Developer: Iron Lore
Release Date: March 5, 2007
I do love my vocation. I get to play games and tell people whether or not they should plunk down their hard-earned shekels on them. If I could pay the rent doing this, I'd be the happiest nerd alive. However, this isn't a platform to wax poetic regarding my occupation; it's supposed to be a review of Immortal Throne, the expansion pack to Iron Lore's Titan Quest. If you didn't feel that butchering mythology's greatest arch-villains was enough the first time around, now you have the opportunity to go back and mix in a little deicide for good measure. Good times.
I feel that I should preface today's write-up with a slight disclaimer. You see, there is no possible way I could have undertaken this assignment without a certain amount of bias, simply because Titan Quest was my favorite game of last year, and is in fact on my "Top 10 of All Time" list — "with a bullet," as it were. As such, I was predisposed to look upon this under a favorable light. However, before you cry foul, allow me to point out that my bias could just as easily work against Iron Lore. As a blithering fanboy, my expectations are higher than those of the casual player. Even the slightest infraction to the shine on Immortal Throne and I'll notice. You can take that to the bank.
So let's dispense with the small talk and take it as given that you already know what Titan Quest was/is, that you've probably even played at least the demo, and that you've come here just for the goods on what this expansion has to offer. A quick and dirty list for you to peruse: one new Mastery (Dreams, somewhat of a hybrid psionic/magic skill set), a new "caravan" system that allows you to store items, all new relic sets to collect, scrolls that offer a one-time-use spell effect like summoning a Cyclops to fight for you, a slick artifact feature (more on that later), many new monsters, a whole new act that follows the events of the battle on Olympus, a higher level capacity, and some elegant graphical polish that gives the entire game some new gloss. Iron Lore has packed quite a great deal into this package.
Warning: If you haven't yet completed the original Titan Quest campaign, skip ahead because there are some spoilers in the next paragraph.
The story arc picks up exactly after the death of Typhus in the ruined circle of Gods on Olympus. After witnessing a mortal defeat a titan, Zeus and the other Olympians realize the dawn of the age of man has truly arrived and decide to leave the prime material. All of the gods pack their bags and bail ... except, it seems, for Hades, lord of the underworld. He sees the departure of the pantheon as an opportunity to rule the world and proceeds to unleash armies of Daemons upon the worlds of both the living and the dead. Without Zeus around to ensure his compliance, the God of the Dead no longer serves the needs of final passage for souls on their way to Elysium. The shade of one prophetic seer reaches out to the last hope for balance — you, the bane of the titans.
Here endeth the spoilers.
Naturally, the bulk of Immortal Throne takes place in Hades, the shadowy lands that exist between the living and the dead. Far from being a single solid area to just stroll into, Hades bleeds into and blurs with the physical lands of life. The further one delves into the lands of the afterlife, the less one sees of the sun. Expect a great deal of gloom to go with your doom. It's not all one big tragic goth poem, though; you do get some quality time in Elysium itself, which is sunny and bright enough to be almost painful. There's also plenty of illumination to be offered by the semi-constant fires burning from the war raging all around you.
Wisecracks aside, Immortal Throne is quite dark. This is essentially a matter of necessity, since the game is set in the land of the dead after all. However, some people might not have my own personal morbid obsession and be disturbed by the excessive lack of light. This one of my very few criticisms for the expansion, and it's a variable critique based on one's point of view.
The content is excellent; there's plenty of bang for your buck. The journey from Olympus through the River Styx, the tower of judgment, the wars in Elysium, and finally on to Hades' palace, should take you slightly longer to complete than Greece, the first act in Titan Quest. Along the way, you will have fully 26 side-quests to complete, as well as the multi-tiered main plot. The writing and diversity of quest content is just as rich as the original game, meaning it's second to none. Also, the challenge is considerable; playing through using my main avatar at level 47 I almost died several times, and even did manage to die twice. Immortal Throne is a solid precursor to the difficulties offered by the Epic and Legendary modes. Naturally, the experience is generous as well. By the time I managed to wrap up the final quests, I had rolled over to level 50. Not bad, considering that the normal level at which I was playing is meant for characters in the 30-level range.
Artifacts are one of the more notable new features, and one of the new toys that is introduced to not just Immortal Throne itself, but the entire game. The basic breakdown is this: You find "arcane formulae" as you adventure, either via quest reward or as loot. These are essentially recipes for items of great power. Provided you have the ingredients asked for by these formulas, you can then go to a new NPC class called an enchanter and pay to have the artifact created. These items have a new slot in your equipment window, just underneath your main weapon slot. The effects are always on, and they are very powerful. Even the weak ones are impressive.
The artifacts seem to come in two tiers. Basic artifacts are usually a matter of relic sets (something players usually just have lying around anyway), a specific scroll, and some money. It's usually not that difficult putting one of these together; the most you have to put up with is teleporting from town to town looking for a vendor who sells the scrolls you need. Their effects are handy, but not usually all that flashy: resistances, statistic bonuses, and perhaps some form of damage increase. The next level up is where the real flash can be found.
Greater artifacts are created in the exact same manner, but their ingredients aren't relic sets, but other artifacts, thereby making them significantly more difficult to complete. "Extremely rare," even. However, if you can pull off the creation of a greater artifact, the reward is superb. Not only are their bonuses greater, but they also have a spectacular power associated with them. For example, one of the formulae I have (I've yet to complete a greater artifact) is for an item called a "Soul Prism." Its description lists Necromancy as an ability bestowed by the artifact; while you're wearing the Soul Prism, every single time you take melee damage, you will summon skeletons that fight for you, up to a maximum of six! I want this thing so bad I can almost taste it. We all love armies of undead fighting for us. Another greater artifact, Fury of the Ages, lists a spray of super-heated water jets that spray out, again whenever melee damage is taken. Combat gets messy, but it's a small price to pay for becoming the personification of warlike hot springs.
Now that I've spent far longer than I intended describing a single new treasure type, how about I comment on the graphics? After all, this is still the main drawing card for us PC gamer types. Immortal Throne is surprising on this front in that it adds in display upgrades. Most expansions don't actually tinker with the engine at all, opting to merely give you more of what you've already seen. Well, Iron Lore has done this too — there's still an excess of beautifully detailed environments and tons of new models with less "recycling" than I expected. However, there are also a host of new upgrades to the 3D that pushes the entire experience up a notch or two: enhanced bloom lighting, tightened texture details, all new particle effects, and greatly increased reflection shaders. Going back and re-playing Greece, Egypt, Babylon, and China is more gorgeous than ever.
Sadly, here I must take a moment out from my effusive praise and point out a couple of drawbacks. One, you'd better hope you have a powerful machine to smoothly run all of these new effects. Titan Quest (and Immortal Throne along with it) doesn't scale down very well to older graphics, memory, and CPU hardware. Also — and this is much more specific — there is one entire area in the expansion that crawls to a stuttering, chopping halt. This was extremely disruptive and even led to one of my two deaths due to lag. Altering the graphical settings didn't have any effect whatsoever, so I can only assume that there's more to this than just too much texture-rendering at once. Beware the Halls of Judgment, at least until there's a patch that optimizes this area to a smoother degree.
As you may have noticed by now, most of my time with Immortal Throne was spent with my Defense/Earth fire-warrior. I did dabble a little bit in the new Dream mastery, but not really enough to grasp what its full potential might be. The impression I got was of a class that shared some similarities with the Spirit mastery, mostly due to the ability to summon a nightmare. This is basically a winged eye-stalk with really slick psionic blasts. Yes, it's purple. All it's missing is a horn, and it would fit the song perfectly. It appears that Dream avatars were built with grouping in mind, as they also have a line of trances they can develop that benefit all allies within the mind-melters party. Only one trance at a time can be active, but the effects are quite potent. For example, the first trance one can learn is the "Trance of Empathy," which reflects damage back at the enemy and converts some of the damage you receive to health. While not as overpowered as some of the classes (*cough*Defense/Earth*cough*), Dream doesn't seem as underpowered as the Rogue or Hunting masteries either, so I guess it's "just right," as Goldilocks would say.
I guess it's pretty clear by now that I love Immortal Throne. I like to think that this isn't just my blind love of the franchise, and that it's merely observation of a well executed add-on. Just about every aspect of the game has been polished — the multiplayer server browser is much more comprehensive now, there is a handy little real-time clock in the character window to help you keep track of how many hours you have left before the sun comes up, there are new pet options that allow you to control minion behavior, the caravan allows you to transfer items between characters so you can twink yourself (sounds dirty, doesn't it?), and there's even a convenient item filter that will prevent you from accidentally picking up vendor trash while you're clicking all over the place in a battle. Also, the music score is every bit as powerful as Titan Quest: a Hollywood film-score composition with professional quality production values. Whoever wrote this knows their music, as well as their music software. The voice acting is just as superb as before, too. In short, there is effectively nothing in Immortal Throne that isn't as good, or better, than the basic game, which makes this an absolute must-have release. There is simply no other action-RPG in existence today that's as good Titan Quest, and Immortal Throne makes the best even better.
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