Depths of Peril:
Gameplay

 By Shamus Jun 3, 2008 29 comments

Before I get started with the gameplay: Someone asked about the DRM in this game. Let’s answer that question first…

I’m using a hardware-locked reviewer’s copy. I see this as perfectly reasonable in this case because it was free to me in my capacity as a blathering videogame analyst. If I want to play next year, or on a laptop, I can go buy the damn thing.

For everyone else, the game uses a name / key combination for registration, which is handled locally. (No server involved.) This is pretty much what I was hoping RSPOD would use, as it means the game still functions without regard to the health of its progenitor.

Everyone has different tolerances for this sort of stuff, but the info is there so you can make an informed choice.

Fenix suggested this genre of game ought to be called a “third person looter”, which is pretty catchy. Grinding is usually looked down on in RPG’s, but in a third person looter the game begins and ends with grinding. That’s pretty much the whole game. In the most primitive hack-n-slash knockoffs, you have only two goals:

  1. Go up in level.
  2. Get better equipment.

That’s not a bad start. Fate built an entire game around those two concepts. But most games will add at least one more:

  1. Advance the story. (Dialog, cutscenes, new characters, etc.)

That’s where Diablo II stops, with the added complexity that “get better equipment” means not just finding stuff, but also gambling and combining items.

The story in Depths of Peril is not a rich tale told through cutscenes as with Diablo. It mostly consists of a chain of specific quests, which I assume leads to a big battle at the end. (I haven’t completed the game yet.) I would have enjoyed a deeper story, although I’m not even sure that’s possible without cutscenes and voice acting. What’s here is serviceable enough, and a step up from the randomly-generated pseudo-plot of Fate.

But the more things you can add to the list of activities, the more you can mitigate the tedium and create a richer experience. To this end, Depths of Peril offers:

  1. Advance the power of your covenant.

This is done by pursuing the previous goals, as well as recruiting new members. The overall power of your covenant is the total of all the member’s levels, so making sure your crew is higher level than everyone else’s will keep you on top. You can either take your team mates out with you adventuring, or you can simply trade up as higher level characters become available.

When you’re not building your covenant up, you can spend some time trying to push the others down, usually by interacting with them through diplomacy. The more powerful you are, the more influence you have. Which lets you collect more taxes. Which gives you a little more leverage with other covenants.

Of course, you don’t need to play the diplomat if that’s not your style. You can always adopt the more direct approach of just declaring war and murdering the lot of them until their lifestone is depleted. (Although, going to war with more then one covenant at a time is not recommended, unless you’ve managed to secure a firm lead in terms of power.)

  1. Complete the book collection.

There is a bookshelf in the covenant house, with a slot for each of the books in the game. You can read these books to learn about the history and setting, which is a nice way to provide a backdrop for those who crave it without just stuffing it in the face of those who would rather just make with the clicking and collecting, already.

The incentive here is that each book confers a small bonus to everyone in the covenant, like +1 strength or somesuch. This adds up as your collection grows, to the point where your collection makes up a respectable portion of your power. The complete set is encyclopedia-sized, so catching them all is not a trivial undertaking.

  1. Collect relics.

This is just a variation of “better equipment”. You have four pedestals in the covenant house, which can each hold a relic which will, like the books, confer a bonus onto your whole crew. At first this seemed a little simplistic, but there is strategy involved in choosing your relics. My first impulse was to stack them with relics which would boost the magical powers of my mage. But I quickly realized that this meant they were of no benefit at all to the other members of the covenant, who were mostly fighter-types.

But the general idea is to collect relics which will complement your approach to the game.

  1. Take care of the town.

The town of Jorvik is not a static place. Monsters sometimes slip in. NPC’s get poisoned. The plague breaks out. Sometimes there’s a siege. NPC’s can die (although they come back to life after a while, which is nice since sometimes you have business to conduct with them) and the town can suffer setbacks. Fixing these problems usually means going on little quests to round up supplies or kill the antagonizing idiot behind the problem.

You don’t have to take care of the town, although it’s much easier to pursue the previous goals if the NPC’s in town are all healthy and available.

By layering these various activities together, the game feels like less of a grind. At any given time you’re making measurable progress at at least one of the many goals, so you avoid the treadmill feel of other Diablo clones third-person looters.

And because I forgot to link it last time, the demo is here.


20929 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Deoxy says:

    Nice. Looking better all the time – which is sad, since I won’t have time to play it any time soon. Bummer.

  2. Spider Dave says:

    I downloaded the demo this morning, and so far it feels a bit too grindy for my tastes. Of course, I’ve only played it for about an hour, aquired two buddies, and murdered one of the other covenants. I’m hoping as I get more lackeys and play more, it’ll be less of a grind, but for the moment it feels like Corum Online, with a house to live in.

  3. JFargo says:

    Sounds like fun to me, and I’ll have to give it a try. I’ll download the demo, and probably find a little time tonight to feel it out.

  4. Lanthanide says:

    “The complete set is encyclopedia-sized”

    I never grew up with a set of encyclopedias, and I don’t know anyone who did. Given that the internet is around now, I don’t think many people will in the future, either. Once I got to high school where such things were needed, the internet (and Encarta) were available, so I never really needed to consult them there either.

    So how big is this? Like 28-40 books?

  5. Shamus says:

    Lanthanide: Yeah, that range is about right.

    To be fair, it’s been a a lot of years since I saw a set of them as well.

  6. Deoxy says:

    I never grew up with a set of encyclopedias…
    So how big is this? Like 28-40 books?

    Usually one for most letters of the alphabet, with a few of the shorter letters combined (xyz, for instance) and a few of the longer ones getting split (sa-sh, si-sq, ss-sz for instance)… so, very roughly 26 books.

    Each book is generally 1-3″ thick, hardback, and 8″x11″ in size or a bit smaller.

    Big, heavy, unwieldy, and full of information on all kinds of topics. Sort of like a professionally-vetted Wikipedia, usually dated 10-50 years prior to your usage of them.

  7. Johan says:

    Well, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, how many books would that take? I’m guessing somewhere in the range of a lot, so that part should be fun.

  8. guy says:

    40. each book has a level where it starts appearing. the story quest chain leads up to a battle-royal with a level 30/55/80/105 boss monster, setting dependent. also secret shiny stuff.

    you left out collecting complete sets, a major incentive for replaying, along with using the sets. if you get a full set with one play-through in time for it to be useful, you have hacked the game. they have all sorts of bonuses, mostly useless, like 55 cold resistance, which is so not woth slightly lower armor numbers, but ranging to 1000ish armor bonus.

    sadly, to me, the town attacks are far simpler and rarer than i would like, having a .25% chance of happening every 5-10 min with most quests. they consist of 4-9 monsters with boosted chances of being special appearing in the center of town, reciving reinforcments through a diminsional gate, and maybe the same next to an occupied covenent house. why are they so weak? because they are insanly dangerous. i have seen a town attack, in a town with four covnents, kill the steward and weaponsmith before the outnumbered attackers fell.

  9. Jeff says:

    What’s this “rich tale told through cutscenes as with Diablo.” you mentioned, Shamus?

    All I remember were random excuses to kill things.
    It has a story, yes, but so does Serious Sam.

    PS:T was “a rich tale”, but Diablo? You’re making me recalibrate my perceptions here. ;)

  10. Celti says:

    …I feel old. I’ve never been without a set of encyclopedias in the house. Sure, online ones tend to have more functionality, but you can’t beat the feel of a huge pile of books sitting there on the shelf. A solid mass of comforting information.

    Besides, do you really think Wikipedia will survive the impending apocalypse and subsequent fall of civilisation? How valuable will that collection of information be then? :-)

  11. Wombat says:

    Yeah… wikipedia may not survive the apocalypse. But it WILL survive YOUR house burning down.

  12. Mike Lemmer says:

    I tried the Mac demo. It was interesting for a while, but there’s a couple problems in the covenant diplomacy that really get in the way of me enjoying the game:

    1. Whenever a covenant initiates a raid, the defender makes a counter-raid. Then 2-3 other covenants join in & gangbang the initial attacker. Eventually you start the funeral dirge for any covenant that dares to attack first.
    2. Gaining reputation with the other factions is annoyingly hard. Giving them masses of free items & influence only raises it by a point or two, and reputation feels like it drops too quickly to really bother with.
    3. Why are these factions so greedy? They offer me coppers for rare items, demand I pay them 100 crystals to open a trade route they suggested in the first place, and spam me messages to give 2-3 crystals to me because… well, I don’t know really. Are they saying “we kind of like you, but we’re too cheap to give more than a token gift”?
    4. It really doesn’t feel like I’m adventuring beside them. I see their adventurers in the first zone, but after that the only time I see them is in town.

    In summary, I like the covenants idea but it feels too much like I’m playing with computer players that demand X resources to raise a vague Friendship meter Y points rather than actual players.

    In addition, sometimes it crashes when I warp back to town & I lose 2-3 pieces of my equipment. Since I can’t restore an old save, that was a dealbreaker for me.

    But it compelled me to play Diablo 2 again.

  13. scragar says:

    I’ve played the demo now for around 3 hours, I was a little annoyed at starting off with the lowest ranking(which lead to me training to level 2, then starting a new game with the character in order to even out the initial gameplay). Another thing I particularly like is the ability to clear out your enemies lifestones in a few seconds, then spend the rest of the game playing a game that plays more like a classical RPG(you don’t have to worry too much about protecting your base or treaties then, which almost makes it appear to be more than 1 single game).

    I would most likely go out an buy it if they could offer any message other than “appears to handle very well” with regard to running it under wine on linux. As it is I’m torn, the game is very good from what I’ve seen of the demo, and worth the price, however I do not wish to play the risk of it not working correctly…

  14. Scourge says:

    Celti:
    [...]but you can’t beat the feel of a huge pile of books sitting there on the shelf. A solid mass of comforting information.

    And on top of that can you use them to reach higher shelves, try that with a CD or DVD, or beat someone with them. ^^

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Mike Lemmer:

    “1. Whenever a covenant initiates a raid, the defender makes a counter-raid. Then 2-3 other covenants join in & gangbang the initial attacker. Eventually you start the funeral dirge for any covenant that dares to attack first.”

    Didnt happen to me.Usually it was other covenants joining me in the initial raid.

    “2. Gaining reputation with the other factions is annoyingly hard. Giving them masses of free items & influence only raises it by a point or two, and reputation feels like it drops too quickly to really bother with.”

    Try giving them something they want.Usually they will offer more than the vendors,and this will increase reputation by much more than gifting them something they dont want.

  16. guy says:

    @ Mike

    you set the aggression meter too high. when a covent is too weak to continue a raid, it’s like blood in the water in shark territory. this isn’t an issue at lower levels of aggression.

    also, what daemian said

  17. Bard says:

    Good story impossible without voice acting? Yeah, I guess you really didn’t get into Final Fantasy VI.

  18. Shamus says:

    Bard: You’re right. I was just assuming that in a game like this you’d have to do like Diablo, but there’s no reason you couldn’t adopt a different approach.

  19. Deoxy says:

    “1. Whenever a covenant initiates a raid, the defender makes a counter-raid. Then 2-3 other covenants join in & gangbang the initial attacker. Eventually you start the funeral dirge for any covenant that dares to attack first.”

    Didnt happen to me.Usually it was other covenants joining me in the initial raid.

    Realistically, you should expect one or the other (or a mix of those two responses from all viable convents). In any multi-player setting, assuming the players are all reasonably close to each other in power, two opponents that fight each other, whoever was the aggressor, weaken themselves in comparison to all the others, making themselves inviting targets.

    Even if one wasn’t able to complete the raid, their attack should weaken the successful defender. Even if they were very successful in their raid, they’ve got resources tied up in the fight, leaving less at home for defense.

    Any way you look at it, such behaviour should be expected from reasonably competent players and AI.

    This is one reason why many competitive games are almost exclusively played with exactly two sides – your skill at the game is what determines those games. Add in even one additional side, and diplomacy/manipulation of sides other than your own can win you the game even when you are quite inferior at playing the game itself.

    Of course, some people revel in Free-For-All play, as they simply enjoy the experience, but they don’t generally claim that it is “fair” in any way.

    Edit: come to think of it, this is related one of my complaints against the “campaign” mode of Dawn of War: Dark Crusade (which I am enjoying anyway) – when the computer attacks of defends, it often gets 2 whole allied “players”. Yes, it’s still only 2 “sides”, but it is the equivalent of 3 sides, where 2 of them have ganged up on the other (each “player” gets its own squad cap, income cap, etc, making it the equivalent of a 2-on-1 in terms of resources).

    Of course, even on Hard, you can still beat the AI if you know what you are doing and have a good “honor guard” (bonus units you bring to battle), as the computer doesn’t generally handle its own honor guard very well at all, but you have to do it by annihilating one of the enemy “players” ASAP before they can build up, and then get into a more normal battle (with a bit of a handicap) with the remaining one.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “Add in even one additional side, and diplomacy/manipulation of sides other than your own can win you the game even when you are quite inferior at playing the game itself.”

    How is that lack of skill in a game that has diplomacy as a part of its gameplay?

  21. scragar says:

    I’m sure that was meant more in the way of saying that even though you may be the best player in a 2 player game adding a third player can mean that you lose a lot, even though you are the better player, since diplomacy becomes a major consideration. If it was to be taken to a game that already includes diplomacy then I too would consider it a part of the game that must be mastered to be considered good at the game.

  22. guy says:

    the alternitives are storming the raider covenent or joining the defense while the battle is in progress. however you do it, it becomes a suicide mission to attack another covenent first unless you have truely powerful guards or massive superiority. you’ll burn lifestone health, a very real form of power, especially if they have the Defender ability. you can get into nasty stalemates that way.

    probably the most brutal stalemate i’ve seen was against an inferior force with said ability. neither of us had the power to press home a victory while the entire enemy covenent is there. this had predictable resaults, basically consisting of constant raiding with occiasional brawls in town center. no one could leave without the other storming them. eventually i lured a sariun guard from my house to their house. because he was an elite regenerating monster 4 levels higher than either side, he kinda anhilated them.

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I had a help of a monster that was invading the town once.This interesting turn of events helped me to both slay the guards,and the uber tough monster.Funny thing though,when the monster kills you in a raid,you loose xp.

  24. I thought I would respond to a few things here.

    guy: You can mod the game to increase the number of town attacks if you want more of them.

    Mike: If the other covenants like you, they will probably not raid you while you are raiding someone else. It’s usually only when you are disliked and vulnerable that you get into major problems.

    Mike: I’m pretty sure I fixed the crash when coming back to town bug in the full game.

    scragar: Yeah, I don’t run Linux so I can’t say anything more than others have said it works fine, but if the demo works well the full game should also. We do have a 30 day money back guarantee though, so if you buy it and it doesn’t run well enough, you can always get your money back.

  25. guy says:

    @steven

    i actually have done so. i was just mentioning it in a general way. i do have to admit, there are some difficulty problems playing with that mod.

    @damien

    that can be done, though it’s pretty risky to try luring it, town attacking uniques can easily get distracted by, say, the warmaster. as for losing XP when killed, that’s because it’s merely that getting killed by a covent in a covenent house is penalty free.

  26. Jeff says:

    Just a quick test… my gravatar appears to have disappeared.

    Odd, that…

  27. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Hey, I have a new computer and have not yet installed the virus protection. Is there any chance that the site where you download the demo, or the demo itself, would cause trouble with my un-protected Vista Dell computer? This game sounds really fun, but I can’t jeapordize my shiny new computer.

  28. Kel’Thuzad: I’m pretty sure everything is virus free. I scan everything before I upload it, so anything directly from us should be good. I also would have been yelled at a ton if anything was infected. I would expect all of our other download sites are fine also.

  29. Damian says:

    @scragar

    I can confirm that the full game appears to run just peachy under the latest Ubuntu Wine. In fact, I’d say it runs better overall, to my surprise.

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