DeathSpank is a satire of Action-RPG games like Diablo which follows the basic blueprint of Blizzard’s classic PC game while making some interesting accommodations to make the gameplay more accessible to new players. It’s an effective enough hybrid of streamlined mechanics intertwined with the dialogue trees of a point-and-click adventure game. The strange thing about DeathSpank (other than the title) is that it’s a console-exclusive release based almost entirely on ideas originating from PC gaming culture.
Our titular hero’s appearance is that of a mongoloid from medieval times surrounded by the colorful backdrop of a pop-up children’s book, shaped into a spherical open world environment (think Animal Crossing). He’s out of place in this vibrant world, but so are many of the enemies he’ll face up against. Perhaps the main difference between him and these enemies are their fashion sensibilities. DeathSpank sports a variety of hulking shoulder pads, gloves, boots, necklaces, and rings with any given combination of elemental powers. The only real constant in terms of his style is the purple thong underwear, a bold fashion statement for such a strange looking dude.
DeathSpank is a good character – albeit an intentionally unlikable one – who is unafraid of verbally assaulting non-playable characters. There are other dialogue options, which are all totally worth exploring to get the full extent of what Hothead Games is trying to do. If you’re looking for a single standout quality which differentiates DeathSpank, the dialogue trees are the strongest feature by far.
The quests offer up your usual scavenger hunts, but also include some in-depth puzzles that are much more interesting. They’re separated into two lists in DeathSpank’s personal journal: Important things to do and unimportant things to do. The missions all feel straightforward as long as you know where to go. By the time you’ve finished the game, you’ll likely have already hit the limited level cap and may just have a few more side-quests to complete, but all told, it shouldn’t take anyone very long to finish 100% on any difficulty setting.
It’s a quick play-through that’s best approached in short spurts. Every time I’d try sitting through more than an hour of DeathSpank, the repetition of the action and my curiosity in seeing every branching line of dialogue got the better of me, and quickly left me feeling burnt out.
One of the main things about DeathSpank that contribute to the action-RPG experience is the grinder, an item that’s available at all times for players to manage their inventories on the fly. It’s a huge improvement over having to return to towns and find just the right person to talk to and builds on the idea of Torchlight’s companion inventory management system, without having a dog or a cat to worry about all of the time.
DeathSpank may rely on Diablo for its inspiration, but this new take on the stale genre builds on Torchlight’s colorful interpretation of an Action-RPG, while also finding its own unique voice through some entertaining dialogue trees. It’s hard to take DeathSpank too seriously. In many ways, it’s a success in showing how comedy can be used to make once-exciting game genres interesting again, but fails to come full circle as a finished product. With that said, it comes recommended for fans of the Penny Arcade Adventures episodes, as well as fans of classic point-and-click adventure games.
Now, where’s the PC version?