Wot I Think – Din’s Curse: Demon War

By Quintin Smith on March 8th, 2011 at 3:04 pm.

Coincidentally, Elite Pilfer Clan Leprechaun is what I call my girlfriend.

Indie action RPG Din’s Curse is often referred to by Kieron as one of the games that got away- an acclaimed, interesting indie title that RPS never found the time to review. UNTIL TODAY. Following the release of the recent expansion, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time with this beauty, and am excited to present Wot I Think.

So, you’re a hero. A tall combine harvester of a man, with a unique knack for rolling forward and crushing and scything everything in your path, and you’re on a quest to rescue a lady, kill some monstrous boss monster and save a town. This tireless plot has been the set-up for a thousand fantasy videogames.

Now, imagine if you could fail at all this. Imagine if the lady could die, the monstrous boss monster could beat a retreat, and the town relying on you could, ultimately, be laid to waste. Imagine if everything mattered. That’s Din’s Curse.

The plot of Din’s Curse (revealed once you make your choice from a nice range of character classes) is that you’ve absolutely ruined the God Din’s faith in you, somehow. Perhaps you killed your family in a fit of fatherly pique. Perhaps you deleted Din’s favourite series off the digital box. It doesn’t matter and it’s never mentioned, because the plot of the game is that, as punishment, you have to travel the world under Din’s watchful gaze saving towns from monsters.

To anybody who’s played Diablo or Torchlight, things should get familiar at this point. The first town you’re spawned into has weapon vendors, apothecaries, merchants, a stash for your loot and plenty of incidental NPCs who don’t do anything of value. This is your home base, and from here you can venture down into the town’s dungeon and start beating the crap out of anything that moves, levelling up and gathering loot. While they’re all randomised, every town will have these facilities in common. They all act as small commercial bases sat on top of a dungeon like corks plugged into the top of active volcanos.

Something else Din’s Curse has in common with Diablo and Torchlight is a competence that’s immediately apparent from the first monster you kill with a leisurely thwack to the head. The animations, tempo and audio of the game are all excellently satisfying, and while its visuals are basic, they don’t get in the way of this being a rock-solid dungeon crawler.

To save each town you’ll need to perform any number of randomised quests, like hunting down the a particularly rude monster that’s mobilising all the other monsters, or smashing a portal, recovering a lost food shipment and so on, as well as finishing any number of side-quests. So far, so ordinary.

The twist of Din’s Curse, which is really more like a whip-fast roundhouse kick that takes your legs out from under you, is that these quests aren’t just static checkpoints like they are in Diablo, Torchlight or just about any dungeon crawler ever made. The quests in Din’s Curse are dynamic events that can, very often, be failed.

The first time I was bitten by this was in my very first town, on level 2 of the dungeon, trying to rescue some lost armour smith with the long term goal of stopping Deepfang, some demon who was starting an uprising of Hellhounds way down on level 6.

When I found the armour smith, she was getting the crap kicked out of her by a gang of orcs in a corner behind about two dozen barrels, and, to repurpose a line from Max Payne, the red was bleeding out of her health bar like it was a broken bottle of Tabasco. I sent my Demon Hunter crashing through the barrels, desperate to reach her in time, and arrived at the orcs as she was on death’s door. With a shield bash and an unholy strike I took away most of their punch, then hacked them to death in that sordid corner as fast as I could. The armour smith lived.

And then a message popped up saying that Deepfang’s uprising of Hellhounds was complete, and he was starting another one. Not only was floor 6 now full of Hellhounds, but if somebody didn’t deal with them soon, they’d attack the town.

Town attacks are the purest example of Din’s Curse dynamism. Screw up, or just get a run of bad luck, and monsters will come bursting out of the ground to butcher as many townspeople as they can. It turns out that those incidental NPCs have a purpose after all- in an attack, they provide much-needed fodder before the monsters attempt to slaughter vital townsfolk, like vendors and people with a head on their shoulders (read: quest-givers). One lovely little feature is that you can actually give arms and armour to each and every member of the town, so if you’re in a particularly miserable community that’s forced to repel monster attacks at every turn, you can try and equip the townsfolk. What then do you do when you’re one dungeon level away from the big bad that’s organising these attacks, and you get the message that the town is under attack? Do you press on, or fall back?

It’s a beautiful system because it’s just so emotive. Each town is a self-contained story. On average, each one might only take 25 minutes to save, but as well as the dungeon tileset and quests being different for each one, you also get to select the parameters of the next town you go to. Tougher monsters, more active NPCs and more active monsters are all options, and the result is that each town takes on a life of its own.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ve encountered God-forsaken rain-swept disease-holes, perfectly lovely communities sat atop bottomless demon-holes, and one town where the confluence of four or five factors meant everybody was starving all the time, necessitating frequent trips back to the surface to give my people money like some bloodstained samaritan. That was a fun place to be.

Foremost in my mind, though, are the towns where I made the awesome mistake of cranking up the monster level away from “normal” and towards “hard”. Playing a game like Din’s Curse where you’ve got everything to lose is one thing. Playing it on a hard difficulty setting where you will, in all probability, go ahead and lose it makes for a fascinating experience.

It’s awesomely bleak, and a real test of will. Pushing deeper into the dungeon is as slow and tiring as tearing through its composite sod and stones with your bare hands, and all the while you’re getting messages in your chat ticker announcing your failure. He’s dead, she’s hungry, the bad guy is winning, and you’re down there with dirt packed tight under your fingernails and an imp gnawing at your ankle. Nobody said being a hero would be easy. But I’ll tell you something- when you finally do hit your stride, and you pick out some armour that gives you the right resistances, and you arrive at that enormous bad guy and- Jesus Christ- the game’s decided that he’s four times as big as any monster you’ve ever seen, and you go toe to toe with him and fell him with a final, desperate blow from your sword- that’s everything dungeon crawling can, and should be.

From a narrative point of view, it’s interesting for much the same reason that Minecraft was. Both it and Din’s Curse are games with little to nothing set in stone, plot-wise. There are no characters purpose-built for you to fall for, no set-pieces to take your breath away and no ending to provide closure, and yet the free-form design of the game provides something infinitely more alluring. You create your own stories, and explore your own landscape where anything can happen.

To put it another way, I played Torchlight for some ten hours and while I enjoyed myself, there’s part of me that considers those hours wasted. I was just clicking on monster after monster in an addict’s trance. Walking away from Din’s Curse, I’ve got all these lovely memories of heroism and failure, of tension and peace, of the time the town I was saving got ravaged of a thunderstorm of such apocalyptic intensity that it was actually safer to stay in the dungeon.

Or, to put it yet another way, I prefer Din’s Curse to Torchlight. Pop that in your pipe and smoke it.

That said, even if you’ve played both and disagree, Din’s Curse does have one inarguable plus over Torchlight- it boasts full co-op multiplayer, something I didn’t even touch but I can imagine would be great. One of you running back to defend the town while the other fights on alone? A whole gang of you pouring into the dungeon, desperate to interrupt the building of a machine before it’s completed, boosting the strength of every monster in the dungeon? That sounds brilliant.

Developers Soldak Entertainment have, thankfully, released a demo so you can decide whether you want to take the $20 plunge for the base game. The trickier decision is whether you want the $10 Demon War expansion on top of that, and it’s tricky because I was playing with Demon War the entire time, so I don’t know precisely how much it adds.

In the words of the developers, what Demon War adds is more of what makes Din’s Curse unique, meaning greater variety in those randomised quests, NPCs that interact more with the world and more world modifiers. There’s a new class, new environments and some new monsters, too. On instinct, I’d say get it. You’re paying a total of $30 for dozens of hours of gaming, and you’re supporting another of those amazing indie titles that makes the PC great. Get it! Just get it. Get it all.

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47 Comments »

  1. Walsh says:

    But I already have a year long backlog of games to play :(

  2. Anthile says:

    See also: http://rockpapershotgun.com/rpsforum/topic.php?id=4186

    I’m still waiting for fellow players!

  3. Evilpigeon says:

    Stoppit, stop tempting me to buy things :(

  4. Cooper says:

    I’m still crawling through Titan’s Quest I got 4 months ago.

    Bloody hell that game is loooong

    • Quintin Smith says:

      I didn’t get along with Titan Quest at all. Far too stingy with its content. To me, Diablo 2 was offroading in a jeep and Titan Quest was a commute.

    • Urthman says:

      Did you get the Immortal Throne expansion? It’s significantly better than the (very good) original game, and makes the total campaign looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong.

    • UncleLou says:

      I am bit shocked that you call TQ “stingy”, compared to Diablo 2. Even the basic game without the addon has an almost insane amount of totally different landscapes, unique monster designs, and by far the biggest item database of any game in the genre (all looking unique and meticulously designed). TQ absolutely dwarves Diablo 2 when it comes to content.

    • DrGonzo says:

      It may have a huge amount of monsters and landscapes. But I had been playing for about 3 or 4 hours, at least it felt like that. I was still fighting goatmen and skellingtons in fields. Over, and over and over and over again.

    • UncleLou says:

      You will also have fought birds, centaurs, boars, beetles, harpyies, spiders, and whatnot in those 3 hours. I bet you’ll have seen more different mobs than in the whole first act of D2. :)

      But obviously, if it bored you, then it bored you. For me personally, TQ is the only “proper” Diablo clone, and one that set the bar very high even for Diablo 3.

    • DrGonzo says:

      See, everyone of those monsters you named is a generic hack n slash baddie. I did enjoy the mechanics of the game. I just found that visually it was incredibly boring.

    • UncleLou says:

      Hm. As far as hack and slash games go, I actually found the setting quite refreshing, with nearly all mobs being inspired by Greek/Roman/Chinese mythology rather than your typical standard fanatsy mobs. There’s not many games where you fight Chinese clay warriors, cyclops, or pharaohs.

    • Rhin says:

      I’d have to agree with DrGonzo here.

      Speaking purely from a ranged/caster hybrid class (which is what I played the most in both games)

      Diablo’s difficulty scale was just about right to where you had to do different actions to different things. 80% of the game you could just mindlessly smash through (90%, if you’re playing a powerful cookie-cutter build) but then you run into that extra-strong shaman mob where they can resurrect minions faster than you can kill them, or that extra-fast zombie-amazon mob that surrounds you as soon as you step 3 feet away from the entrance, or the pack of archers that will stunlock you if you stand still.

      Titan’s Quest, despite its variety of environment’s and monsters, is almost 100% completable by spamming AoE and kiting. This is kind of the equivalent of every class being an fireball+frozen orb sorceress. “Harder” monsters aren’t harder because of any mechanic, they just force you to run around more and they take more hits to kill.

    • Urthman says:

      Rhin, I think you’re right. I don’t find myself in serious danger of dying very often in Titan Quest. But for me the fun of the game is not so much “Can I kill these guys?” but “Can I kill them quickly and decisively. Can I do enough damage to send their ragdoll bodies flying into the air or even to the other side of the screen?” Because for me, that just refuses to get old.

      And to do that requires a little more skillful management of your various skills and weapon loadouts, having separate sets of gear for regions where you’re fighting demons and the undead, knowing when to use ranged vs. melee attacks, etc.

      It’s still not perfect. I find myself wishing for a Diablo clone that doesn’t encourage you to specialize in just a few skills so that you have a wider variety of strategic options from moment to moment in a battle (maybe a cooldown meter that effects types of skills rather than each skill individually?) And I play it in spurts, a few evenings a month between other games maybe. But I’m enjoying it enough that I’m playing through the campaign with four different characters (letting me try almost all of the classes), which means I’ll have played the game four times before I’m done. And I almost never play a game even twice.

      It helps that it is by far the most beautiful of the Diablo clones. The ragdoll physics and animations are delightful, the landscapes are beautiful and varied, and gratuitously detailed. The Greek setting is refreshing (the bits in Hades and earlier in Immortal Throne are particularly well done). And the lighting for sunrise/sunset is fantastic. I like the music too.

      Oh, and the voice acting is surprising good. There’s nothing particularly great except for the fact that there are dozens of voice actors and not a single one is terrible. And there is a gratuitously huge amount of dialogue, all of it voiced, 90% of it unnecessary to the plot, and again, none of the writing is terrible. There must be a hundred bards in the various towns that will recite for you the real-world stories of various Greek, Roman, Chinese, and Babylonian myths. Having that existing mythology to work with is so much more interesting and satisfying than wading through a bunch of made-up-for-this-game lore.

    • Ragnar says:

      I have to agree with Quintin. I wanted to like TQ, I really did, but I just got bored. I’ll try it again for multi-co-op, as I figure the co-op should make the game more fun, more interesting, and go faster.

      Diablo 2 had perfect pacing. Every 15 minutes finds you in a new area, fighting new monsters, gaining a level, gaining a skill, etc. TQ started out fast, but then slowed down to a crawl before I ever got through Act 1.

      TQ had great classes and customization, a great world and setting, good gameplay, but terrible pacing. Maps were too big, with too many monsters, and the pacing was just too slow. Part of it may have been that I was playing two characters at the same time, switching between a melee and a ranged, so I played through Act 1 twice before seeing any of Act 2. But by the time I finally finished Act 1, I felt tired, with no desire to press into Act 2. In the same time it took to complete Act 1 of TQ, I could have played through most of Diablo 2.

      I think TQ is a good example that a longer is not better, length doesn’t equate to mirth, and I feel like it would have been a whole lot better if they went at it a butcher knife to trim the fat. TQ was a great game, trapped within a mediocre game’s bloated body.

  5. scottossington says:

    I happily agree with Quinton Smith in his assessment that this is a must buy for the PC. It’s no looker for sure, kind of like that person in high school with the great personality. But like that person, you will grow to love the game and be able to get over it’s looks and enjoy the game play. If you know what I mean, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more, say no more.

  6. Mr Bismarck says:

    I fell in love with this the first time I got sent on a mission to find out who was poisoning the town… by the person who was poisoning the town.

    That guy was a dick.

  7. Urthman says:

    Why isn’t this game on Steam?

  8. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    This game doesnt have good mechanics, fighting mechanics, that is.
    While everything this reciew talks about is spot on and true, it never talks about the gameplay, just the mechanics that surrod the quest giving and the towns.
    The towns have so little character to them, each NPC is utilitarian. You only care about the vended goods, not about the vendor.

    But worse is the gameplay., When I played it, almost all the useful skills were passive, meaning you didnt use skills much.
    Those that arent passive are very unresponsive. It gives a horrible feeling to casting a spell or doing a whirlwind attack. Its delayed, and not what you wanted, and boring.

    I went back and played Diablo 2 again after Din.
    Diablo 2 is so much better. Worse quests and towns, much much more fun.

    • karry says:

      “almost all the useful skills were passive, meaning you didnt use skills much.
      Those that arent passive are very unresponsive. It gives a horrible feeling to casting a spell or doing a whirlwind attack. Its delayed, and not what you wanted, and boring.”

      Pretty much my thoughts on whats wrong with the game. And to think that someone actually requested to have 20 skill slots ! What do they do with them ??
      Also, skills are way too random and dont have any theme to them, like in Diablo, except they are applied to different weapons. This “new” demon hunter class is just a mish-mash of random skills, nothing solid about the concept can be felt.

      On the other hand, one good thing about Din’s Curse, is that every single skill (even most area skills) are completely homing, if they fired – they will hit. That completely eliminates the problem of misclicking, i just hover the cursor over an enemy and hold the key on the keyboard, character will home in and use the skill. Nifty. Wish Diablo had THAT.

  9. iLag says:

    Good to see this game getting some much-needed coverage, since Soldak aren’t really good at marketing their games. Din’s Curse and Tilted Mill’s Hinterland both are brilliant games that point in a possible direction this genre should turn towards before it gets completely stale and boring. I did enjoy Torchlight and I am definitely looking forward to the sequel and Diablo 3 somewhere in the far future. But this is better.

  10. Mr_Hands says:

    Yep. Pretty much everything I love about Din’s Curse is covered here.

    Although, it bears mentioning that if you’re trying to save a starving town, you come to loathe your whining townsfolk to a rather surprising degree. Look, I’m knee-deep-in-the-dead by Dafydd ab Hugh and Brad Linaweaver down here, and you lot are whining because you need a few bucks to go snag a Big Mac? Pike off.

  11. gforgrenade says:

    Argh curse you RPS, my first few days on the site and my to play list is now stretching off into the horizon thanks to you and I have spend far to much money helping out needy indie developers with their big eyes going ‘please sir can I have some more’ and I just don’t have the heart to say no.

    • CrazyBaldhead says:

      One more coin, and I can get a pair of shoes.
      Blessings of Anu apon ye.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      DIE, BEGGAR! DIE!

      I found that before I’d begin the pilgrimage in a new game once I got the Knights of the Nine content I’d be driven to stealth murder every single beggar I could find.

  12. Brian Rubin says:

    Love the article, and its so dead on. This game gives an emotional connection and resonance that I’ve found in few other games, as well as so much playability that it’s a freaking STEAL at $30.

  13. DrGonzo says:

    Tried this in co op with my girlfriend. Unfortunately I just found that the basic mechanics weren’t satisfying, not in the same way as Diablo and that stopped us from playing. The dynamic events are really cool, but to me it felt like it didn’t get the basics right.

    Still, I don’t regret my time with it, and can’t wait to see what the developer does next.

    • ohnoabear says:

      I’ve not played Din’s Curse, but I put a couple of hours into a previous Soldak game (Depths of Peril), and it seems like they do a good job of bolting interesting stuff onto a fairly uninteresting Action RPG engine.

      If their mechanics were as slick and polished as Torchlight, their games would be amazing. As it is, I’d only recommend them to people who can put up with the clunky controls.

    • Veracity says:

      Agreed. Despite its ambition, it’s still primarily a game in which you click things to death ad nauseam, and the clicking of things to death in both this and Depths of Peril (going by demos) is dreary and unsatisfying. It probably doesn’t help that they’re ugly, but I’m not sure that’s a major issue – like DrGonzo, I never felt they had the groundwork in place for the very interesting games they’re trying to make, though I’ve never really been clear why some of these mindless click-fests hold my attention for a while and others don’t.

      This is a pity, as I’d kill for something as relatively slick as Torchlight coupled with Soldak’s ambition to make something more than “just” an effective Diablo clone. Torchlight’s probably my favourite of the sort, but a lot of that is precisely because it’s relatively short and doesn’t expect to be taken seriously, so you’re more or less done before wanting to stab yourself for wasting so much time on it. Diablo 2 and most of its imitators are far too long, and the loop-based “difficulty” a lot of them use is a hideous idea whose apparent popularity baffles me. Good thing Soldak’s output works as-is for some people, as it means they should at least get to keep trying. For now, I suppose I’ll stick to Space Rangers 2 if I want a semi-random setting that seems to notice me pootling about in it.

  14. Stepout says:

    I enjoyed the time I spent with Din’s Curse last year. I don’t like the graphics, or the combat. But I do like the loot, and the thrill of rushing through dungeons.

  15. Lobotomist says:

    All is not perfect in Dins Curse

    As big supporter of Roguelikes and Indy projects. I plopped 20 bucks on original Din, while it was still in beta.

    I am sorry to say. I had lot of hope for it. But i dont enjoy it much.

    Presentation is its biggest problem.

    The game would hugely benefit from bit better graphics and more random detail. Instead of just empty tunnels.

    Except of that I also found that being indy, it didnt invest much to distance itself from pure Diablo.
    And it didnt succed in diablo gameplay much aswell.

    I hoped it will aim more for roguelike feel.

    Still Props to Soldak.
    I didnt buy Demon War. Because honestly i dont see thats any different to Dins curse.

    But I respect his wish to push H&S games further :)

  16. Feet says:

    Some of this reminds me of Hinterland (from Tilted Mill), but you know, actually polished and fully-fleshed out.

  17. Syrion says:

    Din’s Curse is the latest game by Soldak and just received that add-on, but don’t forget about Depths of Peril!
    I’ve only played the (extensive) demos of Soldak’s games, and despite lacking some of the more recent improvements, DoP is still my favorite of the bunch and I should really buy it sometime. DC is probably a Diablo 2-alike with with a dynamic world, but DoP is a Diablo 2-alike with a dynamic world and several competing clans of NPCs and diplomacy. Not only do you have to prioritize quests, but you also have to look out that you’re in good standing with some clans and strong enough to withstand attacks from those with whom you aren’t – they can even finish a quest you’re already doing if you aren’t quick enough!.
    Being just on the verge of defeating a boss monster when you get the notification that a rival clan is attacking your home base is great.

    All these meta-strategy elements in Depths of Peril give you an outstanding feeling of context of all your actions in the world, which I found was much stronger and much more satisfying than in Din’s Curse (Though, of course it also has nice improvements). Here’s hoping for a sequel to DoP next :)

  18. Bassism says:

    I’ve only played the base game, but I really, really enjoy it. The mechanics are admittedly boring as all get-out. However, that’s not much of an issue to me, because I’ve never played a Diablo-like that didn’t bore me to tears long before completing the game.
    But the dynamic nature of the game keeps me coming back for more. I’m always excited to see what the next town has in store for me. And there have been a few towns I’ve been through that led to me eventually simply rushing through to get to the next without fixing all the problems to hide the shame from failing the town in so many ways.

    it’s really quite a brilliant game. Probably not for everybody, but I would suggest that every at least try the demo, since it really is quite the experience.

  19. LintMan says:

    … no ending to provide closure …

    It sounded good right until this part. For me, without an end goal/resolution, the game would quickly devolve into a Sisyphean grind.

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