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Din's Curse Preview

by Brian "Dhruin" Turner, 2010-03-08

The hack'n'slash RPG genre puzzles me.  So many people – gamers and developers alike – seem to miss the point.  Have you seen gamers complain that “Diablo clones” are dumbed-down and juvenile?  Have you seen developers embrace that idea by making dumbed-down and juvenile products?  In reality, the handful of successful games in this genre understand the old maxim: easy to play, hard to master. Sure, the gameplay seems to consist of click, click, click, right-click, click, click – but this misses the real point: character development and customisation.

Diablo and Diablo II were so successful because Blizzard understands that underpinning the simple clicky, clicky gameplay is loot diversity and a remarkably robust character system.  It's all in the different builds, kit-outs, the myriad of Horadric Cube recipes.  Space Siege disappeared below the surface with barely a ripple because...well, none of the above.

Beyond the basics, it's a genre that has developed slowly.  Soldak is one of the few developers in this sphere that not only understands the fundamentals but tries new things – Depths of Peril was a fantastic game that took the basics and added an exciting layer of dynamic events and competition with other NPCs.  The upcoming Din's Curse is their third release and once again looks to shake things up.

The premise is simple.  Your character has lived a selfish life, so Din – the champion of Gods – has cursed you into a second life of service.  You start in a randomised village with various vendors and NPCs – and a big, randomised dungeon below the town.  The village NPCs give you quests and you venture into the dungeon to solve them, earning reputation points.  When you've earned enough reputation, the village is saved and the game won – unless the monsters destroy the town first and then it's game over.  It's not a long, story campaign that you complete once but a bit more like a rogue-like, where you re-play the randomised content.

If you've played Depths of Peril, developer Steven Peeler has described Din's Curse as “DoP - factions + way more dynamic stuff + lots of world interaction + more random features + prettier + 141 class combinations + co-op multiplayer”. The engine is the same, so the look and feel is essentially the same as Depths of Peril but you aren't competing against other factions.  Instead, Din's Curse is more a standard dungeon romp but with random events, more interactivity, more character development and multiplayer.

So, you talk to the dozen NPCs and vendors (this is random, too), grab some quests and head into the dungeon.  The quests are your typical “get 10 rat tails” type, so what makes Din's Curse different?  I've got about a dozen hours with the beta, so let's have a look.

First, the character development system is robust.  You've got the usual primary stats and six base classes (Warrior, Rogue, Priest, Wizard, Ranger, Conjurer), and each class has three Specialities – these are basically groups of 10 or so skills, making a total of 30 in each class.  You can stick to one Speciality or choose freely across the three.  More interesting, though, is the ability to multiclass by choosing one Speciality from each of two different classes – according to Soldak, this provides 141 different combinations.  Finally, although the skills are laid out something like a traditional tree, it's actually a flat system.  Skills that are displayed higher on the screen only require one or two skill points, while the bottom layer might take seven or eight points.

With this system, you don't need to follow a specific progression to reach those powerful skills down the bottom – if you're prepared to save up some points, you can go straight to the “big” skills from the get-go.  Obviously, having a character with an array of basic skills versus having one or two uber skills is a matter of choice and strategy.  All up, it's a very flexible system.

I spent a fair bit of my time playing a Rogue and then a Conjurer – and the gameplay was quite different.  As a Rogue, I used Sneak to move around and explore (finding the gates and stairs on each level is important) and pick off trailing mobs to thin the herd, all without being seen.  As a Conjurer, I used a variety of interesting summons and necromantic abilities, such as changing into a Lich and raising skeletons.  Finally, I mixed a Thief (one of the Rogue Specialities) and a Fire Mage (Wizard); this was all sorts of chaotic fun – sneak into the middle of a group of mobs and then unleash fiery Armageddon.

What really sets Din's Curse apart is the dynamic world and events.  For starters, it's a very interactive world with chests, stashes, barrels, doors, switches, traps, altars, secret plans and more.  Chests are often trapped, doors are sometimes stuck (and need to forced open), barrels are often explosive or full of acid.  With a bit of care, you can use many of these to your own advantage – such as luring mobs near the explosive barrels and setting them off with an arrow. Discovering secret plans will yield a quest or information about an uprising.

Then there are the dynamic events.  The dungeons are always  in motion as the monsters battle each other.  Left to their own devices, some monsters rise above the pack to become more powerful – they may raise their own army, build devices like Earthquake or Darkness machines, send assassins into town or even invade.  Ultimately, you might simply encounter a more dangerous enemy, or it could even lead to some of the quest-givers in town disappearing.  The degree of all this varies (you guessed – it's all random); I've had quiet worlds that were straight forward and others full of cave-ins and uprisings.

As a simple example, I was playing a relatively quiet world and cruising along with ease.  I was on the 9th level of the dungeon, hoping to kill Blazebiter soon  - I'd discovered his plans to build an Earthquake Machine earlier.  Suddenly, I fell through a hole down into the 10th level and right into a swarm of monsters.  I died.  Rushing back down to reclaim my soulstone, level 10 was proving to be difficult.  Unfortunately, that gave Blazebiter time to finish his Earthquake Machine – and the first earthquake brought the ceiling down.  Dead again.  And failed the quest.

This may sound a little masochistic – and it is.  The events are designed to throw speed-bumps in the way and make things more interesting.  Din's Curse is a game that likes to change the rules on you.

Although the game is still in beta, I found it completely stable and didn't experience a single crash.  I have some minor complaints – it's easy to miss some of the notifications, the text font could be sharper and the graphics look better zoomed all the way in – but I can't imagine anyone playing that way. Finally, I miss the companions from Depths of Peril, although the multiplayer co-op makes up for this.  I tried a quick multiplayer game over our home LAN and it all worked perfectly.

I had a ton of fun and plan to keep playing a Conjurer hybrid after this article is posted.  Din's Curse is a more traditional game than Depths of Peril but the combination of solid hack'n'slash gameplay and interactive game worlds is incredibly addictive and deserves to be played.

Din's Curse can be preordered now, which gives you access to the current beta.  The final game should be available soon.

Box Art

Information about

Din's Curse

Developer: Soldak Entertainment

SP/MP: Single + MP
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: Hack & Slash
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Unlimited
Voice-acting: None

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2010-03-31
· Publisher: Soldak Entertainment

More information