Over the years, at least two stereotypes have established themselves in the gaming world: Doom and Diablo clones. Since FPS games don’t make the object of the divine curse in this article, I’ll turn back the time to Diablo, the series that defined hack’n’slash and probably killed whole generations of rodents in the last decade. And even if not all gamers like the “kill all, find loot, solve the mission, repeat” approach, even they have to admit the huge influence of the interactive Satan.
This recipe, both simple and popular, also inspired Steven Peeler (ex- Ritual Entertainment – SiN, Counter Strike: Condition Zero, Delta Force: Black Hawk Down: Team Sabre, Legacy of Kain: Defiance) to start a small independent studio, Soldak Entertainment. Since 2004 they gave us action RPGs like Depths of Peril and Kivi’s Underworld, the saga continuing with Din’s Curse.
God of honor in the land of Aleria, Din is upset with you, the hero, for wasting your life with crimes and misdemeanors, so he brings you back to life and curses you: you will never rest until all sins are washed away with good deeds. In this case, this means saving towns from menacing monsters creeping from the underground, with each saved settlement adding to your reputation. In the end, Din is satisfied, you are free from the curse and that’s it. From this point of view I found more consistent the story in Kivi’s Underworld, which was a bit more than a simple pretext to go down in the caves and kill fierce monsters (even though this too can be reason enough).
Reasons for being the good guy
The word „random” defines this game: all kind of loot showers on the player, the cities are randomly generated, so are the underground levels, with the number of caverns usually varying between nine, 11 or 13, depending on your luck. You get the main quests from Din and three other NPCs who’s survival is crucial to saving the town. From this point of view, a big plus (or a big pain in the butt, depends on taste) is the dynamic world. Because the events in Aleria don’t stop just because you went to town to sell stuff or refill your stock of life potions.
On the contrary, you can fail a mission in level 5 because you never got to save a NPC, while at level 8 there’s a rebellion going on. Or the opposite, you are cleaning up level 3 and suddenly realize that the town is under attack by Bloodsavage level 10 and you have to go back quickly, otherwise everything is lost. Also, different NPCs come and go into town, so you might stumble upon a vendor in some underground corner. Various missions can come along without actually accepting them, like saving an NPC from a horde of zombies or killing an unexpected boss. Since the maximum number of quests that you can undertake simultaneously is only six, this approach helps a lot with the flow of the gameplay and to gain more reputation.
The levels, together with the whole Aleria, are also subject to change. A bug on one hand (partially solved with a patch regarding their frequency), on the other an intentional event, the levels can literally come crashing down on you. You go in for a stroll and boom, an unexpected cave-in throws tons of boulders at you. Of course, if you live through that, but the boss ends up as „cave-in kill”, that’s perfect. But the hero can also be killed by the cave-in (at which point you can say buh-bye to a hardcore character) or be sent two levels lower, right in the middle of a monster mob.
Other random events come to change gameplay and the way you go around dungeons. Plague, fear, darkness, wars between factions or unexpected alliances can call for you to „solve” them. Some of them happen from the start and are mentioned in the chat box and have a short description on the map; others are hidden and can obviously surprise you in the most inopportune moments, especially when you DON’T have a teleporter around.
In another case, I had to save an NPC at level 5. I found him and saved him… or so I thought, because he started hitting me and scream „Over here! Help me! I don’t want to die!”. I kept running from him, maybe he changed his mind, but in the end I had to kill him like the traitor he was. Mission failed, but at least he had some good items on him.
Even the most common barrels can create nasty surprises, exploding when you’re usually low on health (Murphy’s laws at their finest). Others release poison or have alcohol and oil inside, so you can set them on fire if the hero has the skill. A torch that you destroy just for fun or the pillars can unleash new cave-ins that tend to repeat; if you have an NPC with you, stay away from those unstable areas, the idiot you rescued isn’t immortal and you don’t get experience for „the most stupid death ever”.
Just like Diablo, the hero (or heroine) can choose one of six main classes:
- Warrior, muscled brute for whom any weapon is good enough to kill the monsters;
- Rogue, the stealth killer and also extremely skilled in unlocking doors and coffers;
- Priest, warrior of light, with a sword in one hand and the healing spell in the other;
- Wizard, master of fire and ice;
- Ranger, focused on bows, but also a shape shifter;
- Conjurer, specializing in dark magic, curses and summoning undead creatures to fight for him from beyond the grave.
Each of these classes has three skill trees, but here comes the trick to justify the enumeration above. With one less skill tree, all classes can be merged at your leisure (hybrid) into more than 100 variations, from the magician fighter to the priest ranger or the stealth warrior using dark magic like no other. This variety greatly improves the replay value and you will certainly be tempted to try at least two or three different characters besides a favorite combination. Who knows, you might discover, just like me, that a pure warrior isn’t that fun in his quest for slaughter like a hybrid using both a sword and fire magic.