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In Memory
Sean Pettibone









Combining action and RPG elements, SOE's EverQuest spin off Champions of Norrath is a solid adventuring title that offers plenty of depth and exciting gameplay. The single player game is exciting and challenging but online component is especially impressive allowing for 4 player simultaneous play, real-time voice communication and more. The solid graphics engine is impressive with excellent animations and environmental effects making for a great looking title. This is highly polished title impresses on several fronts. It offers the fast-action of a console game with the depth of an RPG, tied together seamlessly with excellent graphics and an intuitive interface. It's far more accessible than the usual EverQuest titles and is highly recommended for fans of the genre and players who like action with their role playing.

Developed by SnowBlind Studios, the creators of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, Champions of Norrath takes place in the Everquest world, but isn't quite what fans of that series have come to expect. Even though many of the same races and classes appear, the gameplay is more action-oriented, and faster. The action also takes place in real-time and in a linear fashion, which also diverges from what a standard installment in the EverQuest series traditionally offers. However, don't be fooled, the game still offers plenty of depth and character building with plenty of items and large areas to explore. While Champions of Norrath's faster pace and streamlined interface will definitely appeal more to the traditional console audience, it definitely isn't a mindless hack and slash adventure. Some purists may scoff at the faster action, but Champions of Norrath benefits immensely from this streamlined approach without sacrificing the depth and challenge RPG fans expect.

While the game is fast paced, there's still plenty of traditional RPG elements. For example, players begin the game by selecting their alter ego from five different character classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. These five main races include Barbarians, Elf Clerics, Elf Rangers, Wizards and Knights with both male and female characters. Players can customize their characters' appearance and customize their hairstyle, facial features, and more. The Warrior and Knight classes are much better at close combat and weapons use, while the Clerics and Wizards have superior abilities with spells and magic. Setup can be accomplished relatively quickly meaning you can jump straight into the action. Each character has a primary and secondary weapon, which you can equip at the inventory screen. Some of the standard weapons such as axes have endless attacks, while others like fire-spells require Mana energy to fire. Champions of Norrath includes ranged weapons such as arches and arrows in addition to it's standard weapons, these can be used to attack enemies from afar, and players can also auto-target foes as well. However, you have a limited amount of ammo with these, so you have to be careful not to waste shots. There are several types of items in Champions of Norrath, with many types of weapons available as well. However, some items can't be used by certain character classes, or can only be used when a character Levels up to reach a certain experience level.

You begin the quest in your home village, which is over-run by dozens of goblins. Once you've defeated this first wave of foes, you can move to the main game below, where you'll meet up with other warriors battling ogres, skeletons and a variety of other monsters. During the game, your character's health, experience and mana (or magic) points are displayed using power-bars, and you can instantly replenish your energy using any potions. This system is remarkably simple compared to other RPG's since you only need to press down on the shift button. As you defeat enemies, you'll gain experience points, which you can use to level up your character when the bar is filled. More points are also awarded when you complete a quest. These points can be used to enhance your character's normal and special abilities. As your character attributes increase, they can also upgrade their existing weapons and armor, making you even more powerful. It's usually a good idea to spread these points evenly since a better-balanced character improves your chances of survival and success.

Another way to earn points is to engage in combat with the enemies. There are many types of enemies in the game, such as Skeletons, Badgers, Cyclops, Goblins and Beetles. Each has a different attack patterns. Some enemies are relatively easy to defeat, while others will put up a strong defense. The boss battles in particular can be difficult, especially on your own, and it's a good idea not to walk into these confrontations alone. You will be rewarded for your fighting skills because some enemies drop items when defeated. You can collect a variety of items from fallen foes including food, magic potions, character armor, and other items. While you may not be able to use an item at one time, you can carry a large number of these in your inventory if you wish. Equipping and using items is relatively easy thanks to the intuitive menu system, and you can also trade or sell items you don't need or you character can't use.

The gameplay moves swiftly with real-time battles, and multiple foes can attack your party at the same time. The good news is that you can use potions and spells in real-time as well, making the action viscerally exciting. The single-player game is quite fun and enjoyable and you can do a lot of damage on your own, then team up with other players online once you have the experience and equipment to make inroads in the main game. While the differences between single and multiplayer mode are seem superficial, Champions of Norrath is much more enjoyable when playing online with actual players. You can play with four other characters cooperatively in this mode, which allows you to level up much quicker than you would on your own. Champions of Norrath can be challenging, but there are some aids that can help make the quest easier. During each mission, you can use Gate Scrolls to warp back to your village and there are numerous checkpoints where you save your progress. When your character gets killed in single player mode, you'll lose all items and experience since your last checkpoint but you can return to the spot where you were defeated and pick up items, but you have to be quick, since other players online can scoop up your items. In the multiplayer mode, the other players have to return to the last save point in order to revive your character.

As you'd expect from an action-oriented RPG, Champions of Norrath's controls are excellent and intuitive, making movement and combat fairly easy to accomplish. Players can swing their axes using the standard keys, while the shift keys make your character fire their special weapon or cast spells. Switching weapons and items can be done in real-time during the gameplay as well, making for a transparent interface that doesn't let inventory and management issues get in the way of the action. This intelligent design lets the gameplay flow nicely, but still offers plenty of options. Navigating the menus and inventory screens are easy to accomplish, and the game also includes a handy automap feature that you can call up by pressing down on the right analog controller. While the default angles are decent, players can use the camera controls to manually adjust angles, zoom in or out of the action or change their viewpoint entirely. Overall, the game's interface is outstanding and makes for a surprisingly accessible title.

From a visual standpoint, Champions of Norrath is quite impressive and takes good advantage of the PS2. There are many large areas with vast and varied worlds to explore. The game takes place in locations ranging from green forests to dark cavernous dungeons to ice capped worlds. Norrath's character and enemy designs are rendered effectively with a high level of detail. Silky smooth character animations are excellent, giving the game a real sense of time and place. The game's use of light-sourcing and weather effects is also impressive, making the world seem alive. For the most part, the action moves at a fast clip and smooth frame rate throughout, but the game does suffer from the occasional bouts of slowdown and glitches. The action takes place from an angled, top-down perspective, which allows you to see a great deal of the screen without making the objects too small. The game's epic orchestral soundtrack is beautifully realized, and the extensive voice-acting does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life. With highly polished production values evident throughout, Champions of Norrath creates an immersive, exciting world players will want to explore.

As you'd expect from the creators of Baldur's Gate, this is a highly polished title that offers a solidly entertaining experience that unfolds at a fast pace. It's very much like that title in many ways, but there are a few twists that give this title a unique feel. The game's action-orientation makes it instantly appealing with real-time battles and challenging foes. However, there's a lot of depth as well, with plenty of items and spells to find that upgrade your characters. Players will have a lot of fun exploring it's vast worlds, meeting other characters and finding secrets. Its solo gameplay is challenging and emphasizes combat for an addictive single player quest. However, the real fun lies in cooperative online play. Going online adds to the intensity and excitement level rises exponentially when you play with other real players. The smooth graphics engine is surprisingly dynamic and offers plenty of variety in location with challenging level maps and some beautiful special effects. While it's not a traditional turn-based RPG, there's still plenty of depth to keep role-playing fans happy. Champions of Norrath's intuitive controls and fast gameplay creates an accessible, enjoyable experience that's quite exciting and addictive. This is an enjoyable PS2 title that comes highly recommended for fans of the genre.

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