Fans of Monkey Island should know that Ron Gilbert as one of the creators behind the first two games in the series. Deathspank is the latest experiment in humor-induced gaming from Mr. Gilbert and it promised to be a mix of Tales from Monkey Island hilarity and Diablo style gameplay. These are lofty goals and while Deathspank does have a twinge of both, it doesn’t quite achieve the levels of quality of either series.
Deathspank is aptly titled since you play as the hero Deathspank, a warrior of justice and hero to the downtrodden. The ultimate goal of your heroic deeds is “the artifact”, an unimpressive looking but supposedly powerful item which you are destined to obtain. It’s a pretty obvious and straight forward premise that is really just meant as a set-up for hilarity to ensue, and ensue it does. On your quest for the artifact you encounter a myriad of townsfolk with all sorts of conveniently side quest-like tasks that need fulfilling. Side quest after side quest can get old quickly, but Deathspank avoids this issue by making each one more ridiculous than the last.
I searched through dragon poop, destroyed a monastery’s bell just because the noise was annoying a nearby resident, and saved orphans so a town’s mayor could get a photo op. The story never takes itself seriously and some of the exchanges between Deathspank and the townsfolk really made me laugh. However, there were a number of jokes that fell flat for me, so it wasn’t a constant riot, and the ending to the main story had an annoying lack of closure. Cliffhanger endings are great for leading into sequels but they don’t leave the player with much satisfaction after the hours of questing leading up to that point. Hopefully Deathspank will do well enough to get a sequel and this won’t become one of those stories in gaming that never actually gets finished.
Of course, while out questing you are going to have to kill some monsters and Deathspank has quite the arsenal of weapons designed solely for that purpose. The four face buttons can each be assigned to a weapon and you are encouraged to switch between the four weapons constantly for bonuses to damage and the filling of a justice meter, which when full will allow you to perform a super move with certain weapons. Weapons themselves have a good amount of variety, but I was disappointed to see a few repeating weapon types that changed in only name and stats. There really isn’t much difference between the Super Spinning Blade and the Mega Spinning Blade, which is unfortunate because the joke behind the description really only works once.
Damage mitigation is possible with a simple block by pressing R2, but it's difficult to time this well when, during most of the fights, you are facing five or move adversaries at once. That doesn’t mean it was altogether useless though, as it was essential for some of the tougher single enemy fights, such as boss fights. Even in large groups, though, a perfectly timed block against an enemy will immediately fill your justice meter and allow for a game changing super move.
While there is definitely a large amount of customizability and choice in the weapons, there is less in your other equipment. Every new armor set was a complete and undeniable upgrade from the last, since the only stat it increased was health. So while it was interesting to get a new armor set and see what strange theme it was based on, like the “Golden Shoulders of Bling” or the “Bladed Helmet of Blades”, I only came upon one armor set with any stat other than health that would give me reason to save it. My other issue with the gameplay is that the quests can start to feel pretty repetitive after a while, with only a couple straying from the common “go get this” or “go kill them” scenario, but the variety in the back story behind each quest helps alleviate this somewhat.
Visual presentation is one of the highlights of Deathspank. Everything is presented in an interesting blend of three dimensional world with two dimensional objects that makes it look like a bloody pop-up book come to life. There really isn’t anything technically amazing about it, but there's fun to be had in exploring the world and just looking at the sights. Voice acting is also quite impressive and every silly, ludicrous character was actually voiced well enough to be somewhat believable. On less of a high note, I never noticed the music one way or another, but although it wasn’t memorable at least it never detracted from the experience.
My journey from level 1 to level 17 (which was when I killed the final boss), took me seven and a half hours. After killing the final boss you can go back and continue questing and leveling until a max level of 20. The grind to 20 adds a few more hours of play time, but your only incentive beyond the inherent fun of questing is equipping the last few armor sets and seeing what they look like, so I’m sure a decent number of people will let it end at the credits. Even with these stipulations, more than seven hours of fun for fifteen dollars is nothing to scoff at, and this is easily one of the best gameplay hours per dollar that I have gotten out of a story driven downloadable title. It even allows a friend to join the fun, though controlling the wizard companion is little better than Super Mario Galaxy’s “girlfriend mode”, and it isn’t nearly as fun as playing as Deathspank.
Deathspank was so close to being the whole package, but it feels like the gameplay just can’t hold up to the visual presentation and humor of the story. If you don’t mind a simple combat system that will largely leave you button mashing, then this is definitely a game you should look at, and let the power of the purple thong be with you.