Monday, October 22, 2007
Let's Talk About Depths of Peril
Okay, you guys have heard me heap the praise on the new indie computer role-playing game, "Depths of Peril." I'm now happy to announce that Depths of Peril is now available from Rampant Games as well. You can check it out here:
Depths of Peril at Rampant Games!
If I'd done my job well enough, however, you'll already have grabbed it by now, which is cool. But in case you missed my little rave a few weeks ago, here's more. I've played the game ... a little too much more... since then, and have more to say on it. This is gonna be a weird post, because it's not exactly a review, and it's not exactly a plug. It's me talking about an RPG that I really like. And maybe it's me trying to extract some productivity out the SEVERAL hours I have lost to this game. Durn it, Steven, you just HAD to go and release this game when I was swamped with stuff to get done, didn't you?
So if you'll indulge me a little bit... let me tell you about why I'm hooked on this game right now. And then you can decide for yourself if you want to click on that link and try it out for yourself. Because I'm gonna come right out and say that it's not going to be for everyone. But I feel a little like it was custom-designed for an old-school RPG fan like myself who craves something innovative and a little deeper than the average shallow-as-a-mud-puddle experience.
The Family Resemblance
First of all, if you resent and hate Diablo-style RPGs, you probably aren't gonna like it. Depths of Peril is firmly in that camp. The combat action is intense with lots of real-time clicking. However, unlike Diablo, your character will keep fighting the targeted enemy if you don't issue different commands, so you don't have to wear out your mouse button quite so badly in melee.
And if that was all there was to Depths of Peril, I'd call it a competent if uninspired Diablo clone, give it a short rah-rah go-indie speech, and call it good. But what makes Depths of Peril so fascinating is that it goes well outside the comfort zone of traditional RPGs, and incorporates elements that might sound like a mash-up on paper, but really work extremely well as a unified whole. The "strategy elements" aspect of Depths of Peril isn't some tacked-on gameplay or mini-game, but actually a well-executed logical extension of the roleplaying experience. It complements the core gameplay extremely well.
What's The Story?
Here's the deal. You are the leader of a faction (a "covenant") in a barbarian settlement right on the border of the evil monster-filled wilderness. Actually, when you first start the game, you are a covenant of one - your job is to build up a little group of loyal retainers and become the most significant force in the city. Except there are several other factions in town that have set their sites on the same goal. But all of them - including you - are also concerned for the well-being of the city, as that not only makes it easier to get around and do things, but aiding the city also increases your faction's influence.
The "strategy" elements are actually pretty much straightforward extensions of this situation given a somewhat dynamic game world. The monsters in the wilderness are not all static or re-spawning beasts that wander around stupidly until you (or your rival covenants) come to mow them down. Over time, boss monsters will appear, and if left unchecked, will gather followers and may attack the city. The city's water supply may get poisoned, or it may get besieged, or bad guys may sneak into the city and start slaughtering crucial NPCs. (Like you, they can be resurrected over time - in fact, they make comments about this phenomenon all the time - but it's a pain when your quest NPC or armor-seller is temporarily unavailable because they've been turned to stone or slaughtered).
While some of the city emergencies come pretty much out-of-the-blue (as far as I can tell), there are also some chains of cause-and-effect that takes things from bad to worse if you ignore certain quests or warnings for too long.
Add to that the actions of the other covenants. They may complete quests ahead of you. They may start wars with each other, and try to suck you into the conflict. Long, drawn-out conflicts are pretty much bad news to the city, because with two factions duking it out like that, they are going to be too preoccupied to help keep the city safe. And the game is generous enough with the dynamic quests that it can be hard to keep up with them unaided, particularly at higher levels.
It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken!
What all this means is that your decisions are far more complicated and dynamic than you'd find in most RPGs. There are real consequences to actions, and you can't simply accept every quest that falls in your lap and then complete it "when you get around to it." The game won't wait for you. So you have to decide --- do you push forward in a quest to recruit a high-level mage for your covenant? Or do you let it drop (and risk an aggressive rival covenant recruiting him) while you try and lift a siege which has explosive catapult shot going off all over the city injuring everyone (including your own faction members)? Or do you ignore it all in favor of pursuing greater loot and experience points for your own covenant members? Or do you take advantage of the aggressive rival covenant's current weakness and attack them BEFORE they have a chance to recruit that rival wizard, thus keeping them occupied so they won't have a chance to complete the recruitment quest themselves? Or better yet, do you encourage a conflict between them and a different covenant, weakening them both?
And can you pull off two of the above in time?
These "interesting decisions" changes the whole flavor of the game. When I started playing and going through the tutorial missions, I was convinced that I'd been there, played that, at least a dozen times before. By the time I had defeated the other factions (and "won" the game, though I still had plenty to do in the next "world" with new opponents facing my now-battle-hardened covenant), I was pretty excited with how differently it had played out. This was something new!
Why Is It Important?
It all might sound a little complicated - and truth be told, when I first started out it really was - but it becomes manageable and reasonably straightforward after a while. The game challenges you to learn the fine art of juggling. Steven's stated goal during development of the game was that decisions and actions would have consequences. This isn't just once-or-twice pre-scripted events that let you determine some branch for the game - it's a constant give-and-take where you have to balance multiple goals. I'd say he succeeded.
Depths of Peril is not an easy game. This isn't an "introductory-level" RPG like Diablo. This is a game with some real depth to it; a game which adds some hard-core "meat" to the bones of a simple Diablo-esque RPG. In my opinion, it's also a very important game. I am afraid that the very people who would most enjoy this game - the core RPG fans who keep begging for greater innovation and something beyond the "me, too" pablum that makes up too much of the mainstream PC RPG releases - are going to shy away from it because of its less-than-cutting-edge graphics or the fear of an ugly "strategy game mash-up" mess.
In my opinion, every good RPG is part strategy game (or at least a tactics game), and Depths of Peril simply extends that idea outside the box and into some really fun, less-explored territory. And I would like to see this game do very, very well - just to give developers and publishers a glimpse of how much further RPGs can really go, and that there's an audience out there for it.
Sound intriguing? Give it a try here.
But be warned. For me, at least, it had that very addictive "just one more quest!" quality. Be careful if you need to get a full night's sleep tonight...
(Vaguely) related excess verbosity
* Depths of Peril: Demo and Quick Take
* Indie RPG Roundtable
* Indie RPGs: Just Not Worth It?
* Where is Indie Innovation?
How About a Forum Discussion All About Depths of Peril?