Trion Worlds have been churning out MMOs for so very long now that one seems to blur into the next. Their latest to appear on Steam, a translation of the South Korean free-to-play original, is Devilian [official site]. It said it was a Diablo-ish action RPG, so I thought - HMMMM? IS IT THOUGH? And took a look. Well, it sort of is. And it's sort of an afternoon nap in gaming form. Here are my impressions from a few hours of somnambulistic slashing.
Devilian is the gaming equivalent of a convincingly painted view of scenery. It looks pretty decent until you get too close and bang your head on the wall. It’s a cross between an action RPG and a free-to-play MMO, that offers an expanse of entirely free content, eight hundred thousand different in-game currencies, ninety-seven billion menus, and an almost hypnotically bland grind.
Which makes me think: there must have been so many talented people working on this. It looks great, it’s functional, enormously complex systems are all interacting and working, thousands of players are simultaneously on one server... none of this is easy to get right. And yet the result is something completely without inspiration, wholly derivative, and existing only to hopefully pull in some of that sweet, sweet Marketplace purchasing before the next game exactly like it comes along. What a strange thing to work so hard to create.
Incredibly, after downloading the 6.4GB available on UK Steam, Devilian needs to download another 7GB if you want to play on European servers. It needs to download the entire game again. It leaves the other entire game on your hard drive, in case you want to switch back again. And there’s even a third entire version to get if you pick the Public Test server! Once in, you’re immediately shoved down the inexorable waterslide of the game, funnelled from region to region, either killing five of this, or clicking on three of that, then running to the next quest distributor, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat...
It’s remarkable how easy it is to be consumed by that process. Apart from some very dodgy detection over whether I’m left clicking on an enemy to attack it, or on the ground to move there, it’s incredibly simple to play (despite the ludicrous pages and pages of interfaces and skill trees). I levelled up to 5 before I even realised I was levelling up, new skills appearing silently on my number keys, waves of enemies and their bosses nonchalantly chopped up and spread on the floor. Then all of a sudden it was introducing what I think is supposed to be the game’s USP – the ability to briefly transform into a more powerful character, with its own skills, skill trees, XP (in the form of souls), levels and goodness knows what else. Just in case you didn’t already have enough windows to juggle. When you’ve built up enough of a meter you can hit V, and then quickly use your uber-powers before you’re reduced to your regular all-powerful self.
The character creator lets you pick between a very limited selection of near-identical faces, for each of the four classes: Evoker (magician, female), Berserker (fighter, male), Shadowhunter (mage-ish, male), or Cannoner (mechanic, female). You pick their eye and skin colour, maybe their lipstick, and then notice as you rotate the lady ones they’ve taken the time to add boob-jiggle physics to this screen.
Extraordinarily, if you play as an Evoker, your main outfit is a “corset”, which proves to be a crotch-length nightie that really wouldn’t protect anyone’s boobies from the cold. She also runs with her left forearm always above her elbow, making her look like a girl on her hen night trying to get to the toilet in time. Still, she’s ludicrously over-powered, letting you kill pretty much everything before it gets anywhere close.
I’ve mostly been playing as a Berserker, which makes for a more vulnerable character, but I’ve still yet to come close to dying after many hours. Because that’s not really the nature of this thing – it’s about carrying on. It’s a game of carrying on.
But my goodness me, it’s so badly written. It’s not that it’s broken English – I’ve yet to spot so much as a typo – but more a stream of consciousness that is utterly impenetrable. It’s like trying to read a geography textbook, where you find yourself reading the same paragraph again and again, each time getting halfway through before you realise you’ve not taken a word of it in. Go on, read this, and see how quickly you find yourself thinking about what you’re having for dinner, or whose turn it is to put the bins out.
“Well, this book has certainly seen better days. Is that blood? Okay then.
Well, the stuff Gart wrote about isn’t too interesting, but it looks like there’s another sheet of paper in here? Looks like a contract? I can make out the Van Houte seal, but this name... ‘Kavel’.
I... should take this to Asperon. That’s not a good name. Can’t imagine many people would name their children after the vile betrayer that tried to kill Ael.”
So yeah, I suppose if Laura has the car back by 5.30, I’ll still be able to get to the supermarket in time... Wait, what? Sorry? Oh God, yeah, Devilian.
There’s pages and pages of this coma-inducing drivel, which I cannot imagine anyone wouldn’t soon be just clicking past and making do with the abbreviated mission summary and map pointer, not really caring why they’re killing seven of those, just getting on with it because it’s there.
‘Because it’s there’ really isn’t enough when pretty much everyone’s Steam has a pile of untouched greats waiting for a spare moment. Devilian is the very embodiment of ‘Because it’s there’ gaming, and I cannot deny that it’s consumed a couple of afternoons with its banal hack-n-slashing. I’ve not tried to fathom the daily rewards, the enchanting, infusing, refining and artefacts promised in my inventory menus, the weird cards it keeps giving me without saying why, the Daily Checklist, Patron Benefits, Marketplace (where a mount will cost you about £8, even though it gives you a free one very early on), the Title, Proficiency and Resistance menus... Seriously, it goes on and on and on, and none of it offering any more actual game. Just faff upon faff, seeming to replace the notion of elaboration with busywork. Still though, you can click-click-click your way through mindless battles with a podcast on, and not really have lost anything.
It doesn’t say anything when it times you out. It just silently closes itself in the background, only missed when you notice its tab doesn’t appear on your Start bar. And once it’s gone, it’s pretty hard to worry about starting it again. Another game nearly exactly the same as this one will roll along in a few days, equally free, equally bland, equally competently made, and you’ll not much mind that one either.
Oh, and one last thing. The title screen features the most peculiar breathing I've ever seen - see it bigger here.