Review: Titan Quest Anniversary Edition

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I’ve been in love with Titan Quest for a long time. I picked it up on a lark years ago and found myself utterly sucked into the epic journey across ancient Greece and beyond. Plenty more ARPGs have come and built on the formula in the intervening years, and it’s hard to say they don’t do what TQ does better. However, there’s at least one place where this title still shines, and it’s enough to keep me fighting and looting for years to come.

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Titan Quest drops you on the bank of a pastoral Greek river as simple, nondescript warrior. Satyrs, harpies, and other beasts of legend have risen up to torment the populace and you just happen to be in the right place to kill them all and loot their magically-enchanted pants. To unravel the plot behind this monstrous scourge you’ll travel to Egypt, Babylon, China, and fabled lands beyond, battling the mythical creatures of each. Figures like Leonidas and the Oracle of Delphi will also be on hand to help guide you in your quest.

Unlike most ARPGs, you do not choose your class at character creation. Instead, when you gain your first level you choose one of nine Masteries. Each is a skill tree representing a discipline such as warfare, hunting, storm magic, necromancy, and so on. Again at level 8 you choose another Mastery, meaning every character is a combination of skills from two of these disciplines. Equipment is not tied to specific classes, either, so you can make such motley combinations as a dreamweaving necromantic axeman, a pyromaniac forest warden, or a heavily-armored mace-wielding stormcaller.

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In Titan Quest’s original release there were certain combinations of Masteries that simply were not viable, but the Anniversary Edition has done a massive amount of rebalancing to make any character you want work. Most notably the overpowered Dream Mastery was brought back in line with the others, and pets were buffed to make minion-heavy Masteries like Nature and Storm more viable. Success is still going to depend on proper balancing of your skill points, which might be unintuitive to new players since you can invest in both specific skills and the Mastery itself to increase your stats and unlock new skills.

Gear is the other place you’ll need to work to keep up, but there’s plenty to choose from and plenty to do with it. Equipment drops in familiar rarities, with drops conspicuously increasing in quality as you progress. You’ll also find charms and relics that can be added to equipment to give them new bonuses, or combined using formulas to create a unique and powerful class of gear you won’t find via drops. There’s a lot of strategy not just to choosing equipment but in customizing it to work for your build and against the monsters you’ll face.

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These are solid foundations for an ARPG, but even I have to admit the game they are built upon is dated. Titan Quest was very much a love-letter to Diablo II, with 3D graphics and freer movement and a few other improvements but the same basic gameplay. Don’t expect the visceral clashes of Diablo III or the depth of Path of Exile, because TQ is light on active abilities and combat feedback. Despite your Mastery combinations you tend to only have a half-dozen active skills to use, with your passives doing a lot more work keeping you strong and alive than in most games. There’s also not much recourse against particularly challenging monsters if your build is lacking against them, and the final boss remains a seriously rough jump in difficulty that can burn through some characters like paper.

Despite the dated gameplay and remaining balance issues, I still consider Titan Quest one of the best ARPGs I’ve ever played. The reason for this isn’t something that’s a major consideration for most people, but it means a lot to me. My favorite games are the ones that feel like true journeys, from humble beginnings to great and wondrous things. Plenty of ARPGs let you raise a hero from nothing but Titan Quest is the one that lives up to its name, taking you from the sandals of a simple traveler to the divine boots of a god-slayer. A big part of this success is found in the map design, because almost the entire world of TQ is contiguous. When you travel across Greece and China you are actually travelling across mountains and valleys on an epic pilgrimage into destiny. No other game has given me the same sense of living out an epic poem so tangibly, and I respect the hell out of Titan Quest and its developers for succeeding on that front.

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The aged graphics still hold up in portraying this journey, with snowy steppes and burning deserts and verdant farmlands. The sound design is good but tends to be more low-key than most ARPGs, giving Titan Quest a more relaxed feel than its peers. On top of its original merits the Anniversary Edition has introduced a host of fixes, tweaks, and features, most notably a speed option for the game. This is not a minor consideration, either. You can seriously set the entire game to double speed, tearing through battles and building your character faster than in just about any other game. With these improvements to an already solid game, I feel not only comfortable but compelled to recommend Titan Quest to any fan of the genre.

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