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Nox

Comparisons between Nox and Diablo are inevitable, if not slightly misguided. Although the two titles are nearly identical, Nox is hardly a Diablo rip-off--it's been in development since the time of Moses, or at least before Diablo was released. But there's no denying that it's walking a well-paved path. It's an action game with role-playing-game pretensions; it's played from an isometric overhead view and contains quests, inventory management, fancy spell effects, bosses, and three character classes. Sound familiar?

The Out-of-Towners

In many ways, Nox isn't as good as Diablo. Nox's single-player game is a series of linear missions played on prerendered maps. It's oddly unsettling to play a game such as this and know that it's not randomly generated; you realize that you're being led by the nose from point A to point B, and that once you've seen it all, you won't see anything new again. Nox also doesn't have Diablo's town-centric, safe-house feeling. Nox's sequence of levels dictates when you go to town, whereas Diablo gives you the option to retreat to town when things get hot or you're loaded down with loot.

Nox also manages your statistics as you go up levels. This is common in console RPGs that are built around a group of prescripted characters, but it's a mistake in an action-RPG game that asks you to create, and identify with, your own character. You'll likely play through the entire game without ever checking, for instance, how high your character's strength is. Your character is defined only by his equipment. (Yes, his; there are no female characters in Nox.)

What's Hecubah to Him?

You'll find the worst RPG clichés in Nox's levels, such as FedEx missions ("Bring me my boots, and I'll reward you with a new spell and a mess of experience points"), some unimaginative key and button hunts, and searching for "stray" gold in people's houses. And Nox doesn't have nearly as much personality as Diablo. The game makes some limp efforts at NPCs, but the writing and voice acting come nowhere near Diablo's, which are done skillfully and creatively. Nox's story is utterly conventional, if you can overlook one of the most idiotic premises to ever set up a computer game: You are a guy wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers who is sucked out of a trailer park and into another world. Defeat the evil sorceress Hecubah, and you get to go back home. The back story of Westwood's Command & Conquer is like Tolstoy in comparison.

But in many other ways, Nox is actually better than Diablo. The flip side of Nox's linear, prescripted missions is that the single-player game is carefully tailored around the three classes (Conjurer, Wizard, and Warrior). Each class plays on the same maps, but in a different order and with some subtle customizations. If you're playing a Warrior, for instance, you won't find yourself bogged down with an inventory screen full of useless mana potions, wands, and high-level spell books. If you're playing a Wizard, and you kill a boss, you won't be rewarded with the "Two-Handed Sword of Omnipotence That Spellcasters Can't Use."

Nox's Wizard and Warrior classes are standard fare: the Wizard class gets to play with some powerful and insidious spells, and the Warrior class looks mighty impressive mowing through opponents like a weed whacker on a Georgia driveway. But Nox's third class, the Conjurer, is a charming nod to the early RPGs that inspired this action/RPG genre. In Nethack and Rogue, two primitive RPGs drawn with ASCII characters, you would begin the game with a pet. This little character would follow you around faithfully, learn tricks, and help you fight. There was no sadder message in the history of computer gaming than "Little dog has died."

 

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