Eschewing complexity for simplicity is a noble and self-serving cause. Who doesn't want to toss out life's hard-to-prepare vegetables and feast on its juicy bubblegum center? But for a gamer, subscribing to a "simpler is better" philosophy is often self-defeating. A more complex game isn't necessarily a bad game; it may very well be a good game with a steeper learning curve. Worse, many games with elementary gameplay mechanics are scaled down to the point of banality. When done properly, however, there's immense pleasure to be had in sitting down to a game that's immediately accessible and entertaining. A well-executed hack 'n' slash RPG can fulfill this Jones. Loki, developed by Cyanide Studios and published by Ascaron (EU) / Focus Home Interactive (US), is billed as just such a title.
Th 218e ere's no dearth of releases in the hack 'n' slash RPG genre, but there are some notable titles which have defined the genre. The Diablo series comes to mind, as does the venerable Icewind Dale series. And let's be honest: fans of the genre are waiting for a sequel, in name or in spirit, to either of those series. While not as polished or revered as the genre's seminal titles, games such as Sacred and Dungeon Siege have kept action RPG junkies busy. So where does Loki fit in the hack 'n' slash catalog? And if it's not a classic, is it at least worth a romp (a dungeon romp - get your mind out of the gutter)?
By any realistic account, this is Cyanide Studios' first attempt at a mainstream title. Loki is a departure from their usual fare of sports management titles; their pedigree as a developer includes the Pro Cycling Manager, Pro Rugby Manager and Horse Racing Manager series. To say that an action RPG is a departure from these titles is an understatement. And while Pro Cycling Manager (the only other Cyanide title I've played) is technically competent, it is graphically underwhelming. To succeed, Loki has to meet contemporary visual standards and deliver engaging gameplay – no short order.
Official Loki Trailer
Character classes are integral to the role-playing experience. Loki offers four character classes, each cribbed from mythology: Greek Fighter, Aztec Shaman, Egyptian Sorcerer and Norse Warrior. In keeping with action RPG tradition, each class has a specialty (save for the Greek Fighter, who is a more well-rounded character). The Norse Warrior is a brute who's adept at hand-to-hand combat; the Egyptian Sorcerer relies almost exclusively on magic in combat, while the Aztec Shaman uses a combination of summoning and magic to inflict damage. Adding depth to the class system are unique quest goals for each character class. The specialized quest system raises the replay value and is a compelling reason to play through the game with a character of each class.
Loki's story is kicked off with an opening cinematic which cryptically recounts the "Awakening of Seth". How the introductory movie links to the in-game story eludes me, and the continuity doesn't improve once the game starts. What little story does exist is murky and hard to follow. Tying the story into the game more effectively would improve the flow and provide some emotional pull. Even a simple story can be effective when it's blended well with gameplay. Here, the story feels tacked on, and any sense of immersion is trounced by amateur voice acting. The voice-overs are so poor and out-of-character that I was forced to turn the volume down to not laugh at them.
A poor story can be partially forgiven if the gameplay is good enough. After all, the meat of an action RPG is engaging in wanton carnage, collecting loot and upgrading. After selecting a character (I chose a Norse Warrior), the fighting commences almost immediately. Following a brief chat with a NPC for some story setup, it's off to save a town from imminent destruction by hordes of invaders. Along the way, various NPCs will offer up bits of story and quests. Quests consist mainly of clearing out dungeons and collecting items (why are NPCs always too lazy to do the footwork, anyway?). Since quests drive the gameplay, it would be nice to see some variation to the quests. At times, completing quests in an RPG can feel a bit like crossing items off a weekend chore list, and Loki doesn't break any new ground in this regard.
2180 Games: Loki
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