Throne of Darkness
by Vivendi UIP
If you've seen any screenshots of Throne of Darkness over the last couple of months you may have thought how similar to Diablo 2 it looks. Indeed in our first look at the game some time ago now, we initially thought it played slightly similar to Blizzard's classic. However, after continued playing of the game we have to say that the gameplay is an altogether different experience and in some ways a more rewarding one.
The background to the game is a dark one. The Shogun Tsunayoshi was terrible at leading and left control of Japan to the four Daimyo. Tsunayoshi was extravagant and useless. The Japanese people copied his decadent lifestyle and ignored the gods they had prayed to in harder times. The gods decided it was time for Tsunayoshi to go and told him in a dream that he was dying. Tsunayoshi demanded help to save his life but all failed attempts were punished with death. Tsunayoshi began to practice dark and evil rituals and many were killed. Eventually a Monk offered him the Elixir of Immortality. Tsunayoshi drank the elixir and instantly recovered. It soon become obvious that he had changed and he had become the evil demon Zanshin, the Dark Warlord. Tsunayoshi forced his army to drink the elixir and he ordered the destruction of the 4 Daimyo. Miraculously your Daimyo (your master) escaped and now he is ordering his seven best samurai to kill Tsunayoshi.
You begin the game with three samurai out of a total of seven (which are a Berserker, Leader, Mage, Ninja, Brick, Swordsman and Archer). The other four must be found before they can be used. Although you potentially have seven samurai to help you in your plight you can only use four at any one time. The samurai who you are not using return to your Daimyo where they can recover their health and mana (or Ki as it is known in this game). Samurai can be returned or recalled at any point during the game with a simple click on the Daimyo interface.
An important difference between Throne of Darkness and Diablo is the use of tactics. Characters can be ordered into formations and you can tell them what method of attack to perform. Choices vary from ranged to melee and spell attacks. Aggression levels can also be set which determines whether your characters are hasty or cautious. Twelve predefined sets of tactics exist which range from Frog to Tiger. The tactic sets on offer appear to cover most eventualities. Combat can prove really hectic at times so the importance of using the tactics correctly cannot be stressed enough.
In terms of gameplay Throne of Darkness just surpasses Diablo 2. Of course it is similar in many ways to Diablo 2 (+expansion) in that it allows you to socket gems in certain items to customise their abilities and certain actions are the same but the tactical elements and the ability to call upon other samurai and rest the ones who aren't in a fit state to battle are just areas where Throne of Darkness has taken the action/RPG genre to the next level.
Graphically the game is superior to Diablo 2. Using an 800x600 resolution and bigger, more detailed characters the game is easier on the eye and more colourful to look at. The game does not use 3D Acceleration but to be honest it wouldn't look any better if it did.
The interface is very familiar to anyone who has played Diablo (original or sequel) and can be fully controlled by the mouse but a range of hotkey commands exist if you should prefer them.
When it comes to text feedback Throne of Darkness also scores very highly. Text information is supplied for everything apart from the cutscenes. The information for the introduction cutscene can be found, in greater depth, in the manual (which is also of good quality) on page 10. One feature that I liked was that if you press the 'Alt' key, all the items that you can pick up suddenly have a text box over them and by clicking on the text box you pick up the item. This helps avoid missing objects because they are too small too see. If you use the up and down cursor keys you can scroll through the recent messages that you have received. The one downside here is that upon reloading a game you can't recall messages that had previously appeared, only the ones that have appeared during that session of play.
The appeal of Throne of Darkness should be huge. Fans of the Diablo series of games will certainly love it and those who hated Diablo should find enough difference in this game to help change their mind. All in all Throne of Darkness is the top action/RPG at the moment.
Overall Game Rating: 9.3/10 A frantic, action packed take on Japanese mythology that never fails to impress.
Quality of text: 8/10 Missing Cutscene subtitles but that's all.
Graphics: 9/10 They are slightly better than those in Diablo 2.
Interface: 10/10 Very easy to control.
Gameplay:10/10 Wonderful, you can lose hours just thinking about the tactical elements.