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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Action/RPG

 

Publisher

Sierra

 

Developer

Click Entertainment

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q4 2001

 

 

- Four warrior dynamic

- The weapon/armor manufacturing system

- Easily navigated interface

- Looks great

- Sounds good too

- Easy access to the blacksmith and priest

 

 

- The ability to swap character makes the game a little easy

- Some micromanagement of the warriors is necessary

- Having to deal with a quickly overflowing inventory, doubly sad seeing as you have seven warriors to carry stuff

- Multi-player is too slow

- Weak magic system

 

 

Review: Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (PC)
Review: Icewind Dale II (PC)

Review: Diablo II: Lord of Destruction (PC)

 

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Throne of Darkness

Score: 7.5 / 10

 

Throne of Darkness is an action/RPG that has absolutely dominated my time. Seeing as two of the head honchos on this game were also head honchos on the original Diablo it's no wonder. At its core Throne of Darkness is a game very much in the same vein as Diablo with the hacking and the slashing and the collecting of magical weapons and doo-dads, but it is wrapped in a number of very interesting idiosyncrasies that help the game stand out from the Diablo series. Between the highly customizable weapons and armor, the four warrior fighting dynamic, and the general joys to be had hacking all manner of demons to ribbons, there are plenty of reasons to give this game a whirl.

 

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The game takes place in feudal Japan where a Daimyo, Zanshin, has struck a deal with an evil force so to rule the country and has taken command of an army of the undead with a healthy mix of demons and underworldly troublemakers to help round out the forces of darkness factor. This tyrant has started to lay waste to the other Daimyos and the player chooses a house to represent then must gather up his seven samurai and head out to put an end to the evil. No matter which house you choose to represent there really isn't a huge difference in how things play out but it adds some variety to the game. The story really isn't strong at all which may be a disappointment to some RPG fans, as it just feels so straight forward. Even the Diablo plots are better than this one and they weren't exactly world renowned as being epics for the ages. Most should be able to overcome this though, as it is the hacking and slashing that is what carries the game, providing the fun. 

 

Controls are plenty responsive and plenty simple.  It's the usual left click on the monsters to hack them up, and right click when you want to use some magic.  Digging around the menus and what not is also very intuitive and the hot keys just make this even easier.  However if you're not much into the hot keys and prefer to click on the icons, be warned that some of them are quite small, so it can be a little trouble some getting where you want in the menus.

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When questing about the countryside players will have seven samurai, total, at their disposal: the Leader, the Berserker, the Brick, the Ninja, the Swordsman, the Archer, and the Wizard. Leader, Brick, Berserker, and Swordsman are very well suited to melee combat, while the other three are best kept in the back to supply ranged support, though they can hold their own for a short time if absolutely necessary in 

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close quarter combat. Only four of these seven warriors can be in the party at any one time, the rest have to wait at the castle until you call upon them. This can be done instantaneously, simply by clicking on the icons for the chosen warrior in the field, then clicking on the icon of one of those in the castle, resulting in their switching places, assuming you've hit the command to start swapping characters. Once a warrior is taken from the field and teleported back to the castle he will slowly begin to regain any health he has lost as well as recouping lost magic. Unfortunately more often than not this ability to switch characters only results in the game becoming easier since if your party is really weak or half-decimated you need only find a nice quiet area then slowly switch the characters off to the castle until they are all healed, then maybe fix yourself a cup of coffee as you wait. 

The combat is quite interesting, because instead of only dealing with the one warrior players must deal with up to a four person party at any one time. To keep things a little more simple players only actually control one member of the party at a time while the others are on auto pilot, controlled by the AI. The computer controlled characters can be setup in advance to be highly defensive or offensive, and lean towards melee, ranged, or magical attacks which work well to keep these fighters behaved. However they still do require some management as they can wander off sometimes and get themselves killed if you aren't careful. Switching between the characters is easy even in a pinch, even when being swarmed.

 

The magic system, however, isn't all that special.  There are a lot of spells, but most of them you'll never use.  Magic is based on the four Aristotelian elements, fire, water, air, and earth, and you get the standard mix of offensive and defensive spells.  It's too bad all you really need to do is pick one or two spells per element and max them out in order to have a devastating magical onslaught at your disposal, it would have been nice if it was necessary to pay more careful attention to magic.  As it stands, just pick a couple of powerful offensive spells and have at it.  Monsters will be cut down left and right this way.

When defeating enemies they often drop items, weapons, and armor on the ground, much like in the Diablo games. Some of these pieces may be snappy attire that's great to throw on and boost the armor class with, while other items are weaker than what you already have. However, instead of becoming useless throwaways that will quickly be discarded, these items can be given to the blacksmith to be used as raw material so he can make you new armor or weapons. The more material you give him, the bigger and better the weapons and armor he can make, and they get very powerful in time. This system is great because it gives you a reason to scoop up each and every thing you find so to use it as raw materials. Magic items can also be given away, but to a priest instead, allowing those who donate to slowly increase their magical strength, instead of just waiting for their next level-up. The only downside to all of this is that it causes pack rat syndrome as you load up on items that then get cluttered with other items you don't want to get rid of, so you must frequently give stuff to the blacksmith and priest, instead of being able to clobber monsters for a good, long time, then go to those two when you're damn well good and ready. On a bright note you don't have to physically walk all the way to the priest or smithy to deal with them, you just need to hit their respective icons at the bottom of the screen and a window pops up, then you just get down to business and you're done. Joy! Much of the weapons and armor also have slots on them to add gems, and parts from fallen beasts to merge with them, augmenting the armaments with new abilities like poison protection for armor, or adding fire to attacks on weapons. Some of the armor and weapons have a ton of slots too, so they can get some very interesting combinations of abilities added to them.

 

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Wandering around, though, is quite fun. There is a very good sense of exploration in Throne of Darkness as there are all sorts of paths to take, some bringing you to the big quest points in the game, others providing nice interludes and extra special treasure. There is a map you can open up in the corner of the screen to help you keep from getting lost, but it's much more fun keeping it closed and figuring things out on your own. Just like Diablo there are teleportation markers throughout the game to get you around faster, but overall the way that the maps are setup there is plenty of exploration to be done, but it is extremely well paced, preventing it from becoming tiresome.

In terms of aesthetics, Throne of Darkness looks very good for the type of game it is. The characters are all highly detailed and quite big, not the tiny, somewhat non-descript critters we usually see scurrying around the screen in PC RPGs. Environments too are very detailed, the trees, foliage, buildings, everything is just so detailed that it's flabbergasting. On top of this there are some very pretty lighting effects to be seen when spells are cast, especially the lightning. What was particularly nice to see was that there was no choppiness in the framerate when a lot of characters were on screen, considering the high level of detail on screen, this was a very pleasant surprise. The audio side isn't quite as much of a show stopper, but it gets the job done well. The spells make the appropriate zaps and sizzles, the explosions sound good, and the clanging of weapons on armor are realistic. On top of that the voice acting is actually tolerable, a rarity indeed in gaming, granted the accents sound more like that of a kung-fu movie from the 70s, than authentic Japanese accents, but it could be a lot worse, and thankfully it's not.  As for music, it is more subtle, and hidden off in the background.  A lot of it sounds like Tyco drums, but is more than enough to properly set the tone for the different situations.

 

There is also the option to play Throne of Darkness online.  This way you can have a number of people controlling the different characters in the party, but that pretty much defeats the point of having the whole four warrior dynamic in the first place.  The other way to go is have a race to defeat Zanshin with other players, each one controlling a different set of samurai from a different house.  Once someone defeats him the game goes into a king of the hill mode where the winner takes control of Zanshin's personal guard (zombified versions of the samurai) and the players try and use their samurai to seize control of the area.  The only problem is that even with waypoints opened up ahead of time to speed up travel it still takes a bloody long time to get to Zanshin and beat him, so it just doesn't lend itself to pick up and play as much as other RPGs with online features do.

So, despite being like Diablo at its core, Throne of Darkness is still a very worthwhile game to look into getting. Just the little idiosyncrasies like collecting materials and mixing and matching items to add to the slots, and managing a four man fighting force make the game stand out on its own, the rest is gravy.

- Mr. Nash

 

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