If I could recommend one game this year it would be Champions of Norrath. The year is young, I know, but the console market has been seriously lacking in RPG games. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was fairly entertaining; however it was limited by the linear game play. While beautiful graphically, the game was short and not very challenging. I am pleased to say that Sony and the creators of BG: Dark Alliance, Snowblind Studios, have found a fix to this dilemma. Champions of Norrath provides various challenges and hours entertaining game play.
This is not the Norrath that the EQ community will be entirely familiar with. Some of the players are the same but it is set several hundreds of years before the current EverQuest. Orcs and Goblins have teamed up and have taken over Faydark and have destroyed Kelethin. The story revolves around you chasing after an Orc Lord throughout the different towns and zones of Norrath. The Orcs have teamed up with not only the goblins but with the vampires of Mistmoor to dominate the world. It is your job to acquire information to help the Elves win the war. You become a Fantasy 007 so to speak. I want to tell you more of the storyline, but I won’t. The discovery is half of the fun of these games. I will say that there ARE gnomes.
Gamers have the choice between five playable characters, male and female. You can also customize the character that you choose. I hadn’t seen this in a console game before so I was very pleased with this feature. For this adventure I chose a Dark Elf Shadowknight. Having played this race/class in EverQuest, I felt fairly confident. Each race has its own different class. IE; you can play a Barbarian warrior or a high elf cleric, so on. Each race obviously has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, if you are going to play a mage, you’re not going to be able to tank these mobs. One thing that they did do was make the cleric a viable melee race. Historically, clerics have been a menace with their blunt weapons and hammers. It’s good to see Sony bringing this back. We all know that clerics were virtually useless in EQ. Although you will see that there are certain challenges to playing one race/class selection over another, all of them are easily soloable. Once you’ve chosen your race you’re set into the story.
The player travels through many different zones and stages to complete the main quest of the first act. It’s not always obvious where you are supposed to go. Unlike most linear games you do not have a straight path to follow. There are different areas within the zone that you will find mobs and even side quests. On a positive note you will end up where you are supposed to be eventually. The zones are not that large and you are blocked off from moving further into the story until you’ve completed the initial quest. Thankfully there is an overlay map feature in the game so that you can track where you have already been.
The game play is excellent. While you do have your hack and slash, it also makes the player rely on strategy and forethought. I’ve run into many battles that I’ve had to repeat (upon horrendous death) so that I could try many different approaches to defeating the boss mob of the level. In each act you have different mobs. The first act is solely goblins and orcs. There are a few fire beetles, but they are minor. As you progress into the second act you will see different mobs. Fire beetles and mammothants are the major foe. I’m not going to spoil it and give the rest away. They aren’t listed with levels; however you won’t come up against anything that you cannot defeat at your current level. It seems as though the regular mobs of the level are extremely easy. I’ve been leveling fast though. The boss mobs are difficult. Hence the above comment of horrendous death.
Sony did a good job of staying true to the EverQuest level of immersion. While in your character, you are beset upon by many different challenges that you would see in the popular online game. There are also many familiar names and faces that you see. Firiona Vie makes a surprise appearance early in the game begging you to find her. You’ll also hear about Mayong Mistmoor
Even on the normal difficulty settings this isn’t a game that you can rush through. After a week of playing many hours, I’ve still not completed the story. It is appealing that I can try the story out with different characters. You can also import different classes and characters into the game at any time. I also liked that the dungeons are randomly generated. Playing different characters is useless if you have to do the same dungeon encounters over and over again.
The controls are easy to use. The interface of the game is quite simple and when you have an option to use different controls or buttons, you will see a flash on the screen notify which to use. As there are only 2 free buttons on the controller, selecting spells is difficult. As a melee character or a shadowknight, you are only required to use one or two spells at a time. However as a mage or a cleric I can see where this would lead to problems.
The spell book is nice, however, if you’ve ever played EverQuest you may be confused by which is an active or a passive spell. For instance, bind wound is an automatic regeneration rate. While using the spells wasn’t my favorite part of the game, Sony did a good job of making the small amount that you receive useful. You can see a complete listing of the spells and abilities at the Champions of Norrath website. www.championsofnorrath.com
One thing that I would have different is the character slots. There are none for your equipment. Unlike most games you are only allowed one earring rather than two and as you are changing your jewelry around you need to pay attention which is switched out. This could lead to confusion. Another thing that I really like about CoN is that you have many customizable items in the game. If you have a scimitar with an attack of 31-46, you can add a gemstone or a magical item to the sword and up your speed, put a magical attack on it or other useful stats. You can also add resistances to your armor by using these gems or magical items. It literally gives you thousands of different combinations for your armor and weaponry. Although some of the items are dropped, you have a merchant that will buy your equipment and weapons for a fair price as well as sell you needed supplies such as health and mana potions and gate spells. It is very easy to make gold in this game, so the prices do not seem unreasonable. The gate spells in the game will take you from the dungeons or outer zones back to that merchant. It’s very handy.
The sound in this game was outstanding. The music played an integral part of the immersion factor of this game. When in dangerous situations or places, you can feel the eeriness of the area by the music being played. My heart actually started to beat faster when I was up against a Boss mob because of the tempo of the tunes. Inon Zur, the composer, did a fantastic job! The voice acting was also very good. The tones were deep and melodic, unlike some games that seemed as though the characters were screeching at you in fake British accents.
While the graphics in CoN are good, I would not say that they are as good as other PS2 games that I’ve played. Perhaps if Sony ever chooses to put the game on another platform they will stand out. I wouldn’t say that they are even as good as Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance. The angles of the camera are awkward and while you can pretty much see everything that is going on, it is hard to tell what lies ahead. The viewing range is fairly small and hinders any type of fore planning. This also could be because the ps2 is becoming outdated and the graphic card and processor speed isn’t as good as it used to be. The spell effects and some of the visuals are stunning however and the lighting of the game is excellent. I think that I’ve just been spoiled with first person views.
Finally, a nice feature is that like EverQuest Online, you can play with up to four of your friends, giving you a different level of play. You also have the option to play up to 4 players offline as well. If you choose to play online, you do not have to pay for the service. Sony has set up a free service on SOEGames.net. The game also supports full voice chat through a USB connection for your headset. This really comes in handy for planning moves. If you’re like me and have had troubles distinguishing between who is who while online, no worries here. They have put little colored circles around your character that help you distinguish yourself from others. I expected the lag to be pretty bad, but I was surprised by how smooth the transition is. Not entirely lag free, but close enough.
The storyline for CoN really carries the game. A lot of time and effort was put into making sure that a good strong continuous game was played. The player does not feel disjointed by going into a new zone or another act. It is all tied in very well. You will be kept guessing at what is really going on as you are given new teasers. It’s an enjoyable treat to follow through the storyline to see what will happen next. The graphics are good and the audio is fantastic! Having the ability to multiplayer in this game really gives it depth and the added fun of sharing it with your friends. I played this game until I thought my thumbs were going to bleed and I loved every minute of it! Not once did I experience the vegetable state that a lot of other slash and hack games bring me to. I’ve already recommended it to all of my friends and anyone who will listen. This game definitely gets a solid 9 out of 10.