So this review is a bit on the late side as the second half of Deathspank’s adventure has already been released on Xbox Live. This review still holds merit though, as Deathspank is one of the best written RPG’s released this year. I know this because I was talking to my friend Brian about the game awhile ago and the conversation quickly evolved into a quote war of lines from the game.
This is the first time that has happened to me. Sure I’ve had long discussions about action sequences or set pieces in a game but I’ve never been in a situation where we quoted dialog from the game back and forth like you would from a movie. This is a major credit to the writing of Ron Gilbert (who you should remember from classics like Maniac Mansion and the Monkey’s Island games).
The titular hero of Deathspank is a nice guy who had dedicated himself to “Truth, Justice, and Bacon”. In a way, Deathspank is to video game heroes what The Tick is to Superheroes, which makes sense as Deathspank was created as a massive parody of the video game hero archetype.
At the start of the game Deathspank is close to fulfilling his life long quest to acquire “The Artifact”, a magical item which he simply must acquire. After finally getting the item, he’s ambushed by the minions of the evil Lord Von Prong who take the artifact back to their lord and master. This leaves Deathspank a bit high and dry as he must now re-acquire the item.
You’re never really told what the artifact does or what it does; it just serves as a MacGuffin to advance the plot of the game. After losing it, you will spend the next five to eight hours of game time trying to reclaim the Artifact. This includes rescuing orphans, slaying a lot of monsters, and consuming large quantities of junk food (which serves as health potions).
There’s a part of me that wants to call Deathspank an entry level RPG game but the problem with that is that those new to the genre won’t get the in-jokes. Instead let’s call it a streamlined RPG, as the game trims down the RPG experience to make things easier to get into and enjoy.
The first is that you can have the game automatically equip the best armor you have in your inventory. This eliminates the constant switches to the inventory screen to see if the latest thing you picked up is better than what you have already.
The second is that there are several “Lost and Found” bins scattered around the game which will house any important quest items you don’t pick up. This eliminates the need to scour the landscape and retrace your steps if you fail to pick up an important quest item.
Finally excess equipment can be ground into gold, eliminating long walks to the town weapons and armor guy to sell the extra stuff you don’t need. There is no real penalty for dying in the game. You’ll drop some gold on the ground when Deathspank meets his maker but that can be reclaimed by walking back to the corpse and collecting it. That pace might be a little faster if you were overpowered by stronger forces but the game certainly doesn’t overly punish you for trying to fight monsters above your current level.
While you can setup the game to manage your armor you’re in full control of the weapons you want to use. The weapons are broken down into four categories, ranged; slow but powerful, fast but weak, and area of attack. As you progress through the game you’ll pick up more and more powerful versions of these weapons which you’ll need to swap in and out of your active inventory. Using the weapons is easy as you can map them to any of the face buttons or to one of the arrows on the d-pad. You can also unleash super powerful by using the weapons together in a combination attack.
The art style for the game is an odd 2D/3D mix that feels like you are exploring a pop-up book instead of a fully 3D world. To do this Hot Head created a world where all of the scenery is setup as flat 2D surfaces while all of the in game characters are fully 3D modeled items. It’s an odd setup but honestly it works and it’s got a very cool feel which adds to the overall experience of the game.
What really made the game for me though, was the audio. The music felt like it was ripped from a classic point and click adventure game then perfectly matched to the game. Not only is the music well done but the music is perfectly blended into the game. The voice work also deserves mention as each character was expertly brought to life. It would be easy to take a character like Deathspank and go full on camp but Michael Dobson did a fantastic job of walking up to that line without going over it.
If you play through all of the side quests in the game expect to spend north of eight hours playing through the game but you could trim two to three hours off that by focusing on the core missions. That would be a shame though as you would miss out on some of the best missions in the game. Sure there are a lot of FedEx style quests in the game but in what other game would you help a talking tree set up a rave?
There are a few minor quibbles here in there. The biggest one was that that the grinding of items in your inventory should be mapped to a button. The current system forces you to drag and drop items from your inventory onto the gold grinder.
Gold was really never a motivator for me in the game as the combination of abundant loot and the grinding system always provided amble cash to buy items in the game. There are also a few “cheap” monsters in the game that provided some difficulty in getting around but once you learned their ticks it wasn’t that hard.
If you’re looking for a fun game with a strong sense of humor then Deathspank is easily worth the money. It’s been a while since I’ve laughed at a game like this (and was meant to do so).