PlayStation

DeathSpank Review

DeathSpank LogoThis lighthearted and downright silly take on loot-collecting, hack and slash adventuring features great art, full voice acting and over 100 missions to complete. DeathSpank has its heart in the right place, but this brainchild of Ron Gilbert falls flat in a number of ways and becomes a tedious grind about halfway through.

The basic premise is that our hero, DeathSpank, is trying to obtain a powerful item known as The Artifact that was hidden behind a magic seal by a local witch. DeathSpank must battle his way across the kingdom while completing a variety of tasks assigned to him by a large cast of colourful characters. Read More...

The kingdom is quite large and is made up of dozens of distinct areas, most with their own enemy types. Many missions will require our hero to cover great distances. Thankfully, a fast travel system exists by way of magical outhouses. These outhouses also act as respawn points when DeathSpank is felled in battle.

Most missions involve collecting an item, dispatching a certain enemy, or both. While this formula is common to most games in the genre, I found a lack of mission variety to be one of DeathSpank’s biggest downfalls and was pretty much forcing myself through the last 30-40% of this 15-20 hour adventure while experiencing a diminishing return of actual fun.

A necessary evil in this case, as completing all 100+ missions and defeating the final boss essentially requires you to be at the level cap of 20 and have some of the best armour available.

My other issue is that, for a game based on collecting loot, DeathSpank does little to make collecting the loot fun, interesting or rewarding. The game simply hands out more powerful weapons and armour as you progress. You cannot actually upgrade or augment items, so there is very little attachment to them on the player’s part.

Giving players the ability to customize their weapons and armour would have gone a long way to add some depth and reduce tedium. The only reason I ever switched weapons, other than for simple strength upgrades, was thanks to an affinity system. Most enemy types are susceptible to certain weapon types like ice, fire and lightning while being resistant to others.

There are Many, Many Enemies in DeathSpank

The entire inventory and menu system is rather convoluted, which again is a detriment to this type of game. DeathSpank has a rather limited inventory and can rid himself of excess clutter by using a grinder, which also gives him some gold back in return. Navigating the map, menu, inventory and quest log is needlessly cumbersome and only serves to detach you from the game world.

The game world itself is rather beautiful in its own right. DeathSpank is set in a colourful and cartoony land based on conventional medieval fantasy aesthetics. The distinct areas and wide variety of enemy types do a lot to give the world personality and an attractive art style is punctuated with some good cel shading.

Character and enemy art are also very good and my only real complaint about the graphics is that the screen can become cluttered with loot and money when facing a large group of enemies at which point the game will suffer from some noticeable slowdown.

Sound design is one area where DeathSpank excels, particularly for a downloadable game. Every single one of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of lines of dialogue that I encountered was competently voice acted, which is impressive considering most conversations with non-player characters have several branches to explore.

The soundtrack is also well done, featuring upbeat jazzy themes that change dynamically depending on your situation. Custom soundtracks are not an option on the PlayStation Network version, but as a trade-off it does offer a DTS audio track in addition to Dolby 5.1.

Ron Gilbert is probably best known for his work on Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, and his adventure game roots show in DeathSpank. In addition to a rather deep conversation system, many items that you collect can be combined to create new tools to interact with the game world or solve light environmental puzzles.

There are Dozens of Unique Areas to Explore

Gilbert’s games are also known for their distinct sense of humour and that is also very much intact in DeathSpank. There is an extremely silly, almost childlike quality to the writing that people will either love or hate.

Control is a little on the complicated side and makes use of every button on the PS3 controller, but is somewhat customizable. Attacks are generally best mapped to your face buttons, with items on the d-pad. These eight slots can be customized in the inventory screen  Target-locking and shield-blocking are handled by the L2 and R2 buttons, while the R1 and L1 buttons bring up the map and inventory.

Technically, DeathSpank has local two-player co-op play, however the second player is relegated to using a wizard that can’t equip items of his own. It would have been great to see each player get a customizable player and given some incentive to playing through the campaign with a partner.

There is also no new game plus option, so players must tie up any loose ends and find any items they want before taking on the final boss, though you can max out the level cap before seeing the ending. Thankfully, the game clearly warns you about this “point of no return”.

DeathSpank is a good game. In fact, I thought it was a great game for the first half of the time I played it. It’s probably worth the $15 asking price for most hack and slash adventure fans, but a distinct lack of depth may turn off hardcore players and the tedium of grinding for experience points and incrementally better loot in the second half of the game may turn away those with a passing interest in the genre.

Positives:

+ Attractive Art and Cel Shaded Graphics
+ Full Voice Acting
+ Plenty of Content


Negatives:

- Lacks Weapon and Armour Customization
- Grinding Becomes Tedious


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Game Forward Score: 3/5

Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward

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Death Spank (PlayStation Network) Quick Facts:

Genre: Action-Adventure / Role-Playing
Developer: Hothead Games
Publisher: EA
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Price: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)