I'm generally a sucker for action-RPG titles, and so when Kalypso Media sent along an early build of their first foray into the genre, I was excited to give it a whirl. However, after spending some time hacking and slashing my way across 13th-century Europe, I believe The First Templar needs a bit more polish and tuning before its release.
Set during the height of the Inquisition, The First Templar chronicles a fight against a corrupt Church and a plot against the Templar Order itself. Touted as a co-operative action RPG, The First Templar features a two-character system of play, occasionally swapping heroes as the story progresses. At any time, players may swap between characters to best utilize skills optimum for a given situation. Should a human friend be available, a second player can jump in at any time to lend a hand with the carnage.
The controls are a little more complicated than many action-RPGs, requiring timed combos and multiple-keystroke attack strings as a regular course of action. Players need to keep an eye on both characters at all times, and while the AI-controlled hero is competent during most situations, they don't seem to be able to handle the tougher encounters as well as I would like. Swapping between characters in the heat of battle is simple enough in theory, but I often found myself getting lost in the chaos and forgetting about my ally.
While the battles can be intense, there really don't seem to be enough of them. I felt that much of the game is spent simply running through the rather bland scenery, only occasionally coming across a pack of enemies. I'm sure the pacing will be improved as the game nears release, but for now the down time between fights is too plentiful. The First Templar does use these slower times to allow us some banter between the characters, but much of the dialogue is stilted and clunky. There was no voicework as of the time of the preview, so I'm hoping Kalypso will give the script a few more work-overs before release.
In an interesting twist, The First Templar uses almost no inventory system at all. Characters don't pick up new and better weapons, nor do they carry around healing items or power-ups. The problem with this tactic is that it removes the "carrot-and-stick" staple that helps draw most action-RPGs along. There are a few chests sprinkled about a given level, but they only contain some temporary ability boosts, experience, or a few collectables. Enemies don't drop any goodies, either. A consequence of this lack of inventory is the lack of healing choices. Players can't simply quaff a potion to save themselves from certain doom--instead, they need to find one of the few healing points sprinkled about the level. Because of this lack of chests, goodie drops, and other common action-RPGs elements, The First Templar just feels empty in many places. There is very little with which to interact in the world, save for the occasional enemy or quest-giving NPC. This may be remedied later, but for now everything is just a bit too bleak.
Character advancement is the typical "earn experience and level" system, with one truly annoying spin. Characters have four branches on their advancement tree, but all of those branches are blind. Players can only see one step past their current skills into any tree, meaning there is no way to carefully plan a character's growth. With no item choices to customize character paths, I rely on skill and upgrade choices to sculpt a hero I can enjoy. I dislike this system a great deal, enough to sour much of the game for me.
Given that there is still a great deal of time to polish up the graphics, environments, and encounters in general, I might very well be surprised by the finished product. However, as it stands right now, The First Templar is failing to peak much interest for me. I will withhold final judgment, but given the conscious decisions regarding item gathering, encounter rate, and character advancement, a tentative "wait and see" is the best I can offer at this time.