Thursday, June 19, 2014

When I take over, the candlemakers die first! - Nox

It's amazing how much perspective can change a game. At first blush, Nox would seem to be a hack 'n slash, loot and level RPG like Diablo 2 or Titan Quest. It has Real time combat, random equipment, hordes of enemies you fight in a top down perspective. If you didn't know any better, you'd probably expect randomly generated levels and bosses, and lots of optional dungeons and areas to explore.

While it shares a few things in common with those games. Nox is not really that kind of RPG and instead does a few things of it's own. One of the first and most obvious is that the game world is not random, every playthrough has the exact same level layout and enemy placement. The game actually makes good use of this, several dungeons in the game include all sorts of traps and obstacle courses that can only really be made by hand and there's also plenty of secret areas tucked away in various parts of the environment that reward players willing to explore.
The world of Nox is not random, so this dungeon will be the same every game.
You choice of character class also has a surprisingly large impact on the game outside of simple stats and skill selection. while the basic story remains the same: you, playing as everyman Jack Mower have been magically pulled into the land of Nox by the necromancer Hecuba and must now fight your way back home. How you go through the games story depends on what class you chose. Several of the game's 11 chapters are completely different for each class, and have their own areas to explore and quests to complete. Your choice of class even decides the game's ending. It gives the game some replayability and gives you a good reason to play through the main campaign with each class.

Combat is about what you'd expect clicking on enemies attacks them, or you can cast spells or abilities from your hotbar, The AI isn't quite as brainless as you might expect though, some will flee when they take enough damage, and will even use food or healing items if there's any laying around. spellcasters are particularity nasty, as they not only make efforts to keep their distance, but will actively run around an even teleport to try and keep you from getting a clear shot at them. it makes some of the more crowded fights a bit frantic as you'll have enemies running around everywhere.
Some monsters can be surprisingly clever, leeches are not one of these monsters.
Graphically, the game has held up fairly well. While the CGI used in the games FMVs are obviously primitive, as is the CG used for character portraits, the environments are fairly detailed and nice looking, there's also some good lighting effects and the game even has line of sight based visibility. Sounds also work well, with some atmosphere sounds and plenty of appropriate snarling and growling from the many enemies you'll be fighting.

The game's biggest weakness is likely it's RPG mechanics. as an RPG the game is very weak, characters have few stats and everything is handed automatically at level up, there's no skill or stat points to distribute. There's also not actually much in the way of leveling at all as i actually beat the game at about level 10. While the game has equipment, which can have magic effects on it, there's not a lot of effects for equipment to have meaning there's not really much in the way of equipment. for those who love tweaking stats and skills there's not really much to work with here.
Character portraits can be a bit primitive
The game also suffers from some mild difficult problems, some chapters had seen me running out of health potions and struggling to stay alive while others had me drowning in them and I was mostly safe, so long as I didn't run afoul of anything that might instantly kill me. The game also has a problem in that equipment uses a durability system, but opportunities to repair are few and far between and repair is expensive. This also means shops aren't always readily available especially late game, add in that gold isn't overly abundant and you'll find you can't always do everything you might want or need to at shops.

The game also has no respawning, if you die it's game over and you'll have to reload a save. There is an autosave but it doesn't update itself very often. fortunately the menu has an option to quickly save to an auto save slot and it's advised to regularly update it manually to avoid losing too much progress on death. Fortunately, despite all these problems I never found myself at a point where things were impossible.
The line of sight effect is pretty nice looking.
Outside of the main campaign, there's quest and multiplayer modes. Quest mode is very arcade like, as you run through various stages with a limited number of lives destroying monster generators and unlike the main campaign the levels in quest mode are randomly generated. There's also multiplayer, which has a verity of game modes including quest mode, unfortunately the servers have been taken offline so it's LAN only if you want play with you friends.

Overall, if you try to compare Nox to games like Diablo you'll be sorely disappointed, while there's some similarities, it doesn't really have the features to stand up to games like that. What it is though is a fun little action RPG that's worth checking out for at least one playthough if not the three needed to see everything.

Nox was developed by Westwood Studios and published by Electronic Arts, it's available from GoG.

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