History lesson time! Skip if knowing the past bores you.
It is important to remember how we got here to a December 2021 release of Titan Quest: Eternal Embers. The original Titan Quest came out in 2006 for the PC only. Back when console jockeys pewpewed on PS3 and Xbox 360 and destroyed TVs with loosely held Wii controllers. This was during the Bush administration, before the iPhone was unveiled, let alone released, and when the Nvidia 7950 and ATI Radeon X1950 duked it out at price points we’d happily pay twice as much now during this pandemic/dogecoin stranglehold of GPUs of all levels. E2 is the fourth expansion to a game whose original design and development team, Iron Lore Entertainment, went under shortly after the first expansion only to be followed by THQ, the publisher, a few years later. Nordic Games leveraged the Spirit and Rogue masteries of the original to necro the property to life after acquiring the THQ trademark and desired assets in 2014. A touch of Immortal Throne’s Dream mastery and a ninja release of Titan Quest: Ragnarok followed in 2017. A very fitting game to fill the Omega-sized hole left by the death of Marvel Heroes.
Mind you, this all means your PC can handle the game!
Stay while and listen.
To the present! I remain a gamer of relatively simple pleasures, lore, dungeons, and loot are my aphrodisiacs. The rain of loot continues to provide visual and lizard brain sustenance. Success wasn’t messed with. Frankly, it wasn’t messed with for the other two either. That’s more of a miss. Dungeons remain rather secondary, either a part of the linear path forward or a side quest for a chance at extra loot and experience. They don’t event present an additional challenge or tweak to the gameplay. Often a tileset set in the motif of your area but little else than art and smashing faces.
Eternal Embers returns players and characters, new and old, to the isometric left-clicking world of ancient mythology. Players can select to continue their character from any point of the franchise earlier so long as they’ve defeated the Legendary difficulty or start fresh with a boosted and geared character in an adventure in the East. The weaving of the story between similar plot points across pantheons is interesting but incredibly light, a staple of the franchise. It’s never in your face. You can choose to dig a little beneath the surface by talking to more NPCs but it is no more than herb-seedling depth even then. Mythology has always intrigued me (see the lengthy Smite column I contributed to for years) and I caught myself more than once searching for a god, demigod, mortal, or storyline to educate myself. Your mileage may vary.
That’s all the high-level stuff. Some of the stuff is expected and hard to actually notice given how much time has passed. The potions, from speed to resistance, are pretty obvious but using them in combat isn’t straightforward. They’re on a shared timing and I couldn’t find an easy way to bind them. That was fine since they’re rare enough that they became reserved for boss fight prep. Are those mobs I killed new to the universe? What about the armor, relic and charms that popped out of their corpse? I don’t really care to know the difference but I am happy it’s there as a bullet for marketing.
What really interests me in the weeds is a new mastery, Neidan. I took full advantage of the alchemy master to blend with my fondness for the Hunting pewpew skills. Blending these together gave me an entourage of terracotta warriors along with grenades to toss at my enemies before I engaged with enough arrows to blot out the sun. My build held up on most pulls, but on the occasion that I was zerged or met with heavy pierce resistance the skill that triggered based on me consuming pots blended insanely well. Downing potions, which was a frequent occurrence, gave me random buffs that enabled me to get out of most fights without my body flying through the air. Seriously, hours can be spent screwing with builds and testing them out. There’s so much depth and stupidity available even before you start gearing out!
Eternal Embers is best summed up by being a weird gem. It remains mostly rooted in the game design ethos of years past for better or for worse. A large part of the community will be perfectly fine with that, perhaps champion it. It’s your fault if you design a terrible character from its eleven masteries and dozens of skills. That’s why you can spend hours in the character boost screen alone theorycrafting crazy builds for a Paladin, Stonespeaker, or a pure Assassin before you set out on the globetrotting adventure. For others, it may be a turnoff. Why aren’t directions for quests available? Where are my CGI cutscenes? Some would say the “fluff” is not necessary. The end game is to farm for gear to become so powerful as to make the most dangerous bosses appear as trash mobs.
Personally, I hope Eternal Embers is an introduction to gaming’s short, growing, and important history for a newer generation. Titan Quest is a great example of good design enduring through time, a design that I highly recommend to anyone of the older generation. I hope both groups hone their skills in the end game in preparation for the fifth expansion. There are so many interesting pantheons to select from!
iTZKooPA was provided a copy of Eternal Embers as part of this review.