Masters of Belial is an arena type action rpg game that takes place in the ancient fantasy land of Azgoth.
Runic Games has stated that it would like to bring its Diablo clone Torchlight to Xbox Live Arcade, and while fans of the PC game may embrace the idea, Developer Brain Seal has already provided Xbox users their Diablo fix with Masters of Belial, at least enough to tide them over. While Masters of Belial looks and plays as one would imagine Torchlight would on the console, its gameplay differs enough to where Brain Seal's game feels unique in its scope and goals although perhaps too abbreviated an experience for those searching for a lengthy grind.
It's stunning how good Masters of Belial looks with its beautiful 3-D graphics, detailed textures, and fully developed environments. Masters of Belial is easily the most impressive looking game available on Xbox Indies with graphics which would give Torchlight itself a run for its money. Although the game doesn't offer enough environments and variety to truly compete with its retail competition, what's present is utterly fantastic looking, rich in color depth and detail. Masters of Belial's dozen heroes are readily identifiable and well animated, and the game maintains a fairly steady framerate even with a couple of dozen plus characters running around on the map and getting into skirmishes at any given time. The foliage, statues, shops, and other elements which occupy these arenas look great, and the maps are large enough to provide multiple routes to the goal.
The goal in Masters of Belial is to defeat the opposing leader positioned deep in enemy territory. The player (and a friend if available for local co-op) spawns in a temple where the team's heroes are chosen. The AI teammates will advance with their selections, leading players to be quick with their choices to avoid having to pick from the leftovers. The heroes are all unique, a dozen personalities defined by their character type including the Prince, the Judge, the Sadist Demon, and the Angel of Death. Each map pits the Royal Guard against the Truthseekers, and the first team to fell the enemy captain wins the match. Masters of Belial is essentially a death match slash tower-defense take on the Diablo game, a constant struggle for control of the map and leveraging survival with getting in damage on the enemy leader. Towers throughout the map can be acquired after doling out much punishment, and those converted will dole out fireballs to any enemy in range. Control of the towers is key to ensuring one's party remains healthy enough to go in for the kill as players will constantly find themselves contested by the waves of respawning enemy underlings.
Despite the shortened playtime this sort of gameplay brings with it, Masters of Belial manages to fit in most all the elements typically associated with the genre including leveling up, gathering loot, discovering ruins, and fighting third-party battles. There are 25 items available from the merchants in the player's base, and the hero can buy him or herself a Dragon Shield, Demonic Blade, Sphere of Destruction, and more by earning gold from defeated enemies or from pilfering it from guarded chests. Many of the equipment items can be upgraded as well for additional effect, and players themselves can learn spells and enable attributes with experience points earned from successful battles. Each hero has one of five spells available to choose from -- each upgradable up to four levels -- along with three attributes which will increase health, damage, regeneration, and more. Spells draw from the regenerating mana pool and are cast via the X-, Y-, and B-buttons while the A-button serves for the basic attack. The player menu is accessed via the right bumper, and the simplistic control scheme does wonders for what is generally a point-and-click style of play. The game will auto-target the nearest enemy which generally works fine but can be annoying when looking to attack someone behind an opponent with a ranged attack.
Masters of Belial is a wonderful game, but fans of Diablo, Torchlight, and other games of that nature would be well advised to try the demo before purchasing. It is important to remember that although Masters of Belial offers many of the features found in other role-playing adventure games, it is at heart a sort of death match and tower defense hybrid. Players only have access to three maps, one of which is just the Tutorial Map. The two others are excellent but share many similarities with each other, the main difference being that Dark Forest accommodates six players while Ancient Ruins is playable up to ten players. While Brain Seal notes on its website that on-line play is being worked on, at the present the "players" referenced in the map limit are just computer drones filling in with helping accomplish the goals. As welcomed as such on-line multi-player would be, I still find that Masters of Belial remains a remarkable title on Xbox Indies and enjoyable as an innovative take on the genre, providing an experience completely playable in a single sitting.