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.
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.