Titan Quest: Immortal Throne  

Game Name:  Titan Quest: Immortal Throne Expansion
Developer:  Iron Lore Entertainment
Publisher:  THQ
PC Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  August 16, 2017

Magical beasts roam the land, terrorizing farmers and townsfolk alike.  The sad victims of these creatures find themselves stuck on their journey through the underworld; neglected by the very God who had been charged with ensuring that the recently deceased find a home in the afterlife.  And on the mortal plane of this ancient, mythologized world, gamers embark upon a series of quests to save the citizenry from this terrible fate.  If this sounds like the setup for the last game to get the retrospective treatment on this site, it is because Titan Quest: Immortal Throne shares many of Jade Empire’s narrative beats.  But where the latter game struggled in spite of its setting and story, this one succeeds despite them; which turns out to be a testament to the original Titan Quest’s design strength.  While by no means an essential expansion in any sense of the word, Immortal Throne manages to incorporate just enough new features, while maintaining the original title’s gameplay and sense of fun that it rises above the design direction that threatens to sink it at the outset of a playthrough.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and that could be felt in the original Titan Quest’s bright, colorful world that managed to take the distilled essence of Diablo and repackaged it into something that felt different from the countless other action RPGs that popped up over the years.  It was a formula that apparently worked, with about two million copies of the Anniversary Edition in circulation on Steam and just shy of 70,000 unique users booting it up in the last two weeks; an impressive feat for a title that originally released 11 years ago.  But commercial success comes with it a weight that breeds conservatism, and looking back at the defining features of Immortal Throne today, it is not hard to see the unwelcome fingerprints of marketeers and focus groups that were brought in to maximize sales of the expansion.  To be fair, there is definitely a place for fan feedback to work its way into the creative process, but the older I get, the more I begin to doubt the merits of democratization.  In this case, giving the masses what they wanted resulted in a product that in many subverts the game design that worked so well.

That original quest, which had started in the Hellenic islands, before moving into Egypt, Babylon, and China, has returned full circle back to Greece and its underworld; where it stays for the duration of Immortal Throne’s new content.  This is frankly a bit boring.  Sure, it gives gamers the opportunity to help the crafty shade of Odysseus launch on assault on the home of Hades, or to assist the spirit of Eurydice reunite with her lover Orpheus, but there are many other interesting myths scattered across the globe.  It would have been so much cooler to experience India’s Ramayana firsthand, helping Rama invade the demon kingdom of Lanka to rescue Sita.  It would have been just as great to explore the cold Norse lands of Scandinavia, before being taken to Valhalla by Valkyries to fight for Odin in the Battle of Ragnarok.  Instead, the focus on Greece means that gamers are forced to see many of the same monsters and buildings from the first third of the original game, while dealing with the subtle suggestion that since this is the only afterlife that is seen, it somehow supplants those of other cultures.

From a practical standpoint, Immortal Throne’s focus on death also darkens the mood.  With the golden fields of Elysium as the notable exception, those cheery colors of the original game have been replaced with a palette of grey and black that tinges everything in this expansion down to the armor and weapons spilling out of slain enemies.  As players descend from the world above and progress deeper and deeper through the realm of Hades, it is hard to shake the feeling that this is a more traditional dungeon crawler in the vein of Diablo.  At some point, though, anyone who has experienced that journey through the depths of Hell will realize Immortal Throne does not just seek to evoke Blizzard’s blockbuster series, but rather replicate it entirely.  With its bubbling, orange-bordered pools, the Far Plains may as well have been Diablo II’s River of Flame.  The Tower of Judgement’s goat men and starry backdrop look to be pulled straight from that game’s Arcane Sanctuary, and the same can be said of the Tsakonian Ruins’ eerily familiar resemblance the jungle city of Kurast.  Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but this strays beyond the boundaries of homage and into the realm of intellectual property theft.

Of course, it would be unfair to indict Iron Lore Entertainment for emulating its phenomenally successful predecessor with each and every instance of a copied idea; only those that create an odd juxtaposition with the spirit and vibe of the original game merit scorn.  Trade caravans, which are similar to Diablo II’s stash system for storing items and gold, are a welcome inclusion with this expansion.  The same can be said for the new relic item slot, which introduces a sorely needed crafting element to Titan Quest.  Minor additions like this one, and the required scavenging for materials that come with it, helped alleviate what would otherwise have been the drudgery of needing to beat Typhon a second time in order to access a portal to the new expansion zones.  There is no doubt that this new chapter of mythic adventure is weaker than what preceded it, but the excellent pacing, diverse character skill system, and difficult gearing decisions are all still present, lending Immortal Throne that same sense of fun from the original game.  And that sense of fun is why this title should be on the short list for every fan of the action RPG genre, as well as the broader pool of gamers.

Verdict:  Recommended