Champions of Norrath Hands-On Impressions

We take the latest build of Sony Online's hack-and-slash RPG for a test drive and have new details on its multiplayer mode.

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Though we previewed the game a little over a month ago, we recently got a chance to play an updated build of Champions of Norrath, the PS2's upcoming hack-and-slash RPG from the developer of the outstanding Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, and we're back with some new details. The game will emphasize the same sort of fast-paced combat featured in Dark Alliance, and will let players choose from five different character classes with which they can fight through a series of randomly generated dungeons. Notably, Champions of Norrath will also have multiplayer support for up to four players on a single PS2 (via a Multitap), as well as free online play for up to four players.

Though the content of the game is based on the popular PC online RPG, EverQuest, Champions of Norrath seems to be influenced in equal parts by Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Blizzard's definitive Diablo series of action RPGs. When Dark Alliance was released, the game earned widespread acclaim, but some felt the game was too short while others wondered what it would have been like if the dungeons could be randomized and if the game could be playable online. So, hopefully, Champions of Norrath will fulfill the potential of Dark Alliance, providing an experience that's just as satisfying but much longer lasting.

One of the developers of Champions of Norrath confirmed that the game would be structured similarly to Diablo II, which includes multiple levels of difficulty. That means finishing the game won't mean it's over. Players will be able to hack their way through new dungeon layouts again and again, and as they grow in power, so too will the enemies inhabiting those dungeons. In a nice touch, sometimes players will be able to gauge the relative strength of their foes just at a glance. A low-level character setting foot in a goblin dungeon may be attacked by foes bearing nothing more than clubs and loin cloths. A higher-level character that enters a similar dungeon may instead face elite goblin warriors, fully armored and heavily armed. Additionally, parties of multiple player characters will face proportionally tougher challenges. Online multiplayer will allow players to go their separate ways if they so choose, though offline multiplayer will require all players to be on a single screen, like Dark Alliance's two-player mode.

The character development system in Champions of Norrath resembles that of Diablo II. When characters gain a level, they earn skill points which they can then spend on a special ability of their choosing. They can either bolster an existing special ability or in some cases choose a new one, and over time, they'll likely end up focusing on particular skills. In this way, there should be considerable variation available even within the five individual character classes, allowing for numerous viable character combinations in multiplayer.

Champions of Norrath boasts the same sort of highly detailed, atmospheric look that was so impressive in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. The early build of the game would sometimes struggle to maintain the same sort of perfectly smooth frame rate as seen in Dark Alliance, but the developers assured us that keeping the frame rate consistent was a priority for the team. The game is certainly looking promising, and is scheduled for release late this year.

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