Many good ideas, but technically a disgrace to game programming
The environment graphics are really good, very detailed and the world seems to be really huge compared to games like Diablo II, for example. I say "it seems" - read about that later. The storyline is nice, not too convincing but with a nice twist at the end and many really funny dialogues (yes, Ascaron knows how to make one laugh - unfortunately, this isn't always a good thing). Many really good ideas are built into the game, like horse riding and the countless subquests with sometimes hilarious results - like Glubba, the stupid Ogre who has taken over the main villain's tower since he found it empty. He simply renamed it from Shaddar-Nur to Glubba-Nur and claimed himself "ruler of Glubba-Nur" - and sounds like a complete retard while introducing those facts to the hero ;) Extremely funny tombstone inscriptions make every graveyard visit worth the time. The german voiceovers are very good for most of the characters, since Ascaron didn't save on the voice actors: Manfred Lehmann speaks the Gladiator, and since Lehmann also speaks Bruce Willis in Die Hard and all his other movies, the Gladiator is actually like John McClane, he even taunts monsters with his trademark "yippie-ka-yay pigface" line. The voice talent for the Dark Elf character is the german voice of Nicholas Cage - sounds very good and rough - and the Seraphim is spoken by the voice of Dana Scully from X-Files, I think.
Well, but that's it. Yes, really. That's all I liked. No kidding.
Omg, here we go.
I expected a Diablo II style game, or better to say, Diablo II brought to absolute perfection. Hell, it's 5 years since D2 came out, someone could do it even better, I'm sure. From the box text, from the demo, from the previews - all sounded like it could be heaven for D2 addicts. I also expected the game to be full of bugs, like all Ascaron games were and will be.
On the first part, I was wrong. Yes, it has some D2 aspects to it, like the randomly dropped items, set items, unique items blah blah. But that's about all. Sluggish controls, sometimes not even responding to massive mouse button bashing, slow pace with some characters, extremely bad skill balancing (the dark elf has a skill which freezes ALL enemies in a certain range - even huge dragons - and they won't attack until the cloud has lifted), really lame item generation with stuff like unique items without any attributes, set items which drop 7 times in 10 minutes, set items which don't even have the set name (so you can't really see it's a set item, only if you equip it). The 500+ quests are basically the same - get this, get that, rescue that person, kill this person. Wow.
On the second part, I was damn right. The game has definitely more bugs than features. Not all of them are visible in single player, but the problems range from complete unplayability (game doesn't start thanks to the crazy copy protection, "old drivers" or some other hardware "problem") over skills which don't give you experience when using them, non working random quests pointing to someplace where the quest target is nowhere to be found, disappering items, items changing their type, name, attributes every time you drop them and pick them up again to really huge bugs like non working main quests (you don't get to know where to go next since the quest triggers don't work all the time...), non-working skills, bad item generation resulting in items you should be able to wear, but can't, and last but not least the absolutely hilarious multi player, on which I need to explain more so you get what I mean.
Since Diablo II, players are used to the Battle.net online gaming service. It's free, it's easy to use, everyone can play with others or alone in their own games - it's a bit laggy at times, but otherwise no problem.
Ascaron seemed to want to create something similar, which would be the first company after Blizzard who tries this. Unfortunately, they failed miserably: they didn't make it so you can create own games in closed network! They open the games theirselves, but of course, for currently 15.000+ players, about 1200 slots are not exactly enough. So while 1.200 players are playing, the rest is waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Since the game servers aren't that stable, they tend to crash, making even less slots available. Sounds good? No. And that's only now - the international release will follow end of March 2004, so even more players will be waiting. Also, they messed up the interface. When you connect to a server, there is no cancel button and no timeout either, so it'll sit there four HOURS trying to connect to a crashed server.
Then, there are other bugs regarding multiplayer. Lost equipment when joining a game (all is gone or replaced by stuff like horses, goblin figures, healing pots; the latter resulting in your char walking around looking like a healing pot), lost characters because the game server didn't save correctly, dark elf characters looking like wizards or gladiators while still having dark elf skills... if you can read german and read the forums with the bug reports: it's a complete mess!
Ascaron issued a patch on the release day, but it didn't fix much. Multiplayer was enabled by it (the retail copy didn't even include it, regardless what it said on the box), but the game still doesn't run well. Needless to say that LAN multiplayer doesn't work properly either - desynched games, lost quest NPCs and extreme lags are just three problems.
The Bottom Line
All in all: don't buy it NOW. Maybe Ascaron can fix the bugs and build a proper multiplayer network, but at the time of writing, there is not much hope. I completed the game once, and to me, it has no replaying value. Other than D2, you cannot run bosses or something like that, also the items are boring as hell (no Windforce here, sorry). It gets old soon, and that's the main problem.