I really can’t even remember how I came across Nox at first, but I know it was in late 2004 when I bought the European release of Kult: Heretic Kingdoms. At the time I remarked that the games were similar – somewhat small in scope, but very successful in accomplishing what they try to do.
Nox is an isometric action-RPG released in early 2000, which means that it was immediately labeled as a ‘Diablo Clone’. In many ways it fits that description – but it offers much more depth than any of the traditional action-RPG’s, making it more similar to later games like Divine Divinity.
Recently Nox came up in a discussion at a RPG site based on my Netbook Gamer article on Hexplore, so I checked around for a digital download version, and finding none grabbed my game disc again and installed it on my netbook.
Some of the terminology needs explaining: Nox is a 2D isometric action-RPG with a hack & slash combat system often referred to as a Diablo-clone. The 2D isometric refers to the fact that your characters move around on pre-drawn ’tile’ based maps that are purely two dimensional and scroll as you go from one area to the next, and your view is from an off-axis elevated perspective.
Action-RPG means this is a role-playing game, but everything is happening in real-time, thus the ‘action’ descriptor. You move around the world by clicking and holding the mouse to in a certain direction, and attack things by right-clicking on them. You will make extensive use of the mouse – which can be a pain on a netbook.
A major area where an action-RPG lives or dies is how easily you can execute combat actions. Nox works very well in this regard, with few exceptions. Movement and attack are simple, as is spell-casting (or skill usage for no-mages). All are tied to hotkeys that are intuitive. The HUD is useful and minimal, and all menus can be dismissed with either the escape key or the same key that initiated them. The only issues I have are that the quest journal is buried inside the character screen, and when your inventory is loaded up it can be annoying to determine what your character is wearing. This is important as your items become worn and eventually destroyed and there is no repair skill, so you need to switch items to keep them repairable.
The graphics of an isometric RPG are not likely to be pushing the pixels like a high-tech FPS, but most – including Nox – tend to be visually pleasing, featuring 3D characters against pre-rendered backdrops.
There is nothing in the general graphics that is spectacular about Nox, but many nice touches in the gameplay graphics stand out. First, the player only gets to see what the character can see, so there is a ‘cone of sight’ which makes very much sense.
Also, the spell effects are very well done. Finally, the enemies and environments are excellent. In many ways it is hard to believe that the game made use of already outdated MMX graphics protocols rather then using 3D acceleration and DirectX calls that were quite popular by then. Apparently this is because Nox was in development for a long time and was more or less abandoned before being picked up by Westwood.
The story starts off in typical fashion, with as an apprentice who will become the only one who can save Nox. While the overall story is linear and without too many twists and turns, it is interesting and keeps you engaged as it unfolds.
There are occasional side-quests, but the main point of interest is that each character class plays the game very differently … leading to instant replayability. There are three classes, and each one has a significantly different starting tale.
This is along the lines of what was done in Dragon Age: Origins, only a decade earlier – and it really helps cater the game to the character you play, so that even as things align to a central story you have made enough choices and connections to your character that the remainder of the game feels different.
I was surprised by Nox’s character development system – or rather lack of one. Once you set up your initial character, each level up simply increases your attributes and derived attributes (health, mana, resistances) automatically. Your choices are in what spells or skills you use and your weapon and armor choices. Of course, as the game progresses your weapon choices will narrow considerably, as you will be mainly choosing your ‘secondary’ weapon.
The sounds and music in Nox are very well done and provide a nice environment. The voice acting is acceptable but not great – definitely not designed for headphones, let’s just say. They mix acceptably well into the background through normal speakers.
The music is good, and the ambient sounds alert you to what is going on – such as when your armor gets destroyed. If it isn’t clear by now, I love that the game features destroyable armor and items – they provide a sense of realism but don’t happen so much that it becomes an annoyance.
The game features three classes: warrior, wizard and conjurer. As a warrior you will be focusing on wielding heavy weapons and using your strength to work through the game. As a Wizard you will learn up to 45 different spells that offer a vast array of offensive and defensive options. The conjurer can control and summon creatures using up to 24 spells.
Classic RPG’s are typically some of the most replayable games out there, due to the ability to play different character types and make different choices. This is partly true in Nox, as choosing a different character class gives you a different game experience. However, you cannot customize your character at all, so all mage games are identical.
Further, the game features multiplayer, but it is entirely tied to Westwood games, and the service died along with the company. So I never even managed to try out multiplayer.
I have mentioned a few things that might impact netbook gamers: graphics, controls and age. The game is relatively old, which means that it will easily run on even the lowest end netbook, but I had concerns given the pre-DirectX graphics systems it uses. Fortunately those ran very well – they even worked fine on a newer 64-bit Windows 7 system!
Perhaps the biggest issue comes down to the amount of time spent with a mouse. On a netbook it is a concern because using the tiny trackpad gets old quickly. I didn’t find it to be any more of an issue than with other games in the genre, but if your hands get tired from netbook trackpad use already, this is a definite ‘watch-out’.
I really liked Nox, more than I expected. It went by very quickly at the beginning, but became deeper and more complex as the game progressed. It is nice that the different classes have different paths, even if you cannot customize your character as you go along. In the end, it is a solid, coherent game that just works.
RetroGamer Perspective: Nox is one of those ‘lost gem’ games – it is a solid game released in an era that (looking back) produced a constant stream of classics for PC gamers. It was never hugely popular, meaning that for most gamers they missed it back in 2000. It still holds up well and represents a nice peek back in time.
Netbook Gamer Perspective:
– Digital Download / CD version? – No digital download version, and the CD version is out of print. Easily available for cheap on Goozex or eBay.
– Installation Notes: The game is on a single CD and installs fairly quickly. There is a no serial number or anything else to enter during installation.
– Disk Space Requirements: full-install takes ~600MB.
– CD Required to Play? Yes. For my netbook gaming I created a disk image and mounted that, which worked fine.
– Control Considerations? Nox is a fairly traditional action-RPG
– Will it run on a VIA C7? Yes!
– Will it run with 1GB RAM? Yes!
– Special Considerations for running in Windows XP / Vista / Win 7? Game runs fine on any system, including my new Windows 7 64-bit laptop.
– Compatible versions for other OS such as Linux or Mac OS? Never released, and the lack of DirectX might impact compatibility with Crossover games or Wine, but haven’t noted any attempts to try.
– Notes on the Digital Version: As noted, none available.
Conclusion: Nox reminds me of a precursor to a game like Divine Divinity – something that makes use of the fast-paced action-RPG combat system, but is looking to provide gamers with more depth than they typically get out of the action-RPG genre. It is a solid game that provides many hours of fun, and bears replaying to enjoy the three different character classes.