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DeathSpank review

Game Review | July 20, 2010 5:38 pm
By Meta

DeathSpank is a "hack n slash" aka action-RPG developed by Hothead Games and published by EA. It is available on Xbox LIVE Arcade for 1200 MS points and was released July 14th, 2010.

The game is primarily written and designed by Ron Gilbert, the same man responsible for much of the quality in the first two Monkey Island adventure games. He was also a consultant for Hothead's previous Penny Arcade games On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness. Many of the characters and concepts in DeathSpank come from Gilbert's Grumpy Gamer comics, and he had been trying to get the game developed and published since 2004.

In DeathSpank, you play as the game's namesake DeathSpank, hero to the downtrodden and deliverer of hot, steaming justice. You begin by undertaking a quest, given by a mysterious red-headed woman in armor, that has you searching for a legendary artifact of power.

Along the journey, you meet many characters, slay many creatures, and acquire nicely huge amounts of loot. As with most "hack n slash" type games, attaining, equipping and selling this loot is a primary aspect of gameplay. Complex dialog with NPC's is also a big part of DeathSpank, and Gilbert's trademark humour saturates the gameworld in every way possible, from weapon names to armor types to offhand character remarks to enemy creatures.

The game has a definite story and lots of wacky extra dialog, but the action is the real focus and you can skip all dialog, cutscenes and other story elements if you wish. Much of the story unfolds through DeathSpank's conversations with characters he helps and enemies he encounters, and he will occasionally stumble across notes and fliers that fill in details or backstory to the different regions of the world and their inhabitants.

Gamers that want to explore every inch of the realm and read every bit of text will find lots of fun absurdity, but those just looking to kill stuff and get loot can easily play their way without the narrative becoming intrusive.

Instead of choosing a hero archetype such as archer, melee warrior or mage, DeathSpank has the tools and abilities to perform any or all of those roles at any time. When you level up, you automatically gain Health Points but are given a choice between 3 "hero cards" that let you evolve further into your preferred play style. By the time you reach the end of the game and the level cap at 20, you will have every card so you don't have to worry about missing out on any boosts.

The game's UI and main play mechanic revolve around 8 slots, 4 of which are assigned to the cardinal d-pad points and 4 that are assigned to the face buttons. This leaves you free to equip and utilize weapons, spells, and potions as you see fit.

The ingenious aspect of this that makes the gameplay so engaging is that you are encouraged to equip at least 2 different weapons at once, if not 4. DeathSpank has a "Justice meter" that, when filled, enables him to unleash a devastating attack that changes depending on which weapon you use to activate it and what runestones you have in your inventory. As you attack enemies, you can gain multipliers that increase damage and Justice gains if you alternate between weapons.

Instead of just mashing X through thousands of enemies, you can utilize custom combos based on what you have equipped to your face buttons. A favourite tactic of mine was to keep a sword equipped to X, a hammer or mace equipped to A, and a third weapon, usually a lightning rod, equipped to Y. I would then equip a crossbow to B. This let me attack enemies swiftly & fluidly with three-button combos and built up the Justice meter incredibly fast. Having a ranged weapon set allowed me to kite very strong enemies or destroy explosive barrels from a distance, but you could also equip multiple ammo types and use ranged combat primarily if you wished.

Another great feature of DeathSpank's combat is that you always have a shield and can hold it to block for a small amount of time which increases as you gain levels. You can even time your block exactly to an enemy's attack and it will instantly fill your Justice meter, making boss battles very fun and engaging instead of just standing there chugging health potions.

While this game has an auto-targeting feature that is very adequate, a great feature lets you hold the Left Trigger to manually lock on to things and then change targets with the Right Analog stick. Most of the time you will be quickly slaughtering smaller enemies in large groups so targeting isn't even necessary, but the optional precision is great for harder opponents, higher difficulties and the type of gamer that prefers tactical combat instead of wading in.

Graphically, DeathSpank has a very distinct art style that is almost storybook-like. The camera's perspective combined with the world curvature, quasi-2D architecture & features and rotating landscape make for inspired visuals and a great gaming experience. The graphics may seem busy in screenshots but during play everything is sharp & well-defined. Character and monster animations are solid. Each region has its own unique feel, and while some are standard fantasy tropes others are balls-out crazy (like the realm of unicorns, leprechauns and wild gingerbread men).

DeathSpank's audio does its job very well. All conversations in the game have voice-overs, and Michael Dobson's work as the hero DeathSpank is delivered perfectly with all the irony and self-importance it deserves. The music is fitting but doesn't really stick out. The sound effects are spot-on and often help to leverage the game's humour.

The gameplay is truly the best pat of DeathSpank, despite the love-it-or-hate-it silliness of Ron Gilbert. Besides updating traditional hack n slash combat with mechanics that keep the player engaged instead of zoning out and waiting for loot, DeathSpank goes out of its way to be equally entertaining to people that jump in for 30 minute romps as those that will plug away for hours. Waypoints are frequent, you can save anytime anywhere, items for healing between battles are plentiful, and you have a log that automatically keeps track of everything, including game stats, NPC dialog, completed quests, and number of chickens killed. You never have to wonder what you need to do or where you need to go, but at the same time you can choose your own destinations and hints for quest completions & puzzles are optional in the form of "fortune cookies".

Overall, I give DeathSpank a 9. The combat is fun, the loot is great, and the wacky humour is a refreshing change of pace from most 360 games. The only things that keep it from scoring a 10 are that it is only about 12 hours worth of gaming (my save was clocked at just over 9 hours but I played it straight through in one shot and stumbled across a few puzzle solutions very quickly) and the only multiplayer option is for a friend to join the game in local co-op as a powerful wizard that can't level up or equip items.

Extras: DeathSpank has 2 Gamerpics and 2 unlockable Avatar Awards. You will unlock a pic of DeathSpank himself right away, and will unlock a dragon pet prop for your avatar when you turn in your first quest. Later on you will unlock a gamerpic of the famous old hero Eubrick, and after beating the first boss you will unlock a black Unicorn Poop t-shirt for your avatar (a male and female one).

Achievements: You can get all 12 of DeathSpank's achievements for 200G in a single play through. In fact, you would sort of have to go out of your way to not get them all.
Rating: 9.0 of 10
Reviewed: DeathSpank
Keywords: deathspank, ron gilbert, hothead

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Nice review, Meta I will wait till price drop down 1200MS is too much.
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I know a lot of people don't want to pay 1200MS or $15 for an XBLA game, but let me reiterate that it's a solid 10-12 hours with no unnecessary back-tracking or recycling.

There are a ton of $60 and $50 retail games that can't even claim 10 hours of solid, forward-moving gameplay.

+edit+ also let me re-iterate that I am severely biased because I freakin' loved this game.
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I am loving it too. Its fun and frickin funny too
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Great reveiw! Im probably going to get the game soon.
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Good review, definately makes me want to check it out more.
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Great review, Meta! I want to try this and for an easy 200 I probably will!
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Awesome review, I think I might get it!
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Great review Meta! Bought it and beat it, totally worth it. Also, where is that last screenshot from? I dont remember seeing anything like that in my playthrough.
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Quote by Bovice63:


Great review Meta! Bought it and beat it, totally worth it. Also, where is that last screenshot from? I dont remember seeing anything like that in my playthrough.


It is actually from a portion of the game that was cut before release. I went ahead and included it because it gives a nice feel for the art style, plus I was curious to see if anyone would notice and say something.
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Quote by Meta:



Quote by Bovice63:


Great review Meta! Bought it and beat it, totally worth it. Also, where is that last screenshot from? I dont remember seeing anything like that in my playthrough.


It is actually from a portion of the game that was cut before release. I went ahead and included it because it gives a nice feel for the art style, plus I was curious to see if anyone would notice and say something.



Ha yeah, it caught my eye immediately. I went back and looked for it after I saw it in your post.
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