Life was rough in 13th-century Europe. With all of the plagues, famine, and complete lack of the Internet, it's no wonder folks took to warfare so often. The First Templar, a third-person action game with a strong cooperative online multiplayer component, is set in these dark times. To help bring a bit of light, we took control of a pair of Templars traveling the countryside righting wrongs and searching for the Holy Grail. While the story plays fast and loose with plot points, these are simple trappings for you and a friend to grab a couple of broadswords and smash some unlucky rogues upside the head.
In the opening act, our duo set out across the countryside slaughtering groups of renegade "butchers" wholesale--pausing only to aid someone in need or chow down on his or her discarded food. Combat was a simple affair, where we bludgeoned enemies to death with the basic attack as our tactic of choice. As we collected experience points, however, we were able to build a little complexity into this system by learning advanced two-button combos, counterattacks, and additional ways to build up zeal--the currency needed to perform these special moves. All of these abilities are unlocked via a large skill tree, which splits off in four directions. And you won't know what lies ahead in any one branch until you start dropping points into it.
Next, our journey took us into a dense forest where we found ourselves hounded by an adorable pack of killer attack dogs. Some locals put us on the trail of The Beast, the source of evil in these woods, which we tracked and confronted as our first boss encounter. Unlike the enemies thus far, this hulking giant required a bit more teamwork--especially when it cut down one of our team members. Once downed, we had a limited amount of time to revive our comrade, at the cost of one point of zeal, or it was game over. In the end, not even The Beast's army of cuddly canine killers could save it, and we continued onward.
We arrived next at an abbey operated by the church and its infamous Inquisition where we discovered a plot to undermine the Templar order. Aghast at this treachery, we snuck into the abbey's underground dungeon and used some simple stealth mechanics to take out our silent frustrations on a few guards. Our next order of business was to free the prisoners, including the skillful and deadly Marie, before making our escape to the city of Acre.
With no rest for the wicked, Acre was under siege upon our arrival. Marie's addition to the party gave us our first taste of ranged combat in the form of some handy throwing daggers. Alternating between the two attack buttons, we were able to work this new skill into a handy combo of knocking enemies back and peppering them with sharp objects from afar. At this point, we also had enough experience to start learning special abilities for our heroes, such as our Templar's ability to pray and regain a little health at the expense of zeal.
As we fought our way through the city, we managed to retake control of the trebuchets on the city walls. With these deadly siege weapons, we got to play a simple point-and-click minigame of blowing away enemy forces as they marched their way up to our walls. Our quest ended with Acre secure, but it was just a taste of what lay ahead. And while The First Templar's basic mechanics currently seem to be pretty basic so far, we're still interested in seeing how they work in cooperative multiplayer. Be on the lookout for The First Templar on PC and Xbox 360 early this year.