DeathSpank: The Baconing Review

05 Mar 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:Hothead Games
Release Date:2011-08-30
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Action
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
For an action-RPG of this nature, The Baconing is actually quite difficult - I started out on the hard difficulty expecting to get a moderate challenge, but I was shocked at how I ended up dying dozens of times within the tutorial zone. I put the game back down to the normal difficulty, and things went better, but I still had a heck of a time on a couple of bosses and would frequently die despite this; my total death count must have been near a hundred. Unfortunately, it isn't really the good kind of difficulty - sometimes you'll run into enemies that do huge amounts of damage, and it becomes almost impossible to manage blocking and attacking against groups of them. Combined with the game's effectively free death and frequent checkpoints, it encourages (and often requires) you to chip away at packs of powerful enemies over and over, rather than win based on your skill in battle.

The thing that makes or breaks these top-down hack-and-slash RPGs for me is the character system and the loot mechanics, since that's more or less what the games revolve around. Unfortunately, The Baconing is disappointing in this regard. While the game does provide lots of loot, armor follows a completely fixed path (you find location-specific sets and even auto-equip it by default), and the weapons are almost all just upgrades on concepts, i.e. swords that do a bit more damage. There is good variety, but you will burn through equipment so quickly, and the improvements are so linear, that equipping stuff is rarely interesting. Likewise, the leveling-up is almost non-interactive - you'll pick from "hero cards" each time that give extra bonuses, but they're modest at best, and by the end of the game you'll max everything out anyway.

Honey, I Broke The Game

While The Baconing has some solid combat, and again, is more challenging than many other games on the default level (the unlockable "insanity" mode really must be insane), it also suffers from a case of mechanical schizophrenia, which I gather is true of all the other DeathSpank titles. It's not so much a problem with any particular part of the game, so much as it is the way the different aspects of it interact, that leads to issues.

First off, The Baconing is very heavily driven by potion-chugging. DeathSpank himself is actually a very squishy hero even when maxed out and equipped with the best gear. Furthermore, he's fairly slow, even with upgraded speed, which means it's basically impossible to dodge enemy attacks by default. Blocking can help, as can a useful shield-bash move, but the parry functions available are a bit too imprecise to be relied upon. This means that you have one recourse - constantly drink potions, whether to boost your speed, armor or health.

On the one hand, this sounds like a good thing. Too many RPGs offer useless consumables, and it's nice to see a game that really requires you to make use of them. However, The Baconing also imposes strict limits, as you can only carry five of each type of potion at once. This is done to encourage you to use the game's heal-over-time items, various types of food. Again, sounds good in theory, but in practice this doesn't really work. The healing effect of food is instantly mitigated by taking any action other than moving, or by taking damage (or, annoyingly, opening the menu, map, inventory, talking to an NPC, etc.). Since combat is as frequent as it is, you won't be able to effectively use food in battle except when kiting enemies, and when battle's over, you'll have to stand in place for a good long time while DeathSpank noms his hobo stew. This is just not fun, and directly contradicts the game's fast, forward-moving pace - as does the alternative of constantly running back to town to "potion up".

Similarly, the focus on other consumables, including various grenades to throw, elemental bolts to shoot, orbs to activate, and so on, gives you a lot of useful options... but also clutters up the game's quick slots, especially as you can't use consumables from the inventory itself. No matter whether you have a keyboard or a gamepad, you're limited to four active items, and considering how dependent you become on them, your alternative is to ignore all but the most essential, or constantly swap the items on your quick slots. While an interface limitation spawned by limited gamepad real estate, it also conflicts with the gameplay itself, which generally requires you make use of everything you have. In this case, a radial menu for gamepads or more quick-slots on the keyboard would have made a world of difference. Even after beating the game's final boss, I had no idea what several of my consumable items even did, because it was just way too inconvenient to manage all of them across four buttons. If it was an intentional attempt at balancing them, well, "making it too annoying to use all your items" does not exactly qualify as good game design in my book.
 
 

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