DeathSpank is the first part in the series of DeathSpank games developed by Hothead Games the studio working with the great Ron Gilbert of Monkey Island fame. This being a game made with Ron; the dialogue is central to the games design as it is by definition funny (most of the time). It is often described as a game that is part Diablo and part Monkey Island, which is affair description as it contains lots of loot collection and questing as well as having sharp dialogue. The game follows its hero DeathSpank; as the hero to the downtrodden in an original fantasy world which often has twists on what is normally seen in fantasy worlds it also uses fairy tales but all with a certain twist to them.
The game begins with DeathSpank being surrounded by a group of Greems , which he quickly dispatches before you gain control over him. Your first quest is to find the Demon Witch for the knowledge on how to get to “The Artefact” (an artefact that DeathSpank has trained all his life to get in order to vanquish evil), who luckily lives just down the road from where you start. Tutorial Tips start here and continue throughout the game but mostly during the first section. You have to fight your way past some easily dispatched skeletons before meeting the witch in person. Here is where you encounter your first dialogue tree. You can always skip straight to the questing; usually by picking the first dialogue option until you gain a quest but in doing so you would miss out on the wealth of funny dialogue and background information.
The Witch then gives you a few quests, you complete them and maybe pick up a side quest here and there but ultimately you finish her quest line by getting into the cave with “The Artefact” in it. The cave is filled with demons in the middle of demon territory and after battling through the cave you must defeat a red dragon named Ashley (which unlocks and Avatar award for the Xbox 360) before finally picking up the “The Artefact”. A short cut scene shows our hero getting ambushed by Sergeant Orque and an Orque “army” resulting in DeathSpank losing “The Artefact” and all of his worldly possessions excluding his now broken sword. DeathSpank’s new quest is to regain his equipment before saving the orphans and recovering “The Artefact” from Main Villain and Sgt Orque’s Master; the evil Lord Von Prong.
*END OF SPOILERS*
The graphic style pops out (literally) as all the backgrounds look like they could be found in a child’s pop-up book. The houses, trees, treasure chests all have the 2D cardboard cut-out look to them, while the environments themselves are rich and full of hand-painted colour. The characters and creatures are all very well designed and sufficiently dark; with some monsters being sourced from other material and renamed such as: Greems are goblins, Orques are Orcs. Dragons for one are definitely more cartoony than the norm and many of the NPCs are over exaggerated with larger than life features. There is one bad thing to say about this, the scene can easily feel blurry if you are too far from the screen, also the text for monster and object names are very small as well so the further away from the screen you are the less enjoyable your experience.
The gameplay is quite simplistic in that you are repeating the same combinations of buttons over and over again. The basic control scheme is that you equip multiple weapons and items to the A, B, X and Y buttons and the 4 directions on the D-Pad. By using a weapon you attack with it, if you attack in time with a different weapon you create a combo which increases the damage that the hit makes, meaning more damage the higher the combo. Some weapons make use of the Justice metre; an emblem that fills up a small amount every time you make an attack and lets you unleash the power of an item when its full or use two items together for a more powerful and unique attack but only if you have the rune for the specific weapon combo. Items are also used on button presses which give whatever the items effect is with some giving health, others dealing damage and some summoning a monster to fight for you.
As the game is based around gaining loot from dead creatures, treasure chests and quest rewards, the inventory is quite well made: there is an option to equip the best armour at all times, a sort function and as you can’t sell to shops, you just grind down anything you don’t want or need any more for money. The game has 3 difficulty modes easy, normal and hard which are all reasonably forgiving considering all you lose on your death is money which can be picked up after you revive at the closest outhouse.
Also the game features co-op with a second (local only) player taking the form of Sparkles the Wizard. In co-op you have a shared health bar so if either of you take damage your health will drop which leads to easy deaths when there are multiple enemies or area damage. This become extremely irritating despite the extra help from Sparkle’s unique skill set as luckily: he can heal, use a flamethrower type attack, send out explosive clones and fire magical projectiles.
The audio throughout the game is always quite lively and the tone changes well with the different environments. But as the game relies so much on its humour the audio shines with the voice actors’ execution of the jokes. Deathspank is easily the best of the voice actors with each line delivered perfectly but most of the others are just reasonable with some ridiculous accents.
The story may be a little clichéd but the story-telling is solid and the writing is sharp and most importantly funny. There is never an npc that can be talked to with only one line of questioning; there are always multiple lines of questioning with questions and answers of various degrees of humour. Some might say this game is unfunny or childish but on the whole if you are playing this game or even reading a review on it you are likely to enjoy it thoroughly.
The graphic style is beautiful but can only be truly appreciated by being close enough to the screen for it all to be clear. If you are too far away from the screen (Television distance which most 360 gamers will be using); things do become very blurred and the writing outside of character dialogues is too small to be read with ease. Being within about a metre of the screen (PC gamers) solves any problems but this is still a genuine concern that this hadn’t been taken into account for a console only initial release.
The music is always tailored for the environment and the voice acting is reasonable with the exception of Deathspank himself which really steals the show (thankfully). The dialogue is always better read by a voice actor than pure text as it delivers the jokes much more fluidly.
The gameplay is reasonably simple but gets repetitive as you will find yourself killing a group of monsters then eating food (which takes several seconds) to heal up before repeating the process. It is easy enough the mindlessly wonder from quest to quest just enjoying the humour without really thinking too much about the combat with the exception of swapping weapons in the inventory and grinding down the excess for money.
The game can take a reasonable amount of hours with me personally reaching just over 6 hours with 100% completion but it can easily last longer and replayability for mare difficult playthroughs and the co-op means this will easily give you a good amount of playtime for the cost.
DeathSpank is a game you will play mainly for the dialogue, if you’re looking for a deep serious story, hugely engaging combat gameplay or deep co-op gameplay look elsewhere but if you want funny dialogue and forgiving gameplay this game will easily provide it.
I personally had a lot of issues the first play through as I played it on a TV about two metres away from me; so the visuals were blurry and difficult to discern from one another. Luckily I gave this a second playthrough and being within a metre from the screen makes this look so much more beautiful. This problem is half design flaw and half set-up flaw but as most consoles are played 1.5 metres plus away it really is an issue. I found the gameplay to be mainly hitting two buttons together constantly to attempt combos as it felt like too much effort for such a little reward in the end with me using my special weapon whenever the justice metre filled and then shooting with my crossbow whenever something was out of range. In doing this the combat was much more fun as doing combos properly felt like overkill and I just concentrated on enjoying the sense of humour in the game. All in all I recommend getting the PC version as its probably cheaper but you will definitely be close enough to the screen to full enjoy the game.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.