Developer: Hothead Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 07/13/2010
If you read me regularly, then you know one of the things I bitch about is that gaming has gotten too angsty-serious and there’s just not enough comedy games these days. Gone are games that are as funny as they are good like Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, and the like. Instead we have first person shooters in drab colours (save for the occasional bit of red) and a lot of anti-heroes with attitudes. Meh. That’s why I’m glad studios like Gust, Nippon Ichi and Telltale Games are still making games with a sense of humour. It’s also why I make sure my staff here at Diehard GameFAN reviews games like Trinity Universe, Sam and Max, Monkey Island and Disgaea Infinite. So that we can all remember that gaming hasn’t devolved into spikey haired protagonists with a tremendous amount of self pity or graphics that only scream, “Grim and gritty.”
Well, enter Deathspank. The name also makes you smile. The developers, Hothead Games, keep describing it as a cross between Diablo and Monkey Island. I have to admit I was skeptical about any game that compares itself to both of those classics, but after seeing a preview video, I knew I had to review this. With a little digging I learned that Ron Gilbert is the Creative Director of Hothead. Now that might not mean anything to a lot of you, but for those of use that are old and grizzled gamers that still play point and click titles on their PC or have entire floors of Wizardry IV memorized, this should make your heart skip a beat as he was the creator and designer of Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. AWESOME.
So I went into Deathspank with a lot of optimism that this would be the first US made RPG in a long time to make me laugh out loud while also providing a quality gameplay experience. How did Deathspank hold up?
Deathspank is an odd game to be sure. Deathspank himself is an obvious homage to The Tick, except he is a fantasy character with armour and weapons instead of super powers and a moth man sidekick. The game actually starts in medias res with Deathspank trying to locate a powerful
MacGuffin artifact, of which the abilities, powers and even the reason for why Deathspank wants this item are never explained save that a red-headed knight wants him to. From there the game turns into about ten hours of fetch quests as you track down things to help you get to the artifact, and then once you get it, you immediately lose it and then have to go get it again, along with a bag you need to fill with orphans. Throw in some boss fights and that’s your entire plot.
I am sad to say that there really isn’t any story to Deathspank save for, “Find the artifact and kill the bosses you encounter,” which really hurt the game in my opinion. There is no true plot to speak of, there is no substance and the ending of the game is so bad that it almost overshadowed all the good in the game. We’re taking Mystery of the Crystal Portal downright awful. There’s no resolution of any kind. It’s one of those craptastic “To be continued” endings that outright ruin games and piss off most of the people that play them.
So with all that negativity in mind, you’re probably going to be surprised that I give the story a tentative thumb’s up. Yes the plot is non-existent, there is no character development and the ending is kind of a middle finger to whoever actually paid for the game, but the dialogue is amazing. It’s fresh, it’s witty and it’s so bizarre, you can’t help but laugh at the all-out insanity of it. You’ll be asked to go on quests that range from collecting unicorn poop to being a father to an orphan for a day before you can throw her in a sack. Everything is definitely designed to make you laugh and poke fun of the clichés that about in video game RPGs. In both of these respects, the game succeeds admirably. In the eight hours it took me to do literally everything there is in the game, I found myself amused and glued to my console, which is especially telling as the ENTIRE GAME is nothing but fetch quests, a mechanic that would normally have me belittling a game for pages on end due to the lack of originality and boredom-inducing gameplay that normally entails.
So although Deathspank has some pretty big issues in regards to the overall plot, the horrible ending and a lack of any depth or substance, it is a very funny and weird game that is sure to delight any gamer just looking for a laugh while they mindlessly hack and slash everything.
Story Rating: Enjoyable
I wasn’t very impressed with the visuals of Deathspank. Humanoid characters designs were a bit dull and uninteresting to me. You could definitely tell the game was trying to go for an old 80s/90s Lucasarts feel, and the graphics outright look like they are from that era of gaming as well. There’s very little detail or texture to characters or even the backgrounds so it certainly looks a generation or two (perhaps more) behind what the PS3 is capable of.
I did like the monster designs however. Dragons especially had an interesting design to them but I KNOW I’ve seen it before somewhere and I just can’t place where. I also liked how sinister unicorns looked in the game and it was also cute that they were the most powerful monster in the game.
There isn’t any slowdown to speak of in the game, even with a lot of monsters on the screen and Deathspank using a lighting wand. That was rather nice to see as often action RPGs are plagued by that. I can’t really say the visuals stood out, nor can I even say they were even good. But they were passable and an obvious reminder of comedy gaming’s golden era.
Graphics Rating: Mediocre
I hope you are a big fan of The Tick because the voice actor for Deathspank himself, Michael Dobson is channeling that character (played by Townsend Coleman, not Patrick Warburton) constantly. It’s almost a spot-on cover too, which makes me wonder why Hothead just didn’t get Coleman in the first place. The voice is perfect for the character and really helps to bring the protagonist to life.
To be honest, the game lives or dies on the delivery of the dialogue since there is no depth or substance to the plot. Thankfully everything is well acted and brings the game to life. Without an excellent cast of voice actors, a lot of the game would fall flat on its face and lose a lot of its humour. Even characters that would usually be savaged by reviewers for being lame or nonsensical are turned into funny bits, and it’s all due to the performance factor. Big thumb’s up to EVERY line of dialogue being voiced as well.
Sound effects are quite enjoyable too. The sound of screaming chickens never gets old in this game (I’m in the top 50 on PSN for chickens killed) and although most of the weapons sound the same, there is a definite different between say, a chicken cannon and a lightning bolt.
Excellent job and the audio of Deathspank is definitely its strongest feature.
Sound Rating: Great
4. Control and Gameplay
Deathspank is a pretty generic game when it come to actually playing it. You move with the left analog stick and you have slight control over the camera with the right. Each tab of the D-pad and the shape buttons corresponds to a weapon, healing item or the like and you can customize these however you want. I tended to have weapons on the shape and healing items or enhancement potions on the D-pad. You can block with a shoulder button and there is a justice meter that fills up as you dispense and/or take damage. Once that is filled, you can use a special justice strike attached to particular special weapons. It’s all fairly generic and commonplace for an action RPG. I will say I noticed some definite lag at times between when I pressed a button and the game actually did an attack or chugged a potion. The lag is very brief but it is noticeable enough that I died because of it on several occasions.
One other thing that is worth noting is that unlike a lot of Western RPGs, there is very little customization open to you. When Deathspank levels up, you get to choose from between one and three “hero cards” that gives you a slight boost to your stats. I will give you a hint and say don’t bother with the ones that give you more gold or let you use a higher level armour/weapon class than you normally can, as they will be useless in the end game, so stick with things that improve speed or damage. Trust me on this. That’s all the character customization you get. Sorry.
There’s not really a lot of depth to Deathspank. it’s ALL fetch quests, so the game is just running around killing things, collecting items and delivering said items to the person who put you on your quest. It’s a simple and shallow game, but most games in the action RPG genre are just that and Deathspank is a pretty solid entry in terms of game mechanics, even if it’s definitely lacking in innovation.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
This is easily the worst aspect of Deathspank. Againm the game is NOTHING but fetch quests and you can complete every single one in the game and score every trophy in approximately eight hours. Because the game is so short and it’s very hard to miss any of the sub quests, the game will unfold the same way each time you play it. This is very different from a lot of action rpgs, where character customization or outright creation is present and this allows you to have a very different experience indeed.
Factor in that the jokes do get old towards the end of the game as things start to run together and the ending is so poorly done that Deathspank is best left as a one and done game as the jokes definitely won’t be as amusing the second or third time around. This is a game best played once and then left to sit for a while (years) so it seems fresh again the next time you pick it up.
Replayability Rating: Bad
Although there are three difficulty settings on Deathspank, the game is absurdly easy no matter what you put it on. This is because the A.I. for the game is shockingly poor. You can defeat any boss (save the last one) by just running around and occasionally shooting your crossbow at it. For the last boss, you can just hack away then back up when it is about to unleash its singing attack, go back and repeat until dead. No strategy or challenge is involved. Perhaps the best example of the A.I. issues is with the Biclops. This is an optional boss and the most powerful in the game as even at level 19-20, it can kill you in one or two hits. However, all I had to do was run away and get it to follow me and then run onto the other side of a fence from it. The biclops then just stood there and let me whittle it away with my crossbow. That was the whole battle and it was on the highest difficulty setting. Pretty much every boss is like that, from the Queens Lord Von prong. There is just simply no AI. The computer will hack away blindly or chase you and that’s about it. Hell with the entire collection of Pits (giants), I killed the entire village one by one doing this. The bottom line is you can get through Deathspank without any real challenge at all. The only times you should die are when you are encountering an enemy that can one hit kill you for the first time (like the Screamers) or if you go into an area where the enemies are at a much higher level than you and you try to engage in melee combat.
So Deathspank‘s core issue is that the game is way too easy and when you couple that with the fact the game is nothing but fetch quests, a lot of gamers might find this more monotonous than funny.
Balance Rating: Poor
I love a good funny game, especially when it’s an RPG or point and click adventure title. It’s definitely great to see a Western RPG do this as for the past three console generations or so, as gamers have mainly been relying on the Disgaea and Atelier franchises to provide the comedy. When you look at Deathspank critically though, you can see that there’s not a lot here that is truly original. Deathspank himself is basically the tick. The cast and characters in the game are definitely reminiscent of old Lucasarts games and even the weird weapons and opponents have been seen in things like well, Disgaea. Then on a technical level, Deathspank is a fairly generic action RPG that is actually quite shallow. Compare it to games like say, Dark Alliance 2 or Ragnarok DS and you seen how limited the engine is and how bare bones the level up system is, if you can even call it a level up system.
Deathspank clearly needed to be a budget game due to its length and numerous short comings. There’s definitely no real originality or innovation present in the title save for being the first comedic action RPG I’ve played in a long time.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
As critical as I’ve been to Deathspank in a number of areas, one thing I can’t deny is that the game is mindless fun. I beat the entire game in two sittings of four hours each. It’s short and there are so many subquests to do I just kept saying to myself “just one more quest” or “I’ll stop when I hit the next level.” Then I would just keep on playing. It’s very rare for me to become that absorbed in a game that is 100% fetch quests, but the witty dialogue and excellent voice acting kept me glued to my console.
I usually don’t “100%” a game as I’m not that OCD, but Deathspank was one of those games. Even after beating it, I had two trophies left to get (Menu Hero and hitting level 20) and I just grinded until I got the latter. This is one of four games I have either 100%’d or “platinum’d” (As a DLC only game, this doesn’t have a Platinumm Trophy), with the others being Fallout 3, Bakugan and Last Rebellion. That should tell you how good Deathspank was at not only holding my attention, but how good it will be at capturing your own.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
9. Appeal Factor
At first glance I would have thought this game would be really popular. Western RPGs are having their first second golden era (The first was around the era of Interplay and SSI) and I would have thought the comedy factor combined with RPG goodness would have made people download this thing left and right. However, when I look at my list of “PSN friends” I see only one other person currently has the game, and that’s fellow DHGF staffer Chuck Platt. This disappointed me a bit, as even with the inherent flaws in the game, it’s not one I can see anyone hating or even disliking. It’s just a simple mindless hack and slash with a good amount of comedy attached to it.
At $15, Deathspank is one of the pricer games on PSN, but it’s also one of the better ones. For your money, you’re getting an eight to ten hour long RPG and some amusing adventures along with a simplistic and easy game, anyone at any skill level can beat without any challenge. It’s certainly worth playing and it’s great to have both a comedic RPG and a nice short RPG to go with the two Penny Arcade games and Vandal Hearts.
Appeal Factor: Good
At the end of the day, Deathspank is a shallow, simplistic, repetitive and easy game sporting very week A.I. It’s also a very clever game filled with witty writing, amusing dialogue and some top-notch voice acting. In short, Deathspank manages to be an excellent little budget game and you’ll certainly get your fifteen dollars worth out of it. It’s also proof that quality writing (if not a quality story) can take a mediocre care and push it up to the next level. Deathspank certainly won’t be winning any awards from us, but as both a budget game and a DLC title, it’s a fun short little RPG for people who want something other than a RPG on their PS3 other than a Nippon Ichi title, Dragon Age, or Fallout 3
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Deathspank is a very funny game filled with wacky characters, strange weapons and some excellent voice acting. If you’re looking for the substance to go with the style however, you may be disappointed as the gameplay itself is shallow and generic, while the enemies are frightfully easy and there is no real A.I. to speak of. At fifteen dollars, this is an above average budget game and worth downloading but know that you are getting eight to ten hours of nothing but fetch quests tied together by one liners and zany antics.