Depths of Peril is a Diablo-style ‘RPG’ made by Indie developer Soldak Entertainment that tried to breathe some new life into a very stale/crowded genre in 2007. We’ve seen quite a few action-RPGs recently and we really felt Depths of Peril belongs in our list of reviewed games – so we decided to take a more in-depth look. Depths of Peril managed to positively surprise us with a few interesting concepts.
Depths of Peril is essentially a loot / grind fest in which the real goal is to get your character to level 100, with the best loot you can possibly obtain. There’s a little more to it than that obviously, as the developers have dressed up this goal in gameplay with some nice strategic aspects to it.
The game is set in Jorvik, historically the capital of the Vikings. (Barbarians, essentially). An amusing fact is that the Mana Pool editorial team is based in York, UK which is located on top of the original Jorvik city, back then the capital of the entire region. We even have a museum here where you can view the archaeologically preserved remnants of the city in the Jorvik Viking Centre. Anyway, enough about real life and back to the game.
You control a so called covenant, and your character is the leader. Jorvik really comes down to a tiny village in which you can find 3 quest givers, 5 merchants and up to 7 covenants, including your own. The idea is that you unite Jorvik under one banner, either by defeating all other covenants or by allying all remaining covenants. Before we get too deeply into that, let’s explore what a covenant actually is.
Essentially you can consider a covenant a ‘guild’. You can recruit up to 5 other NPC’s in your covenant, which can be any of the classes that you can play as a player as well: Warrior, Rogue, Mage and Priest. Pretty standard stuff. You can order any of your followers to follow you around when you adventure, though only one at a time. The rest hang out in your covenant house, which is pretty useful as that is where your heartstone is located.
Your lifestone indicates the health of your covenant and if your lifestone ever reaches zero health, your covenant is defeated. The lifestone loses health either when you or one of your followers die (it resurrects them, sacrificing its own health) or when it is directly attacked. Your covenant house also includes a storage chest to store loot, a shared stash which ALL characters you ever create can access (except those in hardcore mode), a place to put your books (which give bonuses to your entire covenant) and pedestals to place relics and guards.
Relics are items which you can find as drops, or buy from a vendor which give fairly impressive bonuses to your entire covenant. You can only have four of these active at any given time, so finding very powerful ones that give bonuses you most require can provide a massive boost to the power of your covenant.
Guards can be purchased from the beast master and are essentially summoned/bound monsters. These are fairly powerful and can be of a much higher level than you and enemy covenants are if your covenant has enough crystals and tax income. Crystals are covenant currency, used in trading with other covenants, diplomacy and purchasing guards and your income is directly related to the power of your covenant.
Covenants can engage in diplomacy with each other, including forming alliances, trade routes, trade items or even go adventuring together. They can also declare war, and finally ‘raid’ each other. Once a covenant initiates a raid, they can select as many covenant members as they wish – up to the full 5 other followers, and ‘raid’ an enemy covenant house. This involves attacking their house, defeating the guards and their followers – and attacking their lifestone. If successful, the enemy covenant will be defeated and a reward chest will spawn.
Once ALL enemy covenants are defeated, or all remaining ones are allied – the option appears to end the game/start a new game. You will also find a reward chest at the center of Jorvik with even more loot in it, so grab that before hitting that button! There are three types of victory:
- Defeat / Raid all enemy covenants.
- Only have allied covenants remaining and be the leading covenant.
- Only have allied covenants remaining (minor victory).
Once you hit the new game button, you get to pick the difficulty level again and start all over except that you keep your character, your skills, your gold, your covenant, your followers, everything! Essentially the world resets and you get to play all over again, with the world scaling to your level. This provides endless replay value, until your character is level 100. And you can obviously do that for each of the four classes.
On top of that, the entire world outside Jorvik is randomly generated as well. Regions have random names, quests are randomly generated, loot is randomly generated, etc. This might sound dull but actually creates quite an interesting situation due to the manner in which this is done. For example, you might get a quest to kill a specific named monster. You leave this too long as you are busy with other things, and you will fail the quest – but a new quest will appear informing you that said monster has now formed a band. This can further escalate, even to the point of direct attacks on Jorvik.
Speaking about attacks on Jorvik, there are also quests related to Jorvik itself. In one of my games, Jorvik was suffering from a rogue who was stealing items from the vendors. This meant the vendors were slowly losing their items over time, which was disastrous to my game. If you don’t deal with such a quest and just leave it too long, things can really turn ugly. Similarly, if a vendor gets petrified you will no longer have access to it until you complete the quest to resolve that.
In terms of skills, Depths of Peril has a lot of choice but doesn’t lock you in arbitrary skill trees or other choices like that. You have immediate access to all skills, but each skill requires a different number of skill points to level up. Each time you level up a skill, it costs more skill points to reach the next level of that skill so you have a lot of choice right from the very start. It’s a little overwhelming for a new player as you have no idea what skills are particularly useful until you try. Luckily you can just as easily un-assign skill points; it just costs money each time you assign or un-assign something. This is a great concept as it allows you to experiment a little, and provides a huge gold sink at the same time.
The last, but certainly not the least gameplay element that is worth mentioning is that the other covenants go out and adventure as well. You will frequently encounter the other covenants and their followers during your travels, slaying monsters and even grabbing loot from under your nose. They are working on quests as well, so again if you leave something too long they might complete it instead! Most followers are recruited through a so called recruitment quest, so expect other covenants to work on these too. If you *really* want that follower, you’d better complete the quest both before the timer runs out but also before another covenant does!
Graphics & Audio
Depths of Peril is an isometric action-RPG with relatively decent graphics for an Indie title in this genre. The style takes some getting used to but you really have to appreciate the effort that the developers put into this. Most items and monsters are easy to recognise and visual indicators are effective and well designed.
The sound is adequate but not overly impressive. The sound effects fit well in the game itself but the game has no real voice-acting, even for the ‘tutorial’ – which is a shame as players are thrown into the game at the deep end. The music isn’t annoying but it’s not a very memorable or enchanting soundtrack either.
Depths of Peril isn’t the best action-rpg you will ever play but it’s certainly not the lack of gameplay elements that is lacking. The game is incredibly interesting and does some things in a way that other games in the genre can take a lesson from. However, the game does feel a little unpolished at times. Combat is pretty tricky to get the hang of as it doesn’t feel quite right when you first play it. I didn’t really know if my special attacks were even triggering or not the first time I played. It doesn’t flow very well and certainly isn’t very intuitive.
On similar note, despite the world being fairly alive due to the other covenants, it still feels very empty/barren. Since all quests are text based and pretty generic, nothing you do feels epic. You never feel like you are accomplishing anything except getting richer. Dungeons suffer from huge problems with their layout, and the way enemies spawn in them makes it pretty difficult exploring them top to bottom.
Long story short – Depths of Peril is an excellent start of something that could become a true gaming classic. What it really needs is a sequel with a bit more consideration to the random landscape and dungeon level generation, and more smooth-flowing combat. Torchlight provides an excellent example of something that can feel a lot more fluid in that regard. Combine such gameplay with the concepts Depths of Peril brought to the genre and you would have something truly amazing. For now, if you can pick this up for a good price it’s worth having a go – especially if you like the genre. As far as loot-fests go, this is definitely one of the more interesting games out there!