Champions of Norrath Review
The core components that make up the game all come together to create an experience that is, across the board, better than the original Dark Alliance and better than any of Champions' current rivals.
When little-known developer Snowblind released Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance in 2001, it came as a bit of a surprise. Though it essentially took a lot of what Blizzard North did with its Diablo games and transposed it to the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon, the game looked so good and was executed with such skill that any borrowing was easy to forgive. Snowblind has since parted ways with Interplay, the publisher of Dark Alliance, and has gone on to hook up with SOE to create Champions of Norrath, an action RPG set in the world of EverQuest. For all intents and purposes, Champions of Norrath might as well still be set in the Forgotten Realms, but despite the blurry lines that differentiate all these different high-fantasy continuums and despite some of the game's rather evident problems, it's still the best game of its kind to come to consoles in years.
In the opening scenes of Champions of Norrath, you're given basically all of the character motivation you'll need for the remainder of the game. The good guys of Norrath, namely the humans and the elves, are fighting a losing battle against the bad guys of Norrath, namely the orcs and goblins. They desperately need a hero--a champion, if you will--to turn the tides of war. Of course, as you get waist-deep into your quest, you start to learn more about the cloak-and-dagger maneuvering that's occurring behind the scenes. Soon your quest becomes less about hunting down some nasty orc chieftain and more about keeping the very planes of existence from being shattered. Your MO remains largely unchanged, though, so you'll spend almost all of the 20 or so hours it takes to finish the game exploring dungeons, fighting swarms of bad guys, and shopping. Once finished, you can play again on two higher difficulty settings, which gives the game a good amount of replay value.
Champions of Norrath's pattern should seem immediately familiar to anyone who's played a hack-and-slash RPG. First, there's character creation. The game features five different character classes, including the barbarian, ranger, cleric, wizard, and shadow knight, and there are male and female counterparts for each class, though the gender choice is purely aesthetic. The class you choose, however, has a very real impact on what you'll be able to do in the game. It's all pretty predictable stuff, so the barbarian is a pure melee fighter, the wizard's a pure magic user, and the other three classes put varying emphases on magic, melee, and ranged attacks.
Once you've gotten your character set up, you'll work your way through dungeons by slaughtering bad guys, pillaging treasure chests, and snapping up the occasional quest item. The combat basically requires you to hammer on the X button to attack, hammer on the square button to pick up any gear your felled enemies leave behind, and hammer on the R2 and L2 buttons to use potions to replenish your health and mana, respectively. The formula that Snowblind established in Dark Alliance gets tweaked a little with ranged attacks, like spears and bows, as they receive the assistance of a little autotargeting. Additionally, the ability to stun and even knock down characters has been added. There's some light strategy to the combat, so it's important to know when to block and when to retreat. However, the game puts a greater emphasis on statistics rather than on hand-eye coordination.
When you can't carry any more stuff, you can teleport back to town, sell off all the gear that you don't need to the local shop, pick up some new stuff, and head back to the dungeons. Some of the dungeons you'll encounter in Champions of Norrath are randomly generated, as are the names of the weapons and armor you'll acquire, which uses a sort of Mad Libs-style naming formula to determine the attributes of the gear. Almost every piece of weaponry and armor in Champions of Norrath can be upgraded by attaching a special jewel to it, which is another little mechanic that Champions picked up from Diablo II. After adventuring for a while, your character will inevitably earn enough experience to gain a level. Consequently, you'll be given a few points to spend on your character's various attributes, and you'll also be given a few points to spend on specific skills, which are presented in a branching skill tree, not unlike the one found in Diablo II. Admittedly though, Champions' skill tree is not as deep.
The numerous quests that you'll be charged with are pretty by-the-numbers affairs, so they either involve killing all the enemies in a certain area or fetching an item. There are a few quests where you'll have to escort nonplayer characters, and, in fact, it was during one of these quests that we discovered a pretty serious bug. About seven or eight hours in, we accidentally broke the game's scripting, thus causing an NPC we were supposed to escort to get stuck in the level geometry, which kept us from progressing any further. We were able to rectify the problem by restarting from an earlier save, but it's pretty serious to find a showstopping bug like this in a retail boxed game, and it's even more disappointing that the game design for this particular section of the game was muddled enough that we were able to break the game without making a dedicated effort. We experienced no other problems like this, so it's entirely possible that you'll play through the whole game without experiencing a bug that's similar to this. However, it's still advisable to save your game early and often, and don't depend entirely on the game's "soft" checkpoint saves.
- Player Reviews: 167
- Game Universe:
- EverQuest II: Destiny of Velious (PC),
- EverQuest Underfoot (PC),
- EverQuest II: The Shadow Odyssey (PC),
- EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark (PC),
- EverQuest Secrets of Faydwer (PC),
- EverQuest The Anniversary Edition (PC),
- EverQuest II: Echoes of Faydwer (PC),
- EverQuest II: The Fallen Dynasty (PC),
- EverQuest: Prophecy of Ro (PC),
- EverQuest II: Kingdom of Sky (PC)
- Offline Modes:
- Online Modes:
- Number of Players: