Developer: Westwood Studios (RIP)
Release Date: January 31, 2000
Time Played: About 3 hours
Dubiosity: 1 out of 5 (I’m like EDGE Magazine, I use the whole scale)
Number of times I made comparisons to the classic 2001 Dreamworks Film Shrek during my streams: 2
Would I play more? Yeah.
Of all the games I’ve played for my cursed wheel of RPGs thus far, Nox is probably the least “dubious” of any of them. It definitely falls into the “weird and novel” end of the spectrum rather than the “disastrous” or “janky” ones, much to my own benefit and much to the detriment of anyone who wanted to watch me suffer live on the internet. For as much as I love Two Worlds’ scrappy ambition and think Rise of the Argonauts might eventually get a full playthrough for sheer curiosity’s sake, Nox is the one game that I can point to and say “This feels like a video game that one could’ve played and enjoyed without any compunctions in the time and context that it came out” Or maybe just “hey, this seems alright”
Because, as it turns out, Nox is actually much more interesting than just “The Command and Conquer people’s attempt to make a Diablo” if you take one look at when it was released, a full five months before Diablo II. While Blizzard North’s Diablo is one of the most influential games of all time, I’d argue Diablo II contributions are what solidified the genre into what it is now, for better or worse calcifying everything afterward in its image. It’s hard to see it now, but multiplayer in Diablo 1 was initially an afterthought, and the game’s structure has as much in common with classical roguelikes and dungeon crawlers as it does with clickers where “the numbers keep going up.” Diablo II is the game that introduced things like “class-specific skills” and was even more precision-tuned towards the loot grind that its predecessor had only partially embraced.
It’s in this 3 ½ year gap between the Diablos that we find Nox, which feels less like an endless parade of ever increasing numbers or insane endgame character builds and more like a failed evolutionary branch of the genre. Yes, like Diablo you pick one of three classes for your t-shirted goober from the real world to inhabit (wait is Nox an Isekai) and click on things until they die, the things it emphasizes could not be more different. It’s an ultra-linear game with hand-crafted levels and encounters (including an emphasis on dungeon traps and hidden secrets) that happen in different orders depending on which class you picked. Loot is present, in a sense, but it also seems hand-placed mostly comes in the form of gold and consumables. You do level up, but there’s no stat allocation. Instead of using the left mouse button to do everything, you hold down the right mouse button to move and click the left to attack and pick stuff up (with ASDFG being your hotbar of spells) which gives the click murdering a slightly more direct feel and cadence. It started to feel a little more in the vein of something like Gauntlet than Grim Dawn, less in terms of wandering mazes and fighting endlessly respawning enemies and more in the sense that you’re constantly moving forward and never stopping while you bulldoze all in your path.
If I have a complaint, it might actually be that the game is too streamlined and straightforward to be called an “RPG” on anything other than the barest technicalities. This is an isometric action game, complete with a jump button to avoid traps and big ol’ magic crystals just hanging out in a dungeon to recover your mana if you’re nearby. The game might also be a little too simple for its own good, with my biggest grand strategy for most of the difficult encounters being “kite the enemies until I can drop 5-10 meteors on them.” Still, it’s something I would hypothetically play again, especially in a multiplayer context, even if it’s not nearly cursed enough to be a recurring part of this feature.
So hey, since the next game is Dragon Age II, easily the highest profile game on “The Wheel,” I’ve decided that it’s time to do something a little different for next week. Instead of going straight to Bioware’s first major misstep*, I thought it would be a good refresher for me (and everyone involved, honestly) if I took some time with Dragon Age Origins beforehand. It’s been more than a decade since Origins came out and almost as long since I’ve done an extensive playthrough, so for the next couple of streams I will be playing an actual good RPG. Well, I hope it’s as good as I remember it being. Probably won’t play through the entire thing (at least not over the internet) but it’s going to be a decent amount. Honestly, I need a pick-me-up before I go back to something like Realms of Arkania III; the 90 minutes I played of it felt disorienting in the state I’m in right now. Also it maybe was a bad idea to start on the third game in a series of notoriously obscure German CRPGs, but that’s what I get for remembering a positive time with it a decade ago.
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*: I'd argue that Jade Empire is Bioware's first truly bad RPG, but apparently that's a controversial take.
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