It doesn’t matter whether you’re battering hordes of Lizardmen in the forests of embracing or corpulent zombies in the all too aptly named City of Desolation, you’ll be performing the same dull actions over and over and over again. There are loads of levels, and each one is random to add replay value, but sometimes I’d rather have a smaller selection of well-designed, tightly orchestrated levels in which I actually had more fun. As it is, it’s just a question of what will happen first: will you reach the end of the current series of levels and beat the boss, or will your brain start to atrophy and you lose the will to live.
Luckily, two things stand in between Circle of Doom and complete disaster. Firstly, even in a game as fundamentally boring as this there remains something compulsive about levelling and upgrading. Secondly, you can drop in and out of four-player online games at will and – if you wish – open yours so that others can do the same. You can use the same characters across both online and offline games, and it’s actually easier to level up your character by joining more advanced online games and then return to your own game afterwards. The only problem is that the more powerful you become, the less challenging – and so more tedious – the game becomes.
Still, by playing with three strangers, the dreary hack-and-slash action suddenly seems a little less, well, dreary. If you had a few friends who liked dungeon crawling, you might even find it vaguely enjoyable as you batter hordes of goblins and skeletons together and trade boasts over who has the biggest and most baroque broadsword or the most intimidating hand-cannon. Indeed, the fact that there are people out there with Level 86 characters shows that the game must have some long-term draw – even if its simply a case of grinding until you have a character and a weapon so ridiculously powerful that you can play with Level 5 newbies and dazzle them with your sheer awesomeness. To be honest, I just think of the hours involved and shudder.
The fact is, if I wanted to spend my time grinding so I could have a character and a weapon so ridiculously powerful that newbies would be dazzled with my sheer awesomeness, I’d rather do it in Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft and have a bigger audience. If I wanted to hack-and-slash at creaking skeletons until the cows come home, then I’d rather do it in Titan Quest – or even Diablo II for that matter. I know that some Xbox 360 owners won’t have that choice, but there are plenty of other games out there that will keep them far more entertained than this. And if you’re not being entertained, what’s the point? As my mother-in-law would surely say, what a complete waste of time.
The graphics are glorious, but gameplay-wise this is one of the weakest hack-and-slash RPGs around. Even given the solid drop-in, drop-out multiplayer options, Circle of Doom is best avoided.