Release Date: TBA
Anno-Domini 2004, European publisher TDK releases Knights of the Temple across all major gaming platforms. An epic tale following a young Templarii knight named Paul, this ambitious title wove a complex tale that took our hero literally to hell and back as he quested to save the soul of a divinely gifted seer named Adelle. In the cutthroat games industry, it’s dog-eat-dog, and Knights of the Temple was given a lukewarm reception by critics. Sadly, this particular effort failed to spark a revolution in RPG standards. Undaunted by this, a Slovakian development house known as Cauldron have picked up the reins and are hard at work forging an all-new chapter in this franchise, unremarkably entitled Knights of the Temple 2. Dog will hunt, indeed.
Perhaps best known domestically for the release of the first official Conan title, these determined young Slovakians are showing true grit in the face of what might seem like purest adversity. This bodes well in that you can be assured any team willing to craft a sequel to a game that had (by industry standards, at least) failed must feel passionately about what they’re doing. Passion goes an awfully long way in the development of a virtual world, and this is a richly detailed world indeed. Knights of the Temple 2 revisits the one of the blackest chapters in the already quite dark ages, a time when evil flourished, festered, and felled much of Europe.
Our protagonist is once again the Templar Knight Paul de Raque. The young holy warrior has matured in the fullness of time; he is no longer a glorified squire and now holds the title of Grand Master. While they say it’s lonely at the top, Paul has little to fear. The voices in his head keep him company, so too do his visions entertain and educate. In the 13th century, some might regard the affliction our hero possesses abnormal, but for a knight charged with hunting down the supernatural, this cerebral multimedia is truly a boon.
Paul needs to find three powerful artifacts, each hidden in different areas of the medieval world. These are of crucial importance in opening a long-sealed portal to a nether realm of disgruntled demons who would love nothing more than to relocate to our posh prime material plane. Some of these unholy ne’er-do-wells have already managed to break through, and it’s a tolerably good plan to dispatch these as you encounter them. Of course, mankind is just as capable of malice and you’ll have your fair share of misguided rabble to cleave your way through as well.
To gain the three keys to your unhappy place, you will need to guide your Templar Grandmaster through a wide variety of exotic locales: plague-afflicted cities suffering as much from mystery disease as they are from the death-throes of the Roman empire, corrupted Middle Eastern marketplaces languishing under the rule of wicked Saracens, forgotten island strongholds, labyrinthine catacombs and dungeons, and underwater fortresses. Walk as softly as you can in fine chain mail, and carry a hefty shaft of righteous sharpened iron.
The structure to Knights of the Temple 2 is somewhat free-form, in that as you travel around the world, your dialogue options with NPCs generally allow you to be cruel and merciless or kind and generous. No faction system seems to be in place, so this has little overall bearing on events other than personal preferences in role playing. Unlike most RPGs in my experience, this particular game makes you ask for work rather than just inundating you with requests from strangers. On one hand, this is a slightly more realistic approach from a design perspective; on the other hand, it hardly makes one feel special when you have to beg for the chance to be the hero of the hour.
The majority of your avatars development will be done via skill upgrades that you purchase using experience points generated in combat. Paul has access to a variety of divine abilities with Latin names such as Curatio (healing), Punitor (divine damage), Interitus (temporary invincibility), and Sanctus (heavenly armor). Each of these abilities has five levels that can be purchased, increasing effectiveness. There are also combat combination moves such as Remission, which is a slash and shield bash attack, and Angel’s Wings, a top-down lunging attack. Finally, there are some inherent bonuses like Constitution, Weapon Mastery, and Evasion. In all, there are 25 different skills, abilities, and bonuses that you can tweak five times as you progress.
Graphically, Knights of the Temple 2 looks excellent, so long as you ignore the models and the sleight-of-hand that was popular in first-generation 3D titles. The lighting and textures are beautifully realistic, and the animations are smooth. Combat combinations look great, and it’s truly satisfying to watch Paul ruthlessly decapitate a demon and then flawlessly transition into a spinning backhanded slashing move. However, the models are so low-polygon that they look almost as blocky as Quake 2, and there is entirely too much reliance on bitmap backgrounds designed to give the illusion of depth. In the end, this almost feels like Clive Barker's Undying with the textures and lighting of Painkiller. I hope that this is only the result of the unfinished state of the game.
In all honesty, I warmed up to this initial showing more than I expected I would. There is still quite a lot of work ahead for Cauldron: more content is required, the graphics need much tightening, and the controls are in desperate need of clear identity. As it stands, the skybox is incomplete in some levels, and it’s clear that the differences between console and PC control schemes has yet to be nailed down. However, these brash Slovakian programmers and artists sure know how to capture a spooky mood and craft an immersive world stuffed with spectacular combat. If they can effectively polish the rough edges, Knights of the Temple 2 will achieve what its predecessor could not.