DeathSpank Reader Review
Greetings, downtrodden readers! DeathSpank is a loot ‘em up/dungeon crawler/action/adventure game now up on XBLA. Primarily action based you’ll spend your time sending an army of enemies into the afterlife with ease, chugging down potions with reckless abandon to top up the health bar and running about the world dispensing justice and vanquishing evil (or questing as it is more commonly known).
The entire script tends to edge towards a humorous version or parody of the stories, heroes and events usually associated with any good dungeon crawler/RPG. DeathSpank, the protagonist, is world-renowned hero looking for a powerful artifact known only as ‘the artifact’. By the time the short animated story at the beginning of the game is finished you already know that this is not going to be a serious game. Not that it has to mean the developers were lazy or thoughtless with it though. Far from it actually. Despite poking ridicule at the clichés and rolling out silly humour wherever possible the story is still engaging and allows you plenty of choice with your responses. I particularly enjoyed DeathSpank referring to a food vendor as “Taco Wench”.
To pad out the main quest line there are in the region of 79 side quests to keep you amused, fill your wallet and upgrade your items. From helping an old adventurer complete a quest who “really needs the XP” to becoming father to an orphan for a day, they are still mostly kill/fetch quests but brought to life by the interactions with the quest-givers and carefully planned to avoid massive amounts of backtracking and wandering about.
The gameplay is very much in the vain of Sacred or Diablo style world/dungeon crawlers. You have your inventory to manage and items to equip and then you repeatedly spam the X,Y,A,B buttons to dispense a nasty beating to anything in your path. As in Diablo and Sacred you will be constantly chugging food or potions and you will often be surrounded by enemies. Due to the massive script and story the game only has one character, so no classes here. There is also nothing in the way of stat selections or skill trees...although every level you to get to upgrade one of 6 facets to your character (run speed, melee dmg, ranged dmg, etc) so there is some limited choice although overall I don’t think it makes a massive amount of difference, certainly not enough to fulfil the requirements of a fully fledged RPG.
As alluded to above, the mighty DeathSpank bristles with weapons. You can assign a weapon to each of the face buttons on the controller and additionally you can apply 4 other items to the direction pad. I mostly used those for potions and food but at times popped in a couple of the limited use items (summon skeletons, etc) for boss fights.
Where DeathSpank innovates is via the implementation of blocking and a charged power-up. Every successful hit garners a little juice towards a Justice Meter and when full you can unleash the power of a justice weapon. There are a few types (my favourite so far is a sword that allows you zoom around like a spinning top!) and I’d recommend experimenting and watching for upgraded versions regularly.
Blocking is achieved via holding down the trigger. Time it just right and you’ll fill your justice meter instantly - the only way to kill some enemies successfully! Although a very simple concept, it does add a bit of strategy to the mindless button-mashing mayhem and it is well received.
The graphics and sound in DeathSpank are top notch. Taking a very cartoony approach the environment is always filled with bold colours and images which never fail to dull. The sound is also very good with almost (if not) everything to be said in a conversation having been covered by the voice artists. The voice of DeathSpank is a perfect fit for the character (reminding me a lot of Stan from American Dad) and also for the type of humour being delivered.
You will be guiding DeathSpank through a variety of environments from dark caves to psychedelic forests and everything looks vibrant and stunning. Even the caves. Which seems wrong somehow.
The solid gameplay and story mechanics are wrapped up so beautifully in the audio and visual package that it puts similar genre full-priced titles on the Xbox360 to shame. If ever there was proof that a game doesn’t need to be overly complex to be a winner then DeathSpank delivers by the bucket load.
Casual friendly and best played in fairly short but very enjoyable stints, DeathSpank has re-ignited my desire for more games of this genre on the consoles. Here’s hoping Diablo 3 may make a surprise leap to a multi-platform title...yeah I know, I’m not holding my breath.