It has taken me eleven years to beat Titan Quest. The game was first released in 2006, and only now, in the year 2017 C.E., have I finally beaten it.
John Walker wrote a post for Rock Paper Shotgun in 2014 entitled “I Seem To Be Having Trouble Starting Titan Quest.” In it, he talks about “game-opening paralysis.” The stat o the game s so idyllic and peaceful, there’s a temptation to sit there forever, and to not start the game beyond the opening location, avoiding all the death and violence that the main quest entails.
A man stands to the right, and if you talk to him he impresses upon you with some urgency that there are dangers up the road. Please, he pleads, could you do something about it? But I don’t want to. Because right here, by this shack by the lake, seems far too pleasant a thing to spoil with thoughts of satyrs. There are birds twittering, reflections gently undulating in the water, and I just want to sit down, tip my head up toward the sky, and just be.
It’s a nice sentiment, and one I fully understand. I also suffer from “game-opening paralysis.” I didn’t beat a Pokemon game until Pokemon X in 2013, after starting in on the series with Pokemon Crystal in 2001. I’d get to a certain point in each game, and decide to restart. I always want to recapture that sense of discovery and adventure a new game holds, or go back to the feeling of really having to struggle for victory that disappears about the mid-game point when you’re team reaches unstoppable juggernaut status. Every so often I re-download the free trial of WoW to replay the starting zones, but have no larger interest in replaying higher zones. I’ve had, over the years, about fourteen Hawkes in Dragon Age: 2, but abandoned them after completing Act 1 and the Deeproads. I’ve beaten the game only once in it’s entirety. Skyrim, Saints Row Three, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas all have dozens of similar languishing starting-zone characters (god, I love Goodsprings), and took me multiple re-starts before I actually got around to playing the rest of the game. I’ve got chronic “game-opening paralysis.”
But not so with Titan Quest. How else to explain the amount of time it took me to beat the game, if not “game-opening paralysis?”
Massive game-crashing bugs.
The sense of adventure I first felt loading up the game in 2006 was vast and promising. I ate up the basic mythology presented by the starting-zone villagers, and eagerly set out to do battle with satyrs and monstrous wolves and wild boar. And then the game crashed.
‘That’s fine,’ small me thought, ‘I’d saved like, at least three times.’ And I had, in fact, saved compulsively. The game just hadn’t recorded the saves. ‘Well, okay, I’ll just remake the character and start over. I only have to replay like, an hour.’ No big deal, just getting my game re-starting habit out of the way early.
I made it a little farther than last time. I’d figured out I didn’t need to pick up every item of loot that dropped, some if it being broken and quite bad, which sped things up a bit. The game crashed again. My saves weren’t actually recorded.
Still, I pressed on, toiling through game crashes, frame rate drops that made the game look like I was watching a slideshow, and inability to actually save. My brother and I would switch off, seeing who could get the farthest, who could make it to a new zone, before the game inevitably crashed.
At one point, after doing some sort of fix that made the game crash less frequently (I was not particularly computer savvy as a youth so it took me forever), I realized that a “good” workaround to the broken save system was to just leave the game and computer running indefinitely (again, not computer savvy). That way, I wouldn’t lose all my progress using the save system that wouldn’t work. Genius! However, the crashes had only been made less frequent, not eliminated, so the poor computer was spared after 24 hours of continuous running. I lost all my progress again.
Eventually, it became too frustrating to replay the opening over and over, even for me, and the game was abandoned.
So imagine my delight when just a scant three years ago, I realized a version had been released on Steam, which could actually be saved, and had fixed many of the performance issues. I rushed to buy it, and started a new game…only to be waylaid by school and work and what have you, for years, inching ever forward through zones and re-birth fountains.
At last, after traveling from the Minotaur’s Maze, the the Pyramids of Giza, the the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and past the Great Wall of China, I was on the steps of Olympus, ready to face the final boss: Typhon: Bane of the Gods. I died almost immediately, and lasted just a few seconds longer the second try.
I started grinding enemies to boost my level, running through zones over and over to get experience form killing all the enemies, and the game’s fun quotient took a nose-dive. It became a chore to clear out a zone, there was no longer a sense of wonder at exploration, the simple pleasure of running through grass (it moves so smoothly), or the amusement at the decision to make the Maenads, frenzied worshipers of Dionysus who could rip apart a bull with their bare hands, into sexy blue cat-girls.
By the time I actually managed to beat Typhon, I was just angry and frustrated. The ending is just a voice-over of Zeus congratulating your victory, while his dialogue scrolls past on screen, and then you unlock a higher difficulty level. I felt a little cheated.
So I started the game over again, naturally. Without trying to rush to an ending I’d been trying to get to for eleven years, freed from the pressure to see the final act of the game, this new play through has been fun.
The lower levels are a romp, and you level up so quickly, compared to the final hours of grinding slog that I’d just finished. I chose a fire magic/nature magic build for my character, instead of the warfare/nature magic build I’d used previously, and it’s so much fun! Fireballs cause enemies to fly up into the air when lobbed correctly, and its incredibly satisfying to send a whole group of enemy skeletons flying up into the air and watch them clatter down while your experience bar shoots up. Beating the game freed me from a silly constraint I had built up in my head, the need to beat the game above all else – not only has it taken me 11 years to play the game, it’s also taken that long for me to have fun with it again.
Maybe the real fun all along as the beginnings we restarted along the way.