Champions of Norrath

Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Adventure


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PS2 Review - 'Champions of Norrath'

by Hank on March 9, 2004 @ 1:31 a.m. PST

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Release Date: February 17, 2004


Strangely enough, everyone doubted that online play for the PS2 would be a strong contender, but looking at current trends, almost everyone wants the games to be online. I don't know when this console online boom started for the PS2, but I believe it was with SOCOM, one of my favorite online shooters. In an attempt to broaden the variety of games, Sony decided to bring another game online, one that is fortunate enough to have the creators of Baldur's Gate behind it.

If you have never played Baldur's Gate, I strongly suggest trying it, because it certainly was a solid game. Thanks to its success, they have released a Baldur's Gate II, but Sony sought the talent of the original creators to make their own Champions of Norrath. The result was a game set in the EverQuest realm sporting an improved Baldur's Gate system. So which would be better: Baldur's Gate II or Champions? Well, I can't tell you that, but I can say one thing - Champions of Norrath is a lot of fun. Personally, I have never played the EverQuest series, but it sure lives up to the EverCrack name. Don't take it the wrong way and think poorly of it because of that name; rather, I can understand why it received such a name. It's like an addiction; once you start, it's incredibly hard to stop. I keep trying to coerce my roommate into playing with me because it's so much more fun with more players. But if that isn't an option, there is always online play.

Some games play differently online than in single player mode, but in this case, there is no substantial difference. The game is almost identical in every aspect, except that online play has a few more benefits. Perhaps the best perk is the fact that you don't need to be on the same screen, something that hinders offline play but is still bearable. Online, though, allows each character to go their separate ways. It isn't strongly suggested, but it allows you to explore dungeons quickly.

The basis of the game is quite simple: you run through the dungeons, hacking and slashing away at the enemies. Since the PS2 only has 10 buttons, Snowblind had to utilize every possible one. You use L2 and R2 to re-generate mana and life respectively, R1 to block, R1 + L1 to dodge back, Triangle for one of your magic moves and circle for another, X to attack with your melee or long range weapon, and Square to pick up items as well as interact with objects.

The game starts off with a CG sequence showing that Norrath is looking for heroes to save the land, a typical way for these adventure games to start out. This is when you get to choose your character. There are five different characters: Barbarian, Ranger, Wizard, Cleric, and Shadow Knight. At the same time, you can also choose to be male or female, customizing the character with the limited attributes they provide, leading to several identical characters online. They may look identical, but there are several differences between one and another. The difference is the skills in which the gamer chooses to invest; Champions utilizes a skill point system similar to that found in Diablo II. These points are awarded when your character gains a level and can be distributed between the character's 13 or more stats. Your options range from increasing your melee attacks all the way to gaining new magic skills which vary from character to character. Armor and weapons also vary between character classes at times, depending on how lucky the drop is.

In order to equip yourself with the new items, you press Select, bringing up a wide range of menus (or tabs, technically). There are tabs for your weaponry, armory, miscellaneous, objectives, current stats, and skill points. Within this menu, you can see the quality of the items that were dropped as well as whether or not you can equip them. Prerequisites for equipping items can involve character class and/or level requirements. One thing I found useful for determining whether or not an item is good is to take a look at the color; if it's yellow or blue, the item has a special trait in it which is stronger than its regular counter part. This doesn't work for all weapons like Diablo II, though, so it's best if you can recognize the weapon by its name (a strategy guide would come in handy here).

Well, I do not own a strategy guide, but at times I do wish I had one, since I truly regret wasting my skill points on unnecessary skills. After playing online, I was able to talk to more experienced players and find out what skills are better than others; they also provided necessary support in completing some of the tougher missions. In one Act there are about four or more objectives that you must complete before moving on to the next. Trying to find where the objective points lie can sometimes annoy the player since the entire map is one large maze. I found myself lost every so often and had to backtrack to the last junction to take the other route. There is a lot of backtracking, probably due to the fact that the dungeons are randomly-generated, so if you don't like that idea, this game may not be for you, because you must constantly move between dungeons to completely finish the objective. This was especially apparent in Act III, where I got lost trying to figure out which dungeon to move to.

These mission objectives aren't given to you through a telegram. No, these objectives are relayed by fellow humans or other characters that need help, all of them providing slight details toward finding your objective: hunting down the big honcho who is controlling the Orcs in this war. When missions are handed out to your Champion, you will enjoy a short CG sequence showing your objective at hand. The character speaks it aloud, and if you would like, you can also enable subtitles for on-screen text. These missions can be as simple as defeating a boss or escorting a captive back to safety. Do remember that on escort missions, your charge does have life, so keeping him alive is vital to the mission's success. If you have a High Elf Cleric, you can always use its high level healing powers (Level 5 or Higher Healing has an aura which can heal allies) to restore the character's lost life. These characters usually require an escort to certain points; most the time they are captives, which you need to escort to the portal. Portals are areas on the map where you can transport yourself from one active portal to another. You or your teammates have to personally activate these portals in order to use them; activation is simple - stand next to it, and it's activated. These are great to use because they are a quick mode of transportation and are helpful to return to the shop so you can sell junk your character doesn't need.

It's very important to sell off the extra junk, because your character can only carry a certain amount of items. Each weapon, potion, piece of armor, and any other item has a weight to it. Depending on the character you choose, you will have a higher weight limit and be able to carry more, but you will eventually hit the limit. For this reason, it's wise to invest some skill points into increasing your package. You can actually add more weight to a piece of armor or a weapon simply by placing modifiers into them, which in turn will make the weapon turn blue or even yellow. These modifiers can add mana regenerations, mana bonus, health regeneration, health bonus, poison damage, and many more attributes. My personal favorite modifiers are the lighting and the ability to give the item godly speed. These modifiers vivify the dull weapons and armor, causing them to become mad powerful and feared by all enemies.

Fear is something these Champions have never heard of. I would probably go crazy if I saw a living dead, but these heroes fight whatever is necessary to complete the task. The game has such a wide variety of enemies that it's hard to describe them all, so I will give you a brief list of the enemies I've fought against: the undead, goblins, orcs, insects, fire golem, and so on. These enemies differ depending on the level, and different levels describe what type of magic powers they may have. For example, in the fire level they do fire damage; in the desert, scorpions deal poison damage; and in ice realms, enemies have cold-based attacks. Once you know how to fight the monsters, you can take on almost anything in Norrath.

And if you can't, you can always go find some recruits online. The online play is probably one of the most interesting additions, but it still needs a lot of work. The game-play online isn't exactly bad, it is excellent in fact, but the time spent before you actually play is in need of modifications. There are public and private games available, making it easier for friends to play with each other or to just pick up a random game. One downside is that when you are in a game room waiting to begin, there seems to be zero possibility of talking to one another. I'm not certain if you require a keyboard, but I haven't seen anyone type anything to me. I do know one thing, though, and that is the game does support the headset and keyboard. Personally, I find the headset to work fairly well, but in this game it seems you need to personally mess around with the settings in order to make your voice understandable to the others. I say this because most of the time, I hear static or a broken voice which is quite hard to understand. It may be due to the fact that there is no button required to talk, which means it is recording every word and every breath on the fly. What is nice is the fact that, over the character's head, you will see a voice dialog informing you that he is the one talking. You also see this above the NPC who you need to talk to get the next mission. And if you are lucky, you may even have a player that has a keyboard, so he can clarify what he is saying by typing it in. You can play with up to four characters, although most of the time, you will only see it with three since the lag with four is almost unbearable unless you have a fast internet connection. I tried four and just saw my character move slower then a snail, which vouches for its requirement of a broadband connection. Like I said before, in single player everything is voiced out and you will see CG scenes. The same occurs online as well, and it progresses through the same story. You have the choice to skip the scenes or watch them.

I do strongly suggest watching the story at least once to discover the true plot and learn what your objectives would be. They usually give a slight hint about where the end point is or where the item may be found. The story is told all in CG, where you watch characters talk to one another or you observe scenes with the enemy preparing for battle. There are no massive battle CG scenes; rather, you may get to watch the enemies stomping with each other in a gesture resembling a war cry, readying themselves to beat on you and your teammates. The CG does suffer from one flaw at times, because the screen occasionally goes blank for a second. I was just wondering what happened and still don't understand why it occurred, and that is probably why I like the in-game graphics better. Yes, surprisingly enough, I enjoy them more than the CGs. I love the fact that the arrows actually stick to enemies when you shoot them. It is extremely clear when you face a boss; looking at the side on which you fire, you can see how many times he has been hit. While you can see the arrows on his body, you can't clearly see the enemies' faces when you are hacking at them, but you can try since you do have the ability to zoom in and rotate the camera. I usually use it to rotate the camera in order to see the map better, especially to see where any small entrance hiding in the background resides. The background is pretty detailed, ranging from cell-type dungeons all the way to ice-covered paths. And if you don't enjoy those enough, you may get a kick out of running through the water. They tried to make the water effects as real as possible and ended up just making it look more fake, but I commend them for their gallant effort.

The audio in the game is focused on the instrumentals, a mixture of drums and other instruments blending to produce a loud and intense feeling of war and danger. The sounds change whenever there is a level change. The only time you will hear anything else is when the characters are informing you of your new mission objective. The voices match their respective characters fairly well, although I do wish there was a possibility to change my character's voice. It isn't annoying or anything of that sort; it's just that with my attributes, the voice just doesn't seem to match my character. Yet, all the NPCs live up to their reputations as those characters. I don't understand why they take a long time to start their speeches, though.

Overall, this game is very solid albeit the few bugs here and there. Some of you may hate it for this, and some will love it. The most major bug I've seen so far is the fact that the game freezes at times. Because I've been lucky and save every so often, I haven't lost crucial data that would frustrate anyone if they lost hours of work. Another bug was mentioned about the CG scenes where at times it just goes black, and finally, there was the issue with the long pause before the talking. The load time can also be a factor in this game, taking a good amount of time to load the CG scenes and new dungeons which thankfully doesn't occur that often. However, one thing I love about this game is that the single player and online modes are identical, allowing you to import characters to either one and making it easier to level your character whenever your pals can't play. I do wonder if this game will support the HD, because patch updates would make this game great. Also, if there is a possibility to have new levels, people may enjoy this game much more. Of course, the HD may also help on load times. If you are looking for a fun hack and slash game, this may be the one calling for you. But don't take my word for it; go try it out and decide for yourself.

Score : 9.2/10

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