Good clean monster-slaying fun.
Champions of Norrath was developed by Snowblind Studios, the same crew responsible for the two Bulder's Gate: Dark Alliance games for the PS2. Anyone who's play either of those titles will immediately recognize many of the conventions present in CON -- a build that takes after Diablo and other Action-RPGs of the same era.Ergo, the following paragraph should sound familiar to everyone who's had even remote contact with any of the above-mentioned titles.
In Champions of Norrath, you pick a hero from five distinct character classes, issue them a name, and take them on a 20+ hour adventure to save the world as you know it. Combat takes place in real time, allowing you to swing your weapon, block incoming attacks, activate spells and special abilities, and drink health or mana potions when necessary. You'll find plenty of treasure along the way, which you can use to augment your hero or sell back to a merchant for gold which you can then use to buy even more useful items.
There's a storyline to tie all the proceedings together, just in case you're the type of gamer who needs justification for hacking armies of monsters to pieces. You begin as an adventurer working for Leithkorias, an Elven king who needs you to find out the reason why orcs and goblins are suddenly working in consort against the Elven Kingdom. What starts as a simple investigation quickly turns into the uncovering of a grandiose plan to besiege the entire world of Norrath, and (you guessed it) your hero is the only thing standing in the way.
Storyline aside, I'm happy to report that CON's game play is genuinely fun. The combat is simple and accessible without being completely boring or way too easy. Each character class has an impressive number of abilities that can be unlocked as they gain experience, and figuring out exactly what abilities you want to incorporate into your repertoire is half the fun of playing the game.
The graphics for CON, although not mind blowing, are clean and sharp. There's a decent variety of monsters and bosses to combat, and some pretty cool spell effects as well. One of the really nice touches the game has is that there are several different color schemes and design for the armors that you pick up, and they're generated randomly, so your hero will look a little bit different every time he or she dons a new piece of gear.
There's a good variety to the environments in the game -- you'll visit lava fields, ice caves, underwater caverns, and vampire nests before your adventure is through. Unfortunately, the scenery has no real effect on game play aside from what monsters show up, meaning that the game never really changes for the entirety of your quest. Fans of action RPGs probably won't care as much, but casual gamers might find the experience gets a little stagnant after a while.
The sound is a serious weak point of CON. The music doesn't play all the time, and will often leave you in long periods of complete silence. This is almost a good thing, because when the music does decide to play, it ranges from merely ok to downright awful, and fails to add any kind of atmosphere to the proceedings. There's a fairly large amount of speech in the game, but, like the music, it doesn't always want to show up immediately. Oftentimes, you'll read through an entire entry of text (taking, say, a good 10 to 15 seconds) before the corresponding voice over will even start. While this delay doesn't really add or detract anything from the game, it reveals sloppiness on the part of the audio team and makes you wonder how such a buggy aspect of the game made it to release.
The Bottom Line
While not a revolutionary game by any means, Champions of Norrath still succeeds at being a casual action-RPG in the spirit of Snowblind's previous products. There's still some flaws to iron out, but anyone who likes some action with their RPG will derive some enjoyment from this game.