DeathSpank

Poor DeathSpank; the self proclaimed hero to the downtrodden may be on a crusade to save the world from crooning orques and poncey princes but he can’t eat a plate of hot Nachos until he’s made it to level 3. It’s that kind of inexplicable madness – madness inherent to any Diablo-esque loot-‘em-up that I find totally, and inadvertently, hilarious.

Luckily DeathSpank’s inability to eat crisps isn’t nearly as funny as the script guiding him through this well-paced adventure.

Having graduated from the same academy of wannabe-heroes as Captain Quark and Zapp Brannigan, DeathSpank is on a mission to find The Artifact. Voice-work is uncannily similar to the latter man – and equally superb – and he goes about his adventures with the same degree of faux captain’s arrogance as the both of them. DeathSpank is all charm but he’s stupid and oafish too.

DeathSpank (the game, not the man) is a fairly rudimentary RPG/ loot-em-up hybrid. If you’ve played Diablo or any of its many clones you have a good idea what you’re in for here. The quests are proverbial: pedestrian fetch quests, kill X numbers of these monsters, collect X number of these things. But they’re made interesting via the characters you meet and the deep well of dialogue invested in each of them.

And that doesn’t just apply to the characters you stumble into during the main quest  – which has you rescuing orphans and extinguishing the Leprechaun mafia (among other notable events). Even the trivial characters which mill about the many settlements or travel the roads of DeathSpank’s world have something to say.

In fact it’s the trivial characters that tend to be funnier. Asking a fisherman why he doesn’t live by a lake or chatting with Tina the Taco Wench are two highlights. But if you don’t indulge in and actively hunt for these little treasures then DeathSpank is little more than a generic loot-em-up in a lavish world; sideline the steady stream of frequent encounters and you’re either bashing buttons in combat or collecting loot.

But the game’s visual style is winsome enough that it saves it from succumbing to tedium; the rolling effect of a small planet – in the same vein as Super Mario Galaxy – is subtly enchanting while the hand painted graphics suit the tone of the game perfectly.

And you’re quickly chaperoned through the many themed areas. They’re all takes on cookie-cutter fantasy themes (the haunted forest, a castle, farmlands and an enchanted forest among others), but with each new area comes new enemies, new loot and new characters.

The map is an amiable size too, you can journey from one side to the other in a few minutes but it’s by no definition small and there are plenty of secrets hidden away to keep the constant trekking back and forth a worthwhile endeavor. When it does get old the Outhouse teleporting system is there to transport you to any of thirty different locations. The only minor aggravation with this is DeathSpank pulling up his flies each time he leaves an Outhouse. Fitting? Perhaps. Irritating? Certainly.

A loot-em-up but no talk of loot yet. Well, you can’t loot without a corpse and DeathSpank comes equipped for mass genocide. Fighting the myriad of fantastical foes isn’t arduous, mind. You have four weapons equipped at any one time, each assigned to one of the face buttons. There are more swords, axes and maces than you’d need to reenact the final battle scene from Return of the King but they each have their advantages and combining melee, ranged and magical weapons in combat prevents it from becoming quite as mindless as say, Fable. It’s still shallower than an episode of The Hills but it feeds into the games continual sense of humour. Battering a gingerbread man with a poison club is an indisputably great way to spend your time.

The RPG elements, on the other hand, play a minor role. As far as leveling goes, it’s a little like Fallout 3: you rank up to level 20 and with each new rank you choose a new perk. It’s all very basic and unobtrusive and most of the weapons and armour you’re rewarded with get “grinded” down into gold.

So to say, you don’t sell your unwanted items; rather just convert them into gold. But there’s rarely ever a need to even bother with that unless you’re creating space for the next batch of worthless scrap. I ended the game with over a million gold because you receive all the best weapons and armour as loot, meaning that there’s little incentive to buy any of it directly from a vendor. Strange then that there are so many barrels begging to be smashed and quests that reward you with cash. But it’s also irritating; being the stickler I am, I can’t mosey on by a huddle of barrels without gravitating their way. Yet it’s a thankless task.

But that’s about as much as you could hold against DeathSpank. There’s something fiendishly endearing about the man. The game is far from revolutionary, but knowing that at the closing stages of every battle the blundering hero has a witty remark lined up or an equally comic encounter gives the game something that few others can boast: heart.

It’s DeathSpank the hero then that keeps DeathSpank the game from becoming another tiresome loot-em-up. The fact is, it couldn’t be further from it.

9/10

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