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Old Mon, 14th Jun '10, 9:10pm   #1
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Default Din's Curse Review

So, I had a chance to get a review copy of a new game to play and offer my deep and profound thoughts to our community. The game is called Din's Curse, offered by Soldak, and it has a clever premise for why you are there fighting the good fight and bashing (or zapping) various nasties and saving the fine folk of whatever town you happen to be in (other than, of course, getting more money, finding better loot and becoming more powerful in your own right).

The underlying story of the game is that you were a really bad/sad/disappointing guy/gal in a past life and the god Din has decided to give you (nay, force on you) a second chance to make things right.

It seems that the world where Din's Curse is set is in really dire straights. There are various small towns (each complete with exactly one dungeon) that are under attack. The townspeople are generally OK, but they need a hero to save them (and he's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast and he's gotta be fresh from the fight).

Enter your character. You can pick from the traditional rogue, fighter, priest, wizard, plus a ranger or conjurer (here's a link to the manual which has a basic class explanation and skill listings). Each pure class comes with three sub-specialties that provide access to skills. You can also be a hybrid, which means you can customize it so that you can mix and match the sub-specialties to allow for access to certain skills that you like that bridge two character types. Because the hybrids have the potential to be more powerful than pure class, Soldak has decided that you can only pick two sub-specialties if you are a hybrid (as opposed to the three that come with each pure class). It's a balance issue and it probably makes some sense.

The skills are also interesting. Unlike, say, Diablo, it's not a skill tree in the classic sense where you need to be a certain level or have mastered other skills prior to obtaining a higher level skill. Each time you level up you get skill points. When you have the requisite number of points that a particular skill demands, you can get it. Subsequent picks of a skill you already have cost more points than the last time you picked that skill and give commensurate benefits. So, if you are willing to hoard your points early, you can pick up a higher level skill with a relatively low level character. Or, you can have a bunch of less powerful skills for more variety. [Here's a fighter highlighting a skill he doesn't have yet] [Here's that fighter highlighting a skill he does have]

Without getting into too much detail on the skills, some are active, some are passive, some require mana and some don't. You will quickly find a couple of go-to skills that you use all the time and will just as quickly realize that something that you thought was interesting and cool is neither. It happens and you live with it. [A conjuror skill I opted against] [Conjuror skill screen showing the warlock tree]

You also get the typical stats found in these games: strength, dexterity, vitality, intelligence and spirit (directly leads to mana). Every level-up gives you five points to distribute to the stats. You have armor, mana, health, stamina, attack and defense as well, but they are derivative of your class, stats and gear. [Fighter's stats]

So, you pick your character and start. One thing immediately leaps out at you: These towns have a laundry list of problems and you see the list when you start. [Starting a town] There are several NPC's that are your source of quests in every town, the warmaster, steward, apothecary and Din. [Talk to Din -- he's a bit pompous] Other NPC's can give you quests as well. [Get a quest or two] The quests have boiled down into three main types. Fedex quests (bring me a dozen dark elf ears), Enforcer quests (kill the nasty so and so before he becomes god of the dungeon), or what I call "Wolf" quests (nod to Pulp Fiction). Wolf quests are the ones where you need to fix a problem. Either someone has information that you need to get, someone needs to get from one place to the next, one of the bad guys is building a dastardly machine that needs to be stopped, etc. These are the most interesting because we've all done multiple Fedex and Enforcer quests and, quite frankly, they aren't new, exciting or anything we don't expect. The Wolf quests can be fun, although sometimes they are just combinations of Fedex and Enforcer quests.

So, what makes the game different? To me, the main ingredient is the dynamic world aspect of it. Time doesn't stand still for you. You cannot accept a quest and take your sweet time doing it. For example, if you need to stop Baddie X from building an earthquake machine and you don't hop to it, then Baddie X builds his earthquake machine and bad things happen to you and the town. If you have to escort an NPC from level 3 to 5 of the dungeon (why you would need to do this, I don't know, but I was given that quest, so I know it's true), and you dawdle on your way to finding that NPC, they may go and do it themselves. Certain vendors come and go from the towns (although you can't do that yourself, until you save or lose the town). [Vendor menu]

Plus, the dungeon develops. The inhabitants aren't just a swell group of monsters all having a nice party until you gate crash. They fight amongst themselves for dominance and that has an impact on what you are doing. They also send scouts to the town to see what’s up, or, sometimes, raiding parties to perform a little constructive mayhem. If you're in the dungeon performing your own mayhem, any number of important NPC's can bite the dust while you mosey around, including the main quest-givers. If it's bad enough, you can lose the town. What's neat is that even if you lose a main quest giver, you have a chance to do something in the dungeon that will help recruit a replacement.

So, let's talk about the dungeons. They are randomly generated, have a random number of levels (so far I have seen as few as five and as many as 14) and are not particularly large. [Dungeon Characteristics] Each level has a teleporting gate which takes you back to town (artificial and silly, but very useful from a game play standpoint). They can have random gates which take you to other levels, as well as particular features such as acid pools, doors that are locked/stuck, health stones (touch them and your health regeneration quickens), mana stones (same thing for mana), torches (light matters in this game), barrels, chests, levers, etc. All the little things a true adventurer desires. The loot you find includes coins (copper, silver and gold), potions (resistances, healing, treasure finding, etc.), weapons and armor (more on them later), and miscellaneous stuff that can aid in mana/health regeneration. [Early loot is just as boring in this game as any other]

The armor and weapons come in several varieties (like Diablo). Regular, non-magical, which can also be rusted or otherwise inferior, common (magic properties but nothing that will cause you to stand up and say "wow"), rare items (which are similar to common but generally have more/better magic properties), set items (similar to Diablo in that they have fixed properties and bonuses for partial/full sets), Elite items (specific properties on a named item that is not random), Artifact items (like Elite only better), and Legendary items (like Artifact items only with extra magic). Put simply, I had a very déjà vu feeling about these things given the amount of Diablo that I have been playing recently. If you are familiar with that game, the last three categories all correspond to uniques of different powers. [Fighter inventory highlighting elite axe]

Some of the mechanics of the game are interesting. When you are looking at or identifying an item, either in your inventory or with a vendor, the game pops up the current item you have equipped in that item's slot so you can compare them. [Here's an example] It will generally list item properties and retail value and, depending on where you are, the selling price you would get. As a general rule, if it's worth more, it's better (duh, that was deep). But not always and a certain type of character may have better use for a less expensive item.

Combat and movement are typical point and click. Left click moves you or does basic attacks. Right click will use a selected skill or do less obvious things, depending on where you are and what you click. It is pretty easy to gain proficiency in the mechanics of the game and they will not hold you back.

My first character was a fighter and I cleared several towns with him to get the feeling for the game. [A snapshot of the ass he kicked] The towns and their problems are random, so you may have all kinds of problems for your level one guy to deal with (and fail at, trust me). You can also have your level 10 character come to a town with a few minor issues in a five level dungeon, where you can literally grab all the available quests (I think the max you can have at one time is six), and go down into the dungeon and save the town in one fell swoop.

Which takes us to another interesting aspect. The goal is to save the town and accumulate reputation. If you waste too much time clearing levels, gathering loot, and exploring, you can lose the town. So, you must restrain your tendencies to explore every nook and cranny and gather every last copper piece and bent knife and focus on the goals. Din doesn't care how rich you are and what a great rig you are rocking; he wants you to save towns and be a proper gofer for all the NPCs around. If that's not your thing, you should think twice about trying this game, because Din's Curse is not about exploring large areas and clear-cutting the forest of bad guys. It's about doing quests, getting reputation, and saving towns.

It changes the rules on you mid-stream, and the monsters can use the same features of the dungeons that you use (levers to trip explosions work equally well for and against you). It's refreshing in a way, but also maddening, as there is no real guarantee that you can actually save any particular town. If it spawns with a bunch of problems and powerful bad guys, you are out of luck. While you can control the relative level of the spawn before it happens, that doesn't mean that you are going to guarantee yourself an easy (or even fair) time of it.

My second character was a conjuror. As is usually the case, the class limits weaponry and armor, but starting stats seemed to be the same as the fighter. The skills ranged from zapping to summoning to curses, although, quite frankly, the character was able to melee with no problem in the early levels and generally crush the opposition. Mana management was much more crucial for this guy once I leveled up a few times and started to rely more on magic and less on bashing (limited armor means I don't want to get too close when the monsters start hitting higher levels). Summoning meat shields was important, in conjunction with judicious zapping. This character was much more likely to just run through the dungeon to get to the quest part, as compared to the fighter who was perfectly content to hack everything to pieces on the way to the quest item. I might try a rogue (sneaking through everything) or maybe a rogue hybrid (sneak around and then pop out to nuke things) on my next run through the game.

As I have not yet really gone deep into the game (I'd say I have played 10 - 20 hours -- edit: Probably more like 25 - 30 by now, but it doesn't change the commentary below), it is obviously too early to comment on replayability and long-term viability. However, I think it has more of a niche appeal than, say, Diablo, which is what I would compare it to (it's nothing like Baldur’s Gate / Icewind Dale although you could argue for a slight similarity to Neverwinter Nights). I think its build choices and loot spawning are not as extensive or addicting as Diablo’s. The strength of Din's Curse is in its immediacy -- do it now or else really is the truth -- and variability, from the random modifiers on towns and dungeons to the changing nature of the enemies you face. Each new town is relatively small and completely self-contained (and random). I've found a few Elite items and I just am not feeling the same addictive joy in item finding as in Diablo. Then again, Diablo ultimately boils down to cool builds and neat stuff, while this allows for a different focus. It is certainly worth a play -- just don't expect Baldur’s Gate 3 or Diablo III out of it, because that's not what it is and not what it is trying to be.

Also, no review is really complete without commenting on things like graphics, hardware requirements, etc., so here we go. My computer is probably five or six years old now and wasn't top of the line then. I have a dual core Athlon with onboard sound and an nVidia 6600 graphics card. So, given that this game runs handily on my machine with no slow-downs and no hiccups or crashes, I would imagine it is fine for just about everyone who has anything remotely similar. The game's website (linked above) has hardware specifications for anyone interested.

Din's Curse offers a multi-player option which I was unable to try out (there appears to be a method for on-line multiplayer, but I was unable to find a server), so I cannot comment on that aspect of it. The graphics and sounds are not going to blow you away (then again, the developer is an indie so there aren't huge pails of money to throw at these things) but they are well up to the task. After all, if you want all the latest graphic bells and whistles, this probably isn't really the direction you are going to go in. I found that the graphics were well able to support the game and did not detract in any way from playability. The sounds were fine, but I'm not really a sound guy, so your mileage may vary on that. They set the mood and let you know when creepy things were happening around you or in the town.

I'd give it 7/10 with the caveat that you are not looking for the next Diablo or Baldur’s Gate. Lower the grade if you are not into the timing thing and raise it if you care more for compartmentalized games where you get to the point.

Last edited by Taluntain; Fri, 25th Jun '10 at 2:01pm.
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Old Sun, 20th Jun '10, 1:59am   #2
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Thanks for the detailed review!
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Old Sun, 20th Jun '10, 6:27am   #3
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The picture hyperlinks all complain about invalid album specified.
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Old Sun, 20th Jun '10, 3:09pm   #4
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How odd... looks like a bug in vBulletin, because the album is set as public, but it looks like it's not visible to regular members. I'll check if we can fix this...

Edit: false alarm, the problem was with duplicate album privacy permissions, it's fixed now.
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Old Sun, 20th Jun '10, 11:37pm   #5
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Yeap, works now. Thanks.
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Old Mon, 21st Jun '10, 12:56am   #6
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Looks interesting. Is there a chance to gain a party or companions?
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Old Mon, 21st Jun '10, 6:32pm   #7
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There is a multi-player option, which I tried to use, but was unsuccessful. Not sure if it was because there was no community out there yet or because I did something wrong. You could certainly play it over a LAN with friends.

As far as companions go, not in the traditional NPC sense as far as I saw. You could summon critters to fight with you, but no interaction.
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