Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Innovation Spotlight: Depths of Peril

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 23, 2012

Sooner or later, I’m bound to do one of these spotlights about a game I’ve already talked a ton about before. I figured I might as well get it over with and spotlight a favorite of mine that I’ve already spilled plenty of virtual ink over in the past. But hey, it’s been a while. And with the news that last week Diablo III broke all PC sales records and became the fastest-selling PC game in history (and here all the games websites have been telling me that the PC as a gaming platform was on the decline…), I figured today would be a good day to talk about one of the more innovative indie games that have emerged from Diablo‘s legacy.

Depths of Peril, by Soldak Entertainment

What Is It?

Depths of Peril was the freshman effort by Soldak Entertainment (which is, like many indie studios, pretty much a one-man-shop plus contractors, run by mainstream biz vet and overall cool guy Steven Peeler).  Released in 2007, it’s an action-RPG strongly rooted in the Diablo style. There are four standard classes (Warrior, Priest, Rogue, and Wizard), dynamically generated outdoors and dungeon areas, a decent number of monsters for an indie title, and of course the monsters can scale up in level as you increase power. As you advance, you also get the ability to choose some special difficulty options – like hardcore mode, loner mode, or several levels of world difficulty.

And items. Depths of Peril has plenty of items, as a Diablo-style action-RPG should.  Common items, rare items, unique items, the usual suspects.  Every time you level, you can increase your stats and buy (if you have enough money and earned skill points) increases in various skills and powers in several categories. They aren’t really a skill “tree,” but rather collections of abilities related by theme, of varying costs.

Quest-givers and merchants abound (even occasionally found in the wilderness and dungeons), with a never-ending supply of quests to accomplish and items to purchase – though of course, most of the time you’ll be selling tons of picked-up treasures to them rather than buying their wares.

All-in-all, as Diablo-style games are concerned, Depths of Peril hits all the marks. While it lacks the polish of its bigger-budget kin, it’s still a decent-looking, very fun-playing indie action-RPG title. If this was all there was to the game, I’d not hesitate to recommend it to fans of the sub-genre. But I wouldn’t be overly enthusiastic either. This is all very competently done, but we’ve seen it all before. And to be honest, if you just wanted to play Depths of Peril as a straight-up Diablo-like, you can do that and have a pretty good time playing it.

Where other games (including much bigger-budget titles) leave off, Depths of Peril is really only getting started.

What Makes It Stand Out?

The ARPG formula is really just a foundation for Depths of Peril. While other games might layer a storyline with expensive cinematics on this and call it a complete game, Depths of Peril layers on a massive dynamic world system, and then a whole ‘nother strategy game on top of that.

We’ll start with the dynamic world thing, as that’s kinda become Soldak’s focus in subsequent titles. In most RPGs, you might get a quest to defeat a boss monster. Maybe the boss monster has been dynamically generated.  Cool enough, but that’s it. The quests are conventional, but mostly meaningless. In many games, you can’t even fail the quest – though you may be able to drop them. The quest just gives you an activity to do, but is otherwise static.

In Depths of Peril, the quests may impact the world in some way, and can progress and escalate. A quest to quell an uprising of enemies, if left idle long enough, can escalate to a boss taking leadership of the uprising, to a boss creating some powerful minions, to an attack on the town of Jorvik that you are supposed to be defending. A poisoned water supply can lead to venders and quest-givers dying and being unavailable. A thief in town may deplete the town of its merchandise for sale. And so on.  And even if the quest hasn’t had a chance to escalate, you may be beaten to its conclusion by your rivals. More on this in a bit.

You can also build a “covenant” – a guilt – of additional NPC recruits who can join you on your quests. Your covenant may have one member (including yourself) of each character class. You can have one of these members join you on your quests, and your NPC assistant will also gain levels alongside you. They are much more limited in the gear they can equip than you are, so only certain items may be traded to them for any benefit. Your covenant house also sports some shrines and bookcases where you can accumulate artifacts and books that gives your covenant or members certain bonuses. Your covenant house also sports a couple of teleporters there for easy travel to and from teleport nodes (or created portals) throughout the world. There’s also a giant gem in the house that will heal your party and restore their spell points. The gem is also critically important to the success of your covenant. Oh, and you can hire guards to help you protect your covenant house from attack (along with your covenant members). Because yes, it can be attacked.

Sounds a lot more interesting, doesn’t it? Well, like they’d say in the TV direct-marketing commercials, “But wait! There’s more!”

Your covenant isn’t the only one in the city. There are other rival organizations doing the same thing you are doing. The one that gathers the most influence over the city wins.  So while you are all cooperating to assist the city, you are also competing for the end-game of ruling the city. Alliances can be formed, wars started between the guilds – er, covenants – trade shared / tribute extracted. You may compete for recruits, and will frequently be competing with them for successful completion of quests (as winning quests gets your covenant more influence over the city). You may even team up with allied covenant members as a partner for adventures rather than your own NPC henchmen.

And of course, you can destroy them. It’s a very tough thing to do, because of various home-field advantages, but you can invade their covenant house and destroy that big ol’ gem they all have, and if you do, it’s game over for your rival. And they can do the same to you.

The interplay with the other covenants can be difficult to deal with, but the game thoughtfully offered the ability to set your rival covenants’ power level when you create a new world. At low level, they don’t present much threat to you, and can often be ignored. At higher levels, it’s a frantic juggling act that requires careful diplomacy and entering into alliances to have a prayer of making it to the end-game. If things ever get too dismal, however, you are always welcome to start a new world. Your character carries over, with all his or her gear intact, but otherwise you are starting fresh with a clean slate.

Other Notes

While the dynamic world – with all of its causality and progression – carried over into later Soldak titles, the whole Covenant strategy-game layer has not (so far). I think for a lot of players, it ended up being a little “too much” – overwhelming the rest of the game. Fortunately, this was configurable, and I still hope to see a sequel with a refined version of this meta-game.

If I were to make a recommendation today, I’d probably have to point to the spiritual sequel Din’s Curse, also by Soldak. I also have high hopes for the upcoming Drox Operative, a sci-fi spacefaring game that sounds like it borrows from some of the concepts of its predecessors, including Depths of Peril. Din’s Curse dropped the idea of the covenants, and focuses on a single dungeon at a time, but it really expanded on the dynamic quest and event concept.  But while Depths of Peril is a little ‘busy’ both in terms of art and gameplay – keeping you constantly hopping – it’s both a very fun game in its own right and a stand-out example of taking a basic concept and really building upon it with more great ideas to make something brand new.

Depths of Peril, along with its siblings – is an example of what the other Diablo clones can be when they grow up.

Interested? You can pick up Depths of Peril here at Rampant Games!


Filed Under: Indie Innovation Spotlight - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • BBrenesal said,

    Good mini-review. I’ve always thought of Depths of Peril as a sort of Diablo-with-mods-included, a far superior game that includes many strategic layers. It’s the kind of thing I hope to see in their new sci-fi title. It also led me to think there was more to hack-and-slash titles than just an endless clickfest with a few stats that would fool the kiddies into thinking it was an RPG. I *still* don’t think Diablo or its sequels deserve that in their title, but a game like DoP shows just how much depth their is to the genre when you apply some creative thinking. We need more games that do this.