I’ve been pretty positive on Depths of Peril. However, I will now enumerate some flaws, according to the ancient traditions and customs we’ve long observed on this site. Affection must not stand in the way of ceremony, or we’ll end up with chaos. Here are my gripes, in ascending order, from the trivial to the slightly-less trivial.
The tutorial is a bit rough. It’s mostly a series of popups to read to tell you where things are and what’s what. It’s better than letting the player fend for themselves, but a more gradual introduction would have been welcome.
It’s hard to tell the various tiers of foods (restore health) and beverages (restore energy) from each other. In other games, you can look at two blue bottles and see one is bigger than the other, and therefore restores more energy. But how would you compare a glass of milk to a mug of ale? Is roast duck better than pheasant? Erm. You can use the tooltips to figure out which is the superior item, but that sort of deprives them of their iconic nature.
There are some single-file passages in the dungeons. This is fine unless you have a covenant mate adventuring with you, because they block your movement. They’re smart enough to back away if you move next to them. They don’t trap you, but they do make it hard for you to beat a hasty retreat if you get overwhelmed. Diablo II had the same problem when it was first released. (Getting down into the Maggot Lair as a Necromancer – with a half dozen skeletons in tow – was maddeningly difficult.) The solution there was to simply allow teammates to walk through each other. (Not stand in the same spot, but just pass.) That could work here.
I have to give Depths of Peril credit for at last giving me a “demand” button on the diplomacy screen. In GalCiv I was often frustrated by the fact that you couldn’t threaten anyone. You could only ask, and the AI always reacted as though I was coming to him as a beggar, even if I had an armada of terrifying potency sitting just outside his homeworld. In Depths of Peril I press the demand button often, and each time I am filled with insidious joy, regardless of the answer I get in return.
Having said that, the diplomacy system is… well, it’s about as good as a lot of other diplomacy systems I’ve experienced, which is to say, somewhat lacking in cunning. Example: A foe will make a demand of me, and I’ll tell him to get stuffed. Then I’ll turn around and demand tribute from him, and he’ll relent. If he had the nerve to threaten war, then he ought to also have the nerve to say no.
The storage system is convoluted. You can’t put things into your box directly. No, you have to put a container – a sack or a bag of some sort – into the box, and then put stuff into the sack. If you want to take the sack out again, you have to empty it first. Your inventory works this way as well. You don’t have a single pack, but instead you can have up to four bags which contain items. The interface can get pretty confusing when you’ve got your four sacks open as well as the sacks inside of the box. You get used to it, but it does seem like more complexity than is called for.
Now, I see the intent here. As you play, you collect larger and larger sacks. The idea is to reward the player with larger storage space as they level up. A reasonable goal, but I think it might have saved everyone (the coder and the players) a lot of hassle if the space just got magically bigger as they leveled up.
Now, all of these complaints are trivial. I’m ashamed to even mention them. (The preceding sentence was an outrageous lie, although I’d appreciate if you would believe it anyway. Thank you for your cooperation.) But this last complaint stands apart from the others. It is not a whine against some irrelevant gameplay minutia or esoteric design commentary, this is a protest against the grievous harm visited on me by Soldak, the Depths of Peril interface, and my fellow covenant members. In that order. My grievance is as follows:
My teammates need to get the flaming hell out of my way when I jump through the portal to our covenant house.
The following drama was repeated several times as I played Depths of Peril:
I have burst forth from the magical gateway into the alluring safety of our covenant house. I appear there on the threshold, having just escaped the clutches of some bone-clad captain of the underworld. His fell magics have left me bleeding, poisoned, and on fire. At this point I am beyond Death’s door. I’m in Death’s foyer, and Death is taking my coat and asking if I had any trouble finding the place.
But! I am only steps away from salvation: I need only touch our covenant lifestone, and it will infuse me with new life, healing wounds and dragging me back from the brink.
My team is all gathered so tightly around the dang thing that I can’t click on it. I have to aim for a minuscule gap of just a few pixels between my oblivious compatriots to hit the stone. If I miss, I’ll end up running up to the team member and opening up a little menu where I can see their inventory, add them to my party, and do a bunch of other stuff I don’t care about right now because I’m on fire. My precious health is still draining away while I furiously hammer away looking for the close button so I can have another go at the lifestone.
Too late. I have dropped dead, going face-down a couple of inches from my goal. The lifestone brings me back to life, and a little tombstone appears where I fell. Right next to me.
Since at higher levels death incurs XP debt (boo) this fills me with murderous rage. I’ve actually taken to running my crew short a person. This puts me at a disadvantage against the other covenants, but leaves a hole in our defensive line so I can click on the blasted lifestone at need.
Ideally, my teammates should clear a path and go cower in the corner when I fly out of the portal. They should stay there until I’ve renewed myself, at which time they can come out and make some uneasy comments about that being a close one. Barring that, I should be able to give them a good shove when they stand there like morons. Barring that, then game should let me execute one of them, publicly, using gallows, as an example to the others.
Other comments on the game, completely unrelated to the horrible, murderous betrayal I suffered at the hand of my senseless teammates:
I liked the foliage. And the wilderness sound effects were nice. (Having played Oblivion recently, I was reminded how sterile and silent Bethesda’s world sounded. Yeah, yeah: I’m sure there’s a mod for that.)
I really liked the skill system. You get five skill points per level. Skills start out cheap, but get more expensive as you go. This means that on level up, you get to make some interesting choices instead of throwing a single point into the one ability you’ve decided to max out. The ability to change things around later means that mistakes won’t be permanent.
I really like that monsters far beneath you in level will leave you alone, so you don’t have to wade through easily defeated but still-worthless foes if you happen to backtrack for some reason.
The only reason I stopped playing Depths of Peril was because I picked up Hellgate: London and I was eager to compare the two. Both games can trace their lineage back to Diablo II, but from that common origin the designers chose to move in very different directions. Specifically, they each had their own ideas about how the genre needed to “evolve”.
Soldak Entertainment is still an indie game company and is still subject to the tribulations most indies face. Lead designer Steven Peeler mentions on his blog that a follow-up game is not a certainty. I hope Depths of Peril does well enough to propel them forward, as I’d really like to see what they do next.
EDIT: In the comments below I learn that the inventory system I complain about above is how World of Warcraft does it. It still think the system is strange, but I guess… people… like it? It’s hard to criticize the most successful game / drug in history, but still: Variable-size objects in variable-sized bags in fixed-size boxes? What the heck?
EDIT II: Other people now comment that the storage systems aren’t as similar as I might make them seem. Okay, so the systems are alike except in how they differ. Whatever. I can’t get near an MMO without destroying this blog so I don’t dare investigate myself.
EDIT III: It has been pointed out to me that I could click on the lifestone icon if my alleged “friends” are blocking my access to it. Fine, fine. But I still think my gallows idea is a good one. Maybe in the expansion pack.
A look at the main Borderlands games. What works, what doesn't, and where the series can go from here.
This Game is Too Videogame-y
What's wrong with a game being "too videogameish"?
There's a wonderful way to balance difficulty in RPGs, and designers try to prevent it. For some reason.
A Telltale Autopsy
What lessons can we learn from the abrupt demise of this once-impressive games studio?
A screencap comic that poked fun at videogames and the industry. The comic has ended, but there's plenty of archives for you to binge on.