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Champions: Return to Arms
game: Champions: Return to Arms
three star
posted by: George Holomshek
publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
developer: Snowblind Studios
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:00 AM Sat Mar 26th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Sat Mar 26th, 2005

Click to read.There is something about the dungeon-crawler genre that offers a mysterious appeal.  Perhaps it has to do with some primal instinct deep inside of us that makes us just want to beat the snot out of every living creature in sight.  Or maybe we just get tired of having to solve complex puzzles or needing to use precise aim to get a bullet to take down an enemy.  Whatever the cause may be, one thing is for sure; it has spawned an army of games, one of which is Champions: Return to Arms.  In this sequel to Champions of Norrath for the PS2, you are once again called upon to destroy the evil power.  Upon starting the game you are given a dozen different characters from which to choose, including warrior, shaman, ranger, etc.  I was immediately disappointed in the lack of available character customization options.  You would think that the people at SOE who gave us such a deep pool of options in the Everquest games could provide more than the ability to simply change skin tone and hair style.

Naturally, as a hack-and-slash, combat is simple.  You can easily pick up this game and master every command within five minutes.  Just hammer the attack button until your foe falls.  You will occasionally have to shake up this technique in the event of a boss fight or the disappointingly rare large mob, but most of the time it is actually tough to get yourself into serious trouble.  When you do, you can normally survive by using a combination of button mashing and stuffing potions down your character's throat. Designed to offer over 100 hours of gameplay per character, this is one game that you can definitely sink some free time into.  If you are hell-bent on fully beating this game but just can't take the tedium, there are, thankfully, ways to alleviate the monotony.  After you beat each level you unlock a medal round (a.k.a. mini-game) in which you must complete a goal subject to certain restrictions; i.e. defeat all enemies using only five potions."

If you are going to run around relentlessly bashing random creatures in the face, you've been provided a little eye candy to view as you work.  I was especially impressed by the wide variety of environments you explore through the course of the game.  With everything from battle-scarred plains to quaint shoreline, gnome-inhabited villages, you won't get tired of seeing the same thing over and over.  The worlds themselves are also fantastic looking.  Textures are all very well done and give the levels that natural rugged feel.  Playing a fairly large part in nearly every zone, at least as far as aesthetics go, water is everywhere.  It is obvious that the creators put a lot of work into their water effects, and it shows.  Smoothly flowing waves are created whenever you set foot in liquid.  I may be getting picky here, but I would also have liked to see water actually splash up when you run.  Nevertheless, what this game lacks in some visuals it makes up for elsewhere.  This game is packed with truly awesome touches wherever you look.  Trees blow in the wind, fire creates a neat heat-warp effect, and in coastal areas you see crabs wandering around.  The list goes on.  I applaud Snowblind for their attention to detail.

As far as audio goes, there aren't a whole lot of bright spots.  None of the sound effects used are very good and can become very annoying.  Now, I am all for making monsters feel the pain, but I can only stand the same repetitive sound of cracking bones so many times per minute.  The music is equally annoying.  Things wouldn't be so bad if the music was actually playing on a semi-regular basis, but the music will just randomly up and quit and leave you with nothing but the sound of your footsteps.  The first few times it did this I had to check my speakers to make sure that they weren't dying.  Then a few minutes later epic music will kick back in with drums thundering and horns blaring.  Most of the times this happens you are by yourself without an enemy in sight.  There are some decent environmental sounds that you can hear whenever the music is taking a vacation, however we only need one or the other; not both fading in and out.  Also, when you don't move your character around and just let them stand there for a while, they begin to complain and make other such comments.  This is one of those looks good on paper? ideas.  The voices are downright sad and the concept itself has been overdone.

One of the biggest problems with its predecessor was that the online multiplayer was essentially a disaster.  I am happy to say that the online portion has been completely revamped for Return to Arms to provide better security and a friendlier interface, among other things.  If you don't have access to online multiplayer, no worries; you can still join up to three friends to kick even more butt and make the whole game a lot more entertaining and a lot less repetitive.

Overall, Champions: Return to Arms is fun?for a while.  The game is beautiful, especially for a hack-and-slash.  The changing environments may keep you from getting bored visually, but it almost gets to the point that you can play this game in your sleep.  Offering nothing new, you will almost undoubtedly be left with that, I've seen this all before? feeling as you chop your way through the 50,000th baddie.  If you are a fan or especially if you are a newcomer to the dungeon crawler genre this is one title you might want to put on your wish list.  The massive amount of offered gameplay time will give you entertainment for hours and hours to come.  For the rest of us, this game would be a good rental to fill that empty weekend.

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