Review: DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue
Have you ever liked a game that you didn’t think you would? Went into the experience expecting one thing and by the end having those expectations summarily shattered? Well this is exactly what transpired with DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue. A few minutes into the game and the cutesy, cartoonish art, straightforward and themed soundtrack and deliberately corny main character will leave you expecting little of this game. However, a few hours in and the deep character customization, growth and seemingly endless questing will assuage all those previous concerns.
The game is ridiculously heavy and content rich. It is, without a doubt the biggest most ambitious downloadable game I have ever sat down to and this is saying something considering I recently completed Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. The story is comical and simple, but not offensively so. It manages to be humorous which was clearly the intent. Some time ago six powerful thongs were created. Yes, thongs as in underwear. These thongs were divided amongst six deserving beings, however in ownership of one thong, they only sought to own the rest.
So this in turn corrupted them. It is up to DeathSpank, righteous hero to the downtrodden, to collect all of the thongs so that they can be destroyed. The story is very light hearted and simple but it is comical in how seriously the characters take it. You will traverse a large game world, ripe with things to be found, discovered and done. The graphics in the game are bright and colorful, with a cell shaded, almost comic book esque art style. I didn’t like it at first, but after I saw the various locals and detailed use of colors and architecture, it grew on me.
Everything is detailed finely and the visuals feature a distinctive unified element that ultimately makes them pleasant. The music, honestly, is a little lackluster. It is vibrant, making adequate use of the electric guitar, but it seems a little generic. The music, like a lot of the game, reminds me of a number of cartoons I’ve seen. So the soundtrack is kiddy and uninspiring, but serves the game well and contributes to the overall coherence of the game. In this aspect, it was alright. To say that there is a lot to be done in DeathSpank comes off as an understatement.
You are free to fill out the map and discover places in a very grandiose manner. This element is pulled off wonderfully and is just as strong as in any Zelda or early Final Fantasy game. I just about always found myself taking the deviating path in hope of discovering hidden treasure, a secret location, or a unique character with a quest. All quests you take on are conveniently penned in your menu and this is also handled neatly, keeping track of story relevant quests, side quests and completed quests. Questing is really fun, but has the tendency to become mundane.
Quests are initiated by talking to people and you will encounter lots and lots of people, each of which have any number of things they’d like you to do. A good number of them are fetch quests: collect ten of these kill ten of those, find four of these but these are pretty easy. All the best quests are those that you have to complete, which gives you a comforting feeling. I didn’t have to worry about missing any of the really good sequences because they were required. Sometimes quest requirements may confuse you, but the fortune cookies allow you to unlock hints.
Using the fortune cookies, which you find in hidden areas and from enemies, give you clues on what to do next to complete any given quest. Each quest has anywhere from three to five unlockable hints, and more often than not, you know exactly what to do by the time you’ve unlocked them all. I would have really appreciated some kind of pointer or arrow that led you to your next objective. Maybe I’m just being spoiled and the game never got too confusing without it, but I can’t help feeling like it would have improved the experience.
Rewards for quests include experience points, weapons and items, and cash. The characters that you interact with to receive your quests are usually thoroughly entertaining. For one thing, the voice acting in this game is absolutely incredible. Many times I heard characters that I was sure I’d heard in this cartoon or that one. The super heroic comical tone of voice in which the main character speaks is probably the worst you’ll hear in the game, and this is a statement since his is pretty decent.
To add to that, the characters themselves are completely memorable. Characters like the prostitute with the heart of gold, the damsel in need of her feminine products, and the thong wearing Santa Claus keep you laughing long after you’ve stopped playing. If you’re like me, when you first meet DeathSpank you won’t care very much for him. But in no time at all, he’ll have you keeling over in laughter with just about all of his lines.
The game can’t help the feeling of childishness it exudes; the art, characters and music ensure this. But the subject matter and context of many of the discussions aren’t fit for children at all. The game is rated M, but it really doesn’t seem like it should be most of the time. It’s a little confusing. As you traverse the massive game world, you’ll encounter a variety of systems. First are the outhouses.
Outhouses are not only outdoor toilets but also portals through which you can teleport to other outhouses. This wonderfully convenient mechanic allows you to traverse great distances, and you discover one almost as soon as you discover any area, creating a vast network of them. By the end you’ll be able to instantly teleport to anywhere you’ve been in the game, and somehow this seems to work better than travelling in many of the disc games I’ve played recently.
You will discover treasure chests which you can open with keys and other times you’ll find odd treasure chest. These chests have peculiar patterns which you need to use a unique key to open. For example, a chest may be adorned with a circle, a star and then a cross. A locksmith in one of the earlier towns will make this for you, but you aren’t usually very close to an outhouse when you find these chests. So, if you want to get all the lucrative treasures within these chests, you’ll have to get yourself a pen and pad to write down the patterns and locations of the chests.
As I did this, I felt a strange, familiar sensation that I haven’t felt since I was writing down passwords in PSone era Final Fantasy games. It adds a novel, unique aspect to the game and helps in making it the meaty affair it is. As you roam, you will occasionally come across the lost and found. Apparently, the lost and found will contain items that you’ve missed out in travelling, but throughout the course of the game I never found anything in the lost and found.
After checking it the first few times, I figured that maybe I had to explore more and miss some more things before I could use it, but even at the end of the game it was empty. Combat is fun and simple. Weapons are mapped to all of the four face buttons and by pressing the button he swings the associated weapon. So yes, it’s a button masher. The fun comes in with the absolutely huge weapon, armor, item and accessory variety.
The cartoony and comical ambience of the game continues with his adornments. A pistol sword, cowboy chaps and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer ear muffs are just a few examples of the wacky armaments. You can also block, though I absolutely never did it whatsoever. The item inventory is large enough, though you’ll wish it was bigger really quickly. Once you’ve collected too many objects, you’ll have to use the item grinder to sell some of it.
The item grinder is basically the equivalent of selling your items at a shop with the main difference being that you don’t have to go anywhere to do it, simply open up your menu and grind away. I suppose it was an obvious choice considering the frequency with which you pick up items. A really useful feature is the ability to automatically equip the most powerful armor in your inventory.
This eliminated the need to do all the groundwork: comparing levels, strengths and values. Equip optimal armor at the press of a button. I only wished that there was a similar feature for weaponry, but that’s really just laziness. The truth is, there is no problem comparing the weapons for the strongest. It’s as though they’ve handled all but the most fun bit of micromanaging and it just works flawlessly. You’ll need to make efficient use of items and food in order for the most pleasant gaming experience possible.
You will find and buy food. The food that you can use depends on what level you are, no different from the armor and weapons. Food and certain kinds of potions are practically the only way you can restore health in the game, excluding the refill when you complete a quest. The tricky thing about food is that it takes a while for DeathSpank to eat it and he makes this ridiculous slurping sound all the while. If you are hit, or try to attack, open something or make any action whatsoever while eating, he will stop and you will lose whatever you were eating.
This means that if you are in the heat of battle and your health drops, you’ll have to run around your enemies in order to safely restore your health. It adds an extra touch of challenge and keeps you from dominating your enemies too much. There are also a huge variety of items. There are potions which increase your defense or attack power for amounts of time, create shields of invulnerability, grant immunity to certain elements or attacks and much more. There are also key items that you need for various quests and other tasks.
Sometimes, you may need to combine key items, like towards the beginning when you need to mix a pen and some paper to write a note. This is an interesting concept, but the problem with it is that I can only remember doing it twice throughout the course of the game. It is as though the developers were overly ambitious and included mechanics that they failed to fully flesh out, but it isn’t as though you’ll notice this. What I liked most about the items though is that you can find most of them.
You can choose to purchase any of these items should you need them. While button mashing with your most powerful weapon is essentially the bases of the combat, you can also use a powerful special attack when the justice meter is full. The justice meter fills as you defeat enemies, but you can make it fill faster by using chains. Chaining only means attacking with a different weapon than the one you used before. It is really simple, just alternate between the face buttons. I found myself pressing them consecutively so that I would always chain.
The justice attacks differ depending on what weapon you use. Some stun enemies, some pound them into the ground immobilizing them, some deliver devastating damage. Later in the game, you may actually choose your weapon depending on the justice attack it has, but in the early game only the attack power is really important. There is another kind of special attack you can utilize. These are called runestone attacks, and they have various requirements like what weapon you’re using or a specific accessory.
They are flashy and rewarding, but I found them a little stringent in their requirements. You’ll have absolutely no problem going through the game without them, though they can be fun if you’re willing to dedicate the time. It’s a shame they weren’t easier to execute. Once you gain enough experience points, you’ll level up. In addition to assorted stat boosts, you’ll get to choose a hero card as your reward. These cards increase things like movement speed, melee damage and money drop rate.
You can choose whatever you want most of the time, but in the later levels they force you to choose between whichever cards you abandoned. For example, I said earlier that I never used block but I eventually had to choose the hero card which enhanced block and it’s kind of irritating. Money comes quick and easy, but if you make your rounds you won’t really have a need for it. The game does an amazing job of keeping you loaded with food, weapons and items.
I rarely found myself having to spend money and when I did I had tons. All in all, I didn’t find DeathSpank to be a difficult game, but then me again, I only played on normal. There were several times where I died repeatedly, but I don’t blame the difficulty for these moments. In fact, the game is actually a little easy. I couldn’t figure out if the enemies where leveling with me or if they just had certain strengths in certain areas but I think it may have been a mix of the two. The final boss was only level twenty and I had no problems with it at level eighteen.
The experience rewards for some quests was absolutely huge. I was certain about half way through that if I only did main quests and the combat involved with them, skipping grinding altogether; I would have done just fine. There is a local co-op mode in which a second player can take control of one of DeathSpank’s sidekicks. This brought a certain dungeon crawler flair to the game and it was nice to be able to let any interested bystander jump in with me, but understand that you aren’t missing out on too much if you can’t play it.
I’m pretty sure the sidekick’s level depends on yours and I noticed that they didn’t have a health bar. So, if my sidekick is the mage, who can heal me, I need only to stand by while he decimates all the enemies, no matter how powerful they are because he doesn’t have a health bar. It was a little strange, and I can only imagine the exploitation that would have ensued if I had a dedicated second player.
I thought it would be really awesome if the second player could find weapons and armor and grow the way I could, but this isn’t the case. So I guess in a way, the game is better without co-op, but it all depends on what you’re into. Summarily, DeathSpank blew me away. It has been a good stretch of time since I last played a game so fulfilling. It is huge and ambitious. It is so content rich that it would probably take somewhere around thirty hours to fully complete. The main quest alone should take you at least ten.
The map is huge and there are literally hundreds of things to see and do. The games cartoon swagger and comic book ambience are delivered finely and without a single hitch. Memorable and humorous characters and story will keep a smile on your face as you play. Dozens and dozens of weapons, items, armor, accessories and collectibles are scattered across a massive game world. You will roam and explore and have a whole lot of fun playing this. But the most mind blowing part of it all? This is a downloadable game! As I think about it, I see no reason this wasn’t a full disc-game. It’s easily better than the recent majority of those.
- Title: DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: HotHead Games
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release Date: September 21, 2010
- MSRP: $15, 1200 Microsoft Points
- Review Copy Info: A download code for this title was provided to DualShockers Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.