In this action-RPG from Silicon Knights, players take on the role of the Norse god Baldur, whose protective feelings towards Humanity and refusal to augment his body with cybernetics lead the other Aesir to label him "too Human".
'Too Human' has one serious problem. Its director Denis Dyack raised the expectations through the roof, predicting one of the best games to come. Ever. All it netted him are a lot of disgruntled players and "I told you so"-commentary. But if you take a step back, and forget all that Dyack promised, and more importantly, forget that it's been in the making for 10 years, you'll discover a game that is very likeable.
The premise of the game is, as you probably know already, a new take on norse mythology. Norse Mythology is a rather fresh and unused lore in videogames, and it's quite interessting to see, how 'Silicon Knights' interpreted the source. Their take is, that the aesir, the norse gods, truly were cybernaticaly enhanced warriors, fighting to preserve mankind from oblivion, after their ancestors started a war against a machine-race some hundred years ago.
Following the story you fight through 4 huge chapters, with Midgard as the hubworld, where you can buy weapons and armor, progress the story and learn more about the backstory. The story is mainly told in cutscenes, but as well in automatically running dialogue when meeting other aesir or eavesdroping on humans in Midgard. The way the game handles its storytelling, is one of the best indicators, that the game has been in production a pretty long time, as it's been done way better lately. Nonetheless, the story is well executed and takes you on a journey into the heart of treachery. Unfortunatly, as Too Human is a trilogy, the game ends in an unsatisfying cliffhanger. A single run through the game, will take you about 14 hours, depending on how many secret areas you find and how often you die during battle.
The game itself is a classic action-adventure, and caters straight to people that like games like Diablo 2. Masses of monsters that want to be clicked to death. Instead of clicking the game features one of the most compelling controlls I've seen lately. Similar to Dual-Controller Shooters á la GeoWars, you steer your character around with the left stick and fight the enemies with the right stick. This might feel confusing in the beginning, as this kind of controlls have never been done in 3D before, but once you master it, it gives you a great variety of moves. Moving the right stick starts a melee-attack, holding down the trigger let's you fire your gun in the pointed direction. The face-buttons let you jump and perform dodge-rolls, as well as use your abilities once you enabled them in the skill-tree. It might take you 10 minutes, not to try and move the camera with the right stick, but for a fast-paced game like that, it's a pretty solid controll-scheme.
The next Diablo-esque component of the game, are it's RPG elements. At the beginning of the game you can choose between 5 different classes, each having it's benefits and disadvantages in the fields of melee, range attack, defense and hitpoints. Which one you choose will not alter the story, but depending on your gaming style might make the game more fun or a bigger challenge. Every class has a skill-tree that progresses in 3 different branches, all leading to the same final skill. You can only distribute your skillpoints to one of these branches, but can redo it at anytime for the cost of some credits. Progressing through the skill-tree not only enables some special abilities, but also grant you some nifty boni during combat. Besides the skill-tree, you get another area to put your skillpoints to: the allegiance. At somepoint in the game you can choose to stay more human or the enhance yourself with cybernatics - this choice is permanent and can't be undone, but the points you distribute to this skilltree can. There are a lot of ways, how to skill your character, and actually none of them seems to be worthless.
Not only you quickly kill off dozens of monsters and form your character to your gaming-style, there is another element, that Diablo players know pretty well. Loot. Stuff your enemies drop when they get to much sword and lead into their face. This loot can range from weapons (there are 3 different types for melee and range each) to armor (6 different bodyparty like to be covered), to charms (somekind of buff if you enable it), runes (to enable charms and power-up slotted weapons and armor) and blueprints for weapons and armor, as well as healthorbs (refilling a small amount of your healthbar) and money (I am not going to explain what that is for). After a fight is over, loot will float directly to your character, only healthorbs that might be needed during battle, have to be collected by yourself by getting close by.
While there is quite a lot of loot to collect, most of it is just rubbish. At somepoint your gear will exist to 90% of stuff you created from blueprints. And healthorbs most likely never drop when you really need them. Oh, and at some point your inventory will not be able to hold more runes, but the runes you need will still not be there. Therefore you will spend quite some time in your inventory, selling stuff you don't need.
Still the idea of going on and collecting more loot is something that kind of works well within the game, as you know that there are way more powerfull items (or at least their blueprints) just waiting around the next corner. But unlike Diablo 2 (or similar games), it's not that strong and engaging.
So far we established that 'Too Human' has a lot in common with Diablo-style-games. But what seperates it from the crowd?
First there is the way your characters death is handled. It's meaningless. You die, a valkyry comes, picks you up, and you are reset at the last savepoint. Usually thats just a room away from where you died, if not the same room, so you stay right in the action. Your gear takes damage from dieing, which would force you to repair it, but in the end, you change your armor and weapons long before its endurance is depleted. Additionally it drains your combo-meter, wich can make a fight nigh impossible to win, if you respawn in the middle of the frenzy. The cutscene, when the valkyry comes for you, takes about 20 seconds, is unskipable and always looks the same. It's an annoyance you will learn to live with or fight to die less often. Anyway the game lets you feel that it's quite okay to die, the way it throws tons of enemies at you, with a variety of melee and range attacks and status effects feasting on your healthbar at all times.
Charms are another rather unique element of Too Human. They offer boni if you complete a quest, like killing a set number of enemies or collecting blueprints. Once the quest is fullfilled you have to set it up with the needed runes. As there can only be two charms activated for questing there is quite some micromanagement needed to get the wanted effects. You will switch them during battle, or right before a certain action, you know will count for one of the quests. Additionally you will find higher ranking charms, that have to be set up with lower ranked charms that have finished quests and got their runes. As your inventory can only hold 20 charms, there is a lot of work to be done, to benefit from the charms effect.
Besides the regular-gameworld there is another place to visit: Cyberspace. Interesstingly you enter cyberspace through wells, giving the game another chance for a quirky explanation about its futuristic yet archaic backstory. Cyberspace acts as another layer to the lore and is home of the Norns, an omniscient entity represented of three women. Also its the games way to offer some puzzle-elements, which just ask you to push the right button at a marked place. As you can get a lot of loot (mainly blueprints and runes) in cyberspace it pays to look around for wells, and while being there, to look for those loot-spewing spires.
I guess no review is complete without a paragraph about sound and vision of a game. The game looks pretty good, while not setting any new milestones. Sometimes textures pop up abruptly, but the characaters look very nice. Armor and weapons feature a lot of detail, and there are some nice graphical effects to see. While the music and soundeffects are quite nice too, there is a small issue that sometimes during battles the score kind of reloops suddenly or stutters. The sounddevision is liable for one of the most anoying elements of the game: when browsing through the menu and inventory, there is a squeaking sound whenever you turn a page. It is shrill and agonizing and you just can't get used to it...
At some point when playing the game, I was halfway through with my second class, I had this confusing sensation, when I realized that I liked the game a lot, allthough there were quite some flaws that made me yell at the TV regulary. If you don't play with the champion, wich seems to be the allrounder-class, you will face situations where your class just is the wrong pick. It is strange that a game even generates a circumstance like that, and Too Human manages to do so 3 to 4 times during game.
If you die in the middle of a fight, and respawn there again, you will most likely instantly die again, as you have no chance to fight the onslaught without a combo-meter. Especially if you're fighting against melee and ranged enemies at once, and maybe have a troll in the mix, that causes some shockwaves that knock you of your feet. Can you hear my screams and curses?
But then again, as dieing is a meaningless affair, it just doesn't matter. You never get frustrated enough to throw the controller away. All I feel in a situation like that, is determination to get it over with, not thinking about how many deaths it might take to do so.
I played more then 40 hours already, and still I return to the game. When preparing the review I tried to figure out, why I am doing so, but I couldn't find a satisfying answer. It's not the loot or the skills. It's not the story. It's not the graphics. Maybe it's just, that I like smashing hundreds of enemies. But obviously that's enough for me.
So if you liked clicking legions of enemies to death in games like Diablo, Sacred or Titan Quest - give the game a try. You might be surprised how much fun it is.
Other reviews for Too Human (Xbox 360)
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