DeathSpank (great name!) has a lot of heart, loot and humour. But that should hardly come as a surprise when you discover that it’s created by Ron Gilbert of Monkey Island fame. It's a light-hearted, cartoonish and humorous hack ‘n’ slash RPG that tells the tale of DeathSpank, a hero who is seeking out "The Artifact" – an item it was foretold he would one day wield.
Humour is woven into everything in Hothead's downloadable title from dialogue to item names. Many of the conversations are highly entertaining but occasionally you’ll find yourself wanting to skip through a chat because, frankly, they can become tedious. It could be a result of their length: You might find yourself locked into a repetitive "I know you are, but what am I?" argument with a little girl, for example. On the bright side, the up-tempo, off-beat music is great.
Besides, being a hack ‘n’ slasher you’ll spend most of your time killing things instead of talking to them. The combat is very similar to the games DeathSpank parodies – Diablo, for the most part. You can assign four weapons to the face buttons and use them whenever you want.
At first the combat may get a little repetitive but the game offers more tactical options as you advance by mixing certain weapons together and timing their special abilities. By the time you’re striding into the latter parts of the game, combat proves equally fun and challenging as you fight foes a little above your level.
To help with these battles are the large variety of weapons collected from the corpses of your slain enemies. DeathSpank does not disappoint in the loot department and you will spend plenty of time muddling through your inventory swapping out various weapons and pieces of armour. Unfortunately, inventory navigation is very poor, so this is a slight problem. There is no easy way to compare items quickly.
DeathSpank’s comic art direction and presentation delivers: The game look like a pop-up book come to life – you run around a rotating 3D world, with an environment that is made up of 2D cut out objects. Everything is bright and colourful and each area of the game has its own unique lighting that really sets the mood. It is a fun, expansive world to travel around. To help with the game world’s size are quick travel outhouses, especially useful as you carry out fetch quests.
Speaking of which, I hate fetch quests. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of them here. For a game that pokes fun at dour Western RPGs, DeathSpank leans very heavily on one of the genre’s main gameplay pillars. Some require you to run back and forth to the same location several times to fetch items for the same person. It’s repetitive, dreary and boring as all hell. One such quest made me quit playing for the night - never a good thing for an RPG which should strive to promote a "just one more quest" mentality.
DeathSpank shines in co-op. This is honestly the best "girlfriend mode" I have yet seen in a game. The co-op player plays as a purple wizard named Sparkles. Sparkles has a set of spells that never change (but do get stronger as you level up with DeathSpank) and can run around and help DeathSpank combat the evil of the world... or ponies.
The co-op is simple and fun, as you both share a life-bar. My girlfriend (who is not a gamer) happily sat and played this with me for over four hours straight – something she’s not usually inclined to do. While Sparkles might be a little too simplistic for a gamer, for more casual friends to join in, it really knocks co-op out of the park.
Some of the jokes can be hit or miss, and the inventory management system leaves something to be desired but DeathSpank is a well presented, highly amusing loot-crawling adventure. And with eight hours of gameplay to get through, it can look you in the eye when it asks for its 1,200 Microsoft Points.