Depths of Peril:
First Impressions

  By Shamus   Jun 2, 2008   53 comments

Developing a game for an established genre is a difficult task. You have to design the game, drawing from titles you’ve enjoyed in the past and integrating those concepts with your own ideas. You need to polish and refine established gameplay to make the game fresh and interesting while remaining true to the core experience fans expect. I imagine the most frustrating moment for a developer comes when some jerkface reviewer comes along, appraises their efforts, and calls the whole thing a “Diablo Clone”.

Depths of Peril – Orientation.
Depths of Peril is a Diablo clone from Soldak Entertainment. They sent along a review copy for me to try, which was a very nice way of completely wrecking my Memorial Day weekend.

Actually, “clone” isn’t fair at all. Diablo “clones” are just games which belong to a genre nobody has bothered to name. They get lumped in the with “RPG” games, which doesn’t make any sense. For whatever reason, “RPG” has come to mean “game where you level up”, which is a genre so broad as to be meaningless.

Pedantic etymology aside, Depths of Peril is a particularly good example of whatever kind of game you want to call it. It’s the first one I’ve seen in years that had the guts to innovate and evolve the gameplay set down by Blizzard Entertainment a decade ago. (Fate was the last Diablo clone I played. My review is here. Dungeon Siege is another I’ve played, and the review for that can be found between the following quotation marks, “Meh.”)

Appraising games like this is like judging chili recipes. Each one is a slightly different mix of the same essential ingredients: Wilderness areas with little side-dungeons to explore. Fixed character classes with set appearances. Random loot drops. Quest-dispensing NPC’s in town. Common, Rare, and Unique item types, along with collect-them-all item “sets”. NPC hirelings to accompany you. Elite and unique monsters. Health and mana potions. A smattering of attribute and skill points to “spend” on each level up. And so on. The ratios of the ingredients change, but in the end they’re all making the same thing.

Depths of Peril hits all of these key notes you’d expect, offering up a nicely polished experience built atop familiar and established gameplay. But the thing that sets Depths of Peril apart is the fact that it’s not really an RPG. It’s a strategy game.

In Depths of Peril you are the leader of a covenant. There are up to five other covenants in town, each with their own house. You have a lifestone, which brings any member of the covenant back to life if they fall, although the lifestone is damaged slightly when that happens. You have to recruit members to your group, level them up, and outfit them with gear. You have to develop your covenant house, collecting books and relics that confer bonuses on the entire group. And you must hire guards to keep the lifestone safe.

This covenant-growing aspect of the game feels a lot like an empire building game. You collect taxes, establish trade routes, trade with your friends, declare war on your enemies, extort from the weak, appease the mighty, and employ subterfuge when martial strength fails you. The major way you grow in power is to undertake quests for the NPCs in town. To put it simply: This is a strategy game where you play “Diablo” against the other factions.

This is the part of the review where, if this were a gaming magazine, I would ding the game for not having multiplayer support. I don’t know when this became a bad thing – as if no game is complete without the ability to connect with random internet people – but it’s now some sort of sin to the gaming priesthood press. Still, let me just give you a heads up: There is no multiplayer. I didn’t miss it, but I’m exactly the sort of person that makes multiplayer a bad idea anyway, so we’re all better off like this.

The strategy aspect of the game can be seasoned to taste. When you set up the game world you can decide how much of it you want. You can fill the world with rival covenants that are so weak that you can ignore them, or you can arrange things so that the maintaining of your covenant is front and center. One nice twist is that you can see what items they other covenant leaders have picked up, and the game even puts up a nice notice when someone gets their hands on an extraordinary item, or part of a set of items. If another faction picks up something you like you can try to trade for it. This makes finishing sets a lot more interesting.

There is a common container shared by all your characters, so that you can move items between characters. This fixes the problem in other games where you needed two computers in order to accomplish this.

The skill system is interesting. Skills get progressively more expensive to upgrade. This encourages you to spread the points around, giving you lots of skills to play with. This is in contrast to Diablo and its ilk, where you developed one or two abilities at the expense of all others. Depths of Peril encourages variety instead of monotonous min-maxing. Finally, you don’t have to worry about miss-spent points. You can recover skill points and re-invest them in other skills if you need to, so you never have a “broken” character. It costs money to do this, but again, it encourages you to experiment with the skill tree and see what you like instead of just dumping everything into one super-ability. (I’ve heard WoW uses this system as well.)

I could go on, but I worry that everyone’s appetite for obsessive analysis of gameplay mechanics would be sated long before I got tired of doing it. The thrust of it is that the gameplay here shows a lot of forethought into what makes the game tick and what made it fun. This isn’t just something thrown together by fans who wanted “Diablo, but with more better graphics”, this is a step forward for a genre that has been running in place for a decade.


20201353 comments. It's getting crowded in here.


  1. Mephane says:

    I often hear that genre being called “Hack’n’Slay”.^^

  2. Matt says:

    This sounds exactly like the kind of game I look for, but never find; thanks for pointing it out! Better still, it’s Mac compatible, so I’ll actually get to PLAY it.

  3. Jeremiah says:

    I imagine the most frustrating moment for a developer comes when some jerkface reviewer comes along, appraises their efforts, and calls the whole thing a “Diablo Clone”.

    Depths of Peril is a Diablo clone from Soldak Entertainment.

    HA!

    I’m with you. I’ve never really understood the whole “Diablo-clone” thing. It was always comes off as sounding a little condescending.

    However you want to describe them, they can certainly be a lot of fun to play.

    Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I’ll have to check out the demo.

  4. Sungazer says:

    Sounds like an interesting game, but I probably won’t pick it up because there’s no mutliplayer. Not that I want to go stomp n00bs or anything, but m’Lady wife and I really enjoy playing games together.

    Unfortunately, cooperative multiplayer is becoming rarer and rarer.

  5. Nihil says:

    Sounds like the correct comparison is not Diablo, but DOTA.

  6. Alexis says:

    @Sungazer: god yes. Coop is the only multiplayer I care about, I got PvP out of my system on Godwars. Lots of couples enjoy WoW ;)

    I want more obsessive analysis of gameplay mechanics.
    Really, this is my #1 interest.

    I can’t play games without a respec feature any more. I just can’t do it. I have Hellgate sitting around, but I’d rather not play than make a ‘wrong’ character and have to grind the whole game again. So I don’t play at all.

    In a similar vein, I’ve started Oblivion like four or five times. I invariably get obsessed with levelling perfectly, forget the main plot entirely and end up losing a hard drive before getting anywhere.

    Respec definitely deserves a place on the RPG Bill of Rights.

    I also approve of XP bonuses for subsequent playthroughs of games with endgames. I’m what WoW-ers call an altoholic, I like trying out different mechanics. Forcing me to replay the game, in full, once (or more) for every different class is at best optimistic. A 10-20% XP break would hold me in endgame much longer.

    I have 5 70s in WoW, 2 60 s and 2 40 s. I’d love to try the last 4 in endgame but I just can’t face levelling any more!

  7. Casper says:

    Shamus, you need to pick a name for this genre. We all will definitely endorse the new term. Hack’n’Slay sounds good, but we could put the looting aspect in as well. Maybe Hack’n’Slay’n’Pick-Up-Loot?

  8. King of Men says:

    Hack and Slay are much the same concept. How about Hack’n’Loot?

  9. Solka says:

    Hack’n’Randloot

    Anyway.. I am sorry, Shamus, but you leave me wanting to know more! What is the strategic aspect of the Covenants? Do you get to organise mass-attacks with characters you have leveled up? the AI controls the other covenant? Is there a general storyline?

  10. Joe says:

    @Sungazer & Alexis: Same here. My wife and I love to play games together, and this is the single reason why NWN is our absolute all-time favorite game ever. The official campaign is good, and can be played multi-player co-op, and additionally the modding community is large, and very often produces good multiplayer-coop games. (Actually, I don’t think you really *can* do multi-player in NWN without it being coop, unless you count DM vs. PC as a particularly insidious form of PvP.)

    @Casper: KIATIS: Kill It And Take Its Stuff.

  11. Zukhramm says:

    Why Hack’n’Slay? I thought they were called Hack’n’Slash allready.

    And defining genres, I think, not only “games where you level up a character”, but games where “leveling up a character is the main focus of the game” is a better definition, since that excludes all RTSes, fighting games and whatever that comes with leveling up these days. The comes the idea that there are more way to build a character other than leveling, so the definition of RPG I use is “Game where the focus lies in building up a character.”

  12. LazerFX says:

    How about Rogue-like? I mean, that was the first. It was text. It was awesome. I became netHack, Adom, Angband, et. al., but… it was the first.

    Rogue-like. And, for all the illiterates reading this…

    It’s Rogue Not Rouge!

  13. Dev Null says:

    We’ve always called them clickfest RPGs, because they have the essential levelling / looting / learning mechanic of RPGs, but the gameplay involves clicking a mouse as fast as you can. Which makes it sound like I don’t like the genre – not true; loved both Diablos, and played a number of (lets face it) clones to completion as well. (Couldn’t stomach Dungeon Siege though – just too linear, and the plot was _lame_.) I had a Diablo-obsessed friend who actually designed – though I don’t think he ever built – a mouse which automatically clicked at a rate controlled by the mouse wheel, so he could stop beating up his wrists and still play the game. He did build a parody web game which was just a box that moved around the screen, and the faster you clicked on it the more often you got messages that said things like “You go up a level!” and “You gain UberLoot 2000!”

    What? We’re allowed to mock the things we love – otherwise I’m sure my wife would leave me…

  14. Dev Null says:

    Solka, he _did_ say first impressions. If I know Shamus (which I don’t, but you know what I mean) he’ll be back…

  15. Deoxy says:

    Nice start to a Shamus review – care to finish it?

    (In other words, “I want more obsessive analysis of gameplay mechanics.”)

  16. Septyn says:

    Please to be continuing with the game-mechanics obsessing, sir.

    Also, what is the state of the game’s DRM? As in, does it have any, or is it a good game with an evil parasitic twin?

  17. Nilus says:

    Sounds like this one is worth checking out.

    And huzzah for no multiplayer. It is sad that the Multiplayer = better camp have infested both PC and console gaming now. Playing with friends is great and all but I like a solo experience sometimes.

  18. Coyote says:

    Depths of Peril was my favorite RPG – indie or mainstream – last year. For pretty much all the reasons cited. The thing that hooked me was when I realized that the failed or ignored quests often formed a progression of increasingly more difficult situations that formed kind of a dynamic plot. That, and the fact the other covenants would sometimes beat you to quest completion, winning all the accolades for curing the plague or whatnot.

    An outstanding – and overlooked – game.

  19. krellen says:

    LaserFX got it. Diablo and all its “clones” are nothing but graphical (and often 3d) Rogue-likes, complete with the random monsters, random loot, and random levels (to some extent, anyway.)

  20. guy says:

    It was a finallist for the wizards of the coast gaming compition. i also liked it, though when i reilized percisely how the NPCs kept up in levels, i was dissatisfied. (they basicially get a tiny quest they can turn in at an NPC every couple monster kills)

    @ Krellen

    but there is much less permadeath. therefore they are not rougelikes.

  21. guy says:

    oops, doublepost

  22. Stu says:

    “Rogue-like” is a fairly loose description for Diablo. In other rogue-like games the player is under no pressure to act. You can stand next to a monsters for days: Getting pummelled by a hill troll? no problem, just don’t press anything. You have an unlimited amount of time to think about the situation and try to come up with the craftiest strategy (or crazy, last-stand, taking-you-with-me death)

    Diablo has a similar concept to rogue-likes with the added disavantage of real time. Thus you must think on the spot when being attacked.

  23. ShadowDragon8685 says:

    To be perfectly frank, Shamus, I think we’d ENJOY a long, in-depth, exhaustive analyisis of the game’s mechanics.

    I think you misunderestimate our appetite for your pedantic and slightly cynically-flavored rantings and musings.

  24. Deoxy says:

    I see no reason a multi-player option shouldn’t be included on a game like this. That said, note the way I wrote the previous sentence… having a good single-player game is of first importance, at least for the vast majority of games.

    I think you misunderestimate our appetite for your pedantic and slightly cynically-flavored rantings and musings.

    I wish I had written this. It’s beautiful.

  25. Stranger says:

    I don’t know about WoW but I do know Guild Wars you have the ability to adjust your character build in cities in case you (like me) ‘failed char build forever’.

    Given GW is a somewhat active piece of the MMO pie (well, you know, the one which isn’t WoW; that’s a whole ‘nother pie now) and I shill for it from time to time (hey, I enjoy it!, and I don’t need to pay monthly fees, so it’s perfect for me) you may just have seen me post about it in here.

    By the way, this game sounds . . . intriguing. Hm. I’ll see what other reviews say before I take more than a cursory glance. And yes, when DID “no multiplayer” become a cardinal sin? Oh . . . right . . . after Quake.

  26. Anders says:

    Local gaming magazine (version of PC Gamer) reviewed the game. First sentence uses the words “Diablo clone” and it gets minus in score for not having multiplayer.

    Guess you where right there.

  27. Fenix says:

    oh i got it! call the genre a 3rd person looter!

  28. Uninverted says:

    It looks pretty fun, but unless it can run through Wine, I’m probably going to have to pass it up. I’m sure a wiki containing that information will sprout up soon, so I’ll wait and see.

  29. Nathanael says:

    I agree with Nihil, it shares many elements with DOTA.

  30. Meta says:

    I remember a time where every FPS was referred to as a “Doom clone”.

    As things are, though, the name is deserved because these games rarely really branch out and become much more than a clone. On the other hand, it’s hard for a Diablo-clone to innovate without ending up in some other RPG genre.

    “It’s like Diablo, but in first person!”
    “Pfft, Oblivion clone.”

  31. Morzas says:

    They’re usually called hack-and-slash or dungeon crawlers, but I think Real-Time Roguelike is the best description, save for the fact that most of these games don’t have permadeath.

  32. RibbitRibbit says:

    “3rd-person looter” heheh. *Grabs and runs*

    As for cooperative games, console fares a bit better I think. I LOVED playing Gauntlet on the XBOX with 3 friends. I wish there were more of these.

  33. ngthagg says:

    My vote is for TPG: third person grind. Grinding has some negative connotations, but it sums up the idea of killing lots of monsters for experience and loot. Of course, HG:L has a first person mode and definitely fits in the genre, so maybe TP isn’t going to work.

    Putting rogue-like in the name kind of defeats the purpose of looking for a replacement for Diablo-clone.

  34. Ryan Speck says:

    I think you were unfair to Fate. It’s a much more revolutionary and fun reimagining of Diablo than Depths Of Peril, which is ugly, dull, annoying, and, for me, virtually unplayable. It was about as long-winded and unintuitive as you can imagine and managed not to tell me how to do anything useful during the several hours I tried playing it before giving up and uninstalling it.

  35. guy says:

    @Ryan

    it’s in the help info boxes. you know, those tiny little things with question marks GENEROUSLY SCATTERED AROUND THE EDGE OF THE SCREEN. it’s one of the rare games that tells you too much about how it works while playing it. also, the tutorial quests are simple introductions to the part (singular) of the interface which is not some form of, “click on X.” really, you move, target, talk, trade, equip, and assign skill points with the mouse. the entire rest of the interface is the numbers 0-9. okay, there are hotkeys, but that’s it.

    the gameplay is introduced in the tutorial quests and the help info boxes. it told me more in the first ten minutes than i cared to know, to the point where i had to tell the help system to SHUT UP and stop cluttering my screen.

    i can usually understand interface and confusing gameplay complaints, but answer me honestly: did you even attempt to understand anything before rushing off into the wilderness?

  36. Yahzi says:

    “I could go on, but I worry that everyone’s appetite for obsessive analysis of gameplay mechanics would be sated long before I got tired of doing it.”

    Are you kidding? That’s what we come here for!

    This game sounds like fun… but only if I can skip all the Diablo parts and just play the strategy part. :D

  37. Krellen says:

    ngthagg writes:
    Putting rogue-like in the name kind of defeats the purpose of looking for a replacement for Diablo-clone.

    Except for the fundamental difference that “roguelike” has been a genre for three decades, while “Diablo-clone” only consumes one. Roguelike is an established video game genre, one which Diablo and its relatives fit into nicely.

    Also, roguelike gets a wikipedia entry; Diablo-clone does not. :D

  38. neminem says:

    Ah, good. I got beaten to the punch, and I’m happy for it – I’ve also always called the genre “roguelike with graphics”.

    That being, of course, because a key part of the definition of a real roguelike is “made out of text”.

  39. Zanfib says:

    I agree with Yahzi.

    Also: you know you’ve made it big when they’re sending you review copies.

  40. Johan says:

    I really want this game already :D.

  41. Mart says:

    Shamus, you forgot to mention the constantly evolving world part. To me, this is the greatest leap for this sort of genre.

    Ignore the quest to kill some particular monster king, it may lead an attack to your town. Ignore a plea to save a hostaged child, he/she will get killed. Quests do not stay stagnant, but evolve according to your choices.

  42. Lochiel says:

    I’ve always thought of them as rogue-likes… but previous posters are right. There are significant differences between Rogue and Diablo.

    I don’t think its a Shamus review without the in depth analysis of gameplay.

  43. folo4 says:

    played the demo. And decided to visit the forums.

    It’s very lonely; only some of the subforums barely broke the 100 post mark.

    was there something wrong with this game?

    edit: Smooth Alt-tabbing makes this a good proposition

  44. Deoxy says:

    Mart’s point is what has me most interested in this game… not that I’ll get to play it any time in the next few years, of course. sigh.

  45. Derek K says:

    I’ve always called them “Clickies.”

  46. guy says:

    @folo

    small game, small forums. also, there is now a shortage of things to actually talk about

  47. Ryan Speck says:

    @guy

    Yes, I am sadly that gamer who reads every bit of tutorial, talks to every person in town before they leave it, and the demo of the game (which is quite long) still left a huge amount to be desired in the way of explaining game functionality.

    Sadly, I also played it long enough ago that I can’t remember specific complaints, but I know it sure as hell wasn’t one eighteenth as much fun as Fate, which I played on an off for about, oh, a year or two now.

    But I do remember it being ugly and obtuse. I can handle ugly as long as it’s fun.

  48. Uninverted says:

    How about Rogue-like? I mean, that was the first. It was text. It was awesome. I became netHack, Adom, Angband, et. al., but… it was the first.

    Rogue-like is already a term describing exactly the kind of games you mention. It’s also less commonly used to describe (n)curses based command-line interfaces.

  49. guy says:

    well, if the insanely large number of help boxes was insufficent, there is the manual.

    http://www.soldak.com/Depths-of-Peril/Manual.html

  50. Not sure anyone will read this since I’m a bit late to the party, but I thought I would respond to a few things in the comments.

    Someone mentioned the enemy covenants getting a quest bonus occasionally. This happens because the player can solve all of the quests, whereas the enemy covenants can only solve some of them. So to keep it balanced they get a bonus.

    We have a a number of people that have told us that the game runs fine under Wine. You can always grab the demo and see for yourself though.

    About the lonely forums, we are a small indie company so our marketing budget is pretty lacking so we are slowly building our following. I’ve believe you meant to say 100 threads though. Our main Dop game forum is nearing 1500 posts.

  51. Reverend says:

    Bah, all you Rogue-ians are forgetting the true original, Zork.

    Nothing compares to playing a text-only Zork.

  52. dota lovers says:

    I’m very interested in this article, I usually like to use dota heroes welcome to the page.

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