DeathSpank is a wholly enjoyable action-RPG experience
- Delightful sense of humour, charming visual style, fun and fast-paced combat
- Repetitive fetch and kill quests, few issues with combat
Sometimes it feels like the current generation of games has been oversaturated with titles that take themselves too seriously. That's why a quality title like DeathSpank is such a valuable commodity: Not only is it in on the joke, but it's willing to take the punchline-accompanying prat-fall and mandatory pie to the face.
Born of a short series of Flash animations on GrumpyGamer.com, famed SCUMM adventure game designer Ron Gilbert's personal website, archetypal brawns-over-brains hero DeathSpank has never been in the business of taking himself very seriously. Cocky, dense, and strong-headed to a fault, the purple-thonged dispenser of justice would just as soon unintentionally doom the world as he would redeem it, and honestly, that's what makes him such a likable hero.
Following the unceremonious liberation of a mysterious and magical artifact - aptly named "The Artifact" -- DeathSpank plays right in to the hands of the megalomaniacal, wig-headed Lord Von Prong. Ambushed and stripped of his worth-defining armaments, our hero embarks on a world-spanning, orphan-laden journey rife with Diablo-esque hack-n-slashery and the occasional spattering of Monkey Island-ish point-n-clickery.
DeathSpank makes no effort to hide from its inspirations. Chock full of tongue-in-cheek references, jabs, and jests -- more than a few of them obviously and lovingly aimed at Blizzard's iconic dungeon crawler and, in turn, best-selling MMO -- DeathSpank's Greem-slaying, Orque-stomping core quest serves as a thoughtful send-up of a well-traversed genre of fantasy titles. Rife with riffs of various tried-and-true RPG tropes, DeathSpank's colorful cast of NPCs play host to an expansive array of comical quests, and while there's a nice variety to the increasingly oddball missions the hero is tasked with, there's unfortunately no shortage of monotonous fetch-quests.
DeathSpank does attempt to break up said monotony with a handful of inventory-based puzzles that, in classic Monkey Island fashion, range from obvious to utterly nonsensical, but it can't fully compensate for the game's tendency towards "deliver item A to location B" missions. The game does earn its "Monkey Island meets Diablo" mantle, however, with an assortment of expertly scripted and wonderfully witty dialogue trees crafted in the vein of the point-n-click classic, each fully and delightfully voice-acted to full chuckle-inducing effect.
Able to equip four weapons and four items (or eight weapons and no items, for you one-man-armies-in-waiting) to the face buttons and D-pad, DeathSpank's fast-paced combat is a user-friendly experience that lends itself well to the game's streaming cylindrical world and vast array of inventive enemies. Loot-hogs take note: DeathSpank boasts an impressive amount of on-model weapon, armour, and accessory combinations, and with the help of an (optional) preferential auto-equip and easy-to-read "best" function, sorting through the game's inventory screen is both a streamlined and surprisingly deep experience.
Battles do hit a few hitches, however, as, despite DeathSpank's level, it's generally far too easy for enemies to swarm and overpower the titular hero. DeathSpank's five-potion-per-slot carrying limit is also a bit of a burden, as, even though the hero can haul around an endless amount of health-replenishing grub, the healing effect of food is far from instant, turning many of the game's more difficult battles into a game of "slash, block, run, munch, repeat."
It's also worth noting the game's drop-in/drop-out co-op feature, which, while not incredibly deep or game-changing, does make for some enjoyable couch-based local multiplayer sessions. Sharing a life-bar with DeathSpank, doofy wizard Sparkles won't steal the screen from the titular lead, but the option to team up and complete the game with a friend is a fun and worthwhile distraction.
Even with its occasional missteps, DeathSpank is a wholly enjoyable action-RPG experience that packs a charming, and surprisingly lengthy adventure. While there are still threads of its abandoned episodic nature in the woodworks, they'll (hopefully) only serve as an excuse for Gilbert and/or Hothead to someday re-visit the outrageous armour-clad avenger. DeathSpank is simply too fun a character not to.
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