One of the greatest gaming phenomenon has to be the Diablo series from Blizzard, Diablo II sold by the truck-load as has the expansion pack Lord of Destruction. So does that leave room for a new action RPG? Well the guys at Click Entertainment seem to think so, which is not surprising as some of the original Diablo team make up this band of developers.If you played the demo that was released you’ll have had an early taste of the action and based on that we were really looking forward to this game but we were certainly in for a surprise. The demo really doesn’t give a real feel for the gameplay in the final version, it’s more of a mish-mash of different features in the game.Right time to press on. Throne of Darkness follows the story of a group of Samurais whose Daimyo has been slain by an evil Dark Warlord and it’s your responsibility to see order restored to the land and squash the might of the Warlord and his minions. All pretty standard good vs evil stuff.We mentioned the Samurais (plural) in the story and in Throne of Darkness you can control up to 7 characters all at once. Now think about it, if you played the Diablo games, the main drive was to level your character up. Well things just got a lot tougher, imagine trying to level up seven characters all at once. Now that’s a challenge and that’s what Throne of Darkness throws at you. In the game you have seven characters all of different classes, Leader, Berserker, Brick , Ninja, Swordsman, Archer and Wizard and you can play any of these characters controlling a maximum of four at any one time. While you control the four characters the other 3 remain in the Daimyo, which is a safe-haven.While you’re out adventuring there is a hot-key which you can click to transport and replace any of your characters with the others resting in the Daimyo. While in the Daimyo the characters will replenish their Health and Ki (mana) and there is also an added bonus, you can bring your characters back to life. If during a battle one of your characters dies, you can transport him back to the Daimyo to be resurrected, but there is a condition. The Daimyo itself has a certain amount of Ki which is indicated by a purple bowl on the Daimyo screen and each time you bring a character back to life it uses about 50% of the Ki in the bowl. The Daimyo’s Ki automatically recharges over time but because there’s not a constant supply you need to make tough decisions about which characters you want to use in certain battle situations. This prevents having all your best warriors out of action dead with no Ki in the Daimyo to bring them back to life.The whole character management thing all sounds rather complex but in fact it’s very simple in practice and Click have come up with a good system to allow players to utilise all seven characters in the game. Although it would have been difficult to do the character control any other way it does have a couple of niggly flaws. The main problem is with items, trying to find items on your characters to give to other characters when you can only have 4 in play is tricky. You basically need to remember who exactly has holds what before bringing the character back into play. There is also no shared currency which means every time you want something that costs money you need to find the character with the right amount instead of just having the cash pooled centrally amongst all the characters.What made Diablo and still makes Diablo II so popular are the items in the game. Not wanting to be outdone in the shopping department Throne of Darkness delivers as far as items are concerned. Items in Throne of Darkness come under a few different categories and they way they work is a pretty complex but did I mention there is no selling items for currency?There are quite a few different item types including armour and various different categories of weapons. There are the bog standard weapons, unique weapons, magical weapons, weapons with slots and cursed weapons. The standard and magical are pretty self explanatory but the slotted weapons are where the fun begins. If a weapon contains slots, various elements you find on your quest can be added to the weapons or armour to enhance it. We’re not talking about a couple of elements either, we have found items with 7 slots available!To customise items you need to work with the Priest and Blacksmith at the Daimyo, they can be brought up in the Daimyo interface when out questing. The Priest can purify cursed items and identify magic items. The Blacksmith can then customise the items based on what you give him. Customising takes time and money so you need to make sure you’ve been collecting the gold on your travels. An item can be placed in the customisation box then you place the elements into the slots. Once the elements are placed and you have enough fold to carry out he task the customisation begins. The Blacksmith then works on the item, which, depending on how complex the item is, takes time. You can close the interface and carry on playing while he customises in the background.At the heart of the game is this incessant urge to find better items and quality items really do make a difference. The early parts of the game are tough simply because you don’t have the items to do the job, but as the game progreses the better items make things a little easier for your party. There is one gripe though, especially early on and that’s the durability on items, In the first few quests you are constantly repairing which takes time when spread over seven characters. If there was one thing I would change then that would be it.As I mentioned there’s no selling items, your interaction with the two Daimyo characters, the Priest and Blacksmith, is dependent on the items you find and what you give to them. For example, the Blacksmith can create new items for you at a cost but only if you give him items you find on your travels. The more items you give to the blacksmith the more items you‘ll see on the list and the more he will be able to create. This system works well but I can’t help feeling that it would have been nice to be ableto sell items when cash gets tight.The Blacksmith won’t be able to take magical items and this is where the Priest joins in the fun. magical items can be offered to the four elemental gods, Fire, Lightning, Earth and Water. These four elements make up your spell trees and if you give the Priest the magical items you can gain favor with the gods and ultimately increase your spell points to place in your spell trees.Like any good action/rpg character has their own abilities. In ToD Some characters have the same abilities as others and some specialise in their own field of magic. Effectively what this means is you will get to know what spells are what on the icons for each character because some appear on more or one character. With seven to work with this was probably a good idea. Can you imagine trying to get your head round 7 completely different spell trees each with four different element tress in one game.The spell trees are split into the four elements of Fire, Water, Lightning and Earth each with passive, offensive and defensive spells. Some of the most effective spells are the spells that add elemental damage to your weapons. These don’t use up Ki when you’re fighting which means you’re adding magical abilities to the attack no matter what weapon you’re using.There are more offensive spells like Spikes, Firewall and icebolts to name a few. One thing we have found, even with 6+ skill points in the spells, the monsters can withstand the attacks, they really can take a beating making the game pretty tough in some places.One of the nicest features in the game is the ability to a*ign strategies to the four characters you have in play. Through the tactics screen each character can be a*igned a position to stand in battle. This is great when you ant two archers to stand back and shoot while two melee characters go in for the kill. If you don’t a*ign a strategy the characters will just automatically fight the nearest enemy which can be dangerous. As well as positioning the characters, each character can be a*igned spells or weapons for each strategy making the combat interesting and varied.The game is divided up into various quests which become unlocked at certain trigger points mainly surrounding the main quest which is taking control of the Portals in the forests. The play area is quite vast but it’s easy to stay on track thanks to the resizable map which displays roughly where you should be going with green lines showing a patch. Blue lines indicate that you should avoid that area until you unlock the quest. Go down a blue lined area and you can get into a whole lot of trouble with monsters throwing themselves at you. Besides the main quests there are also character sub-quests which become active by talking to NPC characters in the game.Throne of Darkness captures the Japanese age excellently. The graphics are well done and very crisp. Character animation is top-notch, everything moves very smoothly and just about every action can be seen by the player, handy when the combat gets mental. As we mentioned, spell effects do look very nice and even with the larger spells like Firestorm we didn’t experience any slow-down in performance with four characters on screen. Much of the game is spent venturing through forested areas, which do look great, but it would have been nice to have few more break-ups as the quests progress early to midway through the game.The game’s character sounds are brilliant, as you move the characters into formations they will let out a battle cry which eggs you on. The voices of each character are also nice and authentic, thank god they didn’t use anything other than Japanese accents, it would have totally ruined the game’s feel. combat sounds, like spells and weapons sound real enough, so a thumbs up there from us.The games music, which constantly plays, is nice and atmospheric but there probably wasn’t enough variety, some more tunes from the Click music department would have improved the game’s sound.The multiplayer is straightforward enough and you connect through the game itself onto Sierra’s servers. If you have used Battle>Net then the interface will be very familiar which is a good thing. One thing though, do Europeans not play Throne of Darkness online? USEast and USWest are your only choice so unless you have a decent connection, playing the game from Europe may not be such a good idea.Multiplayer games are played ion a King of the Hill style where multiple clans fight to take on the Dark Warlord’s minions in a single game. This is certainly a unique way of playing a game of this style game and looks to be proving popular online so far. This style of play is certainly ideal for clans/guilds.Once the winning team takes out the Dark Warlord they become his minions and the game starts over. Games will take some time to complete but they are challenging. Take note though your single player characters cannot be used online so you’ll need to go out and level them up.Throne of Darkness does have it’s niggles, mainly with managing items around the characters but you do get used to it and the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. There are many similarities with the look of the game’s interface and the Diablo series of games, but we certainly think that’s not a bad thing. The old saying ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ springs to mind, and besides, remember some of these guys helped create Diablo in the first place.ToD is very addictive and its so well put together with great looking graphics and tasty sound effects. I can’t recommend this game enough to action/rpg fans, it may take a while to get into, but its one of the best new action/RPG games this year, it will keep you hooked.
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