Rise of the Argonauts Reader Review
I was pretty excited when I started to read and watch features and previews on Rise of the Argonauts. I like RPG games a lot, so any new ones are always of interest to me. What this one claimed it was doing, was taking what made Mass Effect such an accomplished game and applying it to a fantasy setting. In this case, the world of Ancient Greek mythology; which considering the richness of the source material, there have been surprisingly few decent games based in this era. The pre-release chatter claims that Rise of the Argonauts is a full on RPG, with exciting, real time, skill based combat. It achieves about half of that claim.
The story starts off well enough; you play Jason, King of Iolcus, whose wife, Alseme, is assassinated on their wedding day. Overcome with grief and rage, he vows to find a way to bring her back from the dead, gain revenge on the shadowy cult that killed her and foil whatever their evil plans are. Along for the ride are the Argonauts, a selection of heroes such as Herculues, Pan and Achilles, as well as less well known heroes, or people perhaps known for other things, such as Deadelus (father to Icarus), Medusa (priestess of Athena) and Argo (builder of the self rowing, self steering ship - The Argo).
Four of the God�s take an interest in his quest and decide to aid him- Athena (Wisdom), Ares (War), Hermes (Luck) and Apollo (The Sun). It is the favour of these four gods that set Jason apart from normal folk. They bestow him with unique gifts and abilities before he sets off on his journey, with his loyal friend Hercules by his side.
The four gods feature throughout the game, rather than experience points, Jason gains favour with them, by achieving or doing certain actions that please them. Completing quests, parts of the main game and killing certain numbers of opponents and in certain ways, all earn Jason achievements. He can then choose to dedicate each of these achievements to one of the four gods. This has the effect of building his favour level with the chosen deity. Gaining levels of favour allow you to purchase either active or passive combat bonuses. It�s a nice system and definitely something that the developers have done well with.
The early part of the game starts off promisingly enough. Once the initial fighting in the palace has passed, you are free to roam about, converse with people and start to piece together how you are going to go about getting your wife back. The combat sequences are fairly challenging (although I played it through on the harder setting, I�ve heard it is far too easy on the default settings); combat requires good timing for passive or active blocks and powerful or simple standard or special attacks. There are three weapon choices - the mace, the sword and the spear. This is where the first problem (all be it minor) shows up. By the end of the game it is quite apparent that these weapons are not even. The mace is far superior, easily destroying enemy shields and usually two or three powerful hits will kill most enemies. Added to that, one of its special attacks knocks all foes over around you. The other weapons do have some powerful attacks, but it is nearly always harder work against shielded opponents and they tend not to have attacks that effect more than one or two targets at a time.
On the whole though, combat is fun, offering enough variety and challenge to keep things interesting. It�s a shame then, that you so rarely fight anything. By the end of the game I had apparently killed 250+ human opponents and many more beasts - it certainly didn�t feel like it though. This game definitely needed more combat sections.
So the main focus of the game is the exploration and dialogue, which I guess matches well to the Mass Effect formula. Except that what this game does, is make you appreciate just how easily Bioware�s masterpiece could have failed. It�s easy to compare these two games, the dialogue system and game structure is basically identical. But where Mass Effect combined high production values, outstanding voice acting, an exceptional script and cutting edge graphics and character animation, Rise reeks of poor quality control, �average at best� voice acting, poor script and animation that is often atrocious or simply missing all together.
What makes the failings of the Rise dialogue system even worse, is that there is essentially no point to it. In the vast majority of cases, the choices mean absolutely nothing. The outcome is the same regardless. There are two or three exceptions to this, but even those segments can be endlessly repeated until you get the right combination. Because there is only one ending to the game and only one outcome of every encounter, there is no need for a moral system in the game. Instead what they have done, is to assign many of the different choices to the different gods. Choosing them will please that god. This is a actually a nice idea in theory, however as you are told which god a dialogue option will please, you often make the choice based on who you are trying to earn favour with, rather than what you actually might want to say. Combine this with the fixed outcomes and these choices simply become a tactical choice about what abilities you want to gain - removing any RPG elements.
The game is broken down into six sections - the "prologue" where you learn about Jason, Alceme, his kingdom Iolcus and how the game functions. Then there are three Islands to explore and quest on, followed by two more locations to quest in. Most of the combat in the game is found in the last two sections of the game, which is unfortunate because they are also the shortest. The three main islands take 2-3 hours each to complete but are largely devoid of combat, save for a few specific encounters and a boss fight or two. Most of your time on these islands is spent walking back and forth between people and locations, talking lots, walking some more, talking a little bit more, a spot of walking is then added followed up with a liberal dose of talking. These segments can take hours and large amounts of time will pass with pretty much nothing happening.
The exploration part of the game is nothing short of a joke. The maps are tightly hemmed in, revealed from the start and full of invisible barriers. They are all actually very small, but still feel big, due to the amount of time you have to run backwards and forwards within them. There is no fast travel system, and many tasks have to be completed in sequence, repeatedly sending you back and forth between the same locations. It�s lazy game design and just adds to the frustration of having to get through these sections. If there was some choice in the game, some element of influence you could have over the story and even random encounters and respawns, these sections may not have been so torturous to play - but there is nothing here that makes me think they were a worthwhile addition to the game. It�s obvious very early on that there are no choices in this game, so why bother putting in such enormous amounts of conversation and "passive" questing?
Technically speaking the graphics and sound are adequate. Some areas of the game are perhaps too gloomy but on the whole it looks nice enough. The animation is generally very poor (the combat is well animated, but that is about it), some dialogue sections appear unfinished, characters are largely unanimated when talking and they couldn�t be bothered to animate characters for things like walking up and down stairs, resulting in some very awkward looking movements. There are some major frame rate issues during a few of the big boss fights but generally frame rates are stable elsewhere and load times are generally fast. There are some bugs with dialogue sections getting cut off before they are finished and some dialogue simply not playing at all.
Overall this game is a victim of a lack of understanding about what makes traditional RPGs work. They set out to make an epic RPG with strong action segments, what they�ve ended up with is a hack n slash with excessive and pointless delays between action sequences. It isn�t the worst game I�ve ever played, but it is memorable only for the lessons it teaches on game design - let�s hope the developers learn them if they plan to produce any more.
5 / 10