Battling the Masters of Belial

Review of Masters of Belial on XBLIG: Try
What happens when you cross hack-and-slash RPG, real-time strategy, and arena deathmatch?

At first glance, Masters of Belial might appear to be a standard fantasy hack-and-slash RPG in the vein of Diablo. While that’s true of the core gameplay, the similarities end there.  Masters of Belial throws a bit of real-time-strategy and class-based deathmatch into the mix, resulting in a balanced arena battle with RPG trappings.

Got all that? Good. Don’t let the Diablo comparison throw you, because it certainly did for me at first.  While the basic gameplay is similar (replace constant clicking with holding down the A button) and the graphics are reminiscent (they represent the dark fantasy world without being too stylized), the game mechanics represent an interesting combination of genres.  There are no dungeons to crawl here; rather, players take the role of Hero in service of one of two warring factions—the Truthseekers or the Royal Guard.  Each faction’s mission is to kill the enemy captain before their own captain is killed.  Once I got the hang of it, the concept felt more like a team-play variant in an FPS than a top-down roleplaying game.

However, it won’t disappoint people who hate twitch games. Slow-and-steady pacing is the name of the game here.  My first instinct was to rush out and face the enemy head-on, but this ended in a frustrating cycle of dying and respawning.  Exploring the map seeking treasure, power-ups and wandering monsters to level up proved to be the better strategy.  Sticking with the computer-controlled Heroes and “Creepers” (weak swarms of soldiers that periodically respawn at your base camp) is essential for assaulting the enemy’s towers or base camp.

This “team” aspect is one of the game’s few weak points. Heroes and Creepers do their own thing, so this means following them around rather than leading the charge. I found this difficult, as they tended to take the same direct paths towards the enemy camp every time.  (While the game does offer a two-player, same-screen co-op mode, online multiplayer might have been an interesting variation.)  I found myself questing solo most of the time, only briefly joining up with NPCs as I ran into them.

The game’s 12 character classes throw some variety in the mixture, ranging from standard fantasy characters like the Knight, Warrior, and magic-wielding Judge to unique apocalyptic-themed classes such as the Sadist Demon, the Angel of Death, and the Horseman of the Apocalypse.  There’s one extra twist:  there can only be one Hero of each class in the game.  This can be tricky, as the computer-controlled Heroes only wait a few moments before picking their classes on the character select screen.

Overall, Masters of Belial earns a Try. The gameplay is solid, polished, and surprisingly addictive.  However, it has a steep learning curve (playing the Tutorial map is essential, as a lot of the basic concepts aren’t explained anywhere else).  I loved it and found it engrossing; but at 400 points, it may disappoint purists or gamers who tend toward twitchier play.

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