“This is a true story.” Those are the words that open the downloadable DeathSpank for PSN and XBLA, a Diablo-style adventure slasher built around looting, mashing, and ridiculous dialogue.
DeathSpank, the Athena-like narrator will tell you in the God of War-like intro, is a man some call a curse and some call a hero. This is a tale the narrator would like to tell before she is too old to do so. DeathSpank, called the “Dispenser of Justice”, a “Vanquisher of Evil”, and a “Hero to the Downtrodden”, was told by a fortuneteller that he would come to possess an ancient and powerful artifact known as, well, The Artifact. This is an object of unknown origin for an unknown use that is being sought after by an unknown evil for an unknown purpose. Terrible things are clearly afoot, but no one seems to know what they are.
The character of DeathSpank himself has the personality of a man whose hereditary line could have consisted of Zapp Brannigan of Futurama and Captain Qwark of the Ratchet and Clank series; the oozing machismo, the casual innuendo, and the absurd lines of dialogue are all there as he switches between four equipped weapons, eating drumsticks and nachos between battle to heal what he would no doubt call his pretty face.
The game was created by those who made the Monkey Island series as well as Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain Slick-Precipice of Darkness, which should give you an idea of what you’re in for. It borrows from a large pool of action-adventure RPG dungeon crawlers, dealing both fetch quests and death quests along the adventure.
DeathSpank starts the character off immediately after the game’s namesake has single-handedly destroyed an army of foes. From here you can check out your inventory, which consists of items that can be assigned to the D-Pad directions and weapons that can be assigned to the other four face buttons. Barrels can be attacked to reveal loot and chests activate context-sensitive actions like in order to open them. DeathSpank’s first stop, however, is the outhouse – a place where he will no doubt get plenty of reading done but will also be able to save and travel to other discovered outhouses by a means the game cares not to explain. The in-game story soon begins when you speak to a demon witch named Heybenstance. It becomes obvious that there was an entire adventure the player missed, as DeathSpank describes various encounters he had along the way, like fighting off a mermaid army (who he then claims may have actually been salmon). Conversations are had through dialogue trees (ala old-school point-and-click adventures) with hilarious results each time. He has nearly completed his journey to find The Artifact, and the player takes control over his quest to follow the last clue leading to where the powerful object is sealed away.
The dungeon/overworld-crawling reminded me not only of Diablo but of Torchlight as well, and the weaponry and humor brought Ratchet & Clank to mind as I replaced the crossbow with a chicken-launching gun and attacked some goblin creatures, killed the chickens afterward, and used the drumsticks they dropped to heal. DeathSpank can draw two weapons at once in an effort to cut down on attack time (an ax in one hand and sword in another, for example) and make sure he’s not vulnerable while unsheathing a weapon, and equip armor, boots, a helmet, and accessory.
Every kill gives you experience, and leveling up gives you a choice between cards that raise an ability. It is not always apparent which ability will be most useful at your level, so as in most RPGs, it is important to consider how you would like to develop your character. At the first level up you are presented with a choice between an increase in speed, an increase in blocking time, and something else I can’t remember. Upon leveling up again you receive the same options but with a new choice replacing the card you had already used.
For quicker kills and faster experience grinding, DeathSpank has a special Justice meter at his disposal. The meter is filled by felling enemies and once full, you can unleash a powerful attack based on your special weapon. The beginning ability utilizes your hammer to smash the ground, creating a wide area stunning effect, buying DeathSpank just enough time when surrounded and overwhelmed to mutilate everything still standing and truly live up to the title of “Dispenser of Justice”.
Don’t be fooled by the game’s silly style, light colors, and hack-and-slash-and-move-on gameplay – DeathSpank is a dark and lengthy game. The map is fairly large; you unlock it in sections, though each section can take several hours themselves.
Like World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Torchlight, there is an entire world to explore full of strange and interesting people – all of whom are in need of assistance – but the main bulk of the game is looting. Fortunately, the quests do vary a bit, asking our hero to perform activities between killing, looting, and fetching, like not just killing imps but figuring out a way to turn their horns into red horns before bringing them back to the quest-giver. Puzzles like that run through the game here and there, adding something different to the chop-chop-collect-level up gameplay that could become monotonous in other games.
For $15 DeathSpank is well worth the download with a campaign that will last a decent chunk of time. If you’re still not sold on the game, a 30-minute demo is available on PSN and XBLA – more than enough time to experience the story, gameplay, and a handful of quests.