Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Hothead Games
System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, 7; Intel Pentium 4 (or equivalent) running at 1.7 GHz or greater; 1 GB RAM (1.5 GB for Vista); 2 GB HD space; ATI Radeon X1800 GTO 256MB or the Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra 256MB video cards with Shader 2.0 and 24 bit depth buffer support; DirectX 9.0
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
Greetings, nondescript citizens! I am DeathSpank! A few months back when he first released for the consoles, I had DeathSpank on speed dial. As a promotion, just prior to release, the publishers had created a hotline. The funny that came across their recorded messages just made me want to play the game even more. I mean seriously, “one thong to rule them all” – priceless!
The world almost ended once…DeathSpank dedicated his life to becoming a defender of the downtrodden and living up to a foretold destiny. To fulfill that destiny, he must travel the world in search of the artifact, and this forms the spine of your adventures. Upon dispatching the first set of shambling skeletons, you come upon the witch of artifact fame, but as you might expect, she’s not simply going to hand it over to you. First mission – kill the vicious chickens that are attacking the baby dragons and bring back their lips. I didn’t really put too much effort into the “saving” part of that quest, but I did manage to collect enough lips to satisfy the witch that the task was complete. There’s of course always something else that needs doing, so she then immediately sent me after some herbs and a crystal she required. While looking for these ingredients, you meet Bob the Fisherman, and must help him recover this trusty tackle box. This is how the “story” progresses, with fetch quest after fetch quest moving you on your way toward achieving your ultimate goal – the artifact.
DeathSpank utilizes the auto-save feature, but that doesn’t mean that you have to wade through an entire level before the dinner bell rings. Just hit the ESC key, and you’ll end up back at the menu, where although not listed, your game WILL be saved upon exit. This comes in handy when you’re trying to play through it in your free moments, and get called away suddenly. Three difficulty settings are available to challenge all levels of gaming ability: Downtrodden (Easy), Vanquisher (Normal) and Heroic (Hard). These settings can be changed at any time by escaping to the menu, but don’t let the game’s simplistic appearance fool you – give it a shot on Vanquisher first. Unlike similar titles, multiplayer is available. You need only plug in a second control device, and off you go. The user interface is also right there in front of you along the bottom of the screen, so there’s no need to remember shortcuts to go rifling through your equipment and quest log. In the settings menu, you have the option of having objects you can interact with highlight with their name and a brief description when moused over, and this proves quite useful while trying to locate the herbs you need for that special potion, or figuring out which of the multitude of bad guys you’re fighting actually needs to be terminated to complete your quest. DeathSpank can utilize the mouse, keyboard or a peripheral game controller, and while the developer recommends WASD (particularly for combat), I’m a mouser by nature and experienced no issues left clicking my way to victory. Tutorial support can be accessed from the settings menu, and unobtrusively guides you through your first play through. This saves the trouble of having to deal with a separate tutorial level, and puts you instantly into the game. Once you get the hang of things, simply deselect. On dying (and you will repeatedly), you automatically resurrect at the nearest activated outhouse. These outhouses activate once you travel close enough to them, and can also be used as teleport stations (similar to Two Worlds) for fast travel. You may not, however, teleport within a dungeon. If you see an enemy in the distance, don’t panic. They will not attack until you approach, so you can safely avoid the hordes by remaining far enough away from them as you travel. And like most games of the genre, gold and other loot are acquired through the mass slaughter of critters and busting open barrels. Just watch out which barrels you destroy, as some of them are explosive. You also have special abilities, known as Weapons of Justice, which deal a range of damage around you. This is very useful when you’re surrounded, and becomes available when the Justice Meter at the bottom center of your screen fills up. Fill the Justice Meter by landing successful attacks. When you level up, click “H”, and pick out your special gift – a collectible hero card. These cards add boosts to your abilities.
The graphics took me back to the late 90s, but did not detract from my experience. DeathSpank is designed to have the arcadey feel of games long past, so just roll with it. You’ll be having too much fun to care about the Saturday morning cartoon look. Switching weapons is a little awkward and not clearly explained. You can equip four weapons in sets of two, but to switch weapon sets you need to hit the TAB key, and I was never quite sure at first if it was my melee hand weapon or ranged hand weapon that was going to strike. As for the funny, the writers certainly tried to keep the it rolling through the dialogue, but it often falls just short.
Despite the less than stellar graphics, when you smite something with your mighty axe, they smash into tiny bits, which I found a rather satisfying experience after a long day. Voice acting in DeathSpank is stellar, and the actors do the absolute best they could with the lines they were handed. The over the top delivery does its best to keep the story entertaining. Periodically, you’ll come across a Lost and Found Dumpster, and I found this both a useful and interesting addition. Unlike many other games, if you miss, drop, or neglect to pick up that important piece of loot, it will be found in the dumpster.
While certainly not a title that’s going to find its way onto any Best of lists for 2010, I had a lot of fun during my time with DeathSpank. It’s simple yet addictive gameplay had me in the “one more try” zone, and while not something I can see myself staying up all night to complete, it is definitely an adventure worth attempting.