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PS2 Preview - 'Champions: Return to Arms'

by The Six Billion Dollar Man on Dec. 3, 2004 @ 1:20 a.m. PST

Champions: Return to Arms combines the creative talent of Snowblind Studios with SOE's expertise in developing fantasy worlds to create a unique visual style, immersive storylines, and highly interactive worlds. Return to Arms introduces two new playable races, more character customization options, thousands of items, weapons and spells, beautifully detailed environments, and much more.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Release Date: February 10, 2005

Having enjoyed the original Champions of Norrath, we jumped at the opportunity to play an early preview build of the next episode, Champions: Return to Arms. I was more than curious to see what Snowblind Studios had done to improve the game, so I dusted off my map of Norrath and headed into the fray.

The story behind Return to Arms picks up where the first CoN left off: you have defeated Innorruk and saved Norrath. Although really bad dudes never die and only change form, your triumph over Innorruk literally sent him to pieces. His shards were scattered all over the world, and Innorruk's minions are scrambling to find them. That's where you come in; you must collect the shards first or risk him returning to destroy us all. So far, so good, right? Well, this time around, you get to choose if you want to save Norrath or contribute to its destruction. Whether you are good or evil depends on which character you choose and which actions are taken within the game. As you progress, the game changes to accommodate the path you had selected.

The overall gameplay in Return to Arms generally remains the same as the original, although there have been some major improvements to the formula. One thing I noticed while playing was the lack of loot being dropped by enemies, I often found myself coming up short in fights when I didn't have a plethora of healing potions stored in my pack. I miss those rusty one-handed morning stars and tattered clothes that were my source of income in the early levels, but rest assured that all the items now have more of a purpose in the game than just monetary value. Also new to the game are the Vah Shir and the Iksar races, which bring the berserker and shaman classes to Return to Arms, thereby beefing up the difficulty levels. I didn't realize until after I had begun playing that you can import your old Champions of Norrath characters into the game and immediately take on the harder difficulties. Having ultimate characters available at the outset of a game is an awesome option to have. Additionally, you now have the ability to gain 30 more levels, bringing your ultimate character to deity-like proportions.

Gameplay wasn't the only aspect to get a makeover; the game's graphics have also been reworked, particularly the character customization for both enemy and playable characters. Snowblind has expanded the selection of character facial features as well as armor, weapons and jewelry. I thought CoN had awesome graphics but Return to Arms takes it up a notch. The textures have been revamped to allow for higher detail in addition to hiding the age of the PS2 graphics core. The surrounding environments benefit from the update as well because even at maximum zoom, the graphics are crisp and clear. The new monsters really make the game shine, and show the talent of the artists at Snowblind.

The audio portion has pretty much remained the same, with some more awesome music as well as top-notch voice acting. There were some points where the audio snippets were still missing, but this was an early preview build and I'm certain this will be ironed out in the final product.

All of the multiplayer goodness that was present in the first game makes a comeback in Return to Arms, while serious problems such as free item duping have been resolved. The ability to play with four players still makes take the cake because nothing is better than adventuring with your friends. I wasn't able to play online, but SOE says that besides new maps and player options, we're in for a new multiplayer system complete with rankings, buddies and game creation system. With everything that will be going into the multiplayer component, this is shaping up to be one solid title.

I had fun playing CoN, and the sequel will be a sight to behold. Boasting more than 100-plus hours of game time and tremendous replay value, Return to Arms will be a must-have for EverQuest fans and fans of the original Champions of Norrath. Keep an eye out for this game come early 2005.

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