Full Review: Hackin' and slashin' 'till the break of dawn.
Multiplayer hack-and-slash RPGs date back to the early days of gaming. Recently we've seen a number of very similar looking releases in this genre for a number of platforms. Champions of Norrath is the newest addition for Playstation 2 gamers, and stacks up well against the competition. But, while it features online play, it suffers from many of the same failings of the competition, namely plenty of tedium for the casual gamer.
The story behind this game begins in an Elvish town called Faydwer. You're a rookie adventurer who just happens to be visiting when an army of orcs and goblins attack, throwing the town's inhabitants into quite a tizzy. The king calls for champions to assist in the defense of the town, and ultimately to find out what's going on. You, a completely inexperienced newbie with minimal equipment and funds, volunteer for the cause. In defending the town you'll of course uncover a more menacing scheme, and the storyline meanders on from there. You start your quest by creating your character. There are five classes to pick from, including your basic fighter, ranger, cleric, and wizard classes, along with the "Dark Elf Shadowknight" class (basically a black mage merged with a fighter). Choosing your class determines your character's race, though you get to pick the sex ("yes please!" is not an option), and have some very limited options for customizing their appearance. Your character's stats start out with a base according to your chosen class, and you can then add points to increase your character's strength, intelligence, dexterity, and stamina.
As mentioned above, Champions of Norrath is a hack-and-slash RPG of a pretty typical sort. You play from a mostly top-down perspective and run about, using melee and ranged attacks to fight hoards of enemies ranging from mutant beetles up to, well, much larger prey. Depending on your player class you'll use an endless variety of clubs, maces, swords, knives, staffs, bows, and other weapons to attack, in addition to a multitude of spells and other special abilities. You'll also be able to collect a dizzying array of armor, gloves, helmets, shields, and more mundane things like pants. In fact, this game has so many different types of items that you'll often be confused about whether what you're picking up is better or worse than what you already have equipped. I mean, just what makes a tarnished pair of pants any better or worse than a worn pair? The game's quest is very long, filled with a number of scripted encounters inserted in some nice looking environments and some less impressive randomly generated dungeons. Indeed the dungeons are different every time you play through the game, but they're always oddly shaped and full of blocky nooks and senseless compartments. It's in these dungeons you'll spend plenty of time hacking away at enemy after enemy, collecting an endless string of random items along the way to sell when you get back to town.
For a single player this hacking and slashing quickly gets tiring, but when you have a couple of friends to play with (up to four with a multi-tap) things aren't nearly as dull and boring. Unless your friends play with you often, though, their characters will be quickly out-classed and will have a hard time keeping up as you progress to later levels. Online play is an option here as well, which thankfully does not come with an associated fee. The host starts a game based on a save point, and the players play through the campaign mode based on where the host was at that save. Again, up to four players with broadband access can go at it at once, complete with voice and text chat. Lag is generally not a problem and the game plays just as it does offline. However, while there are plenty of people online, finding players anywhere near your level can be difficult, and finding ones not interested in grabbing all the rewards is an even greater challenge.
Champions can be great fun to play online with the right people, but finding those people is near impossible, and once you do finding them again is just as difficult. The in-game graphics are generally quite good. Player and creature models are often a bit on the simplistic side, but when you're not wandering through an endless dungeon the environments are nice looking and bright. The default camera angle puts the perspective far above, but you can zoom in if you want a closer look at the action. Animations are about as simple as they get, typical of this genre, but overall this isn't a bad looking game. On the audio side the sound effects are about as repetitive as the animations, but the voiceover work isn't too terrible, and the occasional bits of music you'll hear work well.