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Depths of Peril Review

by Brian "Dhruin" Turner, 2007-11-04

Taken as a whole, the roleplaying genre isn't exactly overcrowded with new entries but the action/RPG sub-genre - and hack'n'slashers in particular - are a pretty competitive landscape, with lots of barely differentiated games struggling to catch up to the gameplay that Diablo nailed over a decade ago. So, it's refreshing to find an indie effort that not only competently tackles the major bullet-points but also adds its own spin, creating a unique concept: a highly randomised single-player action/RPG with the sort of competition and deal-making you might find in a multiplayer game.

In Depths of Peril, players take on the role of a faction leader in the Barbarian city of Jorvik. The city (or more accurately, village) is a last bastion surrounded by a world of hostile monsters, while within, the various factions - called covenants - compete for the control and leadership of Jorvik. Your job is to take your fledgling covenant and grow more powerful through questing, adventuring and strategy while destroying or allying with the other covenants to win the overall leadership of the city.

The basic underlying gameplay has similarities to most hack'n'slash action/RPGs. Randomly generated areas open up to the north of Jorvik and players are free to head off exploring and fighting or grab some quests from the NPCs in town. The latter is more efficient, because solving quests for the town NPCs increases your covenant's influence with the city, which in turn increases the taxes the city pays. The quests are level based and work well to draw the player to explore ever more difficult areas further and further afield. Depths of Peril is highly randomised - the gameworld is made up of randomly generated connected areas with a theme ("Sinking Desert", "Wildwood Forest", "Amber Meadows") and the quests are also randomly generated, so there's a fair bit of "kill 10 zombies" and "gather 12 pixie tails", although the excellent background lore from the official site is occasionally mixed in.

The combat itself is fast-paced with a satisfyingly solid feel against the usual hordes of monsters you'd expect from this genre. A left-click starts the attack, which continues automatically. Skills and spells can be dragged to a hotbar and accessed from there or with the numeric keys. Each class has some sort of power that is required for many of the skills - mages and priests both have a regenerating mana system (although the priest's power is called "faith") while the warrior builds rage from a successful hit (and by blocking or getting hit) and the rogue gets momentum from using certain skills during combat. This adds depth - you'll need to watch and build the power level to access many of the skills and then most of them operate on a cooldown timer before they can be fired again.

Just exactly how combat plays is very dependant on the build. Depths of Peril has an open, flat skill system instead of a traditional tree, with most of the skills available right from the beginning. Basic skills only cost a single point to unlock, while more advanced ones may start at nine points, so you can choose between advancing more basic skills quickly or saving up to buy fewer, advanced ones as soon as possible. Each class has around 30 unique skills grouped into five categories, so there's plenty of room for different setups. More importantly, some of them are passive while others have a mix of power requirements and other conditions, so the complexity of combat depends on the skills chosen. For example, rogues can use rupture to cause extra damage but only in conjunction with stealth or if the player is fast enough to use it within a few seconds of an enemy parry or block. On the other hand, a warrior with mostly passive skills requires less interaction from the player. All up, this system offers interesting character development with different degrees of action for the player.

Loot uses the now-familiar colour-coded system ranging from common green items to legendary purple drops, as well as uniques and sets. Equipment and weapons have random properties, so the possibilities are endless and equipping your character with the best gear is every bit addictive.

A major part of the game is adding recruits to your covenant. Up to five recruits can join a covenant and any one of them can join you as an adventuring partner, while the others stay back at the house. Recruits can sometimes be found wandering the world, though more commonly they'll come into town and announce themselves available - but only if you successfully complete a quest (usually time limited) to win their favour. Having the best recruits makes a big difference in the early-mid game, and changes the flow of combat while adventuring, especially if you take a complementary class. Mage players who find a good warrior to take along, for example, can concentrate on spell slinging while warriors might appreciate a priest for the buffs and healing. The adventuring recruit can be swapped out at any time and an existing recruit can be kicked out of the covenant to make way for a better option; deciding whether to keep one partner or rotate recruits to build their experience in the field and mix up the gameplay is all part of the fun.

So, the basic gameplay represents a competent hack'n'slash model with an interesting skill system, lots of randomisation and an optional companion party member. If that was the sum total of Depths of Peril, it would still be worth a look. But Soldak has added two aspects that completely transform the game into something new and unique.

The first is a living game world. Each of the other covenants - run by the AI - participates just like the player. They each start with one hero and set out adventuring and solving quests, building power and adding recruits in an attempt to consolidate their own position and win the leadership of Jorvik. You'll run across them out in the field killing monsters and see them back in town selling loot to the vendors. They'll even try to solve some of the town quests before you do and grab the best recruits.

It goes beyond the other covenants, however. Dragging your feet getting to a quest to kill stalkers in the Wastelands? Expect a unique - a powerful boss - stalker to arise and organise an uprising, making things harder and possibly leading to an attack on the town. Missed a thief that slipped into town? One of the town's NPCs might be kidnapped and eventually killed, or the water supply poisoned. Some of these events are random and some them are a consequence of your own actions in the game. It's a dynamic place with lots of things happening.

The second element flows from the living world: the actual interaction with the other covenants. Players can trade, strike agreements (such as non-aggression or mutual protection pacts), form alliances and go to war with other covenants - and, of course, they all do the same with each other. Each successful trade improves the relationship with that faction and agreements can be struck when their approval rises above certain levels.

Sooner or later, a raid will be initiated. Raids are special "all in" attacks on a covenant house - successfully destroying their lifestone eliminates that covenant from the game. Everyone in the involved covenants participates, so these are large, chaotic battles; you're also assured of dying - and each resurrection damages your own lifestone, potentially putting your existence at risk. Raids are dangerous and unpredictable - other covenants may sieze the opportunity to join the attack or even launch a sneak assault on your house while you are distracted. Even having won (or called it off if things aren't going your way), other factions may see this as an ideal time to take you out.

All this adds up to a wealth of decisions and different tactical approaches for the player. Do you keep your favourite adventuring partner and vigorously pursue the best new recruits on offer or do you rotate through your covenant members, growing their experience level in the field? Do you sell all that swag for cash, use it to deck out your recruits or trade it to improve relations with other covenants? Spend all your time adventuring to gain power or play more politics - building alliances and taking out weak covenants when the opportunity arises?

It's also frenetic and exciting - things are happening and you're often under pressure. For example, you might be deep in a cavern fighting hordes of monsters on a time-limited quest when suddenly a perfect new recruit announces their availability. Other covenants will probably want this recruit, so you decide to give up your current quest and quickly portal back. Winning the new recruit requires you to complete their quest first, so you urgently set out on that when a raid is suddenly launched on your house. Things don't always run at this pace but the world turns, regardless of your plans.

There are a handful of issues to mention. I originally had a small list of interface annoyances but the first two patches have mostly taken care of those. Trading with the other covenants can feel formulaic and it's relatively easy to trade away unwanted, excess loot to build up your standing. I would really like to have seen the fantastic background stories published at the official site used for more complex quests in-game, but in all fairness, this might undermine the dynamic nature of the game. And undoubtedly, some gamers will prefer to set their own pace, exploring at leisure without interruptions. The biggest issue is simply understanding the full measure of the game - it takes a few games to really understand everything that is going on and I'm sure many people will have tried the demo and walked away thinking it was just another standard Diablo clone.

The length of an individual game can vary from a couple of hours up to a dozen or so - but it really depends on the aggression of each of the houses and how events unfold. When a game ends, that character can be taken through a new, higher level gameworld. Depths of Peril allows you to store multiple characters and you can adjust the enemy covenant power, world level, number of factions and their aggression to set a challenge as desired. As the levels increased, I saw different monsters and new events popped up that I hadn't encountered before, so it's a game with a high replay factor.

Depths of Peril is addictive, frantic, challenging - and unique. I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn't resist seeing just one more area, finishing one more raid, searching for that last piece of armour to finish the set. It joins Space Rangers 2 and some other old favourites with a permanent place on my hard drive. If you ever enjoy point-and-click action/RPGs - even just occasionally - take a look at the demo but make sure you play it through to really get a feel for the game.

Box Art

Information about

Depths of Peril

Developer: Soldak Entertainment

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

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2007-09-05
· Publisher: Soldak Entertainment

More information


Other articles

Summary

Pros

  • Solid combat, good loot and equipment
  • Interesting skill system
  • Living gameworld with competing NPCs
  • Trading, diplomacy, raids
  • Stable, relatively bug-free

Cons

  • Can be overwhelming at first
  • Dungeon layouts can be frustrating

Rating

Review version

1.002

Opinions from other editors

From Joy "magerette" Jones

My experience with Depths of Peril tallies closely with Dhruin's assessment. It's a very enjoyable romp through the normal hack n slash conventions that still offers a challenging, versatile and layered strategic aspect. The ability to play long or short sessions with the same character, to pick any level of skill without a strict structural path, and the control over almost every aspect of the game set-up and difficulty were perhaps the strongest points for me. Being able to choose the number of covenants, the level, and the overall difficulty, as well as restarting with varying characters with varying skillsets and levels gives the game a sandbox quality which still has a very strong underlying game structure to support the play. The graphics in indie games are frequently a problem for me, but I can honestly say in Depths of Peril I didn't even think about them; the interface is friendly and the stability of the game is impressive.

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