'm not noticing them as much as I might otherwise. In any case, they are more than adequate. Each monster seems to have its own unique sounds as do skills and magic.
Well there you have it. I'm out of space and have only scratched the surface of a gaming experience that is as absorbing as any that I have had this year including the big budget commercial titles. I didn't even touch on the features like the dynamic and persistent questing system where the players actions affect the world state. I love the little features like finding maps that lead to hidden treasure troves, deadly traps (not wimpy ones like Diablo had), covenant guard hire, gambling, cool random events and never knowing exactly what's up ahead. Oh, and then there's the brilliant in-game fiction that can be collected in tomes found around the world and with certain unique items (a distraction that could keep you going for hours), and also a clever skill system for character development that I've yet to see in any other RPG that I've played. All this for $30? Go buy the game already!
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