Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Loki: Heroes of Mythology

Genre: RPG, Action (Isometric, Real time, 'click fest'/Diablo Clone)
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Released: 2007

Zolgar paid: $14.99 (for a 3 pack that included Loki)
Beaten: Not yet.
Zolgar's rating: 7/10
Replayability: Decent to High

I am always on the hunt for new Action RPG/Diablo Clones, looking for my latest fix. Diablo defined the genre, and Diablo II raised the bar, making Diablo II the mark which we compare all others to. Loki measures up semi-favorably. In some ways it greatly surpasses Diablo II, in others it falls short.

Loki offers us 4 character classes, each one with 3 skill trees to work up. The classes are traditional Action RPG fare: a big burly fighter, a dex-driven ranged or melee fighter, a classic spellcaster, and a summoner. I'll cover the characters in more detail later but, in the modern scheme of things 4 classes is a little weak. (Diablo II had 5, 7 with the expansion, Sacred had 6, 8 with the expansion, Sacred 2 had 6.)

Otherwise as far as mechanics go, it's fairly standard fare. Run around, click to attack, right click to cast a spell, hit a number key to change spells, etc. the same controls as any other Action RPG, making it very easy for a new player to drop right in to. Well, after they customize their potion hot keys.

Loki offers us a very basic story, in fact if you change a few key words it's Diablo II's story. Set as been resurrected and is on a path to take over the world! So you must follow him through a jungle, a desert wasteland, a frozen tundra, temperate planes, and even outside of time itself! One thing that is nice for both replayability, and continuity however is that in Loki each class starts in a different area, making the chronology of the story different depending on what class you play.

As I write the rest of this I will try to assume that you've never played Diablo II.

Basic gameplay:
There are 5 areas, each containing a base city and multiple zones filled with monsters. You use the city to shop, offer sacrifices to your god (I'll explain later), and receive/turn in quests. Once you have a quest you venture in to the wild to kill everything that stands in your way (and of course, take it's stuff) until you reach the quest objective, then you go back to town.

When it comes time to return to town, you activate your Teleportation Stone, which gives you a list of zones you can transport to instantly. Unfortunately, there's no portal directly back to right where you left from, but instead only the start of the zone.

The plot line is, as I expressed above, very simple. Much like (most of) the rest of the genre, the plot exists simply to keep you killing and moving from one place to another. The real motivation in a game like this is to kill awesome baddies, get awesome loot and become more powerful. Once you've beaten the game, you can turn around and start it again on a harder setting with tougher foes and better loot. Once you beat that, you can do it again!

Critters scale in level as you go, so always be a 'proper challenge' for you. That said though, the game is pretty hard for a game of it's style. In most games of this style, at first most foes are 1, maybe 2 shots to take down for the lowest damaging classes and the only way you will die is if you're stupid. Loki? Not so, all but highest damaging characters are going to have at least 3 hits for most foes, and your foes? They hit hard, have special abilities and, come in swarms. The start of the game feels more like the endgame of most other games in this genre.

As you fight, you will notice a 'rage' bar creeping up, once this is full you get 'Revitalized' (a short lived state of extremely fast regeneration). Even with this though you're probably going to die a lot, depending on your character and build choice. Death is only a minor inconvenience in Loki though. When (and not if) you die, you simply respawn at the start of the zone you are in, all the foes you killed stay dead. In so far as I have seen, there's no real penalty for dying, unless you count the 2 minutes to run back to what killed you.

One very nice feature of Loki, is when you reload your game it gives you the choice between 'continue' and 'restart'. If you continue, the world is exactly how you left it when you last played. If you choose to restart your character and quest progress remain the same, but the world respawns. So if you're big on following the plot, continue! If you just want the most XP and phat lewt, restart!

A major complaint I have with it, however, is it doesn't have a 'shared stash', or anything that allows for easily transferring items from one character to another. When almost all of the gear in the game is class specific, this kinda sucks.

Loki also is currently the only game I have found to date that made me wonder how the heck to sell items. Once you figure it out, it's actually a very nice system though. Your inventory is divided in to 4 sections: Weapons, Armor, Objects and Kiosk. If you don't understand the first three.. I can't help you, sorry. Kiosk though, nothing automatically goes in there. Instead, when you right-click an item from one of the other 3 sections, it's sent to the kiosk. When you visit a vendor, you go to Sell, and then the Kiosk tab, and there's a 'sell all' button.

Basic inventory management while you're hunting makes selling a snap.

In Loki, each of the four characters comes from a certain mythology and each of their three skill trees is represented by a deity they worship.

One strange mechanic is that your skills are independent of your level. In each town there is an altar which allows you to choose which deity you are worshiping at the moment. If you have a deity selected, 25% of your XP goes instead to your 'Faith'. Faith is basically a second XP pool for your skills, and when that fills up, you get a skill point for the deity you are currently worshiping. While this mechanic makes it more challenging to play a character with multiple skill-trees, there's another mechanic which helps.

At the above mentioned altar, there's also the option to sacrifice unwanted magic items to your god. Each magic item is worth 5% of it's sale value in Faith, so if an item would sell to the vendor for 1000 gold, you will get 50 Faith for it. This does lead to you being able to indirectly buy skill points, with very weak returns though. The resale price of an item is 15% of what you paid for it and you get 5% of that. So for 10,000 gold, you get 75 Faith points. As a reference, to go from Faith level 13 to 14 you need about 3300 Faith.

While you can reset your skill choices any time you feel like it (for a sum of gold based off of your Faith level), you can only reset as far as your skill tree. Skill points earned in one tree are forever in that tree.

OK, so before I got slightly distracted by that little rabbit trail of a weird mechanic, I was going to give you a rundown of the classes.

Norse Hero:
The Norse hero is the classic barbarian. Tough as nails, strong (and dumb) as an ox, purely focused on melee fighting.
His skill-trees are:
Thor: Two-handed weapons, lightning damage and a lot status affects.
Tyr: One-handed weapons (with dual-wielding later on), speed focus, and a lot of self buffs.
Odin: Spear focus, ice damage, and some traditional spell casting, including summons.

While the Norse hero has a lot of hit points, he has to choose between hitting hard and slow, or light and fast. This tends to lead to hitting healing potions as fast as they're available. Although due to his high HP, he does tend to be able to hold out for his Revitalized state better than most.

Greek Hero:
The Greek hero is the 'dexer', choosing between ranged combat or high speed melee combat and focusing on being harder to hit.
Her skill-trees are:
Ares: Fire, poison and status traps.
Artemis: Archery, with regular, poison and ice arrows.
Athena: I like to call Athena the 'Xena' tree. 1 handed sword or chakram and shield.

The Greek hero has two distinct options for play style. Melee, relying on a high parry and good defense to avoid dying. Or kiting everything and shooting it with a bow. Both options are viable, and an assortment of traps can make both options even more viable. If you choose melee, be prepared to die a fair bit early on, and spend a lot of money on health potions.

Egyptian Hero:
The Egyptian hero is the spell caster, choosing between raw damage, damage with a summon, or damage and debuffs.
His skill trees are:
Ra: Fire, fire and more fire. Mmm fire.
Horus: Lightning damage, and a Mummy pet that deals poison damage.
Set: Dark damage and debuffs.

The Egyptian hero plays like a spellcaster should, blast and run. However, he seems to be the most powerful class at early levels, a basic fire blast 1-shots most things, and the game seems to pretty much be built for kiting things that aren't dropped in 1 shot.

Aztec Hero:
The Aztec hero is the hardest to classify as a classic archetype. Druid is probably the best fit for her, choosing between summons, shapeshifting and Spirit magic.
Her skill trees are:
Quetzalcoatl: Summoning, able to summon a mage, giant praying mantis and giant spider.
Tezcatlipoca: Shape Shifting, Jaguar and Spirit forms.
Miclantecuhtli: Spirit magic, a strange buff/debuff/damage set.

I will confess to not having played the Aztec hero much.. honestly, the only set that really appeals much to me is Teza... the shape shifting set, and at low levels.. that set sucks. The Aztec hero decidedly lacks the durability to be in melee, which both her alternate forms are built for. It seems however, if you can put up with the repeated deaths of early levels, by the 20s a Shape Shifting Aztec hero will be a powerhouse.
In regards to her other two sets, the summon set has an interesting trait, requiring you to take skills for your pets to have, and essentially choose which skill they will have when. The Spirit set looks like it has a lot of potential, but also has a pretty sizable weakness as well, almost all of it's abilities require being within a certain range of a totem.

Over all, I find the balance of the character classes far more skewed than is normal for an action RPG, and even with the minimal penalty for death, the amount you die on some builds, even early on, is extremely frustrating.

As a final thing to mention, the multiplayer:
I didn't give the multiplayer a try, however Loki's multiplayer uses your Single Player characters. This means it accesses characters stored on your hard drive, which means that, like oldschool Diablo, multiplayer will be full of cheats and hacks.

While most of the cheats I found didn't work too well, I didn't look a lot. The infinite gold bug worked well though. (I don't normally cheat in these games, but I was hoping to give a better idea of the different skill-trees without playing 12 characters in total.)

“For a blatant Diablo II rip off, it's not that bad.”

Availability and price:
Impulse: $9.99 (Or $29.99 with a 3-pack)
Steam: $9.99
Ebay: $2+

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