Ever since the birth of WoW, RPG fans have suffered the indignity of seeing core gameplay and storytelling values that should be integral to any RPG whittled away. And for what? Profits? Games are shoved out half-finished so EA and Activision can make a pretty penny on a brand name. Content is stripped from release so a studio can fart out some witless DLC later on down the road. And story has been ditched and the focus turned on to pointless and ultimately unfulfilling grinding mechanics.
We need hope. We need something to save us. We need a hero.
That hero is DeathSpank.
DeathSpank is a Diablo-style hack and slash RPG coming out of Hothead Games, led by the creative genius of Ron Gilbert. You may not know the name, but you’ll know the games: Total Annihilation, Maniac Mansion, and Monkey Island to name a few.
It’s that same humour and dynamic from Monkey Island that dominates the narrative of DeathSpank. It’s a heady mix of razor sharp wit, and the absolutely absurd. Not afraid to poke fun at RPG clichés, DeathSpank bravely marches into a medieval fantasy world, and quickly asserts himself as the hero about town, in a quest to recover ‘The Artifact’ from the villainous Lord Von Prong.
Yes, it’s a pretty standard story, but what makes DeathSpank unique is that rather than playing as your standard stiff-upper lip hero, DeathSpank himself is more Guybrush Threepwood on steroids. You’ll go through the world interacting with a ton of NPCs, all with something ridiculous to say, which is normally met with a ridiculously heroic yet egotistic retort from DeathSpank. All of this is delivered in the same dialogue interface that made Lucasarts a company worth talking about twenty years ago.
Indeed, DeathSpank’s devotion to being the hero can even warp his already skewed logic. At one point, I ended up running chores for a corrupt real estate investor who had convinced DeathSpank that mercilessly slaughtering some woodland creatures would be perceived as a truly heroic act.
The story is ridiculous, but massively entertaining. Not enough games these days actually make you double over in laughter, but DeathSpank will have you falling off your chair in hysterics throughout the entire game.
The gameplay itself is pretty much a carbon copy of Diablo. If you get your rocks off from smashing through hordes and hordes of the undead or greenskinned, this game will tickle your sweet spots. There is general smashing, there are abilities to use, there is loot to be picked up. It takes all the fun elements from any decent hack and slash RPG, and delivers it all smoothly to the point where you nearly forget that you are playing this game for comedy purposes.
In RPG terms, it’s Diablo +20 charisma.
The graphics aren’t anything to write home about, but this isn’t an AAA release. Hothead are a bunch of guys making games that people will actually have fun playing, not spend £50 on what will ultimately be a lacklustre experience filled with bugs, flaws and rage quitters.
Having said that, the cartoon style does compliment the style and humour of the game nicely, and definitely adds to the flow of what is essentially a very smooth, polished game.
There’s even a multiplayer aspect to DeathSpank, allowing players to “dispense justice” in a merry tandem. And at an average cost of about a tenner, DeathSpank is a steal. So, if you are feeling down at the current state of the RPG games industry, take heart from the knowledge that there are some awesome games still out there, and with DeathSpank, you have at least ten hours of pure, unadulterated RPG joy ahead of you.
Dispenser of Justice. Vanquisher of Evil. Hero to the Downtrodden.
And also, your best hope of a decent RPG experience anytime soon.
Oh, and if you get this game and nail it in a day, good news! The sequel, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue came out a month after DeathSpank did. Same deal, just bigger, badder and better.