If you're searching the review section looking to procure some professional input before making an informed decision about the game you're about to purchase, then you're certainly a gamer of refined tastes. I like you, fellow gamer. You're clearly an individual who wants to be absolutely certain about what you're about to buy before you spend your hard earned money. And given the economic mess we're in, who could possibly blame you?
I'm going to put all of your fears to rest by stating that this game is, quite possibly, the most amazing game I've ever played in my considerable experience of nerdery, geekiness, and shunning of physical activity. And believe me. You're going to buy this game. Let me tell you why:
For a Playstation 2 title, the graphics are actually surprisingly good. The level design offers a considerable amount of detail, textures, and environmental effects. Your in-game character is surprisingly articulate, and every change to their equipment is visually represented on screen. There is hardly any choppiness even when playing with multiple participants, and the game engine seems to make everything run very smooth.
The control scheme is remarkably simple, and well-mapped to the Playstation 2 controller. Everything feels very natural, and you wont often find yourself in awkward situations as a result of pressing the wrong button and executing a command you did not intend to. The game gives you the wonderful option to map a couple of your skills to the (circle, triangle, square) buttons, and those that you haven't mapped are still easily accessible on a wheel-type menu, even in the heat of battle.
Your enemies are both interesting and well-suited to the environments you'll be playing in. What some enemy classes lack in intelligence, they more than make up for in ferocity. There aren't as many enemy classes as I'd have liked (you often find yourself fighting subtle variations of the same sorts of enemies) but the combat is so engaging that you'll seldom seem to care.
Combat is challenging, engaging, and likely this game's strongest point. I actually scratch my head and wonder why this variety of combat hasn't been adapted more often to more elaborate, high budget titles. All events take place in real-time; this is not a game of turn-based combat. As I've already stated, your controls are remarkably well-mapped and make executing any of your abilities very easy. Your character can run, attack with their melee weapon, switch to their ranged weapon (if applicable) and fire, block enemy attacks, and use their class-specific powers. A remarkably intuitive ability which was also included in your character's repertoire is the ability to step back while blocking enemy attacks, allowing you to secure a more advantageous combat position. All of these actions provide the player with every possible resource to successfully defeat their enemies; the player must simply have the tactical ability to use the most appropriate combat skills, and the good reflexes to both successfully attack and defend. You'll never have one of those "what was totally unfair" moments, as the controls are wonderfully responsive and your skill set is formidable. You'll know that you only have your own ability to blame should you die in the heat of battle, and not random events which are beyond your control.
The characters have great deal of personality, and their unique skills are appropriate to their classes and disposition. The barbarian is huge, appears like a roman gladiator, and is incredibly resistant to damage. The shadow knight uses poison and deception to destroy his foes. The ranger is able to strike his enemies at a distance with an array of various elemental projectiles. The list goes on.
What amazed me is that none of the characters were particularly stronger than one another; each is remarkably balanced in comparison to one another, but each clearly has their fallacies. A ranger, for instance, would never attempt hand-to-hand combat on the larger foes in the game, not would a barbarian make projectiles their preferred means of dispatch.
The entire dungeon crawling / looting game style is addicting. Morbidly, morbidly addicting. There is such an enormous variety of different weapons and equipment that it's impossible you'll discover them all, even through multiple play-throughs. This encourages the player to attempt to collect the best possible raiment of gear to advance their character.
On the subject of multiple play throughs, the game has four difficulty levels. While one play-through will likely take the average gamer between seven and ten hours, successive play throughs will eventually tally up to approximately 30 hours through the main game, with only a single character. Seeing as you have the option of playing as a shaman, berserker, barbarian, mage, shadow knight, cleric, and ranger, it's fairly easy to see that this game encompasses a great deal more than the sum of its parts in terms of replay value. Each play through with each character will be remarkably different than the one before it. I've likely spent well over 200 hours playing this game, which is remarkable given that it is a console title, with no expansion options. There are also a huge assortment of side-quests and errands that are off the beaten path, which are sure to satisfy the curiosity of any-dungeon crawler.
My complaints regarding this game are surprisingly few. The story does not appear to drive your progression through the game; you do not feel a sense of purpose or urgency in any of the missions you perform, nor do you feel the notion that higher powers are at work, and larger forces are clashing outside of the quests you perform. The game follows the simple recipe of "talk to person A, who will send you to retrieve item B, which will open door C, so you can whip the living daylights out of boss D."
If you're looking for narrative flare, look elsewhere. The story leaves an awful lot to be desired. My counterpoint, however, is that you'll be so wrapped up in the thrill of the amazing combat, looking for increasingly formidable gear, and having so many "did you see THAT?" moments that you'll hardly care where you're going, or what evil megalomaniac you're attempting to slay.
The level design is, as previously stated, amazing, but there is no random level generator here. As a result, the levels are large, fluid and remarkably well done, but they follow the identical path each and every time you enter them. By the time the game reaches its fourth or fifth play-through, the monotony may occasionally lead to disappointment. Once again, I firmly believe that you'll be so wrapped up in the amazing gameplay that you'll hardly care.
Not only can you tackle the hordes of undead solo, but you can incorporate up to four other stalwart adventurers in your quest via a multi-tap, or the playstation network. The level of enjoyment you'll get from this game increases exponentially for each friend you add to your quest. This game is a great deal of fun in its own right, but you'll get a lot more out of it when you play together.
I wish that other developers would take note of how incredibly balanced, engaging, and all-around fun this game is. The recipe is amazingly simple: smooth graphics, an uncomplicated control system, remarkably engaging real-time combat, a variety of different character classes and abilities, and all the dungeon-crawling / looting gameplay that we all enjoy.
I'm personally optimistic for a Champions 3. Wishful thinking, but I can dream.
There you have it, my fellow gamer. Was my review insightful? Did it provide you with the necessary knowledge to make the most informed gaming decision of your adult life and add this directly to your cart this instant? I hope so. You'll thank me later.