Lurking in the shadows of Westwood's eagerly anticipated and much delayed Tiberian Sun is the arcade RPG Nox. A quick glance at the screenshots will tell you that, like Diablo and Baldur's Gate, it favours the top-down view. We can report that it's shaping up closer to the former's action-oriented gameplay than the latter's traditional AD&D approach, although Nox's emphasis on die-hard fantasy is bound to appeal to hard-core RPGers.
Allow us to explain. You have the choice of becoming a warrior, a mage or a wizard, and while you can hack your way through walls of flesh and slash curtains of skin to bloody ribbons, the real meat of the game is to be found in the use of magic.
There are more than 100 spells to learn, which can then be combined in any way you like to set traps. This promises to be one of the game's highlights, as you wander the three lands of Nox sneaking around the scenery and preparing magical ambushes. Each trap can be a combination of up to three spells, so you can take into account the kind of environment you're setting it in and what effects you want it to have. Of course, some of the more satisfying moments in Half-Life involve setting up trap bombs with laser wires for soldiers to trigger off. Hopefully Nox will recreate the smugness you feel when you find your enemies' bones scattered around the corner. In fact the satisfaction should be greater, as the combos will be of your own making.
The executive producer of Nox, John Hight, gave us an example of one of these snares, which you could load with Fumble, Confuse and Fireball spells: "You can place it inside a doorway, or right next to a bottle of healing potion. Your opponent shows up, goes for the potion, steps on the trap, and bang! He's now dropped all his items (Fumble), can't figure out how to move in the right direction (Confuse), and is blasted by a fireball." You can imagine the possibilities... Another important feature is the incorporation of a true line of sight system. This means that if something is blocking your vision, you can't see behind it and therefore don't know what's in store for you. Looking through a window gives you a glimpse of what there is in the room, while the darkness uncovers gradually as you open a door. A very cool idea, and one we're surprised no one has thought of before.
All this should ensure that Nox really comes to life as a multiplayer game. But for those of you without friends or a Web connection, there are plenty of places to explore, NPCs to interact with and quests to embark on. You can also expect a ridiculously high level of interaction with your environment, and the chance to develop your own customised wizard or warrior.
Picture the scene: you're sitting in front of your TV set in T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. You have a couple of beers within easy reach, and the footie's just about to start. Echellente!
But no, what's this? Suddenly you and your television set are accidentally catapulted through a three-dimensional wormhole and you find yourself in a strange fantasy world full of grown men with pointy hats and warriors waving swords at everyone.
Sound familiar? Yes indeed, this exact scenario has been used many times in the Ultima series and is now making a reappearance in the intro sequence to Nox. 'Most original video game intro' of the new millennium does not go to Westwood for this effort, but the similarity to Ultima ends right there. Enter stage left - Diablo.
That's right For Nox, see Diablo, and vice versa. Nox is a very simplistic hack 'n' slash, action-oriented spell 'em up. It could almost do a convincing stint as a sort of makeshift Diablo 2, if the graphics were a bit more ambitious (it looks a bit dated in normal resolution, and is just about acceptable in hi-res, except the characters look too small unless you have a giant monitor). However, as we never tire of saying, "It's gameplay that counts, not graphics" - and in this department Nox holds its own, although this was not immediately apparent (bear with me a moment).
Before the game begins, your character choices are thus: wizard, conjurer, and warrior. Whatever character you choose, the basic gameplay remains the same. Navigate dungeons, woods and cities, killing baddies to gain experience and level up your character, picking up heal and mana potions and dropped weapons and armour (which you can sell later), returning to town once you're done, whereupon you will be told to go out and do exactly the same thing all over again in a new location.
I am going to be honest here. There were times I literally hated Nox. Entering a new play area, I almost groaned at how similar it looked to the last one I had completed, and the one before that - it was so repetitive that I almost gave up several times.
But perseverance pays off, and at higher levels you get spells which can be justifiably called 'neat', and weapons which can certainly be described as 'spiffy'. Also in its favour is its high replay value.
There is a very distinct difference in the way each character plays. Wizards rely heavily on spells and can take out tough monsters from a distance (although they are so easily killed in close combat that you will often find yourself running round in circles in a Benny Hill stylee to avoid being hit); conjurers can charm creatures and monsters and get them to hunt other monsters or fight on your behalf; and warriors get several 'amusing' skillsets, which basically give them the ability to scream and roar a lot and charge into creatures causing heavy damage.
All in all, there's just about enough here to make Nox a worthwhile purchase, but many of you will be dismayed at the repetitive nature of the gameplay. My advice is to try to get hold of a demo before buying this game. What you see in the demo is what you'll get in the full game.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
2018-12-21 Nox game added.