Definition Of Progress: Hicks Can Be Heroes Too!
Who would have thunk that a bacon lovin' auto-mechanic named Jack could end up saving a world from sticky zombie death? Sure, the old notion of an earther going off to fight in a distant, fantastic realm has been around since Ultima, but the Avatar was always a clean-shirted, educated, civilized type… probably even a Harvard man. So Jack, lacking all academic preparation, shouldn't have a chance, right? Especially when this feeble brained, chitlin' eatin' fool has to contend with a Necromancer named Hecubah, who looks like a permanent fixture on every German-Dungeon-Porn producer's casting list.
On top of that, the poor fool got sucked into that trans-dimensional vortex just because he was standing to close to his TV! [My mom always said sitting too close to the TV was bad for you ~Ed] Hell, I suppose he'll just have to get drunk and open up a can of whoop-ass on the creatures of the netherworld and show that missy dominatrix what her place is.
If you haven't guessed yet, this is not a straight Diablo clone. Many of you might look at the screenshots, figure that Westwood Studio's new game, NOX, is a poor man's Diablo 2 and pass on it. That would be a big mistake. NOX is much more of a Gauntlet XL. It takes fast action and a focus on combat, combines them with an isometric perspective, and puts in some light RPG elements like character classes, levels, and inventory. This makes a game that might appear to be Diablo's bastardized, amphetamine-freak cousin, but has a warm, fuzzy feel all it's own.
In NOX, you (as Jack) must journey through the land as a Wizard, Conjurer, or Warrior, slaughter thousands of critters, assemble the "staff of oblivion," and rout Hecubah. If you don't, everyone in NOX dies and you don't get to go back to your trailer where your girlfriend is cooking you some tasty pig-meat. Gameplay is almost strictly linear: You must proceed form point A to B to… etc. There are some mazes along the way and some side quests in the few towns you pass through, but for the most part NOX is about as linear as Half-Life. This design focus allowed the designers to create the environments with action in mind, and the result is a fast-paced massacre of everything bad and nasty.
The three classes actually create 3 distinctly different gaming experiences. Although most of their quests take place on the same ground and are effectively very similar, there are variations in locales and objectives that make the journeys themselves quite different. Also, the three classes have entirely different play dynamics. The Wizard mostly casts spells and lays magical traps but is extremely lacking in both weapons and armor. The Conjurer charms creatures to fight for him or uses some light spellcasting along with some light armor and mostly bow & arrow weapons. The Warrior can buff up with weapons and armor beyond any sissy magic-user's dream and kick some undead butt up close and personal.
The difficulty of the campaigns are different, so that a progression of Warrior-Conjurer-Wizard offers the most complete easy-to-hard progression through the game (you can choose which class when you start a new quest). The fact that each class is a very different experience, far more so than in traditional class-based RPGs, means that there is a whole lot of single-player and multi-player gameplay in NOX. Whether charming, casting, or slashing, NOX makes for a good time that will keep you coming back for a lot more than you would expect.
Shirking modern convention, NOX is an action-oriented game created entirely with 2D sprites. Not a single polygon can be found, and in NOX's case, that is not a problem. The graphics are sharp, clean, and beautiful representations of a fantasy world that lack nothing for the non-inclusion of the Z-dimension. Nice flashy touches such as the vibrant spell effects and a cursor that trails golden fire-dust make for pleasing eye candy to round out the picture and keep you focused. There is even a unique visibility system that dynamically blocks any area not directly visible to Jack (assuming he could always see in a 360 degree circle) that keeps the mood ominous and creates some appealing shadow-like effects.
Best of all, the 2D nature of the game makes system performance a non-issue on most systems. It has been quite a while since a good action game came out that ran well, at maximum detail, on any decent system you might have at home, and that alone is one of NOX's better achievements.
Sound is also done well. The music is either calming or invigorating to fit the situation, well composed, and never tiresome. Effects are handled well and in a very good move, every spoken word in the game is not merely text, but also speech. Far too many RPGs can become clinical because of a lack of voice interaction and too much text, so it's nice to hear every word for yourself. It also helps that the mood of the game, overall, tends somewhat toward whimsical comedy (trailer-trash hero and all) which benefits much from spoken dialogue.
The interface in NOX is a fairly simple affair. Most of the work is done with the mouse, though spell casting and other advanced actions are carried out on the keyboard. Inventory is a pull down screen and you always have a view of the action. It's a very easy to learn system that should have any gamer up to speed well before the training portions for the characters are completed.
NOX is a straightforward, fun game. The action elements are fettered only by some slight RPG ingredients which effectively add the depth that is needed to keep your attention and make slashing yet another sprite-based-beasty a thrill every time. It's not revolutionary or real obsession material, but it sure is good, sweet fun. So fuel up on collared greens and just ignore that knocking noise the Pontiac is making; Jack's not going to be around to fix it for a while.