Launching in September of 07, Depths of Peril is a game that got by under my radar until recently. A game from a small, self-publishing developer which mixes action RPG elements with socio/political ones to make a sort of "Diablo meets Command HQ" type experience, it isn't the glitziest title one might play but under the modest exterior the game has an interesting hook that, if it is your particular cup of tea, will keep you tussling at it long past your bed time.
The graphics and user interface, truthfully, are probably the game's only truly noteworthy shortcoming. Using a low poly 3D rendered isometric 3rd person view, the game strongly evokes memories of Diablo, Ultima Online, or other such tile-based old school titles which were common 10 or so years ago to render 2 dimensional worlds in 3 dimensions without having to worry about scaling sprite-based graphics. It seems a little anachronistic, given that the world is actually rendered with 3D models and therefore scales seamlessly and flawlessly, but this of course also conveys the added benefit that the game is not particularly overtaxing to your video hardware. This makes it a particularly suitable game for laptoppers, who usually are limited to the rudimentary Intel 3D chipsets which usually cannot handle the beefier games. However, it will also unfortunately cause some with multi-thousand dollar frankenputers to pass over the game because of the dated look and feel. It is worth noting, however, that unlike certain "newer looking" games, this one has full support for both standard and widescreen aspect ratios of any resolution.
It is nice, incidentally, to see a game that knows how to use Bloom processing without abusing it. You can safely leave Bloom turned on and enjoy the enhanced lighting without have to worry about getting blinded by every light source and reflective surface.
The sounds are of uniformly adequate quality and diversity, making the game's auditory experience not stand out as particularly good or bad, though the interface does make use of some subtle yet useful audio notifications (such as the "door knock" sound effect for incoming diplomacy) which do well at standing out and getting your attention without the irritation of breaking immersion.
The game centers around you, the protagonist, being the head of one of several political factions in the barbarian city of Jorvik. Each faction's goal is to ultimately become the rulers of the city. The road to rulership is fraught with monsters, thievery, infighting, political maneuvering, treasure seeking and lots of hacking, slashing and chucking fireballs. The story isn't exactly linear, as it is mostly produced through who performs which quests first, and though this helps immersion through interaction it also makes the story have a little less depth. But it doesn't matter much, your struggle for life, death and power won't leave much time for you to sit around reading long story exposition anyway.
Depths of Peril utilizes a point-and-click mechanic most gamers will find familiar. It also adds some "common sense" features that speak well of the designer such as continuous autoattack (which anybody who's ever worn out a mouse button from combat in Diablo can appreciate). Combat is also the familiar point/click/kill with potion gulping with which most of us are already familiar, so the learning curve is very short and gentle. The interface pertaining to diplomacy is manifestly intuitive.
From the start of the game, the race is on. Factions are constantly gaining influence with the denizens of Jorvik based on killing monsters and completing quests, and their levels of influence determine the amount of tax each faction collects over time. Naturally, the influence level is also an important part of the "who is winning" calculation. Other important factors are what level the characters belonging to the factions are, how good their gear is, how well guarded the faction's headquarters is, and so on. In-game graphs and charts are available (and the viewing of them stops time, thankfully) to explicitly gauge the strength of the factions based upon any combination of the deciding factors ranging from one to all.
It isn't enough to just take a pointy piece of metal and go out to skewer orcs. You have to also engage in diplomacy (which also stops time, thankfully) with the other factions, lest your relations with some of them slip so low that your headquarters becomes attacked and possibly destroyed, eliminating you from the game. Of course, nothing says you can't attack first. Which, of course, leaves you open to a 3rd party attacking you... etc. Relations are generally improved by trading (or outright gifting) between the factions. This means you often make decisions such as "should I sell this booty I gathered to a merchant for cash, attempt to trade it to another faction, or just give it to another faction outright?" Factions are also in competition for completing quests first, recruiting new members, and most other things.
Aside from the aforementioned graphical antiquity, I have relatively few gripes about the game. The only real source of frustration I came up against was when I started a new game with a previously used character, some of the quests I was given were a bit too advanced for me to stand a chance. It made for some frustrating fighting (or rather, swift dying). But that can be largely alleviated by just starting a new character with a new game instead of trying to get a jump on things with an old character. Oh, and I never seem to be able to find the thief in thief quest, despite his supposedly being limited to an area approximately equivalent to the empty lot across the street from the house where you grew up.
The good - Novel concepts in combining action RPG play with political intrigue, intuitive interface, flexible engine leading to diverse game experience, lower than normal price tag.
The bad - Dated graphical look, some quest level suitability inconsistency, no multiplayer.
Verdict - B-. It's hard to get over the dated look, but once you do the game is interesting. And there are far worse "pretty" games of full price you could be subjected to. If Soldak took this exact same game and wrapped it in, say, the Gamebryo engine I have no doubt it would be an absolute sensation.
And that's the word from Bandit camp...