Review: DeathSpank

Playing DeathSpank is relatively simple, and the controls are very similar to most any other dungeon crawler made for consoles in the past. The four face buttons are used to map different weapons, the dpad is used for items, L2 /LT is used to target something specific (though this doesn't work too well in practice), and R2/RT is used to block (which is almost entirely useless and will not be mentioned in this review again). While this may sound like a lot of buttons to just repeatedly hack stuff to death, well... it is. For much of the game you need only to rely on two of the face buttons, one for your basic attack, and one for your special attack, which is varies depending on the weapon.

For example, using one of the cleavers will give you a small AOE that pushes enemies away for your special attack, where as a staff might give you a chain lightning attack. Early on most of these seem a bit useless, but later on some of them are so overpowered that you can kill almost every boss by using only one or two of these. The special attacks themselves are governed by a meter that is filled up by attacking stuff normally, and this meter doesn't seem to fill up any slower or faster depending on the weapon's power.

While the game play in DeathSpank is very shallow, it can be very addicting and fun despite this, and it never became boring despite the tedium of doing the same thing over and over. This is likely because moving through the world of DeathSpank is one of the best things about the game, because the style is incredible. By no means a graphical powerhouse (the engine is the same one that powered the Penny Arcade games); it still manages to look very unique and interesting throughout, with each zone having a very unique look. Running at 1080p, it looks very clean and runs great, though there are many times where the game really needs vsync, specifically on the PS3 version.

There's a lot of voice acting packed into this downloadable title, most of it being pretty well-done. DeathSpank himself sounds very much like Captain Qwark of the Ratchet games, which can be a bit weird because they kind of look similar in regards to body and mannerisms. As for the music, nothing really stands at like some of the tunes from Gilbert's well-known titles, but it fits the game nonetheless. It should be noted that the PS3 version supports custom soundtracks, being one of the very few games of late to take advantage of this feature.

Back to the writing, I think the main issue is that DeathSpank feels like much of its humor is very forced and unnatural, and most of the time it comes off as very immature. Sometimes there'd be something that would make me go "Ha!" such as the names of the orphans you have to find being named Orphan _____, with only one of them being named Annie Orphan. The setup of many of the quests seem like they could be potentially funny as well, but in the end most of them are just fetch quests, including getting Unicorn poop, various items for the aforementioned Annie, Blinker (teleporting Goretusks) guts, and a spicy taco for an old man. There aren't many main quests to complete, but since some of them require exploring the entire world you'll end up doing a lot of the side-quests as well.

Quest objectives are revealed using Fortune Cookies, a random drop, to explain more details of the quests that are initially hidden. You do get what the quest is, but how to complete them or where can be missing sometimes. This can cause for very annoying times when you have no idea where to go or what to do, especially later on in the game when a certain character you need is outright moved without any indication other than through using Fortune Cookies. Also, there's absolutely no way to know where to turn in quests unless you're in the same zone as the quest giver, making the act of turning quests in an annoying chore.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of DeathSpank itself is the loot. The majority of it just plain sucks, and since you only need two weapons to really clear through everything there's no point in not sticking to what works. You can actually buy the best (to the best of my knowledge) armor at a store near the last area, so even getting the final pieces of loot leaves no challenge since money flows like water in this game, even with the penalty of losing most of it when you die. In fact, by the time I finished the game I had far too much money and nothing to spend it on, and I suspect that will be the case with most people. That and the lack of real end-game content (any remaining side-quests) makes DeathSpank feel incomplete.

I had some fun with DeathSpank despite all of this, and while it only takes about eight or so hours to complete the main story, most of it wasn't too frustrating save for when the game itself gets in your way, like the annoying quest system, backtracking, or missing checkpoints in entire zones. There is a demo up for both versions and I'd advise anyone on the fence to try it out to see if it's your sort of game.

DeathSpank was developed by Hothead Games and published by Electronic Arts as a downloadable game for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 and released on July 14th and 13th (Respectfully). I received no consideration for this title and purchased it myself for review.