Blog 660: Loki

When I played Loki the first time around, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. However, I was in the mood for something fairly brainless, and why buy a new action-RPG when you can give an older one a second chance?

I mean, I am making an action-RPG myself — and that is mostly because nobody else’s action-RPG has ever hit the spot for me (at least since Nox). So I decided to take a closer look at why this one didn’t hit the spot either…

Loki

When you read the back of the box, Loki sounds like a great deal. Hundreds of enemies! Hundreds of skills! Crafting! Norse, Egyptian, Greek and Aztec mythology! And all of that wrapped up in a hack ‘n’ slash action-RPG. What more could anyone ask for?

You'd have thought that the mythological theme would allow you to crack out some more interesting forgotten beasts but, nope, it's mostly undead.

You’d have thought that the mythological theme would allow you to crack out some more interesting forgotten beasts but, nope, it’s mostly undead.

Your character has two experience bars in Loki, one for your level and one for your skills. Levelling brings the same treadmill of attribute points as anything else, while skills come from devotion to one of three gods. While you’re dedicated to a god, their faith meter swallows 25% of your incoming experience and getting the next level of faith gives you a skill point to spend.

Of course, if you swap to a different god during your game, their faith meter goes up instead. This might be good except that if you want spells from a mix of gods you have to spread your load — I hate to let the spectre of min-maxing rear its ugly head, but it always seems best to pump all your faith into a single god to unlock their higher tier skills. You can, of course, choose to worship no god to keep all the experience for levelling.

Having said that, though, there is a nice way to catch up on faith: in your home town is a shrine where you can sacrifice enchanted items to your current patron. Since money is basically irrelevant, this is often a better use of all that sweet sweet loot, especially the clothes that only the other characters can wear (is there really such a difference between Norse and Aztec forearms that they can’t wear each others’ wrist-pieces? Character models, I guess).

"What kind of bird of prey?" "Uhhh..." "Nevermind, we'll call it 'Bird of Prey', nobody will notice."

“What kind of bird of prey?” “Uhhh…” “Nevermind, we’ll call it ‘Bird of Prey’, nobody will notice.”

The levels are a mix of outdoor plaps and indoor dungeons, the former wide open squares and the latter long corridors of repeated terrain chunks. And I really do mean repeated — down to the exact placement of treasure chests and decorative props.

It all seems pretty lazy, to be honest. I don’t mind recycled assets, as these are a necessary practicality of game development, but I do mind when they are recycled in identical configurations without the slightest attempt at rearrangement.

Enemies, on the other hand, are scattered with wild abandon. Savage animals like wolves and bears proliferate in impossible numbers and they’ll happily fight side-by-side with civilised enemies like elves and gnomes. They don’t cluster around points of interest, or vary in density between species or terrain. I’ve seen them placed in unreachable areas, and there isn’t always a clear space around the map entrance either.

I spent ages whittling Fafnir down and he didn't even drop any decent loot.

I spent ages whittling Fafnir down and he didn’t even drop any decent loot.

Those enemies all, of course, drop items. Hundreds of them, though possibly not quite as many hundreds as Torchlight so that’s good.

Inventory management is nicely designed to help with the loot grind — right-clicking an item will send it straight to your “kiosk” where it is kept out of sight. This means you can sort through equipment incrementally, as you acquire it — rather than one big lump when you hit the shops. When shopping, the kiosk lets you sell everything in it in one click, with no risk of accidentally selling stuff you’re actually wearing.

The downside is that enchanted items in the kiosk don’t show up for sacrifice to your god, so you have to bring them out again before you can show your devotion. Another “sacrifice all” button would have been nice.

Even in the most mystical depths of the World Tree's roots, there are generic wooden chests that will explode in your face.

Even in the most mystical depths of the World Tree’s roots, there are generic wooden chests that will explode in your face.

The thing that annoys me most about loot grinding is when there are level restrictions put on items. Loki will literally not let you wear leggings until level 10. It is jarring but I suppose it does feed into the compulsion loop that drives games like this — when you trip over a level 10 item and you’re only level 8, you start to get that rush of desire to be level 10. Regardless of the fact that you’ll have found something better by the time you actually get there.

(Let’s face it, nobody’s going to be compelled to struggle through Loki for the story.)

You must be level 10 before you can show off your muscular thighs.

You must be level 10 before you can show off your muscular thighs.

Crafting has quite an interesting system even if the general loot grind makes it completely unnecessary. Weapons and armour are forged from particular materials, so once you get past the basics you can choose to reforge your favourite weapon from something fancier to keep it in the running for a little while longer. Indeed, weapons can be disassembled to a separate hilt and blade, allowing you to carry forward the good bonuses and shrug off the ones you’re not so interested in by combining different pieces.

Annoyingly, items you’re actually wearing cannot be upgraded. That’s fine for the disassemble pane, maybe, but generally I want to improve what I’m using and having to take it off first feels like an oversight. Items in the kiosk don’t appear here either, so they have to be brought out for recycling as for sacrificing. It’s worse because, fundamentally, I think the kiosk approach is actually pretty good — it’s just daft that they didn’t tie it into the interactions beyond shopping.

Despite being clamped between Jormungand's jaws, I was still able to swing my sword and hurt him as normal.

Despite being clamped between Jormungand’s jaws, I was still able to swing my sword and hurt him as normal.

The Verdict

Loki is a pretty awful game, by any stretch. It’s lazily designed and badly built. It suffers from the same control scheme and aiming issues I found inĀ Darkstone, a game seven years its elder, and throws more unresponsiveness on top of that. There are some glimmers of interest in the crafting system and inventory management but they’re drowned out by the endless wash of the grind across drearily samey environments against hordes of identical enemies.

Maybe it’s more fun in co-op.

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