Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 02/07/05 | Genre: Action/RPG
After defeating the evil god Innoruuk in the first Champions of Norrath, Champions 2: Return to Arms brings players back to the lands of Norrath in order to block the return of this dreaded deity. The sequel offers two new classes, new abilities for existing classes, new content, new gameplay modes, and a better online experience, and yet at times the game feels more like an expansion pack than a stand-alone sequel. Let's return to Norrath and take a look.
In an RPG sequel, I love seeing new classes to play, but only if they are done well. The Var Shir Berserker (a cat dude) and Iksar Shaman (a lizard dude) are nice additions to the series that serve as hybrid versions of existing characters. The berserker plays like a cross between the barbarian and ranger mix of close and ranged combat. The shaman can heal fairly well, but he is better at pumping out damage than the druid. These new classes have one small advantage over the existing classes that seemed odd; their dodge maneuver jumps further backwards than anyone else. The older classes are relegated to taking a couple steps backwards. Sure, that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but I discovered that I could keep pace with another character running normally by hopping backwards in this manner. My one other beef stems from the new classes being male-only, although I'm just guessing that the lizard is male. Every other class can be either gender, so why not give people more options. I'm certain that the lady gamers would have loved the choice.
The game has multiple difficulty levels and game modes. Characters from the first game can be imported into the sequel to continue the adventure. Using my Shadowknight again, I started on the second difficulty setting (which said that it was a few levels too high for me). It definitely was a bit more difficult than starting a new character but not impossible. Progressive difficulty levels can only be attempted by completing the game on the previous one. Players can also attack an arena mode where they can challenge other players or fight in a 쫩ng of the hillype of battle system. When fighting against computer-generated enemies, the challenges get progressively harder. The arena offers a fun distraction from the normal quest, but it was frustrating not to be able to save your progress. With my character, I had hoped to be able to compete in the arena to increase my levels slightly. I did manage to advance a couple levels, but I could never find a way to save that progress. Online play provides a new twist. Instead of being able to take one character back and forth between offline and online play, online characters are stored on remote servers. I've got to admit that I liked the ability to take my single player character into an online game for extra adventures, but I understand the need to keep the characters secure from 쨡ckedharacters.
The controls are still solid and allow the players to guide their virtual counterparts with ease. Returning players will feel right at home, and new players won't find themselves standing on the welcome mat wiping their feet for long before joining them. It is especially easy to switch from melee to ranged weapons or to cycle through assigned spells. Spells are assigned to a position that coordinates with the D-pad. While only two spells can be hotkeyed at once, it's a breeze to reassign them on the fly.
The game world left me with mixed feelings. Split into planes consisting of unique themes, there seemed to be no common thread that bound the planes together other than hunting down each plane's shard. The order that they could be played could have been shuffled randomly without any noticeable effect on the game. Now with that said, each plane looks visually appealing with special effects and the diverse appearance of the planes (though some of the stylized looks and monster models were part of the first game). The way that the water is rendered still amazes me; I spent a few minutes just walking back and forth through puddles and shallow pools to watch the effect. There are plenty of bad guys to fight, barrels to smash, treasure chests to open, and loot to pick up. I will say that I was a little disappointed with the loot that I found playing on a higher difficulty setting. Most of the weapons and armor were for significantly lower level characters. As a result, the bulk of what I found in my adventures ended up getting sold to the merchants, and upgrades to my character's gear were infrequent.
In terms of overall gameplay, Return to Arms provides a challenge that steadily increases without becoming insanely difficult. Character deaths happened from time to time, but there were enough save points that I never lost much progress. Some of the boss fights require trial and error to figure out what strategies work against them. In a two-player game, our favorite strategy was for a tank to engage the boss toe-to-toe and block frequently, while the other player blasted away with ranged attacks from a safe distance. In the end the final boss fight was the only one that seemed disappointingly easy, but we could have gotten lucky with our strategy the first time. The boss right before that proved to be such a challenge that I wasn't as disappointed with the ending as I could have been. Except for that final fight, the game stands as a fun and entertaining experience.
This article appeared in the August 2005 Issue of CVGames. You can view this Issue by clicking here.