Developer(s) – Snowblind Studios
Publisher(s) – Sony Online Entertainment & Ubisoft
Designer(s) – Paul Knutzen & Chris Avellone
Set in the EverQuest universe and garnishing a great deal of critical acclaim upon release, Champions of Norrath is a top-down hack and slash adventure game with more of a focus on online multiplayer than many other PlayStation 2 titles. However, the fact that it makes use of the Dark Alliance engine led me to draw inevitable comparisons between this game and one of my favourite PlayStation 2 games of all time, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and put against that game, it doesn’t even compare despite it’s stronger points.
Graphics – 7/10
Like in Dark Alliance, the game utilizes a top-down view, which makes it seems like it has much more graphical detail from a distance than what it actually is. The problem being is that whilst the visuals aren’t terrible, textural detail is far less present, despite the fact that an upgraded version of the Dark Alliance engine was used to create this game. Not only that, but it also suffers from frame rate issues, when Dark Alliance didn’t at all. The best thing about the visuals is how the game differs in conceptual design, not only from Dark Alliance, but also from a good number of pseudo-medieval video games, with very different looking settings and scenery.
Gameplay – 10/10
The one thing I can’t fault this game for, however, is the gameplay, which is just as addictive and immersing as Dark Alliance. It revolves around the exact same concept; kill everything in site, loot the corpses, return to the hub area and sell unwanted items, fight each boss as it comes, rinse and repeat. Of course, there is also the added feature of online multiplayer for people with access to PS2 Net Play, and the facility is also quite well handled, exceeding my expectations of what it would be like.
Controls – 10/10
The game plays out identically to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and consequently, there are no issues with the controls at all. The only difference being is the method in which items are equipped and stored into player inventory, but to me, that would merely be splitting hairs. There is the same degree of strategy involved in combat, making the game just as enjoyable to play.
Lifespan – 6/10
The game’s lifespan is also on the same level as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, lasting roughly 10 to 15 hours, which in my opinion, is far too short for a game of it’s gameplay value and general calibre. A game this addictive can easily be made to last much longer, and after two Baldur’s Gate games, I initially thought that the developers may have realized that based on the critical and commercial success of the former two games, but sadly, that wasn’t the case.
Storyline – 7/10
Aside from being somewhat typical of it’s genre, the story also has other flaws. It follows a group of Norrath’s champions battling to drive away forces of evil from the land. Whilst it can be argued that the story in Dark Alliance is no different, there was a lot more depth in story in the former, and a series of sub stories to keep things even more interesting; not to mention the voice acting was infinitely better with contributions from many highly acclaimed actors and actresses, including Jennifer Hale, Tony Jay and even John Rhys Davies of Lord of the Rings fame. But in Champions of Norrath, the voice acting can be described as mediocre; even laughable, despite the inclusion of Michael Bell, Greg Ellis and even Malcolm McDowell.
Originality – 5/10
Though the gameplay is just as enjoyable as in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, the fact of the matter is that there is not a great deal else present for gamers to be able to differentiate it from it’s spiritual predecessor, or other games, save for the scenery and style. The inclusion of online play was fairly well implemented, but would be improved upon for the sequel and was still a question of trial and error at the time, as indeed was online multiplayer itself.
In summation, although it can be very heavily and negatively compared to the Dark Alliance games, it doesn’t mean that Champions of Norrath is bad; not by a long shot. Just as much emphasis was put on gameplay, and there were no flaws in it at least. Given the choice I would much rather see flaws in aspects like story and even originality to a certain extent, as gameplay is, and should be considered as the most important aspect of any video game.