Game review: Din’s Curse

  • Title: Din’s Curse
  • Developer: Soldak Entertainment (Steven Peeler)
  • Platforms: Windows, Mac
  • Price: $24.99

If Diablo and Diner Dash had offspring, I imagine it would turn out something like this. Din’s Curse is a 3D isometric action RPG by Soldak Entertainment (which is to say, it’s by Steven Peeler and a small group of contract workers). The basic gist is that the god of honor, Din, is making you atone for a wasted life by having you pull a Diablo: you have to venture into a dungeon beneath a randomly generated town in order to save the town and show a horde of demons, undead, and other assorted nasties who’s boss.

A la Diablo, the dungeon is randomly generated. But so is everything else, leading to an impressively dynamic dungeon-delving experience.

The quests and selection of NPCs are generated procedurally. Some quests cause beneficial totems to be built on certain floors of the dungeon. Explosions in the dungeon can trigger localized cave-ins. You’ll discover just lying around the dungeon floor plans to visit chaos upon the town–plans which you must thwart. Likewise, every few minutes, it seems,  some monster or another is attacking the town, and you have to rush back to keep it from killing valuable NPCs.

Certain monsters don’t get along, and can be seen be fighting each other as you roam through the dungeon. In fact, all monsters belong to factions. Faction leaders can (and do) declare war on one another, turning certain levels of the dungeon into–quite literally–war zones.

In short, Din’s Curse is constantly changing as you play, whether you’re taking advantage of the changes or not. Just about every new thing that appears in the world appears with a hidden timer. NPCs that visit will leave town again after a certain amount of time. Take too long to beat that quest you picked up, and you will fail it. Take too long acting on a set of plans you discover, and the scheming monster will succeed, making your life a lot harder. The game starts out fairly hectic, and only gets more frenzied as you progress. You’ve been warned.

One of my favorite features of Din’s Curse is that every floor of the dungeon contains a gate back to town. One you’ve activated a gate, you can use it to travel to and from town as much as you want. It’s a huge improvement on the annoying town portal mechanic of the Diablo games. An elegant design choice, it both removes the need for town portal scrolls wasting space in one’s inventory, and provides an optional “find and activate the gate” objective for each floor of the dungeon.

Just as nice is the ability (with my necromancer character, at least) to identify items without having to cart around a load of “identify” scrolls. It is clear that Peeler set out to design this game with a strong awareness of the fact that you will mostly play as a one-person party (though the game does support multiplayer co-op), and he doesn’t leave major abilities like item identification out-of-bounds to the player because of his or her choice of character class.

Along those same lines, you don’t need to create a rogue to be able to spot traps and open locked doors and chests (the ability is open to anyone), and if you still aren’t satisfied with your character’s assortment of abilities, you can adopt a hybrid class. This high degree of customization extends to the world as well, where you can set the difficulty of the game with admirable specificity.

On the whole, Din’s Curse is very well designed. I do have a couple of complaints, however. The first is that in areas of the dungeon where you are beset by large groups of enemies, it can become very difficult to attack once the bodies start hitting the floor, as you’ll find yourself clicking on corpses (and therefor not attacking) at least as often as you find yourself clicking on the still-living enemies. Needless to say, this can be frustrating, and it mars what is otherwise an elegant and intuitive combat system.

The second complaint is that your inventory is pitifully small, especially compared to the mountains of loot you’ll accumulate as you mow through enemies. One gets the sense that Peeler intended the player to spend a lot of time rushing back and forth between the dungeon and town. Arguably this isn’t a bad thing, as it helps contribute to the frantic “Diner Dash” feeling I mentioned earlier, but the presence of constant threats besetting the town accomplishes this effect well enough on its own.

There is one major area where Din’s Curse drops the ball, and that is in the narrative arena. One gets virtually no background about the setting, and characters rarely have anything to say beyond giving you quests (and even those interactions consist of selecting from a list). You “win” by improving your reputation. Your reputation improves every time you complete a quest, and degrades every time a quest ends without you completing it (even if you never found out about the quest to begin with). If there is a plot beyond the basic premise of redeeming yourself to Din, I have yet to encounter it.

The in-game music is mostly well done but unmemorable. The title screen track, however, is a cringe-worthy exception (what can I say–I have an aversion to MIDI violin). The game runs smoothly on my machine. Graphically, Din’s Curse looks like a AAA title released around 2001-02. However, while the graphics are far from current gen, they’re attractive and more than adequate to the task. My only real complaint with the graphics engine is that I am unable to take screenshots of the game for some reason, which unfortunately means that the screenies above are necessarily scavenged from other reviews.

The Verdict: 4/5. If you liked the original Diablo, you’ll love Din’s Curse for its abundance of action, loot, and emergent, madcap gameplay. This is not, however, recommended for players looking for a leisurely or story-driven experience.

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