Review: Champions Of Norrath: Realms Of Everquest (PS2)

Champions of Norrath: Realms of Everquest (PS2)
Platform: PS2
Rating: Teen
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: 2/10/04

Snowblind Studios made a big splash with the original Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance that was released in 2001. Dark Alliance quickly became of the most definitive hack n’ slash games available for the consoles blending great graphics and easy to control addictive gameplay. Now they’re back with Champions of Norrath, an action-RPG twist on the highly popular MMORPG game Everquest. This would actually be the second Everquest game not to be an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, try saying that 3 times fast) with the other being Lords of Everquest, a real-time strategy game for the PC.

For those looking forward to a review from Lucard on this, sorry, you got me instead. However without Lucard recommending Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 I might have never even touched this game. You see before then I had never even played this type of game before. This is the second hack n’ slash game I’ve ever played. Any of you click the back button yet? I got heavily into Dark Alliance 2 and when I heard about Champions of Norrath I got excited as I’m probably one of the few people that actually played the PS2 version of the MMORPG game Everquest. Hearing some of the details about the game made me want it even more, online play, random dungeon and item generation, oh yeah I was set to pull the plug on the life support that my social life was already barely surviving on.

But is it worth the excitement?

Story:

The game starts out with the Liethkorias, the king of the Faydwer wood elves pleading for assistance. Turns out the orcs and the goblins have forged an alliance and are besieging Kelethin, the tree top city of the elves. Kind of generic but didn’t think it was that bad of a set up for a beginning till I looked at my character choices and noticed a big flaw right from the start. Why in the hell would Dark Elves be helping Wood Elves in a war?

For those who don’t understand that it probably means you had better things to do than read about the problems of the elven races. What am I talking about, what could possibly be better than that? Well to get you caught up, the Dark Elves hate Light/Wood Elves and vice versa. When it comes to magical races, elves are the biggest fascists in just about every magic kingdom they’re featured in, including the Everquest universe. So in perspective it’s like a member of the Ku Klux Klan asking a member of the Black Panthers for help. Well, kinda. Now that just doesn’t make much sense now does it? Of course there are Dark Elves in stories that don’t match this description, with one of the most famous of those characters being Drizzt Dro’Urden. In those stories we are given a reason, not so in Champions of Norrath. In fact that goes with any character you choose, everyone of them have no reason at all to be there. They could’ve easily had some simple explanation such as your character having been sent from there race to help the elves in there time of need or that your character was sexually molested by an orc as a child and is trying to work through all the years of pain and confusion through lots and lots of killing. You know, SOMETHING.

Okay, right off the bat the story started pissing me off. I didn’t choose the Dark Elf, I chose the Barbarian since I always chose the Barbarian if given the option. It gives me a reason to not shower and claim that I’m trying to get the feel for the character. Alright, now I’m all set to go and kill stuff and find out what is really going on. So I kill some guys. Then kill some more. I keep killing. Still no real updates on the story. Finally, the end of Act 1, now there’s got to be some development”¦.right?

Wrong.

Throughout the game you will be chasing what you originally think is an Orc General but you slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, find out that he is more than he appears to be. Act 3 contains the only interesting twist in the entire story. I wont spoil that for you. What I will spoil however is the fact that you spend the first 4 Acts chasing after the Orc’, but you never get to fight him. Oh you fight him at the end of Act one, but you don’t really defeat him since he runs away. So the only thing I’m really looking forward to in the game becomes a swerve in the storyline as your real enemy is the Lord of Hate, Innoruuk. According to Everquest lore if you do choose to play as a Dark Elf Shadowknight, then technically you are fighting the same God you worship in addition to fighting for a race you should hate without any explanation.

The only good parts of the story are in some of the mission in the game. Almost all of the missions are either of the Go and kill’ or Fetch and retrieve’ variety which actually works well in keeping in line with the MMORPG game. One or two have a little more depth to them. My favorite being one where a gnome asks you to find his missing daughter. To do so you’ve got to into a lava field where a wizards pets are running around pissed off. They’re pissed off because a pump broke which dictates the lava flow. In order to fix the pump you need to find a part that was lost. To find the part you need to borrow a lava runner that can drive across lava. When that’s all taken care of the wizard give you access to the girl who wont leave till you find all of her kittens in a dungeon filled with monsters. This was my favorite part of the whole game, it gave you an objective, reason to complete the objective, and each part of the whole mission felt different than the other parts all wrapped up in a little story that was better than main story. And there were kittens. I really hope that if they do a sequel to this game that they will make more structured missions like that one.

Wrapping it all up, the story sucks. The game rewards the hours you spend on each level with a short cut scenes that barely move the story along. It’s generic, and it doesn’t make much sense with one of the characters (guess which one). Some of the missions in the story provide point of interest but not enough to excuse the main story. The whole game is left feeling like an excuse to just repeatedly hack monsters and sell items.

Act 4 is also a joke. The Act takes under 30 minutes to complete and reveals little about the story. How they could not have just added this to one of the other Acts is beyond me.

2/10

Graphics:

I don’t think I’ve reviewed any games so far with bad graphics. Champions isn’t going to break that habit as the game looks great. The environments all look awesome, there is a high variety to them, and the textures look great. Deserts, ice caves, lava fields, forests, tropical islands, and more are all just stunning to look at. What I liked the most about the environments were the inclusion of little details in regards to the animal life. In the forest birds fly around in the air, not enough to really obstruct the camera and it give a better sense of depth to the game. There are sharks around the tropical island. In the ice level there are whales swimming under the ice flows and on top the ice are pushy penguins.

You are also able to choose the gender of your character and there are a couple of options to customize the way they look. Of course armor changes your characters on screen appearance. The effects caused by spells are flashy and all of them look pretty good. I like how arrows stick into enemies. You can choose from 3 different camera angles by clicking the right joystick, zoomed in, zoomed out at an angel, and zoomed out right above the character. Everything looks even better zoomed in since you can see the amount of detail that’s everywhere however you can only zoom in during the single player game. There is a good variety of enemies and the bosses all look giant and menacing.

There are problems though. Sometimes when a lot of enemies are on screen (which is often) if you run away to find a better spot to fight them all you’ll find yourself saying Holy framerate Batman!’. Well you might not say that but I sure did. At these points the game visually slows down and become grainier till you stop moving. The framrate will also dip a little bit sometimes when you are just walking around in a dungeon. It will only last a second or two but things will get a little blurrier. Also when using the portals in the game several times I’ve portaled back to an area and the screen will turn black except for my character and takes a minute to fill out the area around me. There is some pop-up and pop-out, most notably in the Sky Castle where there is a ton of pop-up in the background. In some dungeons wall behind you and bodies behind you will pop off the screen instead of just smoothly rolling past. This happened for me in the desert dungeon a lot, I normally don’t notice things like that but my eyes kept getting drawn to the bottom of the screen everytime something would pop out of existence.

Still a beautiful game, and many of these issues aren’t very noticeable (except the slowdown during fights) and don’t really effect the gameplay.

8/10

Sound:

The in game music is excellent. It the same orchestrated adventure music you’ll find in a dozen of these kinds of games, but that because it’s what works. The music provides a great background to each area of the game. Every now and then it will get louder and I’ll try to figure out what’s going on because I’ll assume something big is about to happen, but nothing will. All of the battle noises are well done, but there’s nothing that stands out as above average from the battle sounds.

The voices are my main problem. The voice work isn’t that bad at all considering the lame dialogue and story they were given to work with. That’s not my problem; my problem is that there is a significant pause whenever you talk to an NPC. I actually thought that they didn’t speak at all since I was done reading the text and would click when I was done. It wasn’t until the middle of Act 2 that I realized if I waited a minute the voices would kick in, when I had got up to get a pop while playing and heard someone talking behind me. Scared the hell out of me at first till I realized it was the game. All of the characters have voices, but only ever seemed to be used to deliver one liners whenever you boot a game up or whenever you enter a new dungeon. Otherwise your character doesn’t say anything else except for when he can’t carry anymore then he lets you know, which is also on a delay. And very annoying.

I’ve heard that this is a problem that only effects launch or early PS2’s, but since I don’t have a newer one to check this out on, I can’t be sure of that.

7/10

Controls:

The game is very easy to pick up and play. X controls your attacks, R1 defends, pressing L1 while holding down R1 does a little dodge move, Square controls your actions with NPC’s, Triangle and Circle are both hotkeys for special abilities and can be set by using the D-Pad. To quickly drink a health potion you press R2, for a mana potion L2. To use a Gate Scroll you can do so from the start menu or press Square and select at the same time, which if you are playing two player you will eventually need to use the square+select option as sometimes there are problems gating through the start screen if the 1st player dies. The left thumbstick is for moving, right thumbstick is for controlling the camera.

I really wish they had included a button to quick select ranged weapons instead of going through the menu each time. That gets annoying real fast. Otherwise the controls are great, intuitive and responsive.

There is however an online glitch that occurs by pressing block and attack at the same time that causes a faster attack and does more damage. I’m kind of surprised that they didn’t notice this during QA testing as it’s not that hard to press the two together at the same time by accident during a battle.

8/10

Balance:

The balance is all over the place. The good is that the enemy AI is great, the enemy tries to flank you at every opportunity, and there is generally a wizard in the area to worry about reviving the guys you just killed and trying to blast the hell out of you with magic. You will also generally face off against several enemies instead of just a couple at a time. As you go on through the levels different types of enemies have very different kind of attack patterns, including some enemies that possess both ranged and melee attacks.

The bad. Even with as good as the enemy AI is”¦.there’s a problem in the game that makes every level a breeze. Items are everywhere. Open a couple chests or kill a baddy or two and you’ll end up tripping over a magical something of whatever or weapon. Because of this you never ever really need to buy weapons (except for arrows) or armor. So what do you do with the dough? Buy health drinks. Now you shouldn’t have any trouble at all with any of the levels. Most of the boss fights are also easy and can generally be done by just finding a part of the environment that the boss can’t fit through and shooting arrows/magic at it.

There are level caps for each difficulty level. You start off with Adventurous (Easy), then there is Courageous (Medium) which you have to be at level 20 and have already beaten Adventurous, and then Champion (Hard) which you have to be at level 35 and have already beaten Adventurous. The game will rebalance the difficulty level to adjust to be more worthy of your character’s level which is a pretty cool addition.

6/10

Replayability:

There are 5 different characters to choose from and three difficulty levels as explained above. There is also online play that you can choose from. The dungeons, items and enemies are all randomly generated so each time you play will offer a different experience.

No wait. That’s not entirely true. All those features are in the game, but no matter what class you play the games crappy story will remain the same and you will still be spending most of your time killing a couple enemies, gating to get rid of items, gating back, rinse and repeat over and over again. The game itself is solid and for people who really like the gameplay Champions of Norrath has a lot to offer them. For me it just felt pointless and repetitive with far too much item juggling that I do not plan on going through again.

7/10

Originality:

Other than it being the first Everquest hack n’ slash game, this game doesn’t do anything original. Hell it doesn’t even get the Everquest part right as there isn’t really anything recognizable from the Everquest universe other than the names of a couple of things and the Shadowknight class. It is however the first hack n’ slash dungeon crawler online game of this type for the consoles.

3/10

Appeal:

It’s a dungeon crawler made by Snowblind with the Everquest name and it’s online. As a partial fan of the MMORPG I was interested in this game and I wasn’t even that familiar with this genre at the time. So this game will appeal to all of the fans of the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series who are looking to game online and those that want a new type of Evercrack to sample.

8/10

Addictiveness:

I’ll say this one more time: TO MUCH GATING. It’s hard to get into a game when you constantly have to go back and forth from the item shop all the time. Everytime I started getting into a level I’d have to gate back because my Barbarian would shout (after a considerable pause) I can’t carry anymore!’ in an oddly Scottish accent. The best part of that accent is the a in can’t sounds like a u. Get used to hearing your character say that a lot. I felt like I was playing a pawn shop sim sometimes when I had to go through my items and decide what to sell. The random items aren’t even very random, I’d get the same rare’ items over and over again. Namely the Gatorsmash Maul and a set of Serene armor as well as some really high level items for characters other than the Barbarian.

Also I never felt the need to get to the end of a dungeon to find out the next part of the story. Because the story blows. Did I mention that already?

I’m not saying it isn’t addictive at all though. Even though I HATE the gating and the amount of items you can carry (weak ass Scottish sounding Barbarian) I had a hard time putting the controller down. Some of this is because of the poorly planned save spots that will put 3 save spots in one area and none throughout another part of a dungeon, which is probably the random generators fault. The other part of this is because even with all the minor crap that bugs me about the game, it is still fun to commit virtual genocide and wipe out everything on the screen and it’s hard to put the controller down till you get to the next part of the game.

7/10

Miscellaneous:

This game is fun, no doubt about that. However there’s no heart to it. It’s hard to explain what I mean by that, but I’ll try. The game just feels too much like all you are doing is killing and selling items. I don’t give a crap about the characters, the story, or why I’m doing the killing, I’m just doing it so I can gain more experience and more items to sell. That may be enough for some people, but I like to care about the world I’m supposedly saving or at least the character I’m playing as. I don’t in Champions of Norrath.

For me that’s what matters. I do not play a game to hit the X button and R1 button over and over again just to gain a few levels only to repeat the cycle. Which is why I eventually closed my account in Everquest Online Adventures. Part of the reason I like and play games is because they are an interactive story. This game has a lame story that is barely a part of the actual game, the real meat of this game is the solid hack n’ slash gameplay. Ultimately for me that gets stale very quickly, but if you like hack n’ slash games and aren’t overly concerned with the story by all means this is a great game to get.

This is also where I’d talk about the online component for which I can only say one thing:

The online was added on in a half assed way that could’ve been done way way better than this. Basically when you log in there is just a general lobby that has games listed that you can join but you can’t really tell who is in the games. You can host your own game as well and add comments if you are looking for a specific level or group”¦but really the online part comes off as really tacked on. I’d rather wait for it to be done right. Since this was a major selling point for the game I can’t imagine why it was done so poorly. Very disappointed.

There are also some glitches in the game, some bad enough to prevent you from being able to continue your game if you come across one of them.

4/10

Final Scores:
Story: 2/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 6/10
Control: 8/10
Balance: 6/10
Replayability: 7/10
Originality: 3/10
Appeal: 8/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Misc: 4/10