It wasn't that far past the previous blog when I remembered why I stopped playing loot RPGs. The constant influx of treasure and character progression micromanagement is a fetching enough Skinner box but the wafer-thin story and combat encounters can make these games drag on for infinity, and it doesn't help that there are systems in place to ensure it can keep going for another loop or twenty. I don't mean to decry Iron Lore's Titan Questspecifically for this, though it does tip its hand during its unexpected final act - one that begins immediately after completing the Titan quest that the title refers to - in how it makes the finishing line stretch on and on into the far distance. They then further exacerbate these final act doldrums by designing all the checkpoint fountains and teleporters to be much further apart than they are in the three previous acts, adding nothing to the long treks back to your gravestone to reclaim the XP you'd lost upon death given that enemies don't respawn unless you quit the game.
I'm getting ahead of myself, though, jumping to the end-game when then there was plenty more between then and when I posted the Titan Quest Intro blog. As I predicted, the Greece chapter is but one of several, the others taking place in Egypt - and, like in Diablo II, a region that featured a lot of sand and at least one occasion in which you had multiple tombs to explore but only one had the critical path forward - and "the Orient", which encompassed Babylon (presently Iraq) before moving across Nepal, Mongolia, and China. The aforementioned final act takes you back to Greece before embarking on a thorough exploration of the land of Hades, passing by Styx, Erebus, Elysium, and taking the fight directly to the wayward Lord of the Dead. I'll say that this final chapter was at least visually arresting, as any depiction of the underworld usually is, but it was already long past the point where I wanted to be done with the game.
What also didn't improve was the game's general stability and quality level. Glitches abound, from the major (crashes, stuck on geometry, treasure falling through floor) to the minor (visual glitches like ragdolls collapsing into boneless beanbags, or special effects turning into a bunch of unrendered squares before fixing themselves), but they were all ubiquitous and unrelenting. It strikes me as very possible that little was done to patch up the console ports of this remaster, presumably as there was an anniversary-based deadline to keep and THQ Nordic wanted to bring back some of that sloppy THQ magic from beyond its well-deserved grave. Other annoyances include inventories that don't sort on their own - when you get the "inventory's full" alert, you can usually go in there and hit "sort" a bunch of times to miraculously find some space - and the marvelous way the game half-assedly integrates the Ragnarok DLC content. I'll elaborate: Ragnarok added a few new items to its roster, particularly thrown weapons like boomerangs and chakram as options for a ranged warrior who doesn't care for the languid attack speeds of bows. However, it doesn't remove it from the core game if you don't have this DLC, so these weapons sit in stores where they remain unpurchaseable, taking space away from weapons you could potentially use, and these weapons will also regularly drop from chests (again, removing something usable from the treasure pool) where they cannot be picked up. There aren't any text pop-ups, but the models can be plainly seen (along with a colored "shine" that indicates the rarity) if you zoom in around the chests. It's an obnoxious way to reduce the overall quality of the core game experience for everyone except those willing to fork out extra for the game's additional campaign.
I've slammed Titan Quest enough for its mistakes, but there are moments of design brilliance that help rise it up among its loot RPGs peers and make it a little more bearable to play. The first and most significant of these are the extra inventory bags you earn after major milestones in the story. Going from one inventory page to four means far less travelling back to the nearest vendor hub, and that goes double if you eventually decide - as I did - to leave all the white-tinted "common" treasure behind. I had much longer, uninterrupted periods murdering my way through a rogue's gallery of mythical beasts with this convenience. I feel like the game could've badly used a dodge roll of some kind - perhaps it's available in other skill trees - but you can just about evade most enemy projectiles before answering with your own in the brief window between their shots, which made some of the ranged elites and bosses a bit more exciting to tussle with. I also liked the game's relic and artifact system, and not for the reasons you might expect: relics can be constructed by combining specific enemy drops, and these relics can be combined with equipment to improve it or combined with other relics to create artifacts, should you have the right recipe. The scant likelihood involved with finding the right relics and recipes meant that actually making an artifact felt like a big deal, even if its bonuses were fairly nondescript. Towards the end of the game you starting finding recipes for Greater Artifacts, which required combining several of the lesser ones you may have already built. I sadly didn't have the means to make any of those, but it's the sort of hook that someone might want to chase if they intend to play through several cycles (and there's a means of sending equipment to your other characters via a transfer feature from the storage NPC, good both for sending half-finished artifacts as well as powerful equipment that's non-applicable to your current build). These are perhaps standard features for most modern loot RPGs, but I was still glad to see them in the more antiquated TItan Quest regardless.
Other features like a day/night cycle seemed at first like a novel way to highlight the passage of time, especially when you enter a dungeon during the day but emerge at dusk, but it only served to make certain areas - especially swamps and thick forests - almost visually impenetrable in the dead of night. Perhaps with a means to illuminate yourself and your surroundings in a simple, unobtrusive way (no reserving inventory space for torches, for instance), or at least the option to rest until morning, this feature would've made more sense. The side-quests were a handy way to make some cash and XP on the side, but I generally didn't have to go too far out of my way for most of them: they usually boiled down to fetch quests and mid-boss hunts. Still, the few that actually gave me stats or skill points to use were worth seeking out and completing.
I don't think Titan Quest is a bad game by any stretch (though I might advise folks stay away from the console ports and stick to the PC version) but it does make it clear to me if it wasn't before that I've lost my verve for this particular sub-genre of action-RPG. I suspect playing Ys might've spoiled me somewhat, since no loot RPG I've played has matched its sense of speed and tactical maneuvering (though the closest in recent memory was the excellent Victor Vran: a game that popped out of nowhere to surprise me).
That's also going to do it for May Millennials this year as well. Spending half this month on Gothic II was not my intent setting out, though it was easily still my favorite of the three games covered in this year's May feature. I think if we do all this again, I might leave off the slightly bulkier CRPGs like Titan Quest and Gothic and look for some more truncated adventures for a bit more variety with these blogs. I kinda miss the days when I ended up playing over 20 games in a single month, albeit rarely to completion: there's still a lot out there I want to see, from this century and previous, and I can't be letting slogfests siphon away what game-playing time I have left.