sunnuntai 13. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Nox (2000)

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: January 2000
DEVELOPER(S): Westwood Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts

The fantasy role-playing game Nox is one of the most anti-hyped and overlooked games ever, considering that it was conceived by two very prolific game companies. It drew influence from the most popular computer RPG's of the time, most notably Diablo and Fallout, but it also had its own gimmicks in totally shameless, consciously campy humour, and the opportunity to play as three different character classes through three different storylines. 11 years have passed, and this old favourite of mine has still got a lot of its old swag intact.

The forgotten alternative

Joanna Cassidy : Hecubah
Seann William Scott : Jack Mower
Alan Oppenheimer : Captain / Necromancer #1 / Lewis
Susan Chesler : Tina
Mark Rolston : Horrendous / Guard #1 / Townsman #3
Ian Abercrombie : Horvath / Loproc
Lee Perry : Mayor Theogrin / Guard #2 / Rogue / Townsman #1 / Barkeeper
Neil Ross : Mystic / Guard #3 / Mine Worker #1
Warren Burton : Aldwyn / Mine Worker #2 / Morgan
Michael S. Booth : Gearhart

Ready to kick ass!
Jack is an ordinary young man from Florida that lives in a trailer with his girlfriend. One night, his TV starts acting up, reacting to strange energy emanating from a decorative orb placed near it. In reality, this orb is a magical artifact which a necromancer named Hecubah seeks to increase her power and be able to take over her world, the dimension of Nox. She is able to summon the orb back into Nox and within her range, but she also has to deal with Jack, who accidentally gets sucked through the dimensional warp along with the orb. Jack is quickly taken in by the people of Nox and trained to be its hero and savior.

I'll be damned if anyone at Westwood didn't have The Evil Dead trilogy in mind when they were making this game. The base story's got Army of Darkness written all over it, as it has a modern, all-American guy doing battle with mythical demons and monsters, being told that he's destined to be a hero even if he certainly doesn't seem like one. The humour is also similar to that of The Evil Dead; totally out of place, yet functional. Nox might strike players that are more into serious RPG's as awful satire - only made worse by the horrible voice acting - but once you get over the plot and are able to concentrate on the game itself, I think you're going to find a trip worth to take, an impressive alternative to the biggest RPG titles of the time.

Nox was one of the first non-point 'n' click PC games I got totally hooked on. The first version I had was a cracked one that omitted the cutscenes, as well as voice clips, so I had no idea what the plot was all about or how horrible the voice acting was. I fell in love with the gameplay, as it was so simple and accessible in contrast to my former beliefs of every PC game being hell to play. You could walk by landing the mouse cursor right in front of the character and pressing the right mouse button, and run by simply moving the cursor further away. The inventory was simple to use, and all functions, including using healing items and special abilities, were clustered to hotkeys easily in the range of your left hand, while your right hand was on the mouse. Excessive toggling through menus was not necessary at all. Nox was also the first totally new game that my old computer could run without any problems at all, so it truly felt like it was made for me. I liked the game so much that I eventually got the retail, and got slapped in the face by the dumb plot and the even dumber voiceover work. In time, I learned to appreciate the campy storyline progression of the game as the endearing mass of conscious idiotism and fantasy clichés it is.

On my way to the only place in the game where
my strapping warrior is even remotely prone to
have his ass handed to him.
PC is a platform that has masses of games with timeless graphics, ranging all the way from the early 90's to this day; Nox is one of the hundreds of games that still impress with their looks, since it doesn't have any polygons stamped with an expiration date. Character and level design is very good. The only thing that really bothers me is the large space your real-time inventory screen hogs up when expanded to its full size; it takes up nearly half the screen and obscures the action; it is a problem when you need to change your weapon in the middle of combat, for example. You will need to do it, occasionally, due to the degradation of equipment and the fact that some enemies require special weapons to be used on them, if you want to get rid of them permanently.

The soundtrack's composed by Westwood stalwart Frank Klepacki, who's also worked on franchises such as Lands of Lore, AD&D, Dune, and Westwood's flagship Command & Conquer. The score ranges from battle and mystical exploration music to cheery folk tunes, and it's all quite good, although a bit repetitive. As mentioned a few times, the voiceover work is wickedly bad. There are some known names in the cast, including Joanna Cassidy and Seann William Scott - who only voices Jack in some choice cutscenes, otherwise Jack is mute aside from his Schwarzenegger-like battle cries - but familiar names cannot magically make the awkward, overtly melodramatic dialogue better. As further proof of the game paying at least some homage to The Evil Dead, Ian Abercrombie - the wiseman in Army of Darkness - makes a prominent voiceover appearance as the Arch-Wizard Horvath.

Arguably the strongest hook of Nox lies in three very different gameplay experiences with different endings, determined by your class. Although the base story of Jack accidentally getting sucked through the dimensional warp and meeting the airship captain that guides him through his quest of hunting down Hecubah is the same, each of the classes has a unique 10-15 hour game with only one or two chapters bearing the exact same map and turns of events. Warriors start out near the fortress of Dün Mir, train to be a Fire Knight under the supervision of Horrendous the warlord, and do a few random salvage and rescue missions to prove themselves worthy to their superior and join him in the decisive battle against Hecubah. Wizards, on the other hand, start off as new apprentices of the Arch-Wizard at Castle Galava, where they're told that one of the most important rules of being a member of the circle is to piss on the Fire Knights' creed whenever they have the chance. In other words, wizards and warriors hate each other's guts in this game, which makes for some interesting confrontations. Conjurers, who start their journey near the village of Ix, are a neutral party, and similarly, they are just as adept in melée combat as they are in spellcasting; their exclusive, and most important talent is the ability to charm wild animals and creatures of low intelligence to do their bidding.

Lose the spiders, or no ale for you, conjurer!
As you might've rightfully guessed, having three different games in a technically outdated package means that the game is linear as an arrow. There's less than a minimal amount of true sidequests. Any seemingly random errand given by an NPC is nearly always supplemental to the main quest, which is divided into 11 chapters. You can forget about all forms of free exploration of Nox, too. You cannot enter certain locations except as a representative of a certain class, and once you've cleared a chapter, you're simply shipped to another location on the other edge of Nox from which you cannot backtrack. In turn, the forest paths, caves and dungeons have many complex traps for you to find your way around, plenty of secret rooms for you to discover, and a lot of fine loot for you to collect.

While seasoned players will most likely enjoy playing as a wizard or conjurer, a warrior's way is the only way to go for an absolute beginner like I was when the game came out. The warrior's quest is like a crash course to the game's most basic elements. All of the warrior's five different special abilities are gained early on, via simply leveling up. He doesn't have a mana meter like conjurers and wizards do, just a short cooldown period is needed for the abilities to be used again. Also, a warrior has such high HP he can easily dispatch large swarms of enemies by simply swinging his sword, axe or whatever he's got around like his ass was on fire. There's no real strategy required for anything except one of the final chapters in which he has to infiltrate the wizards' home base in the Tower of Illusion, and the final boss is also kind of tricky. In a nutshell, the few final chapters of the warrior's quest show a glimpse of what the conjurer and wizard's quests will be, pretty much from the beginning.

The conjurer's quest equals to Nox on medium difficulty. All of the conjurer's attributes are nominal, which makes it kind of hard for him to face certain kinds of challenges alone, but he has the ability to charm creatures he has studied by reading the scrolls hidden across the game, two to four of them, depending on their size. Once charmed, the creatures can be assigned tactics like any party members in any other RPG; for example, they can scout ahead for enemies or faithfully stay by your side as guardians. If you grow tired of their smelly company or find some better thralls to do your bidding, you can banish them manually any time you want. The conjurer has a spell table with 25 different slots, whereas the warrior only has those five special abilities - of which you really need only two - and nothing more. These spells can be re-organized in any way you find convenient. A few chapters into the game, the conjurer learns to summon bombers, monsters of his own creation that look like small penises with bras. These little buggers are set to explode upon contact with an enemy, and damage or infect them with one to three spells of your choice.

The wizard's quest is the final trial by fire, pure hell for beginners that started out this game by playing as a wizard just because of their undying love for magic, and not an easy first-time trip for RPG veterans either. Wizards have damn weak physical strength, and much less access to items and equipment warriors and conjurers have. Also, they have to rely on themselves, they don't have comrades or charmed animals on their side. Wizards do have access to a whole storm of fantastic spells, but it takes time and practice to find the meaning to them all.

What's up, you ask? Just hangin' with a giant
scorpion and robbin' graves. Nothin' much.
Nearly all equipment degrades over time, frustratingly fast in the later parts of the game, and in order to keep your armour and weapons in check, you need to repair them at merchants' workshops. At first it seems like you're getting quite enough spare equipment from the field, but it stops flowing at some point, and you shouldn't sell too much stuff either, since if you're heading into a tricky chapter with just one set of just slightly degraded equipment, it might just be that you'll finish that chapter completely naked and barehanded, with all of your equipment destroyed - if you finish it at all. Repairing your equipment costs a lot of money throughout the game, and whole new equipment sold by merchants sports some ridiculous prices. Looting valuable weapons you're not even able to equip just to sell them won't help you for long, since the inventory limit is so unforgiving, and in the end of the game, the dungeons naturally get bigger and it takes damn long whiles to get to just one merchant. Why couldn't they have given us the skill or option to repair and maintain equipment ourselves? There, some criticism.

Indeed, I don't have much real criticism for Nox. If I wanted to be a real bastard, I'd say it's kind of stupid to disguise the three storylines as "completely different", since they share many key points. Most of them are presented differently, but playing through the game with each class means that you'll have to do the exact same, long-ass Tomb of Valor quest a total of three times. It's like this game's Orzammar (an underground city of dwarves in Dragon Age: Origins, for those who don't know) - cool on the first time, but disappointingly similar on subsequent playthroughs, no matter what class you are. I would've also went for some REAL dialogue and not just listening to some retards speak irrelevancies, and given the player SOME choice in what his character was like. Nox isn't the most customizable experience around, especially not when it comes to being a PC game, but it's fun to play either way. Just because it can't stand up to Fallout or Diablo doesn't mean it's not worth a try.

Yeah, yeah, I'm a hero and all that, but could I
please buy condoms in peace?
Finishing all three quests and their accumulative total of 33 chapters takes about 30 hours, if you're quick about it. The multiplayer servers have been closed for years, so they don't offer any additional fun in the land of Nox, but Solo Quest became available in the final patch for single players who can't get enough of the game's core gameplay. You simply choose a class and make your way through 20 dungeons looting and killing, with not much actual plot involved. I could give the game's lifespan rating a slight nudge for the better, just because it's still so much fun to kill time with, after all this time.

It was fun to take the umpteenth trip to Nox, even with a couple of years and many much more new, intense and immersive RPG's, especially in regards to me getting to the bottom of the BioWare boom, in the between. Many might perceive the game as too straightforward and generic, but I think all of us that have played the game can all at the very least agree on Nox being harmless.

SOUND : 8.0


GameRankings: 81.45%

1 kommentti:

  1. I've been meaning to try this. Now that it's 50% off on GOG's holiday sale, I might pick it up and have a go at it.