I have consistently sung the praises of Soldak Entertainment since their first game released in 2007, which they have earned by consistently serving the RPG community with well-made, fun and interesting games. The most recent release from Stephen Peeler and crew is Din’s Curse – but let’s take a quick look at their earlier releases.
The first Soldak game was Depths of Peril (DoP), which was interesting because it featured a dynamic game world. At the core was an action RPG, but DoP offered much more than a simple Diablo-esque experience. As a player you head up a faction charged with protecting the city of Jorvik from invading forces, and have the goal of becoming leader of the city. But you aren’t alone – there are other factions and other leaders and in the dynamic game world it is possible that some will befriend you and others might become competitors!
The follow-up to DoP was Kivi’s Underworld (Kivi). For many hardcore fans of DoP Kivi was a disappointment. Whereas DoP was deep, and dynamic, Kivi’s Underworld was never designed with that in mind. It was definitely designed to satisfy the ‘casual bite-sized gaming’ crowd, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the experience. Kivi is on a mission to save the world – one small quest at a time. No real inventory, and a limited ability to develop your character, but with fun quests and loads of secrets that allow you to get more and more powerful. It was a good bit of fun that I still enjoy. Many, I believe, dismissed it unfairly.
Now Soldak is back with Din’s Curse, an action-RPG with loads of replayability built-in due to world randomization and an incredible array of character customization options.
The story is pretty basic: during your life you squandered your time while causing misfortune to those around you. The great god Din has cursed you into a second life which you will fill with service to others. Only when you have demonstrated true atonement for the actions of your first life will you be released for your fate.
You start out by selecting a character class from a selection of six main classes: Priest, Thief, Conjurer, Wizard, Ranger, and Warrior. You can also choose a ‘hybrid’ class, sort of like traditional D&D dual-class character builds. There are multiple specializations available for each class, so if you want to be a Fire Mage or Paladin you can pursue that as well, adding even more replayability as Soldak did a great job with skills and class differentiation.
From there you choose things like gender, name and difficulty. Difficulty is handled in an interesting way – you set a basic level, but the real choice comes in terms of what level you want monsters to be relative to you. You set them lower to make it easier, higher to be harder. The game defaults to monsters at about your level.
The game is played from an isometric view similar to games such as Baldur’s Gate and Diablo, meaning that you can only see things from an angle. This also means that walls and other objects can obscure your line of sight, but the game handles that with transparency for walls and objects. There are still occasions when your view of oncoming monsters is obscured, but they are rare and have little impact since you will know they are there when you get attacked!
Since Din’s Curse is an action-RPG there are invariably comparisons made to the Diablo games. That isn’t inaccurate, as the core gameplay is fairly similar. You move around the world by clicking where you want to go, then you similarly click to attack the monsters you meet, and select various skills using the keyboard to activate them.
When monsters drop look you click to add it to your inventory, which is limited in terms of how many items you can carry. Once it is full you need to either drop items or head back to the town to sell the goods you have collected. Weapons and armor other than ‘ordinary items’ are color coded to indicate it they are special in some way. This tends to mean they are more powerful … and certainly more valuable!
Similar to many games in the genre, the majority of the game takes place at ever-deeper levels of a dungeon. You start off at first with some quests that will take you down the first few levels. Each dungeon level has a way to get to the next lower level, up to the next higher level, and back to town. You can also discover a teleport location on each level that will let you quick-travel from the surface back to whatever level you just left.
The graphics in an ‘indie’ game are almost always the subject of heated debate, and that is true with Soldak’s games as well, though honestly not to the extent that a game like Avernum 6 gets criticized for looking ‘too old school’ or whatever.
Look – none of these types of games are going to win ‘best graphics of the year’ awards, but that isn’t the focus, nor does it mean these games look bad. Soldak games have a detailed and colorful visual presentation that does a solid job of presenting an immersive and convincing dungeon-crawl experience. In terms of the level of detail I would compare it with Evil Islands, but would say that Din’s Curse more detailed in general.
The audio is acceptable, from music to sound effects to ambient sounds as you explore the world and battle your way through the dungeon. To my ear it is the least of all elements in the game, but that doesn’t make it bad. Not surprisingly there is no voice acting – it is just too expensive to have full acting, and games with partial acting get complaints from people who think there is a disappearing audio bug! The ambient sounds, background music and effects are all serviceable but not the main attraction.
So if the gameplay is essentially similar to other action-RPG games, and the graphics and audio are only ‘good’, then what IS the main attraction?
Two things about quests take this game from just an average action-oriented dungeon romp and turn it into one of my favorite and most-played games so far this year: the sheer amount of quests, and the consequences linked to just about every one.
When you enter town, you will meet up with Din, and there are also a number of other main characters such as the warmaster, alchemist, and others who will give you quests. These can be to gather items, quell an uprising, seek revenge for a misdeed, or even rescue someone trapped below.
You have limits on how many quests you can take at once, which is actually a good thing … let me explain. Soldak has created a living world in Din’s Curse, meaning it exists whether or not you are actively doing anything. So unlike shooter games where a low-level enemy’s entire existence consists of waiting inside a small room for you to arrive and kill him, in Din’s Curse that boss monster getting riled up on Level 6 of the dungeon gets more and more angry and agitated the longer he is there surrounded by his minions.
In most games you load up on quests and take them on as a matter of convenience, but in Din’s Curse if you are picking herbs for the alchemist after the warmaster told you about that uprising on Level 6, you will eventually start getting in-game messages that the uprising has erupted on Level 6 and that a town attack is imminent. If you still don’t heed this message and just think ‘I’ll just finish collecting these herbs then go save the town’, chances are half the town will be lying dead by the time you reach the surface – possibly even the alchemist who requested the herbs!
The first time I arrived after monsters were swarming the village I was shocked and thrilled – this is simply NOT how most games work. Sure some games like The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind will let you kill off critical NPCs and destroy your own game, but in general most games have invulnerable key characters. Suddenly you realize that you need to use strategy in how you accept and carry out quests.
And guess what – letting the town get over-run to the point that the main quest-givers are killed off means essentially ‘you lose’. But that isn’t the only way to lose – as you work your way through the game there are other NPC’s performing quests (similar to other factions in Depths of Peril), and it is possible that they could save the town before you!
Din’s Curse is playable as a single player game and also in co-op mode, where you team up with others to take on the dungeons. Did I just say others as in more than one?!? Yes I did – most co-op games allow two or perhaps up to four players to work through quests together. But in Din’s Curse you can have as many as your hardware can handle. You can even have folks in different areas with some turning in quests, others selling off stuff, and still others doing the killing, since experience is all divided up equally.
My only complaints about the game are all pretty minor. First off, the main story is pretty thin – you depend on the thrill of ‘live action questing’ and saving the town to keep you engaged. When you finish one town you simply generate a new town, or a new character or both!
Also, and this might sound petty, but after getting a ‘universal unlock’ for Eschalon Book II (review coming soon I promise!), I feel a bit hampered by the $25 each for Mac & PC. I had bought the Mac version to play the beta, and was fortunate that Soldak provided a PC copy for review. I love the flexibility of cross-platform gaming, but not so much the cost! Of course, for games such as Avernum 6 it is even worse, as it is tied to a specific machine! So perhaps this is unfair to level at Soldak as I really think they offer a great value, but I do hope that more indies will take the same route as and offer gamers a single purchase that covers all platforms of a game.
But those couple of niggles are just that – minor things that don’t begin to impinge upon my enjoyment of Din’s Curse. I have heard comparisons to Torchlight, and in some ways I can see that, but not totally. Torchlight is perhaps more polished overall, but it is very much a simple dungeon crawler. Din’s Curse goes much further, but having a living world and multiple challenges that require thought and planning, it delivers a fresh and engaging gaming experience.
Note: just as I was finishing up the review, Soldak released a new beta patch 1.003. I have only played with it briefly and only on the Mac, but from my quick experience it makes a dramatic difference in the presentation. That have added a new perspective view and a better option for shadowing – both of which make a difference in the overall visibility that I had mentioned earlier. Soldak also cleaned up the user interface in terms of improved fonts and an overall cleaner and more detailed experience. They have taken an already excellent game and made it even better!
Here is the new graphics options page:
Here is a view of the town – compare that to the screen above and you can see the differences:
Finally here are two ‘You Saved The Town’ screens – one from the 1.002 version and the second from the new 1.003 release. Quite a difference!
RetroGamer Perspective: Soldak produces games that appeal to fans of classic games with hardware requirements low enough that just about anyone can play them. They bring back the purity and simplicity of the older randomly generated dungeon crawl games, but with an intelligent challenge created through a dynamic and living world.
Netbook Gamer Perspective:
- Digital Download / CD version? – Din’s Curse is available as a download version only. You can get it by trying out the demo and then buying the unlock or just buying the full game. (note: you need to re-download the game to move from demo to full game). You can get the game here for $24.99.
- Installation Notes: The game installs quickly from the downloaded install file, with no serial number or online activation required to initially start the game. A registration code is required to unlock the full game.
- Disk Space Requirements: full-install takes ~200MB.
- CD Required to Play? No – the digital version has no special requirements.
- Control Considerations? Din’s Curse uses a standard set of mouse and keyboard controls. The game is easily playable even using a cramped netbook trackpad.
- 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? I have played Din’s Curse on XP and Win 7, and it works great on both!
- Compatible versions for other OS such as Linux or Mac OS? There is an excellent Mac version that has patch parity (i.e. same content) with the PC version. No Linux version.
- Notes on the Digital Version: There is only the digital version.
Conclusion: Soldak has once again created a great RPG that encompasses many familiar things but brings us something new and challenging that lends itself to a fun and fresh gaming experience. The core of the game is wrapped around a dynamic world loaded with quests, and that in itself will be enough to keep you coming back for more.
Review: Din’s Curse (PC/Mac RPG, 2010)
Where to Buy: Soldak.com
What I Like: Constant improvement and great attention to the fanbase; Loads of fun and challenging quests; Dynamic world adds to replayability; Distinct character classes provide varied play experiences.
What Needs Improvement: Main story is thin – would love the next game from Soldak to build on a larger base; Purchase system is somewhat antiquated – would like a cross-platform license and easier in-game activations;
Source: Mac version was a personal purchase, PC version provided courtesy of Soldak.