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Din's Curse: Demon War

"You might find just the thing to help you bridge the time between now and other titles with more familiar franchise names."

In the town of Sorod...

...it had grown very quiet indeed.
There are few of us left, thought Wildon.

Wildon's wife lay starving in silence. When the hero had arrived, Wildon had been too awestruck to say anything, too ashamed to mention their need. But his wife, no, she always had more courage.

"We're starving, hero," she had said. "Without help from you we will die."

It had been the simple truth, but Wildon hadn't wanted to admit it. There was no one left in Sorod who had enough of anything for charity anymore – the only ones left now were those too poor or too stupid to leave.

The folk of Sorod had heard from neighboring towns that demons were afoot, appearing from beneath the earth. But like most towns here, the populace had lent little more than a sympathetic ear and prayed to the great god Din that the troubles would not reach them.

Din did not answer those prayers, for the storms came soon after the rumors. Terrible storms of violent lightning that struck the earth, and sometimes the townsfolk, almost as if some malevolent force was aiming for – or toying with – them. A terrible crack in the earth appeared, leading to a dungeon wherein fell beasts and yes, demons, lay in wait... but for how long? How long until the demons became bold enough to invade Sorod itself?

And so the folk of Sorod prayed again, this time for deliverance. Was this hero the answer?

"He said he'd return," Wildon's wife whispered.

A mighty peal of thunder rolled, followed by a terrible scream as the lightning claimed another. It ripped through the roofs of the huts, leaving nowhere to hide.

Eyes wide with terror, Wildon looked out his window as the smell of charred flesh hit his nostrils. His stomach rumbled with desperation at the smell.

And then he saw it: the demons pouring forth from the scar in the earth. Those folk with strength enough left to plea for mercy did so, but found none.

"Has he returned?" Wildon's wife croaked, mistaking the sounds of horror for those of hope.

Wildon drew his tiny blade and stood over his starving wife.
This one thing I will do with my wife's courage, he thought to himself.

He couldn't know that she had died with that question on her breath, the hunger and sickness taking her. He couldn't know as he stood defending her corpse, facing the end of Sorod.


Every Town a Story

This, and other stories like it, happen when I play Din's Curse. Sometimes the stories have better endings, sometimes worse. But there is always a story, with my hero at the center of it.

The actual plot components provided by Din's Curse at the start of the game are simple. Cursed by the mighty god Din for sins unspecified, you must walk the earth atoning for your misdeeds. Thus, you travel from town to town, trying to right wrongs and save the folk within from the awakened demon hordes that lie beneath the earth.

It's a thin wrapper to be sure, but I think it works wonderfully. When you start the game you build your character from one of six classes (seven in the expansion, which is what I played and will be reviewing here). Then you'll create your first town, based on how difficult you want things to be. This choice applies for this town only – you can always mix things up in the next town. Everything about the town is randomly generated based on a few parameters you pick. Difficulty is the most important, with the levels of monsters (and loot) scaling up or down accordingly. You can also select a "low stress" town if you want to take your time, or you can really spice things up with increased invasions and other variables. But once you hit that button to create the world, you are immediately thrust into the town, with the god Din who cursed you standing right there staring down at you, judging you, ready to provide your first quest.

All elements of a town, from its name and the names of the NPCs to the villains and the quests, are randomly generated. Nothing about the town is static. If you just stand around, all kinds of stuff starts to happen. The villain on the 8th floor of the dungeon down there? He's not just sitting there waiting for you to come kill him. He's building some horrible thunderstorm machine. Or raising undead. Or opening gateways to more demons. That NPC there? He's not just standing around. He might actually be starving. Or he might see the arrival of the hero, once you've proven yourself a bit, as a good chance to get a mining operation started.

Each town really does live and breathe in Din's Curse, and perhaps even more importantly, each dungeon. When you set foot in your first dungeon you'll probably see a major difference right away between Din's Curse and Torchlight or Diablo or other hack and slashers like this – there is an entire ecosystem at play here. The enemies aren't just waiting for you to kill them. In many cases they are fighting each other, gaining their own experience and getting stronger themselves! Even the townsfolk can manage to fend off a stray demon or two.

In this sense, Din's Curse provides the player with a true sense of urgency. While you need to take time to gather loot, prep in the town, and take care of the occasional starving NPC, at the same time every second you spend doing one of those things is a second you are giving evil to grow stronger.

There are endless stories to be found here because of this gameplay. The story above is adapted from a town I miserably failed to save while playing for this review (names have been changed to honor the dead/hide my shame). But if you give Din's Curse a try you'll have many moments like this yourself. Moments where you are so very close to finding that key villain to stop him from building some earthquake machine, only to receive word that two more townspeople are starving AND a demon horde just broke through a few levels up and is storming toward the dungeon entrance. Do you turn around and stop them? Do you plod forward and hope the townsfolk can hold them off long enough for you to kill the source?

It doesn't just matter in terms of the narrative you are creating for yourself – if enough townspeople die, then you fail. Which means Din will not be pleased. And remember, the overarching goal here is to get yourself back in the good graces of ol' Din so that you can be released from the curse.

Even though the actual scripted narrative in Din's Curse solely consists of the simple premise that you are a bad person and Din is forcing you to make up for it, there is so much more here due to the wide variety of the procedurally generated quests each town has to offer. Yes, in the end you start to recognize many of these situations if you play enough, as there are a finite number of combinations for the content, but it won't be for quite some time. I'm still running into new situations just because of the number of possibilities on offer.

My story score of 85% reflects the stories you discover for yourself and your character while playing the game – not a straightforward narrative like Mass Effect or other titles. If you need NPCs exchanging copious amounts of dialogue with your character in order to give credit to a game for "storytelling," the story score would be closer to something like 60% because there is very little of that here. Adjust your review takeaway accordingly.

Sounds Good, Let's Play

It isn't all glorious tales of heroism and tragedy though. As great as the dungeon concepts and questing itself are, there are some gameplay deficiencies here compared to really polished titles like Torchlight.

Right up front, the simple act of swinging your weapon simply is not as satisfying in Din's Curse as it is in Torchlight. Let's be clear here – Din's Curse does an adequate job of covering the basics. The sound effects are decent and give you plenty of necessary audio cues for what's happening. The right-click mapping system is very effective: you're allowed to map multiple actions to the right mouse button and trigger them with some extra keys. You've got your standard hotkey system and a familiar inventory complete with bags that can have multiple slots of their own, and one thing Din's Curse really does well is give you plenty of equipment options for armor, cloaks, helmets, gloves, etc. You will have an absolute blast sorting through all of your loot.

But when it gets down to it, the whole thing feels a little sluggish. Compared to the crisp and satisfying crunch of Torchlight, which really went out of its way to make smashing things particularly gratifying with carefully crafted sound effects and animations, Din's Curse comes up short. The animations are adequate. The powers are cool. The level of customization is huge (the aforementioned seven classes also have specializations). But graphically it's just not as slick as Torchlight, and gameplay-wise it doesn't feel as sharp. Even compared to the old classic Diablo 2, things just seem a little bit off.

As far as the graphics go – they're not great. They look a little blocky, and animations look choppy. Walking around and swinging doesn't seem to look all that natural. There are some exceptions – some of the larger boss monsters look excellent, for example. But in general the graphics aren't really doing the game too many favors. They're not horrible – you won't weep blood to look upon them – but I wouldn't call them polished either.

Now, this shouldn't keep you from trying this game. There is so much upside here in the procedurally generated content and the viciousness of the dungeons. But it simply has to be mentioned because in the end, this is a hack and slasher, and as such you'll be doing copious amounts of left-clicking. What Torchlight got so very right was making that left click more satisfying in my opinion than any hack and slasher before it. Din's Curse just isn't in that category – sometimes it feels like I'm swinging through mud, and sometimes there's so much stuff flying around that I just can't quite nail down precisely what I want to hit.

While the sound effects are merely adequate, the music bears mentioning because of its implementation. The music is cued in the dungeons by various events, meaning that it swells when you start hacking demons and then fades away when you're walking around. The rise and fall of the music is like being a conductor of death – the more you wade into combat, the more the music seems to crescendo.

Lastly, Din's Curse does have something else worth mentioning that Torchlight does not: multiplayer. I didn't get a chance to try the multiplayer myself so I cannot comment on it personally, but my understanding is that it plays like the single player game with added help keeping things under control in the form of your friends. Additionally, there is no player cap on the number of connections, so theoretically if you had ten friends with the game all ten of you could take on the demons in a town at once.

Remember Sorod

I absolutely hate saying anything bad about this game because I have been enjoying it excessively. You can get through a single town in one sitting, making it one of those perfect games to play when you've got a half hour or so handy. Many times, that "half hour" turns into far longer, which is really the best compliment I can give a game.

Compared to what I've read so far of Dungeon Siege III, a AAA title which costs twice as much as Din's Curse and the Demon War expansion combined, it seems to me like you can't lose by at least checking out the demo. You might find just the thing to help you bridge the time between now and other titles with more familiar franchise names.


© 2011 Masque Publishing, Soldak Entertainment. All rights reserved.




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