Champions: Return to Arms
Champions of Norrath is one of my favorite PS2 games. I’ve always been a big Gauntlet fan and with Norrath, you had a Gauntlet like game with some RPG elements and a great online aspect. I’ve spent a lot of time with friends playing the game and enjoyed the experience immensely. When the sequel was announced, I was very excited and I even headed straight for the demo at E3 last year rather than viewing Everquest 2 first. So here we are, with the sequel and while it isn’t innovative, it’s still a good game.
Champions: Return to Arms starts out where Norrath left off. You'll start out in the Planes of Existance this time standing in front of Firiona Vie, the blue dressed elf that's very prominent in many Everquest advertisements. You've just killed Innorruuk and rescued Firiona so the game is a pretty quick continuation of the first one. As with every fantasy game, there’s more evil to dispatch so it’s time for you to continue your quest.
The game isn’t technically leaps and bounds over Norrath. There are a few annoyances that were fixed though. For starters in the inventory screen when you sell equipment, you can now actually equip items without having to leave the screen and go into the player inventory screen. While it might not be significant, it does save a lot of time and keeping you from going into the inventory screen a few times. Another minor change is the text is different when you use a gate scroll. The first time it will show you how many you have but you’ll get a gate back text that’s a little less confusing now. I know there were a few times I gated and saved and forgot if I was coming from a gate or if I was there at the save point via walking.
Champions: Return to Arms continues the theme of the previous games with the traditional dungeon crawl, kill all monsters, finish some little quests, and kill the main bosses. Along the way you’ll gain experience and gather equipment to better your character. It’s a great mindless game and you’ll get some enjoyment in finding rare equipment that increases your character’s damage or protection. With the Gauntlet type action, the enemy AI isn’t very smart so you won’t find challenging monsters here except for the boss characters. Even then they will just try to over power you rather than being creative.
Two new classes are included in the game. The Val Shir Beserker is a warrior type with some range abilities. They specialize in throwing axes and look like tigers. The Iksar Shaman is a spellcaster than can wear full armor and use most weapons. They are a nice combination of previous characters and offer some nice new abilities to play around with such as the Shaman's growth ability which will double your character's size. Characters can now reach a level of 80 giving you some room to grow. I do like that you can import characters from the original game, thus starting out ahead of the game and making it easier to reach that 80 level max. It gives some incentive to play the original game and reminds me of the days when you could move your character in Bard’s Tale through all three games. It’s good to know that all those hours used in building up your character in the original game won’t be lost and you can continue the adventure with a character you’ve grown. And there are a few new abilities or spells that your characters can learn.
Like Jedis, you can opt for two paths in the game: good or evil. While both will take you through mostly the same game, each path will offer some unique missions and locations. It does give a little bit of replayability factor since you won't experience everything the first time around. And given the inclusion of new characters, you might be interested in taking one of the new ones in an opposite path.
New to the series is the ability to play some mini quests after each section is completed. These mini games, titled medal rounds, set forth some difficult goals but if met or close to meeting will reward you. For instance, I destroyed these five of six robots and was reward with some stats increase. You can only have a single player in the medal round though. Another new feature is the arena. Like some gladiatorial games, you pick a character you have created and try to last as many rounds as possible in various environments. There are some explosive barrels that you can lure enemies to in one to try and soften them up as they get tougher in the later rounds.
While there are some improvements on the graphics, it’s not enough to really say it looks incredible anymore. From Baldur’s Gate to Return to Arms, the graphical improvement has been good, but if Snowblind decides to make a sequel, I hope they start from the ground up with a brand new engine. It’s not to say that the game looks horrible and those that haven’t played the previous Snowblind games will be impressed. But since I’ve played each previous game, the wow factor is not there anymore. There are also some duplicate environments from Champions of Norrath so you'll be traversing some areas that will look the same as the previous game. I didn't mind some of the retread into the same environments though and it wasn't like the levels were carbon copies. The engine is starting to show its age though.
Multiplayer is THE way to play this game and Champions: Return to Arms adds a few twists to the series. For starters, the save game is now on the server which is a great improvement. While Norrath was just a cooperative game, Return to Arms adds player versus player so you can take a character and see how well it pits against other people’s Champions. It’s a nice diversion but I feel the main selling point is the cooperative ability and you can either play on one PS2 in single window mode hindering your movement by the screen size or online where you can use a headset to chat with others and not be limited in where you walk. The built in voice chat really helps coordinate with your party so you can wander off in different areas to clear the level faster. With a group, the Champions series shines as it's a blast to play with a group of friends in these types of games.
It’s really nothing new and some might be disappointed in that aspect. I, for one, welcome the continuation of the series but will be looking for more of a technological leap if they do another one. Champions: Return to Arms is a great fun with multiple people online. It’s my favorite way to play and certainly a lot more fun than going at it alone. The small fixes to some annoying aspects is highly welcomed by experienced players of the series. The two new classes are a nice addition with the medal rounds and PvP aspect also thrown in for some good variety. The content available can be viewed as sort of an expansion pack though and I can see where it will fall short to some of the previous players’ expectations. Because of this expansion pack feel, the price might not be set at what I think the product should be. A little lesser price than the full $49.99 should’ve been set. If you can ignore that and want some more hacking fun with friends, then Champions: Return to Arms is the game for you.
An expansion pack feel but a blast with friends, Champions Return to Arms gives you more dungeon romping fun.
Rating: 8.1 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.
I'm married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.