DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue
Picking up immediately where DeathSpank left off, it’s apparent that our titular, self-titled hero’s adventure has only just begun. While The Artifact was successfully recovered, a newer, sexier and more wearable set of mythical trinkets have been revealed, the fabled Thongs of Virtue. This can mean only one thing: the single greatest undergarment recovery effort in recorded history.
As one of the thong bearers himself – he sports the purple Thong of Justice – DeathSpank is the only wearer uncorrupted by the great power the attire affords. Driven by an unquenchable thirst for justice, his oblivious demeanor and a little good old fashioned arrogance, DeathSpank is the only hero properly suited to recover the Thongs of Virtue.
Like its predecessor, Thongs of Virtue is a predominantly clear cut loot based hack n’ slash RPG in the vein of Diablo. What separates it from other games in the genre is its offbeat sense of humor and light sprinkling of classic adventure game mechanics. Over the course of DeathSpank’s quest he’ll have the opportunity to speak with dozens of wacky, eccentric NPCs who are just as verbose as he. The dialogue options are the most obvious nod to old school adventure games and are just as absurd as you’d expect them to be. While it’s rare that lines will leave you in stitches, the writing is genuinely amusing throughout, which makes it fun to exhaust as many lines of dialogue as possible.
Not only do the NPCs have weird things to say, but they all seem to have some sort of peculiar quest that needs completing. Being the lovable, good intentioned tool he is, DeathSpank is more than willing to take on any task that might be placed in his lap. There are tons and tons of quests to accept in Thongs of Virtue, and although they more or less boil down to talk to someone, kill something or go collect these things, they remain varied enough thanks to the games offbeat writing and locales. The only problem with questing is it’s an extremely rare feeling to ever feel like you’ve truly accomplished something. With so many quests available you’re constantly completing quests, but since many revolve around trivial tasks there’s very little weight to any of them. Essentially you feel like nothing more than a prolific errand boy, which admittedly is intentional do to DeathSpank’s satire of the lone hero out to save the world. It ends up a double edged sword because you feel like you’re turning in yet another meaningless job, which is exactly the case.
In addition to being a master of linguistics and a dependable do gooder, DeathSpank is no slouch in a fight either. Thongs of Virtue mixes up combat slightly when compared to the original with an increased focus on ranged weapons including pistols, machine guns, bazookas and the occasional alien blaster. Realistically it doesn’t change combat too much as many of the ranged weapons you acquire have limited munitions, and the few unlimited guns you find are low powered. Certainly this is due to balance issues but it’s worth noting that combat isn’t vastly different with a gun in-hand. You’ll still spend the lion’s share of time fighting up close and personal, trading blows with the various enemy types. While up close combat is perfectly serviceable it’s difficult to accurately gauge when your blocks are protecting you. Blocking is a crucial way to build your Justice Meter (special attack), in addition to landing attacks, but with no real animated recognition for successful blocks it’s difficult to discern whether you’re getting hit or not. This inevitably leads to the run in and score a few hits while taking damage, then immediately flee while consuming healing items strategy, which can only be fun for so long.
Talking, questing and fighting aside, Thongs of Virtue is a title you play because you’re looking for something a little different. Yes the dialogue, premise and voice acting are all rather amusing, but it’s the hodgepodge world Hothead Games has created that make the quest worth taking. DeathSpank seamlessly travels – load free – from snowy peaks, to war torn battlefields, an oil millionaire’s front lawn, a pirate village, the North Pole and well beyond. And every place is jam packed with clever touches, preposterous characters and imaginative enemies. No two locales in Thongs of Virtue are ever quite alike and each is lovingly crafted in the games simple, elegant story book aesthetic.
Like DeathSpank before it, Thongs of Virtue can be played cooperatively with a friend on the same system. Joining Sparkles the Wizard is Steve Von Prong, the illegitimate love child of Lord Von Prong. Generally speaking both games are a little on the difficult side and the added support of a helper character can go a long way, but fans of the first game will likely remain disappointed that Steve cannot progress levels and accrue inventory, just as Sparkles could not in the original. Despite these shortcomings, two player Thongs of Virtue is still humorous and worth the effort assuming you’ve got a willing comrade.
Appropriately many have labeled Thongs of Virtue as simply DeathSpank 1.5. Having more in common with episodic titles rather than full sequels, the core gameplay hasn’t changed much and the general tone of the previous title remains. What you’re left with is a direct continuation of the events began in DeathSpank and a beautiful new – if a bit familiar – world to quest through. Love it or hate it, Thongs of Virtue is more of the same, and in this case that’s mostly a good thing.