Champions: Return to Arms

Review

posted 4/8/2005 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PS2
Champions of Norrath is one of my favorite PS2 games. I’ve always been a big Gauntlet fan and with Norrath, you had a Gauntlet like game with some RPG elements and a great online aspect. I’ve spent a lot of time with friends playing the game and enjoyed the experience immensely. When the sequel was announced, I was very excited and I even headed straight for the demo at E3 last year rather than viewing Everquest 2 first. So here we are, with the sequel and while it isn’t innovative, it’s still a good game.

Champions: Return to Arms starts out where Norrath left off. You'll start out in the Planes of Existance this time standing in front of Firiona Vie, the blue dressed elf that's very prominent in many Everquest advertisements. You've just killed Innorruuk and rescued Firiona so the game is a pretty quick continuation of the first one. As with every fantasy game, there’s more evil to dispatch so it’s time for you to continue your quest.

The game isn’t technically leaps and bounds over Norrath. There are a few annoyances that were fixed though. For starters in the inventory screen when you sell equipment, you can now actually equip items without having to leave the screen and go into the player inventory screen. While it might not be significant, it does save a lot of time and keeping you from going into the inventory screen a few times. Another minor change is the text is different when you use a gate scroll. The first time it will show you how many you have but you’ll get a gate back text that’s a little less confusing now. I know there were a few times I gated and saved and forgot if I was coming from a gate or if I was there at the save point via walking.

Champions: Return to Arms continues the theme of the previous games with the traditional dungeon crawl, kill all monsters, finish some little quests, and kill the main bosses. Along the way you’ll gain experience and gather equipment to better your character. It’s a great mindless game and you’ll get some enjoyment in finding rare equipment that increases your character’s damage or protection. With the Gauntlet type action, the enemy AI isn’t very smart so you won’t find challenging monsters here except for the boss characters. Even then they will just try to over power you rather than being creative.

Two new classes are included in the game. The Val Shir Beserker is a warrior type with some range abilities. They specialize in throwing axes and look like tigers. The Iksar Shaman is a spellcaster than can wear full armor and use most weapons. They are a nice combination of previous characters and offer some nice new abilities to play around with such as the Shaman's growth ability which will double your character's size. Characters can now reach a level of 80 giving you some room to grow. I do like that you can import characters from the original game, thus starting out ahead of the game and making it easier to reach that 80 level max. It gives some incentive to play the original game and reminds me of the days when you could move your character in Bard’s Tale through all three games. It’s good to know that all those hours used in building up your character in the original game won’t be lost and you can continue the adventure with a character you’ve grown. And there are a few new abilities or spells that your characters can learn.

Like Jedis, you can opt for two paths in the game: good or evil. While both will take you through mostly the same game, each path will offer some unique missions and locations. It does give a little bit of replayability factor since you won't experience everything the first time around. And given the inclusion of new characters, you might be interested in taking one of the new ones in an opposite path.

New to the series is the ability to play some mini quests after each section is completed. These mini games, titled medal rounds, set forth some difficult goals but if met or close to meeting will reward you. For instance, I destroyed these five of six robots and was reward with some stats increase. You can only have a single player in the medal round though. Another new feature is the arena. Like some gladiatorial games, you pick a character you have created and try to last as many rounds as possible in various environments. There are some explosive barrels that you can lure enemies to in one to try and soften them up as they get tougher in the later rounds.
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