Champions of Norrath Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Sony Online Entertainment
Developer:Snowblind Studios
Release Date:2004-02-10
Genre:
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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If you want an object lesson in how badly the loss of Black Isle Studios has been (and will be) felt in the computer role-playing game industry, rent Dark Alliance II and Champions of Norrath one weekend and compare the two. Both are based on Snowblind's Dark Alliance Engine and both offer addictive fast-action hack and slash gameplay, but experiencing both together illustrates how much more effort Black Isle took toward improving gameplay and offering a better experience than the original.

Maybe that's a harsh way to start out a review for the Snowblind-developed CoN, which is actually a pretty fun game, but by releasing CoN a month after BG:DA2 and offering mainly cosmetic improvements, Snowblind doomed its title to live in Black Isle's shadow from the start. I will say that by the end of the game, I was able to enjoy Champions of Norrath for its own merits, but the comparison never really left me, either.

You start off Champions of Norrath by choosing a character from among several familiar classes and one that may be new to you. There's Barbarian, Ranger, Cleric, Wizard, and Shadow Knight. The first four are probably self-explanatory, but (not having played Everquest) I was unfamiliar with the Shadow Knight class. Sort of like a dark cleric, the Shadow Knight is a melee fighter that also has some disease and summon undead spells. When choosing your character you get to be either male or female, but you don't get to pick your race. You can customize your character by giving him or her a new hairstyle, hair color, and skin tone, which is kind of fun, but also kind of useless with the bird's eye camera angle and all.

After you've made your character, you'll endure a lengthy speech about why you are in Norrath, written in the pulp fantasy style that screams "this is a fantasy story because it has place names like Faydwer". Then it's off to kill some orcs and goblins and take their loot. I don't think I could accurately tell you what the full story is about. I had a very good time getting better at smacking the bad guys around, but story-wise there are so many betrayals and characters that show up for no adequately explained reason that I got lost trying to figure how the main plotline goes.

That's ok, though, because these games aren't really about plot; they're about hacking and slashing your way to better loot. And CoN keeps the hack and slash fun of the core Dark Alliance gameplay intact. There are some differences, of course, including using gate scrolls instead of potions of recall and not being able to jump anymore. Yes, it means there are no jumping puzzles, but it still means you can't jump up on a rock or table and fire arrows from higher ground.

And while we're on the subject of archery, let me just state that the main beef I had with the game was that no changes were made to the ranged weapon system. One of the best things about DA2 was that you didn't have to spend your hard-earned money on arrows. To make up for the imbalance, the bosses were much tougher to bring down with ranged weapons, which I though was a fair trade-off.

For some reason, though, Snowblind went the opposite direction, making you constantly pay to refill your arrow supply and delegate a decent amount of your weight allowance to it. These annoyances are balanced out by the fact that eventually you get to a point where there's really nothing to buy except more arrows and the fact that just about all of the bosses are easily taken out with bows as you can run to a point where they hit the end of their patrol route and snipe at them as they lumber around trying to find a path that leads back toward you.