Champions of Norrath
Written by John Yan
on 4/26/2004 for
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is one of my favorite games on the Xbox. Playing with a friend is a lot of fun but I was always annoyed at the fact that I couldn’t wander around unless both characters were on screen. That’s the limitation, of course, when playing with on a single Xbox cooperatively. The makers of Baldur’s Gate has come out with a new action RPG in the Everquest setting that not only alleviates that limitation but also adds more to the genre.
Champions of Norrath, from Snowblind Studios, is set at a time long before the current Everquest setting. You pick from a set of five class types along with a gender before you start out. The range of classes goes from the basic fighter to magic user to a few in between. Those wanting to bash through the game will want to play the barbarian while those that like to sit back and pick at the enemies will want to play the ranger.
There’s a skills tree for each character whereby advancing in levels lets you administer points to certain skills. Depending on how you allocate your points, some skills will be opened while following another path might close it off. Like all games, there will be some skills that are pretty worthless and you’ll have to read up on them to see which is worth having.
Like Baldur’s Gate, you can switch between a melee and range set of weapons quickly. Two bars, health and mana, are in the upper corner to let you know the state of your character. Missing in Norrath is the jump button. Thank god as the jump puzzles in Baldur’s Gate really seemed out of place and there’s no opportunity here with the omission of the action. Other than that, the gameplay is very similar to Baldur’s Gate. One thing I do notice about the game is that blocking does make a lot more of a difference. Where I could get by in Baldur’s Gate without touching the block button, I found I didn’t last that long without blocking a few shots and counterattacking. Norrath makes you think a little more and makes you a little less aggressive when going into battles.
You can enhance your weapons by finding special items. Weapons have slot allocations and you can fill free slots with these items thereby enhancing their abilities. It can help turn an average weapon to a formidable one. I do like the ability to mix and match these items and creating enhanced ones. Character classes are limited to certain types of weapons so you won’t be a cleric using edged weapons or a barbarian with a wizard’s staff.
The world is populated by a good number of enemies and you’ll even fight through areas with allies. The AI controlled characters don’t seem to die so you can exploit this sometimes by having the enemies lock on to an NPC and you can easily pick them off without any trouble. Killing enemies will usually result in dropped booty. It seems you can get a lot more goods in Norrath than you would in Baldur’s Gate. The result is a lot more trips to the merchant to sell off your goods. I found that I became overburdened a lot quicker in this game. But that just means plenty of opportunities to buy bigger and better stuff as you rack up gold at a little quicker pace.
It seems that with any RPG, items are always found in barrels or other destroyable objects in the game world. Oh, and crates are pretty abundant too. Smashing the breakable items in the environment will sometimes reward you with more treasure to carry. There are other items littered in the world as well that will give you stuff.
Like Baldur’s Gate, you can teleport back to the safety of the towns with scrolls. There will also be pedestals that can transport you back without having to use one of your scrolls. Plenty of save points allow you to progress through the levels without having to go back too far if you die. If you do die, you are given a choice of resurrecting with some experience and gold loss or waiting until your partner resurrects you. I do like that you are given the choice and you’re not totally out of the game once you perish.
The graphics on Champions of Norrath are very impressive and you’ll notice a big difference right the beginning. For example, as you are clearing the town of goblins, you’ll see fireballs being launched from below which are spectacular to see when they land and explode. Little details help make the game stand out such as seeing your enemies coming at you with a number of arrows stuck in his chest after you launch a few at them. The particle effects are also equally amazing and the pretty water effects makes it’s showing in the game as well. The increased graphics quality does make the frame rate suffer at times though. The occasional stutter does happen but it’s not too bad.
Online play is one of the best features about Champions of Norrath. You’ll sign in and you can either find some free games or create a private game. The person creating the private game gets to choose the save game they want to use so if you are playing with someone that’s farther ahead than you, you’ll miss the parts you haven’t played. So a good rule of thumb is to use a save game with the lowest common denominator in terms of area finished. Voice chat is supported by Norrath and it helps coordinate with online friends immensely. Telling my buddies what I was doing or that I was in trouble helps expedite the decision process a lot faster. Up to four can play at once and the game does require broadband. Playing with Charlie across the US was ok when his connection speed wasn’t fluctuating like crazy with all the college students stealing music. And since you are playing on your own console with your own TV, you are not limited to where the other players are. So you can wander off and do your own thing while your party members do something else. The level of freedom introduced by the online play aspect really takes the multiplayer experience of this type of game to another level. I will say I enjoy t he game a lot more playing cooperatively than solo and having the ability to play online does increase the replay value. If you do want to play together in one room, the game does support four via the multitap. It’s definitely not as fun as being on your own machine and being free from the screen constraints. I don’t like the fact that you can only join open games and not ones in progress. Having a friend drop out and having to find a save point before exiting the game and bringing the dropped friend back in is pretty annoying. I would’ve liked the ability to just give a friend the server details and have them join in anytime much like how Diablo II does it.
A few complaints stem from the dropped frames and sluggish online play unless you have a pristine connection does not dull the fact that Champions of Norrath is a fun game. Fans of the Baldur’s Gate series will really enjoy Champions of Norrath. More than straight hack and slash, you’ll have to employ some tactics to get through the game. Graphically, the game’s visually outstanding and one of the better looking PlayStation 2 games out there. Online play is a big plus and voice chat works well. Those wanting to find a fun multiplayer game should also seriously consider Champions of Norrath. Snowblind has really done a great job at enhancing the action RPG genre with this game and I hope to see more from them.
Fun, fun game that is a blast to play with a friend or two, but only if you all have fast connections. Snowblind has another great game on their hands.
Rating: 9.2 Excellent
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.
I'm married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.